Two Cousins Biscotti

two-cousins-biscotti-nauni-ink-publicationsby RONA MANN / photos by Stephanie Sittnick

In 1928 a large steamship docked at Ellis Island in New York, teeming with immigrants who, with high expectations, but heavy hearts, had left behind the security of home and family in the old country for the promise of a better life in a new world.   Among the thousands who populated that ship were a young woman from Amalfi, Italy and her three month old daughter.  Her husband was already living in America; and when he met them at the ship, the woman handed their infant baby to him over the fence.  Immigration being totally overwhelmed at that time was not as strictly regimented and detail oriented as they are today, so when the baby went over the fence, an officer merely glanced up and called out, “American citizen!” The little family settled in the Hill section of New Haven, a sister
city to Amalfi; and so began yet another great American story…one that would evolve and perpetuate itself in both a loving and delicious way.

Fast forward 82 years to New Haven, Connecticut. It’s 2010 and Dominique Frione and Karen Spina meet while employed at Yale New Haven Hosp
ital.  Both are RNs, Karen working in the Emergency Room and Dominique as a Medical/Surgical Nurse.  From the outset they were drawn to each other, easily becoming friends.  They shared similar backgrounds and interests and always felt they had a “connection” of sorts.  But it took awhile for the real story to unravel.

One day when they were taking a walk at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison the conversation turned to their roots.  They were both from Italian families who believed fiercely in keeping certain traditions alive and passing them along for succeeding generations to perpetuate. “Like Sundays when the whole family would come for macaroni and gravy, and aunts and uncles and cousins would all sit around enjoying the food and telling stories to the kids about the old country,” began Dominique.  “We would laugh together, talk about our common experience; but eventually and always, the conversation got around to food.  I told Karen about the amazing biscotti my ‘Nonni’ would make from a recipe her mother made in Amalfi.”

Dominique had that recipe, in bits and pieces.  Partially written on the back of a telephone bill receipt, some in Italian, some in English.  And written on a hearing aid battery sticker as well.  “I’ve kept those.  They’re classic,” laughs Dominique.

“It wasn’t till I was at a big Italian funeral that my aunt, hearing about Karen and our friendship, gave me a slap in the head (Italians often do this to make a point, Dominique informs) and said, ‘She’s your cousin!'”  Genealogical explanations accepted, it turned out that Karen and Dominique were indeed third cousins, sharing many of the same familial roots.

“Originally we had planned to do a cookbook with all my cousins’ kids and their recipes,” Dominique offers, “but the kids were just not ready or that interested at the time. Somehow it kept coming back to my Nonni’s biscotti.  One day on yet another walk, Karen blurted out, ‘Why don’t we make your great-grandmother’s recipe?’ And that was that.”  Two Cousins Biscotti was born.

That was that except for the fact that while the two cousins could easily recreate the delicious biscotti recipes, neither had an inkling about business, and they sorely needed help.  They wisely approached SCORE, the non profit organization that stands for Senior Core of Retired Executives. With over 11,000 volunteers nationwide and supported by the Small Business Administration (SBA), SCORE is dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground. Since their service is free to fledgling businesses like Two Cousins Biscotti, Karen and Dominique were spared one enormous chunk of start up costs, for which they were most appreciative.

Four men from the New Haven office of SCORE taught the cousins how to develop a business plan, how to project a budget, how to market; in short, every phase of starting and maintaining a small business.  “They told us it was easy to bake, but much harder to turn those baked goods into a successful business.  They make you know yourself.  Every day they gave us ‘homework’ to do.  They were relentless with us.  At times they made us mad, but in the long run, they were right to do what they did,” Dominique said.  “They taught us that while it’s easy to bake, if you don’t know what’s behind it, you fail.”

The cousins found a space for their professional kitchen in Clinton and found even better deals when they went out to buy their equipment.  Now it was time for Nonnie’s recipes, and they launched into their new venture with both feet.  “Even though we’re still nurses and have families, when we’re here…when it’s baking days…it’s a 100% effort.”

Together Dominique and Karen turn out a delicious variety of the twice baked delicacies with all natural ingredients: Traditional, which incorporates pistachio nuts with cranberries and apricots; Cinnamon Sugar, with almonds and coffee baked right in; Chocolate Coconut, which tells the whole story; Anise, featuring crushed whole anise seeds, never from a supermarket spice container; Sweet Lemon Pepper, with Gran Marnier and fresh lemon peel adding just a hint of pepper on the palate; Chocolate Cherry Almond, featuring dried cherries and almonds, and their nobody-can-eat-just-one biscotti bites.  The women strictly wholesale their biscotti at this time at locations from Westerly, Rhode Island to Mercedes Benz in Danbury and Wappingers Falls, New York where the luxury dealership sates delighted customers with the twice baked treats.

Their baking facility in Clinton is immaculate and regularly monitored by both the health department and a rabbi, since all their products are Kosher Certified. The biscotti is kept in airtight containers to keep them crisp, measured on an FDA approved scale, and packaged by weight.

With the holidays upon us, the two cousins stress that they will make to order special trays of their addictive delights for the holidays, weddings, or any occasion.  They want everyone to have a little taste of their family tradition.

“Growing up, we heard a lot of stories…stories that were meant to be passed on.  My Nonni would tell me about how she sewed clothes in exchange for figs, about what life was like in Amalfi.  We would watch her dry pasta over crisp white bedsheets, we smelled the delicious aromas as gravy was made for Sunday pasta, as the biscotti were carefully toasted in the oven.  We learned the meaning behind the journey, and now we are passing that on to our children. Our family values were instilled in us like a branding iron,” Dominique laughs.

Then she stops, looks around the little kitchen she and Karen share, looks at the trays of biscotti ready to be sliced and baked.  She glances over at her great grandmother’s picture which serves as the official logo for Two Cousins Biscotti.  It depicts a small woman with a serious face, reflecting an iron will, symbolic of a proud heritage.

When she looks back, Dominique Frione is smiling through her happy tears.

Two Cousins Biscotti (860) 304-7917 for special orders or more information

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