Author Nicola Noble’s debut series, The 5 Boroughs, set in New York City, is a blend of contemporary fiction, romantic comedy, drama, and crime. She's also a wife, mother, grandmother, avid reader, crocheter, knitter, lover of languages, painter, and occasional baker. Today we’re joined by Nicola’s heroine, Donna Giannino. Learn more about Nicola and Donna at Nicola’s website.
Ciao! Benvenuti nella mia cucina!
Hello! Welcome to my kitchen!
My name is Donna Giannino. I’m first generation American and grew up in Brooklyn, NY. Some of my earliest memories involve food. Actually, most of my childhood memories involve food. That’s just the way it is I guess when you grow up in a large, loud, Italian family.
As soon as my siblings and I were able to “master” the use of a fork and spoon without wearing our food, our parents dubbed us “old enough” to start learning how to cook. They started us on the basics: rolling meatballs, kneading bread, running gnocchi down the board. Eventually we graduated to moving cookies from a hot tray to a cooling rack; and then on to using the stove top and various kitchen knives. It wasn’t just about learning a life skill. Our parents were teaching us to appreciate food and all that goes into making it. We learned how to be self-reliant, while learning how to bring people together over a shared meal.
Now I’d like to invite you, the lovely readers of American Woman, to gather around my table for some fun and delicious food.
Like many of my family’s recipes, everything was memorized. So, when I was ten I decided to “create” my own cookbook and write down all the recipes I learned. My mother gave me a bright teal Trapper-Keeper to save my recipes in. I think she did it more to humor me than anything else. However, I’m glad that I did it because there are a lot of recipes that are made only once a year and things can be forgotten over time.
The first recipe I wrote down was my great-grandmother’s Biscotti Alle Mandorle. These out-of-this-world almond cookies are flavorful, tender, little bites of heaven. My great grandmother would triple and sometimes quadruple the recipe so that there would be plenty to have from Christmas Eve through Festa della Befana on January 6th. They are great any time of day, but I really love them for breakfast with a nice hot cup of coffee.
Biscotti Alle Mandorle/Almond Cookies
Yield: about 30
For the Cookies:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 tbsp almond extract
2 – 3 tbsp milk
2-1/2 cups flour (all-purpose)
1 tbsp baking powder
For the Icing:
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
4 tbsp milk
2-1/2 tsp almond extract
Preheat oven to 350F. Line your cookie sheets with parchment paper or your favorite nonstick liner. Blend flour and baking powder in a bowl and set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about five minutes).
Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well before adding the next. Mix in the almond extract.
Slowly add about a third of the flour/baking powder mixture to the wet ingredients, then add 1 tablespoon of milk. Add another third of the dry mixture and another tablespoon of milk. Then add just enough of the remaining flour mixture to bring your dough to a thick fudgy brownie batter consistency. If your dough is too stiff, add another tablespoon of milk. The trick is to get the dough to be softer than a drop cookie dough, but not too soft.
Using a small 2-teaspoon cookie scooper, scoop out the dough onto your cookie sheet, making sure the scoops are level. Wet your fingers with a tiny bit of water and round out any rough edges.
Bake for 10-12 minutes. You don’t want your cookies to be golden brown. If you over bake them, you’ll lose the soft cake like interior. Once the time is up, move your cookies to a cooling rack.
Mix together the ingredients for the icing so that it is the consistency of a sugar glaze. Dip just the very top of each cookie into the glaze and place back on the cooling rack. While the glaze is still wet, add a dash of sprinkles to the tops and allow the cookies to sit for a few hours until the glaze sets (overnight is best but I’m too impatient sometimes to wait – haha)
Store in airtight containers.
Make anisette cookies by substituting anisette for almond, but reducing the amount in the glaze by half.
Make lemon cookies by substituting lemon extract for the almond, doubling the amount in the glaze. Also, add a few drops of yellow food coloring to the glaze and omit the sprinkles.
To Face the Fire
Donna Giannino knows what it’s like to “walk through the fire”. She’s a survivor. She has the scars to prove it. And although her physical scars have mended, it’s the wounds to her soul that won’t heal. Once full of life, she’s isolated herself from the world outside of the thick walls she’s created for herself. Unable to overcome her past, especially the night that left both her body and her spirit broken, she’s living a half-life, where the only way she feels safe is in her little bubble. After all, there’s wine and chocolate there.
By day, she’s an editor at a publishing company in Manhattan. By night, she’s a Brooklynite shut-in. The only variances are scheduled ahead of time and only happen if they involve her family or one of her close friends. It’s the only way she feels safe. But is living a half-life really living? How do you make yourself whole again? How do you learn to trust again? How do you overcome the fear left behind after a brutal attack?