by Gina Depalma
Italians have a fondness for crumbly, porous textures when it comes to sweets. As often as I repeat this mantra to our customers and my staff, it is still something that is hard for many American’s to grasp. We tend to think of dessert as being something soft, oozy, gooey, and rich. While some Italian dolci lean in the direction of soft and moist, it is the array of crunchy, drier-textured sweets that are deeply woven into the history and local cuisine of each region.
The reason why is simple: dry, crumbly textures are perfectly partnered with local wines and spirits. They are also easy to prepare and store, which was especially necessary in leaner times when rich ingredients like milk and cream weren’t so readily available. Take for example, the classic Tuscan pairing of crunchy Cantucci di Prato with local Vin Santo. Many such biscotti and torte take advantage of the local abundance of nuts, such as hazelnuts, almonds and walnuts, which provide a touch of additional sweet richness.
In the Veneto, the same theory is played out in the form of a crumbly, cracker-like confection known as Fregolotta. The finest grappas of Italy are produced here, and Fregolotta is a favorite treat to enjoy with a glass of the local acquavite.
Chock full of fragrant almonds and perfumed with a bit of lemon zest, Fregolotta is almost like a large, slightly sweet cracker. The texture is slightly chewy, thanks to a bit of polenta, another revered ingredient of the region. A food processor makes this recipe come together in a snap. Naturally, I think the best way to enjoy it is alongside a glass of the best grappa from Veneto and some fresh cherries, another special crop from this distinctive corner of Italy.
Makes 10 to 12 servings
Preheat the oven to 350 F degrees. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan generously with butter and set aside.
Place the almonds, flour, polenta, sugar and salt in a food processor and process until the almonds are finely ground, about 30 seconds. Add the cubed butter and pulse until it disappears into the dry ingredients.
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, olive oil, vanilla, grappa and lemon zest. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and pulse until the mixture forms crumbs and is evenly moistened.
Press the crumbs firmly and evenly into the bottom of the cake pan. Bake the Fregolotta for 15 to 20 minutes, or until it is golden brown and firm to the touch.
Allow the Fregolotta to cool completely in the pan, then carefully unmold it. To serve, break it into large pieces and enjoy with a glass of wine or grappa.