It's boozing people! Tomorrow is Friday and God knows how much I've waited for this…
The first time I had fat biscottate, I tossed one in my mouth. I coughed. I choked. It didn’t taste like food. It tasted like one of those brown per nkins from a fast food restaurant.
If you’ve never come across this Italian pantry, imagine a lovely, fluffy piece of white bread flattened a bit and then toasted, toasted and re-toasted on the lowest toaster setting – I speak like a two – until the time comes basically obliterated. The end result is rock hard, but somehow not burned, not even well done. It’s just dry. Despite the fact that it’s basically just dry slices of wheat bread, Fette Biscottate has a lot more in common with cardboard. They’re so tasteless that even my carbohydrate-obsessed 5-year-old takes a bite and spits it on the floor.
And yet I adore her.
This type of double-baked bread is widely consumed across Europe and Asia, but I first saw it when I was sharing an art with two young Italian girls in Milan in the early 2000s. I watched my roommates for clues on how to assimilate and eventually realized that the easiest way to transform into an Italian was to eat like one. I examined their closets, reflected their choices as I went shopping, and coughed my way through my first fat biscottat.
The Internet doesn’t translate „fat biscottate” as „crackers” or „cookies”. It goes with „rusk”. The word rusk means nothing to me. I can’t even conjure up a picture in my head. As someone who speaks Italian, the translation in my brain is more like „sliced biscuit bread” which is also misleading because you have nothing distant like a biscuit. They also bear no resemblance to the nut-trimmed things wrapped in cellophane found near cash registers in coffee shops known in America as biscotti. If you are looking for a cookie, you are eating a cookie. If you’re looking for a carbohydrate surfboard, Fette Biscottate is the place for you.
While her lackluster English name accurately describes her boring, tasteless nature, it fails to convey her wonderful potential when paired with toppings. It wasn’t until I watched my Italian roommates bring out jam and ricotta with their fat biscottat, and when I watched them steam milk on the stove so that their espresso could be enjoyed alongside, did I really understand. I collected my own toppings, steamed my milk, and soon fat biscottate was making up most of my Italian mornings. The appeal of Fette Biscottate lies not in what they naturally are, but in what they can be. You can load them with jam and ricotta or go with Nutella. Honey, jam, butter, and nut butters will work. There is no spread that they cannot handle. With the movement of a butter knife they become – almost literally – a blank canvas for creativity in the morning. Her versatility keeps her exciting day in and day out.
Although they are so brittle that they practically collapse under the weight of your breath, fatty biscottat can take on more weight than it seems possible. They are like the ants on the breakfast table. Still, they somehow manage to stay dry at the same time. Fatty biscottates are absolutely moisture-free. If you’re stuck in a desert with nothing to eat or drink, consuming it could actually kill you. However, this dehydration provides just the right contrast to a juicy jam or greasy nut butter. It is the dried up yin to a rich, moisturizing yang; the height and glory of balance.
Spreads and fat biscottat are a powerful combination, but the small rusks reach an even higher level when they hit a latte, combining the crunch around the edges, the soft center, the warm coffee and the cool spread. However, dipping a rusk covered in jam is a structural balancing act. If you dare to bite into one without submerging it, you will get a mountain of crumbs at your feet. On the other hand, Fette Biscottate crumbles in hot milk like a sand castle to water. It only takes a few seconds after you’ve dipped a piece in a latte before it becomes part of your drink. Only by risking such destruction can you achieve the ultimate taste.
Unfortunately for all of us, fat biscottates don’t fly in the US. Here we prefer our packaged breakfast treats with some built-in hydration that are preloaded with sugar and fat, moisture and flavor. I love granola bars, pop tarts, and toaster strudels as much as the next few Americans do, but they’re pre-made items designed for lazy mornings. They don’t ask anything from us.
The next thing I can find in a huge American grocery store today is French „egalite” rusks which, ironically, are in the „luxury” cheese section. You rub your shoulders with high-profile boxes of crackers and don’t dare to step into the Ritz a few aisles down. The taste isn’t that different from fats biscottates, but they don’t meet my needs. They’re too hard and too small, about a quarter the right size. One would have to eat 20 to feel the same weight as four or five biscottate fats. I could top them with jam, but it seems wrong to associate them with cheese. If I am honest, their real wrongdoing is that they are not Italian.
When I feel like having toast that cannot be engraved, I order Fette Biscottate Eataly, Amazonor one of countless internet vendors with more generic names like Italian grocery store On-line. The package itself is usually affordable (around $ 4 or $ 5), but after shipping, it’s a scary price tag for a dried-out piece of pocket-sized bread.
But I like to pay for it from time to time, usually when autumn comes and the air feels like my first landing in Milan. I can practically smell the memory of my Italian breakfast. I eat Fette Biscottate at my table in Wisconsin and envision myself in Italy, where people can take something as bland and dry as a rusk and make something that sounds – and is – as beautiful as Fette Biscottate.
Kelly Green likes dogs more than you. She is a writer and lives in Madison, Wisconsin, where most of her runs end at a bakery.