Some people call them cookies, these days it’s hip to refer to them as “macarons”, but really they’re little almond meringues that are flavored with almond. Macaroons is probably more like it. I first tasted them as a kid when the neighbors who lived behind our house would take me into Chicago’s inner suburbs to visit their Italian grandma. In classic Old World Grandma style she’d feed us no matter what the hour, and amply. We dined crowded around the table in her cramped little apartment kitchen, since the dining room table was covered with doilies and only used for special occasions.
She was fond of serving us amaretti as soon as we walked in the door as a sort of tide-me-over until the real food hit the table: an antipasto starter, then pasta which I’d usually gorge myself on, forgetting that a meat course was coming next. By the end of the meal I’d be so engorged I practically had to be craned out the window.
But where was I? Ah yes, amaretti. The thing about amaretti is that while they can be enjoyed on their own they make a great component for other types of simple desserts. Crush them and they make a fantastic crumble that you can use to top fruit cups, ice cream or sorbets. They’re also frequently used to add textural interest to custards, frangipane, mousses and creams. Very versatile things indeed.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the most famous amaretti are Amaretti di Saronno from Lombardy in Italy. They’re the standard by which all others are compared and the go-to amaretti in most Italian restaurant pastry departments. If you frequent speciality food shops you’ve no doubt seen the trademark red containers. For store-bought goods, they’re excellent. But since I’m a do-it-yourself type of guy, I’m not going to let their legendary status intimidate me. Much.