One night that I was reading a post by my favorite Cream Puff about a beautiful dessert called Lucia’s Walnut Cake. Her post was a beautiful tribute to her grandmother as well as an introduction to a soon to be published cookbook, Adventures of an Italian Food Lover, by Faith Heller Willinger. Cath from A Blithe Palate had been given the opportunity to get a first look at the book before its release and had contacted Ivonne about it. Together they decided to create a blogging event of some sort around its release, sending copies to other bloggers with the sole instruction to make something from it and share their experience in a post, no book reviews necessary. I so wanted to be in the loop that I visited Cath’s site, left her a comment ( Did I beg? maybe…!) and a couple of weeks later I was sitting down on the back porch with an espresso and my own copy of the book.
This book represents everything cooking and baking is for me and my family. There is not a dish I make that does not have a story, a person or a name behind it. Some of the dishes I cook revolve around family holidays or special events, some remind me of the people who crossed my path and made me the person and baker I am today. Faith Willinger has the same approach in this book. All the recipes invite you to in somebody’s home, life and cooking. Little of the foods I make are Italian per se but they bear similarities having lived a good part of my life so close to the area, and I was very excited with the ability and ease this book provided me to broaden my horizons.
Out of all the recipes in the book, my thoughts came coming back to the Amaretti one. I have always admired this delicate cookie and yet, I probably only had it a couple of times in my life.Amaretti are cousins to the macarons in a way: same ingredients, different baking method and no filling. Their white and delicate appearance makes me think of weddings and summer days, long strolls on the beach and fragrant coffee. What can I say…I am a romantic.
The first time I had an Amaretti was during a memorable trip with my parents to Turino. Twenty eight years ago, my parents and grandparents bought a chalet in the southern Alps, a stone throw away from Italy. We would go across the border and get pancetta, coppa, pannetone, grappa and sometimes we would stay for lunch. On one occasion, over 20 years ago, we decided to have lunch at a tiny restaurant with one large dining area painted with a beautiful fresca of Italian coutrysides. It was late already, middle of the summer, hot outside. The chef was on his own, his aides and waiters gone on their daily siesta. We were starving, but well behaved, the chef was making everything from scratch, and plates were coming out one at a time. Our meal was a feast of ravioli, cold cuts, pizza, fish and other delicacies. We decided to make good fortune and the four of us shared each plate that was coming out of the kitchen when it was coming out. We slowed down after the first bites of ravioli filled our tummies with warm rich and cheesey tomato sauce. I don’t think my memories are failing me when I say that I truly believe we had the greatest time as a family that afternoon. The chef was kind and loved the way our little group chatted and feasted. Towards the end, we motionned for him to take a seat with us but he said he could not, he wanted to do the dishes and clean up before the Mrs. would come in and give him a hard time for serving “after hours”! He brought my parents espressos, spearmint syrup and water for us and a plate of amaretti. My first ones! I hesitated as they looked so delicate. My brother ignored his for a while…long enough for me to eat mine and half of his plate! I asked the chef how he made them and he said “I don’t make them, my mother does and she only told me the ingredients”….well, come on man! Dish it out!!! He hesitated for a second, then he replied “ok, well, it’s almonds, sugar, egg whites and a pinch of salt” That was it?!
It took me all this time and this book to finally make them. I don’t know the name of the restaurant that day many moons ago, and I surely do not know the name of the man who cooked us that fabulous meal, but the cookies were just as I remembered. Crisp and delicate, perfect with coffee or mint tea.
Thank you Ivonne and Cath for the opportunity. There are many pages of the book already bookmarked and other recipes already tried like the olive oil brownies that are out of this world. If you would like the recipe for the amaretti, contact me via email(marinette1ATcomcastDOTnet) and I’ll be happy to send it to you.