by gina depalma

Montefiascone is one of the most picturesque villages in the province of Viterbo in northern Lazio. This area, which includes the glorious Lago di Bolsena, is the heart of Tuscia, the territory at the heart of the Etruscan civilization that dominated central Italy some 3000 years ago.


Tuscia, also known as Etruria, is an area rich in culture and history, often overlooked by tourists making their predictable bee-line from Rome to Florence. This should be fine for the discriminating traveler, who will undoubtedly enjoy exploring the magnificent hilltowns of the Viterbo province without the seething throngs that invade the better-known towns of Tuscany. The city of Viterbo itself was once part of the Papal States and was a pawn in various papal squabbles and power-grabs from the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries. Today it is a lively university town and the provincial capital.


The landscape of Tuscia includes a patchwork of heavy forests of chestnut, beech, oak and hazelnut trees that surround four volcanic lakes, including Lake Bolsena and Lake Vico. The cuisine of this area emphasizes many of the fruits and vegetables grown in the mineral-rich soil, fresh-water fish and eels from the lakes, and the wild boar that roam the woodlands.


My most recent visit to this part of Lazio was to the home of my friend Massimo, who lives in Sutri, an Etruscan town that lies south of Lago di Vico. After visiting the ruins of Sutri’s magnificent Roman amphitheater, we relaxed in a small café and enjoyed iced espresso and a special local cookie – the small crunchy biscotti known as Tozzetti. They featured a unique flavor combination: lemon, aniseseed and hazelnuts harvested from the hills surrounding nearby Monte Cimino.


Tozzetti are rock-hard, and although I liked dunking them in my coffee, Massimo recommended giving them a good soak in the D.O.C. dessert wine of the Viterbo province, Aleatico di Gradolii. Since this wine is hard to find on this side of the Atlantic, I like to remember my visit to Sutri by dipping my Tozzetti in iced espresso laced with a shot of sambuca. Mmmmm.




In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.


In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the eggs and sugar together on medium speed until light, about 2 minutes. Beat in the Anisette or Sambuca, anise seed and lemon zest. Beat in the dry ingredients, then the chopped nuts.


Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease a heavy cookie sheet and line with parchment paper. Divide the dough into three equal portions. On a lightly floured board, roll each portion into a round log, just about the length the cookie sheet. Place the logs on the cookie sheet, evenly spaced. In a small bowl, beat the egg white with a fork until frothy. With a pastry brush, glaze each log with some egg white and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until the logs are lightly golden brown, firm to the touch and just beginning to crack slightly.


Allow the logs to cool on the cookie sheet until cool to the touch, about 40 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 200°F. With a serrated knife, slice the biscotti, slightly on the bias, into ¾ inch slices. Lay the slices on the cookie sheets in single layer; Return the tozzetti to the oven and cook for 20 more minutes, or until the tozzetti are toasted and crisp


Store the tozzetti in an airtight container. They will keep up to about 2 weeks.