Summer is here and I bet a lot of you are heading off to Europe. Will some of you be going to Italy? It's one of my favourite places in the world (I am half-Italian, after all).
Maybe you will visit Tuscany, where the delicious biscuits in this week's recipe come from.
I love that part of Italy, the art, the architecture, the colours, the coffee - everything about it is magical. Is there anywhere more beautiful on Earth? No wonder Italians are so happy.
Another reason they are happy is, of course, the food. This little biscuit is a Tuscan classic and I have seen it eaten for breakfast, with a cuppa or with an after- dinner drink. Depending how hard you bake them, they might need to be dunked in some liquid to avoid breaking your teeth.
I love these biscotti, above all, for their flavour; the fennel seeds give them an almost mysterious quality that few can resist. Even children like them, which is great, because actually they're quite healthy, with all those nuts and not too much sugar.
The tricky part of the recipe is forming the loaves that are sliced to create the biscotti. Your hands will get sticky, so keep some cold water close by for rinsing. Ladies, take off your rings or they will never have the same shine again. Then get stuck in.
I use the nuts whole, but you can whiz them up if you prefer. And it may seem labour intensive, but this makes a batch big enough to feed a whole class of hungry schoolchildren.
Enjoy this Tuscan delicacy and think of me as you dunk it in your coffee. Oh, and before I forget, next week you will have a double helping of me with a two-page recipe selection. Bet you can't wait.
MAKE IT YOURSELF
Cantuccini di prato (traditional Tuscan biscotti)
250g shelled almonds not blanched and with skin on
150g hazelnuts with skin on
3 egg yolks
Pinch of salt
Grated peel of 1 orange
50g warm melted butter
450g white flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
3 tsp fennel seeds
1 egg yolk, beaten, for brushing cookies
1. Lightly toast the almonds and hazelnuts in a hot oven, then keep oven at 180°C.
2. Mix well with a whisk or electric mixer the eggs, egg yolks, sugar and salt until the mixture turns white. Flavour with the orange peel and add the melted butter.
3. Continue to work with the electric whisk, gradually adding the sifted flour and baking powder.
4. Combine and add the almonds, hazelnuts and fennel seeds, if necessary wetting your hands with cold water (do not use flour) to work because the mixture is sticky. Form into 6 or 7 large loaves about 3cm thick and place on a baking tray covered with baking paper. Because the loaves will widen as they bake, you can use the trick of making a fold in the parchment paper between one loaf and the next to stop them sticking together. Brush with beaten egg yolk and bake in oven for about 30 minutes.
5. The loaves are done when they are golden brown and a wooden skewer or toothpick used to prick them comes out clean and dry. Turn oven down to 100°C. Let loaves cool enough to handle (do not let them get cold or they will break when slicing) and slice into several pieces to a thickness of about 1.5cm. Arrange the pieces on a baking tray. Place in cooler oven to brown for 10 minutes. Take care not to overcook.
MAKES About three dozen