After living in a foreign country for a while, once the honeymoon phase is over, one starts to see things and people through a different, sometimes critical eye. Years ago, the first time I stepped foot in Italy, I thought everything and everyone was gorgeous and I romanticized that image for years in my head. It was summertime, and strolling through historic Rome in the light of dusk, the women were all so beautiful with their sun dresses, and their flowing hair, and the men were all groomed and dashing. When we returned to actually live here, I discovered that Italians come in all shapes and sizes just like anywhere else! Reality had just set in.
It's no secret, Italians are image conscious, and they do spend a lot of time and money on their appearances. Some have a different style than I am entirely comfortable with (what my husband and I call "peacocking") but it certainly makes for some interesting people watching.
So, perhaps it's fitting for this country to have a cookie known as by the descriptive name "ugly, but good." When I first discovered these cookies I was delighted and intrigued, because the linguist in me loves the obvious names Italians sometimes give to food. Ever heard of maltagliati? "Badly-cut pasta." I finally set out to make them based on their name alone. They are a gem of a cookie. No butter, a negligible amount of flour, essentially they are meringues. Mine turned out soft and chewy, a little crunch from the addition of chopped hazelnuts and mini-chocolate chips baked right in there- they are light tasting, wonderful little creatures. I'm not sure how these earned the name ugly, but I guess different cultures perceive beauty in different ways.
Brutti Ma Buoni
Makes 24 cookies.
These are simple and fast to make, and have a refreshingly short ingredient list. They can be made with or without chocolate, with hazelnuts or with a combination of hazelnuts and almonds. I cannot say that my recipe is very authentic, not having eaten the originals. I researched around the internet and concocted a batch based on the basic quantities of 4 egg whites, 1 cup of sugar. Some recipes used the lemon rind and a bit of cinnamon, others added amaretto liqueur. There were some without any flour and some with up to 3 tablespoons. Here's what I ended up using:
4 egg whites
1 cup sugar (I would decrease this next time to 3/4 cup.)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup toasted hazelnuts
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (optional)
Beat the egg whites with a hand-held mixer until soft peaks form. Slowly add the sugar and continue to beat until incorporated, about two minutes. Beat in the flour and the vanilla. Chop the hazelnuts and add to the egg whites, folding them in gently along with the chocolate chips if using. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silpat (if you have neither just butter the baking sheets.) Using a tablespoon or soup spoon, drop the cookie batter onto the sheets, smoothing each slightly with the back of the spoon (or leave a few peaks so you can call them ugly.) Bake in a 300 degree oven for 25-30 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes before carefully removing with a spatula to continue cooling on racks.