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Blessed biscotti

Bake a batch of the sweet treat even St. Francis let himself enjoy

What do a modern-day professor from Canada and a 13th-century saint from Italy have in common? The answer, improbably enough, is a cookbook, called Cooking with the Saints: An Illustrated Treasury of Authentic Recipes Old and Modern.

Ernst Schuegraf, a professor of computer science at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, loves his vocation. But he also loves his avocation, which is cooking. While glancing through cookbooks one day, he noticed two recipes that mentioned the names of saints and decided to see if he could find more that had connections to holy people.

When he’d compiled more than a hundred such recipes, he gave a literary agent a call and sold his idea for a Catholic cookbook honoring the feast days of significant saints. And Cooking with the Saints was born.

The book, published in 2000 by Ignatius Press, contains 170 recipes for main courses, side dishes, soups, snacks, breads, and desserts. More than 70 different saints, from Agnes to Wilfrid, are honored within its pages, which also include biographical sketches and famous portraits of each.

In St. Francis of Assisi’s biography, Schuegraf notes that, “Francis insisted that all brethren should live in simplicity and poverty and entirely from alms.” Though a man of simple means, the Italian saint did allow himself the luxury of biscotti, a twice-baked sweetened bread. Says Schuegraf: “It is supposedly one of the few foods that St. Francis let himself really enjoy.” Tradition has it that St. Clare prepared it for him.

The search for an authentic biscotti recipe led Schuegraf to Wilma Reiva LaSasso’s 1958 title, The All Italian Cookbook (second edition, Regional Italian Cooking), published by The Macmillan Company. We reprint LaSasso’s recipe here with the kind permission of her estate.

Paletta di Mandorla (Almond Slices)

Yield: 50 slices

1 cup butter

1 1/2 cup sugar

4 eggs

4 cups flour

2 cups almonds, whole, finely chopped or 4 cups almonds, ground

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream butter, sugar, and eggs. Add the other ingredients and knead until smooth. Form two oval-shaped rolls, about 1- inch thick.

Bake in the oven at 375˚  for 10 to 12 minutes until golden brown.When cool, cut into slices 3/4 of an inch thick and toast in the oven for 3 minutes.

Got a really sweet tooth? You can add additional flavor to the biscotti – and emphasize the connection to St. Francis – by dipping half of each treat into dark chocolate and drizzling white chocolate on top to create the appearance of a Franciscan sandal.

Double-Chocolate Coating

Yield: Enough to coat 36 biscotti

6 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 ounces white chocolate

Melt the bittersweet chocolate and butter in a microwave, stirring every 15 seconds until nearly melted. Then, remove and stir until fully melted. Dip half of each biscotti in chocolate, and then let dry on a cooking rack. Melt white chocolate in a microwave – see directions above – and place in a plastic freezer bag with a tiny piece of the corner cut off. Drizzle white chocolate in a crisscross pattern over the bittersweet chocolate, simulating the appearance of a sandal.

A Cache of Catholic Cookbooks

If Cooking with the Saints appeals to you, you might want to check out these other Catholic-oriented cookbooks as well:

A Continual Feast: A Cookbook to Celebrate the Joys of Family and Faith Throughout the Christian Year by Evelyn Birge Vitz, published by Ignatius Press.

From a Monastery Kitchen, Twelve Months of Monastery Soups, Simplicity from a Monastery Kitchen: A Complete Menu Cookbook for All Occasions and other titles by Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette, published by Liguori Publications.

From Saint Hildegard’s Kitchen: Foods of Health, Foods of Joy by Jany Fournier Rosset, published by Liguori Publications.

Breaking Bread with Father Dominic, Breaking Bread with Father Dominic 2, More Breaking Bread, and Bake and Be Blessed: Bread Baking as a Metaphor for Spiritual Growth by Fr. Dominic Garramone, published by Blue Sky Distribution.