Reader/friend Lynn D. told me about some lovely Italian buckwheat cookies, and linked me to the recipe, which I had been planning to try ever since. She served them with a rhubarb dish, cleverly noting that buckwheat and rhubarb are botanic relatives. I did try them, and they are wonderful. Yes, I know they look like catfood, only bigger. But they are great.
The story, which can be found, with the recipe, at Melissa Clark's website is interesting, too. I am a huge fan of buckwheat, in all formats, and I'm just going to have to go on about that a little bit. Kasha-or buckwheat groats (varniskas-with bowtie noodles-or otherwise), buckwheat noodles (soba), and buckwheat pancakes are particular favorites. I'm sure you understand that I cannot help but digress. I promise to return to the cookies shortly.
Re buckwheat pancakes (in memorium): Pamela's, a Pittsburgh breakfast institution, used to serve the world's best buckwheat pancakes. This diner-like restaurant now has a number of locations, include a retro-hipsterish one in the Strip District. (That's the one in the photo.) The original is the smallest, and is located in my Squirrel Hill neighborhood. There is a line on the street every weekend and holiday morning for breakfast at one of the crowded formica tables. Pamela's is famous for their pancakes, which are dinnerplate size, thin and crepe-like, and sport a delightful crisp lacy border. These were once available in "regular" or buckwheat.
I was devoted to the buckwheat ones; they were heavenly- thin, delicate and lacy, with the dark, slightly caramel nuttiness of buckwheat. One day several years ago, I ordered them, and was told that they were no longer offered. The reason? "Not enough people liked them." I told the cook on duty that I personally liked them enough for 10 normal people, but she was unmoved.
I suppose that I could have figured out an approximation to make at home, but I don't really want to make them at home. I love to eat breakfast out, so I'm eating the "regular" ones at Pamela's now, when I go there. Eating an elaborate breakfast out is a huge treat in so many ways. All the best breakfast goodies are rare events in our lives these days. Few of us now work physically, dawn to dusk, burning calories like racehorses. If we ate this kind of thing all the time, we would be leaden. So when we do indulge, it is a special occasion.
Then too, when we eat breakfast out, once replete, we can head straight home for the couch and newspaper, or (if virtuous) for a long walk to work it all off, either one without paying the price in soapsuds and pot scrubbing. Big greasy breakfasts are hell to clean up, and look depressing soaking in the sink, if you leave them for later. Finally, the best of breakfasts out are generally much, much cheaper than mediocre restaurant dinners. You see my point.
Having wandered far from the cookies, I might as well go on about my personal Vegetarian Kasha Varnishkas (hereinafter "K.V.").This classic combo of buckwheat groats, bowtie noodles and gravy, is incredibly simple to make when it it prepared as a side with a brisket in gravy. You simple mix the cooked kasha and pasta, stir in some gravy, sprinkle with parsley, and there you are.
But what if you have vegetarian family members? You wouldn't have made a brisket if you weren't feeding a group-often a large family gathering. Almost any such gathering these days will include a few vegetarians. It is patently unfair at a festve meal to offer side dishes which are boring without the addition of puddles of meat gravy. I have thus devised the following version, which is good with and without meat gravy. (Those of us who love gravy on our KV need not suffer a version incompatible with gravy.)
The key is a combination of mushrooms-dried and fresh, onions, and asian-style dark sesame oil. You soak some dried mushrooms overnight in dry sherry, if you have some, or otherwise, water. The strained soaking liquid is used as part of the liquid when making your kasha according to the package directions, including also a snippet of thyme. The kasha is combined with a hefty helping of slowly carmelized onions, the sauteed fresh and dried mushrooms, and a glop of the sesame oil, as well as salt and pepper. Mix with cooked bowties, sprinkle with some fresh herbs, and you have KVs good with, or without, some nice gravy.
Now then, the cookies:
This is an easy recipe, though once you see the dough, I don't think you will be inclined to try piping it through a pastry bag- it is quite stiff. The ball and fork option is fine, and I think the more rustic cookie is cuter, anyhow. Personally, if I make homemade cookies, I like the recipients to be able to tell they are homemade, without having to say so. This is sheer vanity, of course. But you see, if you must say so, it sounds as if 1) you think you are a big deal because you made cookies, and 2) you think you are so clever that your cookies look like the work of a pro, so you need to explain. Obviously, I spend too much time thinking about the trivial.
In any event-I love these homely cookies, which are subtle and addictive. The distinctive buckwheat caramel is there, but they are hardly sweet at all. They are sandy, yet crisp.I can see that they would go beautifully with that rhubarb, and/or something creamy and sweet. There is a yummy after taste, rich and dark. I am wondering if my elderly mother will like them . She generally enjoys cookies which are plain and rich, to have with her tea, and has been a bit disappointed that I haven't baked her any recently. I'm not sure how she feels about buckwheat, though. I will take her some of these to the Mother's Day festivities at my brother's place, along with her present (BBC Mystery dvds), and see what she thinks.
And just one more final disconnected buckwheat rambling: It is apparently very important to get buckwheat flour fresh, and keep it refrigerated, or in the freezer. Melissa Clark and Shuna both say so, and I believe them. If I had access to Anson Mills buckwheat, I would have used that, but this wonderful company does not offer their buckwheat flour in small quanties by mail-order (You can get their other stuff, though, like excellent cornmeal, in household-sized quantities, and it is beyond great.). I got Bob's Red Mill buckwheat flour at the Iggle.,and popped it in the freezer-but it was not chilled at the Iggle, and I don't know if it was sitting out awhile-or not. Probably not, as the cookies were delicious.