On my way to work-experience each morning and aftenoon in the overwhelming heat, I snapped off a twig of rosemary poking from this one garden, to crush beneath my fingertips, to smell its distinct and relaxing smell. Inhale exhale. Dream of foccacia, of potato and rosemary pizza, of herb-edged biscuits.
Though I was a ball of nerves, the Italians were very patient with me. The pasticceri, a father, his daughter and a wiry girl not much older than me, constantly on the move, explained each machine to me, let me cover myself in pastry cream without remark. Gave me a taste of everything. (My favourite was the hefty yellow slab of rice tart.)
In fact everyone was more than generous. The waitress who let me have the menu operaio, as much as I look like a lost tourist, then asked me everyday how work was going and slipped me a free slice of apricot crostata.
The supplier who showed me around his factory that made 25 litre tubs of jam and ground spices in an antique – once water-driven – mill as big as a Parisian studio apartment. Who later negotiated the best price in a hotel for me with just a firm handshake and some swift dialect.
In my suitcase I brought a few jars of homemade granola, some homemade chutney, redcurrant jam and a copy of my mother’s cookbook. They were quickly exhausted as tokens of thanks. I wished I could bake some biscuits for more thank-yous; I would have made these. Something a little different, an Italian herb in an English shortbread.
These biscuits are light and crisp with the unmistakable melting effect of butter, something any British child recognises from those stolid shortbread fingers. But these ones are round, with a collar of green, and taste faintly fruity, the olive oil hidden in the dough akin to the subtle flavour of lemon zest. Toasted pine-nuts add to the sweet-savoury tug of war, making them appropriate for a cup of tea as for a slab of cheese and a juicy peach.
Rosemary pinenut shortbreads
from Pierre Herme’s olive sablee recipe
200g salted butter, soft
100g icing sugar
75ml olive oil
1 hard-boiled egg yolk
50g maizena (corn flour)
1 tbs rosemary, finely chopped
for decoration: 1 tbs rosemary + 2 tbs caster sugar + 1 egg white
Toast pinenuts briefly in a hot oven: 3-4 minutes. Whisk butter to a pommade, the texture of thick face-cream. (You can heat the bowl for 10 seconds over a pan of boiling water to soften it a little.) Stir in the icing sugar, then the olive oil. Grate the egg yolk or push it through a coarse sieve, stir in. Sift the flour and maizena together, stir in with the pinenuts and rosemary.
You will get a very soft, buttery dough. Divide into two rough logs, wrap in clingfilm and stick in the fridge. When it is a little firmer, roll the log to make a neat cylinder about the diameter of a golfball. Leave several hours or, best, overnight.
When you are ready to bake, brush an egg white over the log and roll it in sugar and finely chopped rosemary. Cut 5mm slices and bake at 160C for 20 minutes. They will go ever so slightly golden and be just firm.