Welcome back to my Regions of Italy project, based on the recipes of the book La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine). This week I’m still in the home of my family, Basilicata, which is a gorgeous, mountainous region that sits on the “sole” of the boot of Italy.
This recipe is for cookies called Ossa di Morti, or Bones of the Dead. Traditionally made on the Day of Dead, November 2, they are usually meant to resemble bones; however, this recipe instructs that the cookies be shaped into figure 8s, so that’s what I did. But I get the feeling that I didn’t quite get what they were trying to convey.
As I made them, it seemed to me like they were a variation of taralli. One of the reasons I thought they were supposed to be like taralli is that the recipe calls for boiling the dough before baking them, which is what you do to make taralli, pretzels, and other similar snacks. But once I had the finished product, I realized that they weren’t meant to be anything like taralli. They’re too sweet to be taralli, yet the texture wasn’t quite that of a cookie. Furthermore, I did a little research (which I wish I’d done before I made these), they’re usually shaped more like bones (which, of course, makes sense).
Of course, I would decide to launch a cooking project like this just before the onslaught of summer. We have entered the dog days here in New York, so to turn on the oven to give these cookies another go was out of the question. In fact, anything that requires the oven is getting pushed to the fall. So, I’ll be going back and forth through the regions, rather than shooting straight through them from A to Z, as I had originally intended.
So, I’m calling this Round 1 for Ossi di Morti. Round 2 will be later this year, and I’ll hopefully get a better handle on this.
Oddly, I’d never heard of Ossi di Morti. My mother never made them, nor did my grandmother (that I can recall) or any of my aunts. So, this project really is turning out to be a learning journey for me.
By the way, the original recipe calls for lard, but I’m not a fan of using lard, so I substituted butter. Otherwise, everything is according to the recipe. I plan on improving on it when the weather cools, so stay tuned.
Ossa di Morti
Bones of the Dead Cookies
Recipe adapted from La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine). Published by Rizzoli Publications.
2 2/3 pounds all-purpose flour
10 large eggs
2/3 cup anise liqueur (like anisette or Pernod)
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. F.
In a large bowl or on a work surface, make a well with the flour. Place the eggs in the center, then the liqueur, sugar, olive oil, butter, and lemon zest.
Using either a fork or your hand, begin combining the ingredients by slowly drawing in the flour to the center and mixing it in. Keep bringing it in until all the flour and wet ingredients are combined (if you’re using a fork, at some point, you’ll need to switch to your hand). Make sure everything is incorporated, but don’t overmix.
Cut the dough into quarters. Work with one quarter at a time and keep the other covered with a bowl.
Break off bits of dough, about 1 inch each, and roll them into logs. (The recipe then says to fold them over like the number eight, but leave them as logs). Place them on a flat surface next to the stove.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place a few of the cookies in the water. As soon as they rise to the surface, scoop them out with a slotted spoon and place them on the prepared baking sheet.
Bake them for about 20 minutes, until set in the center. Transfer them to cooling racks and let them cool completely.
Makes approximately 3 dozen.