How was it that I came to taste Italy’s most celebrated cookie, an act of providence, divine intervention? It is like Einstein said; you can live your life as if everything is a miracle or as if nothing is. Miracle or not it is in the discovery of a new taste that our life is at once enhanced. It is a powerful pleasure giving thing. And such is the case with Amaretti Di Saronno those gorgeous little cookies. I was in a store looking for a textural element, a crackle and crunch for my rhubarb compote and ice cream that I stumbled upon the famous Italian Amaretti. Chestnut colored macaroons with pearled sugar beads and a taste both bitter and sweet. Think marzipan, amaretto, something unexpected, intense. Wonderful crunch with a soft chew in the middle the texture and distinctive flavor come from slow baking and simple ingredients. Apricot kernels or wild bitter almonds give the cookies their zest. Not to be confused with the dark skinned beauties in bulk bin. These wild almonds grown in the Mediterranean breezes are a thing unto themselves they also give the burst of flavor to almond extract. After a bit more research I discovered Amaretti food lore, did you know there is a legend about these cookies?
In the early 18th Century, the Cardinal of Milan made an unexpected visit to the town of Saronno Italy. Two young lovers, residents of the town wanted to prepare a sweet to welcome him. Improvising with what they had in the larder, egg whites, sugar and apricot kernels they made cookies then wrapped them in crepe paper and offered them to him. He was so overjoyed with the delicious invention Amaretti, which in Italian means a little bitter, the Cardinal gave them a blessing for a long and prosperous marriage. 300 years later the cookies are still produced by the descendents of the same family. The recipe is kept a closely guarded secret. Romantically nestled in crisp pastel paper are two cookies symbolizing the young lovers and their legacy.
Today Amaretti are a favorite of cooks the world over finding their way into dishes both savory and sweet worked into pie crusts and fritters, a friend to apple and lemon desserts. An autumnal pairing with squash or pumpkin makes a filling for tortellini, fantastic finished with brown butter. Gabriele’s inspired ideas, the cookies a topping for fresh peach, his Amaretti cups plated with a dollop of lush cream. Packaged in a fancy red box, Amaretti are often given as a hostess gift, as much for the treat as for the flying wrapper magical trick. Flatten the cookie paper, roll, light on fire, make a wish, if you are lucky the paper will take off and float to the sky. It is amazing that it can happen. Seemingly ordinary events, whipping up something on a whim, presenting a gift, I wonder if the lovers had any idea how their little cookie would endure, miraculous, isn’t it?