I had two requests of my family when I went home to visit earlier this month. One, to see where my grandmother was buried. Two, to take down her biscotti recipe before heading back to Maine.
In doing so, I learned about a family tradition my relatives had never shared.
Talking to the dead.
My aunt, a short, fiery and hard-working daughter of immigrants, explained the ritual before we left for the Italian cemetery in South San Francisco, the final resting place of my mother and grandmother.
“We can go, you just have to let them know we’re coming,” my aunt said.
My aunt is not the superstitious type. She drives a practical yet polished car, cleans houses for a living and is about as down-to-earth as they come.
This was completely out of character.
Nonetheless, as I was lying in bed that night, I whispered into the dark.
“I’ll see you guys tomorrow.”
The visit went well. My grandfather changed the flowers at both sites as I attempted to wrangle my active toddler, who didn’t quite grasp the concept of reverence.
When we returned home, we pulled out cold cuts, olives and sourdough bread for a light snack before looking for my Nonna’s biscotti recipe. We never found her cookbook — a small brown journal filled with family favorites jotted down in Italian — but we did find a tattered folder with an ingredients list for biscotti written on the front.
My Nonna always called them “cookie lunga” or “long cookie” and they’re great for dunking in coffee or a late night bedtime snack (which could also include coffee.)
These biscotti are plain, no almonds, chocolate or pistachios here. They are practical. Kind of like my family.
With the exception of giving the dead 24-hour notice before dropping in, of course.
Nonna’s Cookie Lunga (yields two loaves)
4 ½ cups of flour
6 tsp. baking powder
2 cups sugar
1 ½ sticks of butter (melted)
1 ½ teaspoon anise seed (you can substitute 3 tbs. of anise liqueur or ¼ cup Sambuca)
½ tsp. vanilla (optional)
- Whisk the eggs and mix with sugar. Sift the flour and baking powder into the melted butter and stir in egg/sugar mixture with a wooden spoon. Stir until well-blended and then knead for two to three minutes until it forms a cohesive ball.
- Spread out the dough on a nonstick baking sheet until it creates a log 4-6 inches wide and about 12 inches long. Wet your hands and pat down the dough log until it’s about an inch thick. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and let cool. Cut the loaf into ½ inch slices and place on a clean cookie sheet.
- Bake again for 5-7 minutes per side or until they reach a desired crispiness.
- Cool completely and mangia!