Italian Pepper Biscuits

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Week Two: International Week

According to the 2000 census, little old Rhode Island is the US state with the largest population of Italian-Americans (measured by percentage, not raw numbers): fully 19% of Rhode Islanders have Italian ancestry. Although I am 0% Italian on either side, I benefited from my Italian neighbors in a big way: the food. Yeah, yeah, sounds cliche and reductive, but it’s true; RI is chock-full of Italian bakeries and restaurants. From zeppoles on St. Joseph’s Day to iced anise cookies on Easter, even my decidedly non-Italian family enjoys — and bakes — Italian treats on the regular.

For the last day of international week, I’m departing from my British Isles theme and sharing a simple Italian treat: pepper biscuits, or biscotti di pepe. These savory treats pack a little kick thanks to black pepper, and they’re a lovely snack alongside a glass of wine or with your antipasto platter. Funnily, I can’t recall a single exact instance of eating these guys, but they’re familiar to me nonetheless; I think they’re sort of ubiquitous at Italian bakeries and on biscuit trays. And they’re naturally vegan (except for a pesky occasional egg wash).

Italian pepper biscuits

For my biscuits, I used the recipe here, because why reinvent the wheel with a time-honored classic? I did have a spectacular fail when adding the liquid to the flour mixture: I followed the ingredients, which had me mix everything on the countertop rather than in a bowl, but I didn’t make a large enough well for the yeast/water mixture and it went spilling all over the place. I also did not find this to be a particular stiff dough as the recipe suggests; in fact, it was remarkably wet and pliant. I added a little extra flour to compensate, but I’m not sure what happened there — I think it calls for too much oil. I also forgot to give them a second rise. So really, I massacred this recipe. But they still came out nice and peppery, with a soft chew and a lovely crumb.

Next time, I think I’d add fennel seeds for a little more complex flavor; many other recipes call for them. I might also try a non-yeasted recipe — they were breadier than I remember, without much crunch. And next time, I think I’ll make them alongside a batch of Italian wine biscuits, a slightly sweet, lightly purple hued biscuit that’s a joy to eat.

Welsh Cakes — Vegan Welsh Griddle Cakes

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Week Two: International Week

After featuring an Irish recipe on Monday and an English recipe on Tuesday, I figured it was incumbent upon me to hit all the nations of the British Isles. Today we go to Wales for a disarmingly simple treat: Welsh cakes. Traditionally baked on a cast-iron griddle over a fire, these subtly sweet biscuits typically feature currants. Given my lack of an open flame (well, other than my living room fireplace!) and dislike for raisins, I opted for dried apricot-filled cakes baked on the stove in a cast-iron pan. Close enough? Close enough.

Vegan Traditional Welsh Cakes // govegga.com

Many traditional recipes also use a smidge of mixed spice, a spice blend not too common in the United States. Since the amount of spice in these recipes is so small (1/4 – 1/2 tsp), I opted instead to use a dash of a few spices. If you’re the type of person who panics when you see “a dash” or “a pinch” in a recipe, use a 1/8 teaspoon and fill it about halfway. If you don’t have all of these spices, again, no worries. Just use what you’ve got.

I’m ashamed to say I’ve never been to Wales — it’s my last UK nation to visit, and trust me, it’s on my list! (Hello, have you seen how beautiful this country is?!) I’ll have to find some vegan Welsh cakes once I get there. In the meantime, here’s how to make vegan Welsh cakes at home.

Vegan Welsh Cakes

Makes 14-16 cakes

  • 1 2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (measured loosely)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Scant 1/4 tsp salt
  • Pinch each of ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and mace
  • 1/4 cup vegan butter
  • 3 T vegetable shortening
  • 1/4 cup vegan sugar
  • 1/3 cup dried fruit (I used dried apricots, chopped small)
  • 1 Ener-G egg made according to package instructions, then whisked  with scant 1/4 C almond milk

Method

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices. Using a pastry cutter, a fork, or your clean fingers, rub in the vegan butter and shortening to make a crumbly mixture.

Next, stir in the sugar and dried fruit, then add the egg and milk mixture. Combine to form a stiff dough, kneading with your hands if necessary. Tip onto a clean, floured surface and roll until about 1/4″ thick. Use a biscuit cutter or glass to cut out cakes that are about 3″ across.

Preheat a cast-iron pan on medium-low and add a small pat of butter. When melted, add 5-7 cakes (depending on the size of your pan) and cook for about 3 or 4 minutes, until golden-brown. Flip and cook for the same amount of time on the other side. Make sure that your cast-iron pan doesn’t get too hot and be sure to adjust the temperature between batches. If the cakes cook too fast on the outside, the middle will still be doughy.

Best eaten piping hot off the pan, with butter and a little sugar drizzled on top.

Notes

  • I opted for a commercial egg replacer (Ener-G) in this recipe because it seemed like a flax egg would be too obtrusive. Feel free to give it a try, though!
  • I used a vegan butter and shortening blend because some Welsh cake recipes require both butter and lard, and I wanted to provide a few different types of fat. (I like Spectrum Naturals shortening.) You can use vegan butter only, if you’d like.
  • Don’t let my personal issue with raisins/currents prevent you from trying the more traditional dried fruit!

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Vegan Traditional Welsh Cakes // govegga.com

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Navy Bean Biscuits & Roasted Garlic Gravy

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Real talk: Finding substantial sources of calcium has been more difficult than finding sources of protein or iron. I’m learning that although lots of foods contain calcium, they usually don’t contain a whole lot of calcium. That’s not necessarily bad; if you eat a varied diet, you probably acquire little bits of calcium from lots of sources. There just aren’t a lot of calcium powerhouses out there. So far this week, I’ve relied heavily on chia seeds, but let’s face it: woman cannot live on chia alone. It’s time to stop relying on the chia crutch.

In my search for a new calcium crutch, I looked to the ever-faithful bean. Most beans offer a bit of calcium, but nothing to write home about (per cup, black beans have 5% of the RDV, dark red kidney beans have 6%, and pinto beans have 8%). But one bean stands out: the unassuming navy bean. With 13% of the RDV in a cup, they outpace their legume companions by a long shot.

With this recipe, I’m taking full advantage of my new discovery. Navy beans make their way into the two main components of this savory plate of biscuits and gravy, and almond milk and tempeh help increase the calcium content.

Navy Bean Biscuits & Roasted Garlic Gravy

Navy Bean Biscuits with Roasted Garlic Gravy
Makes 16 biscuits and about 5 cups of gravy

For the biscuits:
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cooked navy beans
3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
3 tablespoons very cold vegan butter, cubed

Preheat oven to 450˚ and line a baking pan with parchment paper or spray it lightly with oil and then dust with flour. (If you’re going to chill your dough before baking, you can wait to preheat the oven.)

Using a standard blender or an immersion blender, puree the navy beans and almond milk until smooth. Set aside.

Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to a large mixing bowl and stir to combine. Using a fork, pastry cutter, or your fingertips, cut in the vegan butter until the mixture is coarse and sandy. Make sure there are no large lumps of butter remaining. Add the almond milk and bean mixture and stir with a plastic spatula or wooden spoon until the dough comes together. Don’t over-mix. It’ll be sticky, but that’s okay.

At this point, you can either refrigerate the dough for at least 20 minutes or go ahead and make the biscuits. Refrigerating the dough cools down the butter so that it melts into flaky pockets in the oven, but it’s not strictly necessary. When you’re ready to bake, place the dough on a clean, floured surface. Using a rolling pin, roll it to a little more than 1/2″ thickness. Use a floured glass rim or your favorite round cookie cutter to cut the dough into circles. Place circles on the prepared baking dish about 3/4″ apart. Ball up the dough, roll it out again, and cut more circles. Repeat until you’ve used up all the dough. Bake for 15-17 minutes or until the tops just begin to turn golden. There won’t be a big color change, so watch carefully.

For the gravy:
1 head roasted garlic, removed from papery skins
1 1/2 cups cooked navy beans
3 cups unsweetened almond milk
2 tablespoons vegan butter
1/4 cup flour, any kind
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fennel
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon sage
8 oz. tempeh
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

First, brown the tempeh. Add a little oil to the bottom of a large saucepan and heat over medium. Using your hands, crumble the tempeh into small chunks and add it to the pan. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the tempeh is lightly browned on all sides. Be careful that it doesn’t burn.

While the tempeh browns, use a standard blender or an immersion blender to puree the navy beans, almond milk, and roasted garlic until smooth. Set aside.

Once the tempeh is browned, turn the heat down to medium-low and add the spices and butter to the pan. Once it melts, sprinkle on some of the flour and stir so the tempeh is coated. Pour in about a quarter of the liquid mixture and stir. Add a little more flour and liquid and whisk thoroughly. Continue until you’ve added all the flour and the liquid, whisking carefully to prevent lumps. When all ingredients are thoroughly mixed, turn the heat up a bit (if necessary) until the mixture just begins to bubble. Turn down again and let the gravy thicken, stirring frequently.

Slice biscuits in half, top with gravy, and enjoy!

Navy Bean Biscuits & Roasted Garlic Gravy

The navy beans stand in for some of the fat in the biscuits, making them less flaky than a full-fat biscuit. But once you top them with the rich, creamy, garlicky gravy, you won’t miss the fat! And you can’t taste the beans at all—I can testify to that. S was thoroughly surprised when I told him about that secret ingredient.

Two of these biscuits will give you 5 grams of protein, 11% of your daily recommended value of iron, and 7% of your RDV of calcium. Half a cup of the gravy offers nearly 7 grams of protein, 8% of your RDV of iron, and a whopping 17% of your RDV of calcium.

Now that’s something to write home about.