Gretchen McKay

Hatching a plan to bring chefs, kids and others to a chile fest

Fall flavors: Green chile stew made with New Mexican Hatch chiles. Gretchen McKay

 

Nicola DiCio’s grin is as warm as the bright September sunshine when we pull into White Oak Farm, the 50-acre farm straddling Hampton and Indiana townships that’s been in his family for three generations. He has a good reason to be happy.

Not so very long ago, the large timber-frame barn — the one that next weekend will welcome hundreds to the region’s first-ever Hatch chile festival — was about one good gust of wind from falling down after decades of neglect. Running Reyna Foods, the bustling Mexican food store he owns in the Strip District, left precious time or energy for making repairs. Especially since he also operates a tortilla chip factory on the banks of the Allegheny River in Armstrong County.

Eventually, though, the lure of almost 100 years of family history proved too strong to ignore. Three years ago, Mr. DiCio decided it was time to breathe new life back into the farm on which he’d spent much of his childhood. So working rafter by rafter and stone by stone, he slowly rebuilt the rickety barn from the ground up.

“It was always my intention to tie the farm into my current business,” says Mr. DiCio, who as a teenager grew thousands of tomatoes on the land to sell to wholesaler Charley Brothers, which in the 1970s distributed to Shop ‘N Save grocery stores. He started Reyna in 1987, at age 24, after deciding he wasn’t cut out for pharmacy school. “Once I got started, I really enjoyed it and kept renovating.”

His eye for detail is so exacting that the bank barn, he notes with a proud laugh, is in better shape today than when it was built in the late 1800s by his Italian grandfather Nicola Domenico DiCio, who worked for the Fort Pitt and Duquesne breweries before becoming a beer distributor. Tempered windows now fill the once dungeon-like space with light. A new French drain promises to keep it dry. And there’s a pretty patch of cobblestone instead of dirt welcoming guests at the entrance.

Not that the first-annual Pepper Farm Festival on Oct. 6 will revolve around architecture. Rather, the day-long event aims to introduce Pittsburghers to what those in the Southwest have enjoyed for generations: the intoxicating smell of Hatch chile peppers roasting over an open fire, and the equally addictive taste of their smoky flesh in everything from salsa and dips to stews and enchiladas

. This will be the third year in a row Mr. DiCio will truck in and roast fresh New Mexico Hatch chiles for the buying public. But many still are unfamiliar with the long and skinny fruit, which some in the pepper-loving community consider nothing short of a tragedy. That includes Mr. DiCio, who will sell as many of the fresh peppers as he can get his hands on.

“They’re so good,” he says.

Having been to Santa Fe in early September, I agree there’s nothing quite like New Mexico-grown green chiles. And no town does it better than the tiny village of Hatch just north of Las Cruces. Known as the “Chile Capital of the World, it’s so famous for its mild- to blistering-hot chiles that up to 30,000 fans gather each Labor Day weekend for an annual two-day chile festival to celebrate the harvest. This year’s gathering on Sept. 1 and 2 marked 41 years.

Nic DiCio in his pepper garden in Hampton. Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette

Tickets to Mr. DiCio’s inaugural event cost $5 in advance at reynafoods.com (or $8 at the gate) and what a bang for the buck. In addition to cooking classes and food from local chefs and farmers — Justin Severino of Lawrenceville’s Cure is preparing a special Hatch sausage — the daylong party includes craft vendors and artists, live music, a masa (dough) making presentation, hay rides and chile bobbing and eating contests.

Mr. DiCio also will demonstrate how to make ristras, the colorful strings made with freshly picked, mature red chile pods that when dried help cooks spice up their favorite recipes.

Can’t make it to the country? Skinned and seeded Hatch chiles will be available for purchase at Reyna, too, after the event, though the market price has yet to be determined. Reyna also sells canned Hatch chiles.

Fresh Hatch chiles are hard to find on Pittsburgh menus, so the festival is sure to draw a large crowd. Big Burrito Group, which each August offers a special Hatch menu at its Mad Mex restaurants, already has called it quits, and the Hatch chile burgers at Fuddruckers, should you be up for the three-hour drive to the closest location in Chambersburg, will be equally fleeting.

The Pepper Farm Festival is the second public event at Mr. DiCio’s farm, where unplanted fields stretch into the treeline along Wagner Road. During Prohibition, his grandfather hid giant cement vats in the hillside in which he fermented corn mash for moonshine sold in a speakeasy. Until federal agents sniffed their way up the creek, that is, ordered him to stop and then blew the vats up with dynamite.

Two years ago, Mr. DiCio started a few “experimental” fields above the barn. That’s quickly grown into a dream of turning the farm into a seasonal pantry for local chefs and restaurants by growing fresh herbs and vegetables using sustainable farming methods. Already, he’s busy honing his expanding chile pepper crop using seeds saved from last year’s Hatch harvest, and during a walk to a pretty pond at a far corner of the property, he reveals plans not just for a smokehouse in which to smoke and dry peppers, but also a new 14-stall barn for a team of draft horses. There’s also some talk of hydroponics

. “I want to plow the fields by hand, like the Amish,” he says. A serious wine maker who is equally serious about the violin, Mr. DiCio proudly points out a grape crusher with an expandable bladder and an impressive-looking wine press that he stores in the barn. He served some of his homemade reds and whites at an Italian barbecue he hosted with five local chefs at the farm for 100 of their closest friends earlier this summer, and he’d like to do more.

“I want to get people more in touch with where their food comes from,” he says, including the school children he’d like to visit the farm.

With his blue eyes and Italian surname, customers are often surprised to learn the 48-year-old is half Mexican. His mother, Lydia Reyna, was born in Reynosa, Mexico, and raised just three miles from the Mexican border in McAllen, Texas. She liked nothing better than feeding her family the native dishes she learned to make as a girl, so he grew up eating as many fresh tortillas as he did homemade pastas.

“I’d bring them into school, and nobody knew what they were,” he says.

Today, his big blue factory in Cadogan cranks out 2,000 pounds each day of some of the country’s best tortilla chips, made via traditional techniques using equipment he designed and engineered. Each day in his Strip District store, workers knead corn masa into hundreds of fresh tortillas. He also sells warm fresh flour tortillas — a simple but perfect wrapping for a freshly roasted Hatch chile.

Mr. DiCio got into the Mexican food biz in a tiny storefront in Etna in 1987. The first store of its kind in Pittsburgh, it expanded so quickly that within a year he’d relocated to the Strip. A year later, he opened his chip factory. He moved to his current location at 2031 Penn Ave. in 2008, and sometime early next year will open a restaurant in the lower level serving the traditional Mexican food Pittsburghers increasingly hunger for.

Nic DiCio is growing pepper from Hatch seed on his farm in Hampton.

The festival, he says, was a natural outgrowth of the wildly successful Hatch green chile roasts employee Linda Jones cooked up in front of the store the past two years. Still, he had to compromise on the name, agreeing to call it a pepper festival instead of a Hatch fest so people wouldn’t be scared off.

Hatch doesn’t refer to the cultivar, Mr. DiCio explains, but rather the region where the pepper is grown. It’s a serious distinction: A new state law that went into effect in July prohibits vendors from labeling their chiles as New Mexico chile unless the peppers were grown there. Planted in April, the first Hatch chiles arrive in mid- to late-August. If it’s a good growing season — and this year was — you can buy the fresh chiles through the beginning of October.

Hatch aficionados say the fertile volcanic soil of the Rio Grande Valley, coupled with the hot days and cool nights, are what give Hatch chiles their culinary edge. They’re best enjoyed roasted, a process that loosens their tough green skins and brings out their flavor. If they’re red, that means they’ve ripened in the field and developed an almost smoky flavor. But those generally don’t get roasted: the dried pods either are ground into a powder for seasoning and sauces or strung into ristras.

In New Mexico, chile peppers are roasted in wire cages heated by propane gas in parking lots and roadside stands, driving anyone within wafting distance bonkers with the pungent, delicious smell. So Mr. DiCio will fire up a big mesh barrel just outside his barn, too. He’ll roast 25 pounds at a time, continually turning the cage until the crackling, snapping peppers lose their skin.

Be sure to breathe deeply.


GREEN CHILE STEW

This fragrant, flavorful stew is probably the most famous dish made with Hatch green chiles. Serve with fresh flour tortillas from Reyna Foods in the Strip District.

  • 2 pounds lean pork, cubed
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 to 3 cups chopped roasted green chiles
  • 3 cups diced tomato, fresh or canned
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed

Dredge meat in flour and brown with onion in hot oil. Add garlic and stir for 1 minute. Add remaining ingredients, except potato. Cover and simmer for at least 1/2 hour, stirring occasionally. Add potatoes and simmer another 1/2 hour. Makes 6 servings. — Nick DiCio, Reyna Foods


GREEN CHILE CHICKEN ENCHILADA CASSEROLE

Hatch chiles + chicken + tortillas = delicious. Gretchen Mckay

Even my father, whose tolerance for spicy foods is limited, thought this dish was terrific. To cut down on cooking time, use shredded breast meat from a rotisserie chicken.

  • 11- to 12-ounce can condensed cream of chicken soup
  • 1 cup half-and-half or canned evaporated milk
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 1 dozen corn tortillas
  • 2 cups shredded cooked chicken
  • 1 cup chopped roasted mild to medium New Mexican green chiles, fresh or thawed frozen, or more to taste
  • 4 ounces (1 cup) shredded Colby or mild cheddar cheese
  • 2 ounces ( 1/2 cup) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup finely chopped onion

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a large shallow baking dish. Stir together soup and half-and-half in a small bowl. Heat 1/2 to 1 inch oil in a small skillet until oil ripples. With tongs, dunk each tortilla in oil long enough for it to go limp, a matter of seconds. Don’t let tortilla become crisp. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Drain on paper towels. Slice tortillas in quarters. Make 2 to 3 layers of tortilla pieces, chicken, chile, both cheeses, onion, and soup mixture. Leave enough soup mixture to top the casserole generously, covering all the tortilla triangles. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until heated through and bubbly. Serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8. — “Tasting New Mexico” by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison (Museum of New Mexico Press, March 2012, $29.95)


MACHO CHILE RELLANOS

Hot and cheesy chile rellenos. Gretchen McKay

Make sure the oil is really hot, or the rellenos will take too long to cook and get greasy. Smother in salsa and serve with lettuce and tomato. If you can’t find Hatch chiles, substitute poblano or Anaheim.

  • 6 Hatch or other New Mexican green chiles
  • 1/2 pound Monterey Jack cheese
  • 4 eggs, divided
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup oil for frying

Roast chiles and peel, leaving stem on the chile. Pat chile dry with paper towel. Cut a small slit on 1 side of each chile. Cut cheese into 6 long sticks. Place 1 stick of cheese into each chile. Beat egg whites in medium bowl until stiff. Slightly beat egg yolks. Mix yolks with whites. Roll chile in flour then dip in egg mixture. Fry in hot oil until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Makes 6 servings. — Eloisa Mendez, grand prizer winner, “Hatch Chile Festival Cookbook” ($18, hatchchilefest.com)


GREEN CHILE CHEESEBURGERS

Green chile cheeseburgers are a popular menu item in New Mexico. Gretchen McKay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First offered on local menus in the mid 1950s, green chile cheeseburgers are so popular in New Mexico that the state tourism department has developed an official “green chile cheeseburger trail” of restaurants, drive-ins and dives offering them (newmexico.org/culinary). Don’t worry about them being messy — it’s expected.

  • 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 pounds freshly ground beef chuck
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 burger-sized slices mild cheddar, American or Monterey Jack cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups chopped roasted mild to hot new Mexican green chiles, fresh or thawed frozen, warmed
  • 6 large sturdy hamburger buns
  • Ketchup or mayonnaise
  • 6 thick slices large red-ripe tomatoes (skip them out of season)
  • Crisp iceberg lettuce leaves and slices of milk onion, dill pickles, or crisp cooked bacon, optional
  • Fire up grill.

Mix together ground chuck, salt and pepper. Gently form the mixture into 6 patties 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick. Your patties should hold together but avoid handling them any longer than necessary. Grill burgers uncovered over high heat for 1 1/2 minutes per side. Move burgers to medium heat and rotate a half turn for crisscross grill marks. Do not — DO NOT — mash the burgers with a spatula. Cook for 31/2 to 4 minutes longer, then turn once more and cover each burger with cheese. Cook another 31/2 to 4 minutes for medium doneness, a bare hint of pink at the center of each crusty richly browned burger. Smear buns with ketchup or mayo. If you’re using tomatoes, or another of the other optional toppings, arrange on each bun next. Follow with cheese-covered burgers. Spoon chile over each. Crown with bun tops. Eat burgers hot from the grill, squeezing buns gently to mingle all the juices. Serves 6. — “Tasting New Mexico” by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison (Museum of New Mexico Press, March 2012, $29.95)


HATCH CHILE SALSA

The hotter the chile, the hotter the salsa. So choose a mild cultivar like NuMex 6-4 Heritage, from a long line developed by New Mexico State University, if your taste buds are timid.

  • 1 piece whole white onion, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 4 pieces garlic cloves
  • 1 pound tomatillos
  • 2 Hatch chiles, roasted and seeded
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 dash kosher salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut top off of small head of garlic and place on a sheet of aluminum foil. Pour 1 tablespoon olive oil over it and sprinkle with salt. Fold the foil into a pouch like shape and place in the oven. Roast garlic for about 45 minutes at 400 degrees until cloves are soft and golden brown. Remove cloves by squeezing the skin or piercing each clove with fork. Meanwhile, on a grill, roast tomatillos and Hatch chiles until skin is black and charred all over. Immediately place in a paper bag for about 3 minutes, then remove the tomatillos and Hatch chiles and begin removing the charred skin and seeds. Heat the oil in a saute pan and caramelize the onion over medium heat. Transfer all vegetables and any juices to a food processor. Add the cumin, lime, and salt to taste. Pulse mixture until well combined but still chunky. Serves 6. — Whole Foods Market, Pittsburgh

ROASTING CHILES: A PRIMER
There’s no culinary law you have to roast a Hatch, or any other New Mexican chile, before eating it. But they sure taste better that way, and besides, it’s really easy. The real problem is getting your hands on a couple of pounds without breaking the bank. (You can find them a few places online, but it’ll cost you.) Here’s how: Wash and dry chile. Place chiles under a broiler or in a 450-degree oven for 6 to 8 minutes, or until skin is charred. Or roast them over an open flame on your stovetop, or on a hot grill, turning the chiles every few minutes, until the skin is black and blistered. Place chiles in a plastic or paper bag (use tongs so you don’t burn your fingers) and close the top; the steam will loosen the skins. When chiles are cool, remove them from bag, and remove the skin with your fingers. (If it gets too messy, run water over your hands and not the chiles or you’ll lose all that good smoky flavor.) De-stem (unless you’re making rellenos,) scoop out the seeds and then chop the silky flesh into small pieces (that freeze for a year).

This is Pittsburgh food: On the cookie tables

This is the sixth “This Is Pittsburgh Food,” a series of stories and videos on local traditions by Gretchen McKay and videographer and photographer Steve Mellon.

The Cookie Table is a Pittsburgh wedding tradition. Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette

When Cristina Lazzaro started planning her wedding to Brian Perris, her checklist included all the bridal basics: A stunning gown. A swanky dinner reception for 250 guests. A relaxing beach honeymoon. A tiered wedding cake from which the newlyweds would give each other bites in front of the oohing and aahing crowd.

And, of course, cookies. Lots and lots of cookies.

So many were piled high on the couple’s wedding cookie table — make that tables — that the sugary spread took up an entire room at Bella Sera, the Tuscan-inspired hall in Canonsburg where they held the reception last month. More than 6,000 cookies in all, if you were counting (and many were) and every one was homemade, thanks to a Herculean effort that took 21 family members several weeks, and untold amounts of sugar, butter and flour, to pull off.

Not that anyone was complaining.

“We made 100 trays for our last wedding, too,” notes Cristina’s mother, Maria Lazzaro, referring to her oldest daughter Rosanna’s wedding in 2010.

“For us, it doesn’t feel like a wedding unless we have a cookie table,” agrees the bride, a teacher with the Pittsburgh School District. “It’s a big family tradition. Everyone is bringing cookies.”

No one is really sure where, or how, the Pittsburgh cookie table tradition started. But the general consensus is that it’s a custom the region’s many Italian and Eastern European immigrants brought with them from their homelands. An elaborate wedding cake is expensive; homemade cookies not so much, especially when baking them is shared among the extended family. Mrs. Lazzaro, who at age 5 moved to the U.S. with her parents from the small town of Ateleta in Italy’s Abruzzo region, remembers how the aunts and cousins would bake up a storm before family celebrations and holidays such as Christmas. So as an adult, she continued the tradition with her own family.

“We try to keep up the old way, even though we’re here and not in the Old Country,” she says.

Today, the practice is so ingrained in Pittsburgh’s wedding culture that it crosses all ethnic and religious lines, with tins of homemade cookies sharing the spotlight with the wedding cake at even the ritziest weddings. Which isn’t to say cookie tables are unique to the area, or even Pennsylvania, for that matter. Parts of New York, West Virginia, Virginia, New Jersey and Ohio (especially Youngstown) all share some version of the wedding custom, according to local historians.

Pittsburghers, though, still claim it.

Cristina Lazzaro and Brian Perris’ Pittsburgh wedding reception included a cookie table with more than 6,000 cookies. Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette

Treasured family recipes are a must on a traditional cookie table, so bright and early the Saturday morning before the wedding, Mrs. Lazzaro, her three daughters and a half-dozen relatives gather in her Ross kitchen to bake some favorites handed down over the generations. There’ll be cookies from both northern and southern Italy, because as the bride’s aunt Maria Tolomeo of Shaler explains, “Each region has a different tradition of cookies.”

So different, that the sisters-in-law can’t even tell you what each other’s specialties are called in Italian.

Mrs. Lazzaro’s mother, Giovanna Ricci, 85, who lives in Bloomfield and speaks with a lilting Italian accent, is tasked with making hundreds of snowflake-shape pizzelles at the dining room table. Nearby, the bride’s 9-year-old cousin Ilaria Lazzaro fiddles with a tray of sugary Pesche Dolci, cookies that look exactly like miniature peaches; outside on the patio, another cousin is frying a savory biscuit-like treat known as Gravioli in a large vat of oil set on a portable burner. Allowed to cool and dry until crunchy in a box lined with paper towels, they’ll be served as a bar nibble with wine before dinner.

Mrs. Tolomeo has the toughest cookie job, or at least the most intricate: crafting dozens of Nacatole, a traditional deep-fried Calabrian treat. After rolling a sweet yeast dough into long, thin ropes and cutting it into 18-inch lengths, she wraps each piece around a thin dowel and then up and down the sides, after which she carefully pinches the seams together. After the sweet is removed from the peg, she places it on a comb-like tool called a pettine to create the cookie’s characteristic “rifling.” Fried in oil, they’re crunchy, with just the slightest hint of her husband’s homemade red wine folded into each bite.

“It’s a labor of love,” says Mrs. Tolomeo, who will spend several hours kneading, rolling and wrapping the dough into crown-shaped biscuits. “Everyone makes them to show their love for the couple.”

The morning before the wedding, aunts and cousins meet at the Lazzaro’s house with their myriad offerings. There are so many boxes and wicker baskets of cookies, it takes five cars to transport them the half hour to the reception hall, where they’ll be stored until after the wedding.

Baking? That was easy, says Mrs. Lazzaro with a tired smile.

“This is the hard part. I just want to get them out of the house so we can relax and enjoy the party.”

Not to mention once again be able to prepare a proper meal for the family: With so many cookies taking up room in the fridge there’s been no “real” food for days.

At the reception after dinner, it takes three servers just about 15 minutes to unwrap and lay out the cookies after rolling them into the “cookie room” off the main hall on carts. To assure a big reveal, they keep the doors closed, and shoosh away the nosy people who try to sneak a peak. When the room finally opens up at around 8:30 p.m., there is a bit of a mad rush as the first guests file in.

Peanut Blossoms are always the first cookie to disappear from a Pittsburgh cookie table. Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette

Peanut Blossoms are always among the first cookies to disappear. So the Lazzaros have two varieties — a traditional cookie rolled in sugar and another dipped in coconut. There are also nut horns, Italian cupcakes, tarts and tassies, lady locks, Nonni’s pizzelles and countless butter, chocolate and sugar cookies.

Some of the cookies are eaten right away as dessert. But many dozens more are immediately packed into plastic boxes to be taken home for breakfast the next morning. This is one time you don’t have to be shy about being a bit of a cookie hog: When one guest tries to walk away with a half-full container, bridesmaid Angela Bucci sends her back to the table.

“There’s too much room on top,” she gently scolds her. “They have to be completely smashed in.”

As for how to assure you get your favorites in the race to the table?

“You run as fast as you can,” says the bride’s sister, Marina Lazzaro, 19. She was only half kidding.

Spectacular as the event is, this isn’t the biggest cookie table ever laid out at Bella Sera. For their daughter Beth’s reception on Jan. 2, 2010, Peg and Jack Lydic of Bethel Park tempted friends and family with some 21,000 cookies in more than two dozen varieties — or roughly nine dozen per guest, who stuffed them into 400 takeaway containers.

“And all of them were beautiful,” says event coordinator Michelle Houston.

With one more daughter and many nieces, nephews and cousins, the Lazzaros know this is not their last cookie table. Far from it.

“We keep saying as a joke that we want to do away with it, because it’s so much work,” says Mrs. Lazzaro. But everyone knows that will never happen.

“It’s a way of connecting with our Italian heritage,” says the bride. “It makes us feel even more Italian when we get together.”


 Amaretti con Pignoli

Amaretti Con Pignoli. Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette

Amaretti is the Italian name for macaroons. The perfect accompaniment for a cup of coffee or espresso, the cookies are crunchy on the outside, and chewy on the inside. This version is rolled in pine nuts.

  • 2 cups almond paste
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 8 tablespoons flour (heaping)
  • 3 egg whites
  • Pine nuts

Cream together almond paste and sugar in food processor. Add 8 tablespoon of flour and 3 egg whites mixed together. Take 1 tablespoon full of dough and roll into ball (if sticky, lightly flour hands). Roll one side of dough in pine nuts. Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes on top shelf of oven until golden brown. Cool on parchment paper before removing. The cookies can be stored in a container for up to 1 week.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

— Maria Lazzaro, Ross


Hawaiian tarts. Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hawaiian Tarts

For the cookie
  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
For filling
  • 1 cup pineapple preserves, divided
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut
  • Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven 350 degrees.

Make cookie dough: In a large bowl combine flour, powdered sugar and cornstarch; mix well. Add butter and vanilla, and stir until soft dough forms. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place balls into 36 miniature muffin cups. Press in bottom and up sides of each cup.

Make filling: Spoon 1 teaspoon pineapple preserves into each dough-lined cup. In a small bowl, combine sugar and egg, and beat with fork until blended. Stir in coconut until coated well with egg. Spoon 1 teaspoon coconut mixture over preserves in each cup.

Bake tarts for 23 to 33 minutes, or until light golden brown. Cool in pans for 20 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar.

Makes 36 tarts.

— Maria Lazzaro, Ross


 

Nut Horns

This makes “a bucket” of cookies, but they freeze well. You also can store them in an airtight container for up to a month in a cool place.

For dough
  • 2 pounds butter (8 sticks), softened
  • 1 pound (2 cups) sour cream
  • 10 egg yolks
  • 3 teaspoons yeast, diluted in 3 to 4 tablespoons of warm water
  • 8 to 9 cups flour
For filling
  • 3 cups walnuts, ground really fine
  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus more for rolling
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Vanilla

To make dough, place butter, sour cream, egg yolks and dissolved yeast in a large bowl. Mix until creamy. Slowly add flour, mixing as you go, until you get a dough that is soft and elastic. Form dough into balls the size of pingpong balls. Place on cookie sheet, cover and refrigerate overnight.

To make filling, place ground walnuts, sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Add vanilla, a little at a time, until the ingredients stick together in a paste.

Working with just 5 or 6 chilled dough balls at a time (the butter will cause the dough to soften if it sits too long on the counter), roll dough into small circles. Spread about 1 teaspoon filling in the middle of each circle, then roll up. Roll cookies in sugar, then arrange seam side down onto an ungreased cookie sheet into a horn (half-moon) shape.

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, or until cookies are golden brown.

Makes 70 to 80 cookies.

— Maria Tolomeo, Shaler