A love of history is actually what provided the initial spark for my culinary persuits. Being an avid reader as a child, I devoured everything from the World Book Encyclopedia to the Time Life Series of Cookbooks. That collection of international guides to the food culture of far away places transported me to foreign lands I only dreamed of traveling to in those days. It’s not surprising that my favorite cookbooks are written by authors who delve into the local culture of even the tiniest hamlets featuring traditional local recipes and lore.
Rosetta Costantino is one of those authors. With Calabrian roots, a paesaen as we would say in New Jersey, she delved into the culinary traditions, foods and customs of Calabria long before it appeared on the general public’s radar. I remember learning of her first book My Calabria and purchasing multiple copies for family members who were thrilled to see an entire cookbook dedicated to the family roots.
Southern Italian Desserts, another of Rosetta’s well researched books is a treasure trove of specialty dolce from the south of Italy and has been my go to resource on many occasions. With Passover or Pasqua Erbaica as it is called in Italy just around the corner I wanted to include something different to our dessert table. Low and behold, Almond Cookies with Cherry Preserves fit the bill.
Biscotti di Ceglie originate from the town of Ceglie Messapica in the northern part of Salento and is considered one of the oldest towns in Puglia. The special almond cookies are recognized by the Presidio of Slow Food and are uniquely specific to this tiny area: Rosetta was determined to recreate these Puglian treasures.
Puglia has had a Jewish Community dating back over 2000 years, naturally shifting in number with the political situation over the years. The Baroque town of Lecce in Salento known as the Florence of the South, restored a tiny area once the Jewish quarter featuring a Jewish museum – Palazzo Taurino. A recently released book The Guide to Jewish Salento documents the history of the Jews in the area.
The ingredients for Biscotti di Ceglie fall within the dietary constraints for Passover, using ground almonds as the base for the cookies. Fortunately, I was gifted a bottle of kosher for Passover Limoncello by a dear friend a few years back upon returning from Israel so I was ready to get started.
The preparation is straightforward and only requires a bit of patience and delft handling to roll. Rosetta’s careful instructions make this rather simple – moistened fingertips and a bench scraper are the only tools needed. A little prodding when rolling the logs helps to move the process along nicely.
Once Biscotti di Ceglie begin to bake the kitchen will be perfumed with the gentle scent of almonds. The finished biscotti are deep golden brown after 18 to 20 minutes.
Why not bring a little bit of Puglia to your table this year and I guarantee you that your Seder guests will ooh and aah…
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- 4 cups of blanched almonds lightly toasted and cooled
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 2 large organic eggs
- 2 tablespoons of Limoncello plus more for forming the rolled cookies
- 1 tablespoon of mild honey
- Finely grated zest of one large lemon
- 6 tablespoons of homemade or high quality cherry preserves
- Combine the lightly toasted almonds and the granulated sugar in a food processor, processing until they are coarsely ground yet the pieces range in size from finally chopped to coarse meal. Place the mixture in a mixing bowl and add the eggs, limoncello, honey and grated lemon zest and mix until well combined. Rosetta suggests using your hands and I found this best. Allow the sticky dough ball to rest in the bowl for about 30 minutes, uncovered.
- Preheat the oven to 375º, place the rack in the upper third of the oven and line a baking sheet with either lightly oiled parchment or a silicone baking mat.
- Place a bit of limoncello in a small bowl, gather the ball of sticky dough, jam, a bench scraper and the lined baking sheet.
- Moisten the work surface with the limoncello using your fingertips. Transfer the dough to the moistened work surface and divide it into thirds. Moisten your hands with the limoncello as needed to handle the dough.
- Flatten the first piece of dough into a 4½ by 6½ inch rectangle. Take 2 tablespoons of the cherry preserves and run a ribbon of the preserves lengthwise about 1½ inch from the edge. Using a bench scraper to guide the dough, begin to lift and roll the cherry lined dough completely to form a log. Carefully lengthen the log to almost 12 or 13 inches, taking care to keep it formed, the seam side should be at the bottom. Press down gently on the log to create a height of about 1¼ inch.
- Using the bench scraper, cut the log into 1 inch segments and carefully place on the lined baking sheet, spacing the cookies about 1 inch apart. Repeat the process with the remaining two pieces of dough.
- Bake until the cookies are a deep golden and the room is fragrant - about 18 to 20 minutes. Cool the baking sheet on a wire rack until the cookies are easily handled. At this point the cookies may be individually transferred to the wire rack to cool completely.
- Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.
I too was an avid reader as a child and I love learning the history behind traditional and authentic foods!
This is one cookie I’m not familiar with but I love the concept of the finely ground almond mixture with the cherry preserves nestled within. Your step by step photos are very helpful in achieving a perfect finish.
I’ll need to try this cookie it looks simply delicious!
They are very east to prepare once you embrace the steps and really quite delicious. Are you familiar with Rosetta’s books?
A workshop in Messapica of urban sketchers and people interested in Trullo were treated to a cooking lesson. This was my favorite item we made! Thank you for the story behind it!
Valerie Lozowicki says
I’m definitely going to make this recipe, Paula. i made your Torta di Mandorle last weekend and once again it was a big hit! Thank you for all your writings on your blog!
Knowing you I am certain that you will love these biscotti. So delighted to hear that you are using the recipes and enjoy my blog, thank you from the bottom of my heart for following….
I always love a bit of history, too, as you I think you know, Paula. Having lived right by Rome’s ghetto, I’m a huge fan of Roman Jewish cooking. Who can resist carciofi alla giudia? And I had read about the communities in Tuscany and Venice, and knew a bit about their cuisines. But before reading this post, I hadn’t been aware of Puglla’s Jewish community, so this is quite interesting. And those cookies do look delicious.
And by the way, we had that Time Life series in our house, too. They had a lot to do with my own culinary journey, sparking a curiosity that has stayed with me to this day.
Somehow when I wrote this post, I thought of you. Years ago when we traveled to Italy as a family we made exploring the lesser know aspects of Jewish Italian history a priority. Some years back I planned a trip for the local Jewish Federations which was very well received.
Puglia had a complex, interesting Jewish history; I highly recommend a visit to explore these sites particularly the ghetto in Manduria.
I have those original Time Life books on my shelf and treasure the journey they have taken me on.
The cookies are quite tasty and rather simply, although I know you are not especially a sweet lover, give them a try.
You have the best recipes and such interesting stories. I’m drawn to any baked good using almonds and the cherry filling is such a great complement.
Paula Barbarito Levitt says
You are so kind Janie, thank you. Almonds and cherry are an excellent match, give them a try.
Ronee Nassi says
Can these be frozen? I’m baking for my granddaughter’s Bat Mitzvah in Colorado early in May. These look delicious and I’m making things that can be frozen so I can bake, freeze and then take them on the plane with me. Would love to try making these and adding them to the menu.
Ronni, I don’t see why they couldn’t be frozen, the elements are simple so give it a try. You may want to grind the almonds a bit finer than I did in the recipe, this will help hold them together a bit better. Hope to see you before the big day – Mazel Tov!
Hi, looks like a great recipe. Have you tried making the recipe using almond flour/meal? Bob’s has an almond flour that is simply blanched ground almonds but the consistency is a bit finer than what you created in your food processor. Might give the product a try as I have it in my panty. But was curious if you have tried using an off the shelf solution vs making your own almond base.
So funny that you mentioned almond flour Jo. About a week ago Rosetta told me that they can be made with almond flour and the cookies are actually a bit easier to handle. The results are delicious but without the texture of the original version. Personally, I have not tried it, but give it a go and let me know how it works. I would more than likely star by using the Bob’s you already have.
I have both of these books but have never made this recipe. What a mistake. Your cookies look wonderful. I will be making these soon!
Paula Barbarito-Levitt says
Marcellina, you absolutely must make these along with so many other recipes in Rosetta’s books. Thanks for stopping by to comment and I look forward to hearing about your adventures in the kitchen.
Ciao Chow Linda says
I love Rosetta’s books, especially the My Calabria book, but have yet to make these cookies. They are now on my to-do list for the next week. I think you did Rosetta proud.
Paula Barbarito-Levitt says
You are so kind Linda, I certainly hoped to honored Rosetta in some way. I must tell you that I saw her shortly after I posted this, actually at a dinner for Katie Parla. She suggested that the next time I grind the nuts just a bit more. Give the biscotti a try, I am certain that you will do her proud as well.
Roz | La Bella Vita Cucina says
You’ve created something that I love ‘doubly’ – biscotti and cherry preserves! I hoard Italian cherry preserves whenever I visit to last until (I hope) my next trip to Italy. As you stated in your recipe . . . high quality! Makes all the difference! Thanks for sharing this delicious recipe and inspiring me in my cucina!
Paula Barbarito-Levitt says
I so understand, generally I return from Italy with a suitcase full of all types of Italian specialities and try to use them judiciously until my next trip. Flavor is so dependent on quality and certainly does make a tremendous difference. Thank you for taking the time to comment, you continue to inspire me with each and every post.
My kids will love it. Thanks for sharing Paula! 🙂