first appeared on Ciao Pittsburgh, June 6, 2014
When I was growing up there was a simple table cookie that I particularly favored. It was ubiquitous and it seemed to appear in all of the bakeries and kitchens that I frequented. It was a plain cookie, not flashy but what could be described as a peasant cookie. What it lacked in appearance it make up for in taste.
This is a popular treat in the Italian American communities in New England, especially in my home state of Rhode Island. There are many variations of this cookie, but the main component to this treat is wine. Some recipes will use white, some reds, or blends. I have a preference for the use of the red wines because it will yield a beautiful purple hue to this cookie with a spectacular taste.
A few people I know will also use their own homemade wine in these cookies. That is a special treat, and I do enjoy getting a hold of those rare cookies.
For many years I tried to make the recipe that was given to me by my grandmother. The wine biscuits were passable, but I was truly never happy with them. Then a friend of mine Lisa Starnino Mallinson was talking about making them and was happy to share her recipe with me.
Lisa is a childhood friend of mine and she just happens to be a fellow foodie. Lisa and I went to the same elementary school and grew up in the same neighborhood. We shared the similar lifestyles of growing up in an Italian American home.
Lisa’s wine biscuits are delicious, they are the perfect combination of sweet from the sugar and mild bite from the wine. They are the perfect accompaniment with a cup of coffee for breakfast, or tea for an afternoon treat.
She learned to make these “about 20 years ago from her grandmother on her mom’s side” and she has been making these wonderful treats for family and friends ever since. There was one particular person who adored her wine biscuits, it was her dad Armando Starnino.
Mondo as he was called, liked the other dishes that his daughter made but it was the wine biscuits that were his favorites. Lisa told me that when she was still living at home her “dad’s face would light up when I would make them ….and he would eat them as fast as they came out of the oven”.
Mondo was born in Providence, RI and grew up in Federal Hill which is the Little Italy section of the city of Providence. He grew up surrounded by good Italian food. Lisa said that her dad liked other Italian delicacies however, it was her homemade wine biscuits that he liked the most. Lisa continued to make these treats for her dad long after she was married and had a family of her own.
I must admit that every time I make the wine biscuits I think of Lisa and her dad, and that makes me happy. My children do light up when they walk into my kitchen and see that one of their favorite treats are coming fresh out of the oven. I guess there must be a little bit of Mondo in all of us because seeing freshly made wine biscuits makes us all smile brightly.
Lisa was kind enough to share her family’s recipe with us. I highly recommend that you give this a try. You don’t need to be an advanced baker to do this. It is a very forgiving recipe and perfect for beginners who want to try out a new type of cookie recipe.
The recipe calls for using a red wine, feel free to use your favorite brand or blend. I grantee you will be so happy you made these cookies, they will change the way you think about using wine in your baking. You will definitely have all of your family and friends lighting up with delight when you give them one of these tasty treats.
I hope that you enjoy it.
Lisa’s Homemade Italian Wine Biscuits by Lisa Starnino Mallinson
In memory of her Dad Mondo Starnino
4 cups flours
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup oil (canola or vegetable)
1 full cup of Fortissimo Red Wine
Mix ingredients well. Bake at 350 for 7 minutes on bottom rack of oven 6 minutes on top rack. Don’t forget to brush top of biscuits with egg.
Note- the shape of these wine biscuits can be varied, some can be rolled onto ball shapes and baked others rolled out and braided then baked. Here is a simple way to roll out to get a ring shaped cookie; roll out dough 3-4” long rope pieces then press the ends together to make a ring. Put them on a cookie sheet about 2 inches apart and bake until the bottoms are golden brown and crisp.
Cooking times will vary for each oven, so keep the cookies in longer until the bottoms are golden brown, and be careful they don’t burn