A good combination.

 

It seemed pretty exotic that first tin of Amaretti biscuitsGranted, not as darkly exotic as the turkish delight studded with pistachios or the bag of curious smelling, ochre-coloured powder in the top drawer of the dresser. But back then, 1982 I suppose, in the days when you couldn’t buy everything everywhere, in our very English kitchen, a large red tin of Italian Amaretti seemed exotic. Thrilling too! Not only because if its size and nature: an extremely large tin of sugary biscuits to be prised open after ‘special‘ dinners during which adults would undoubtedly consume far too much alcohol to give a fig about exercising any kind of portion control, but because of the wrappers.

You see, we soon agreed that the best thing about Amaretti biscuits were the wrappers. Not that the Amaretti themselves –  delicate, crisp domes that shattered and then melted in your mouth – weren’t good! They were. But it was the thin paper wrapping twisted around each pair, that made us, the 1o-year-old, 8-year-old and 5-year-old Roddy children especially giddy. For this paper meant matches and playing with fire. Playing with fire at the table, under the unwatchful eye of inebriated adults. For this paper, if rolled up neatly but not too tight, placed on a plate and then set alight at the top, would burn and then the delicate paper skeleton would waft towards the ceiling before the charred fragments fluttered back down on our upturned faces.

Riding on a wave of nostalgia, I considered buying the largest tin of Lazzaroni Amaretti di Saronno from Castroni, investing in an equally large box of matches and passing the rest of the afternoon flirting with type 2 diabetes and a domestic fire. The small child clamped to my chest and the contents of my purse jolted me back to my senses and I compromised with the rather more modest box containing more than enough Amaretti to keep my post lunch espresso company for the week and my peach and Amaretti plans.

Amaretti, are small, domed Italian macaroons made from sweet and bitter almonds or apricot kernels mixed with fine sugar and egg whites. The name Amaretti means ‘Little bitter ones‘ as the bitter almonds or apricot kernels lend these exquisite little biscuits a flick of bitterness and an intensely almondy flavor which enhances and tempers the sweet almonds and sugar. Italians are immensely fond of their Amaretti, dipping them into their espresso, their sweet wine or liquore and crumbling them into both sweet and savory dishes.

Almost every region of Italy has their own particular kind of Amaretti which – depending on the proportions of the ingredients and the baking time – has its own characteristics. It’s quite extraordinary to see how varying the ratio of sweet and bitter almonds, the sugar and the eggs can produce such distinctly different Amaretti. Some are pale, soft and fudgy. Others are darker, speckled really and properly chewy. I bought a packet of Amaretti in Sardegna which were light as-a-feather and reminiscent of meringues. They can be dry and crumbly or – like the most famous Amaretti from Saronno in northern Italy – crisp, brittle domes the colour of toffee that shatter and then melt in your mouth.

And it’s these brittle domes – and of course their wrappers – I wanted. The sweet but deliciously bitter Amaretti di Saronno, made – as they have been since 1718 – from fine sugar, beaten egg whites and ground apricot kernels. The Amaretti which – unsurprisingly given the apricot kernels – have a lovely affinity and pleasing symmetry with another stone fruit, one that is pretty luscious right now: the peach.

You could of course eat your Amaretti or six with a perfectly ripe peach just so. Better still, you could dip your Amaretti and slices of peach in a glass of desert wine, ideally sitting at a long table in the dappled shade of a chestnut tree in Piemonte, alternatively at a long red table in a very hot and claustrophobic flat in central Rome. But best of all, you could do as the Piedmontese do and crush some of your Amaretti and use them to make Pesche Ripiene (stuffed peaches.)

And so, having washed and dried your peaches, you cut them in half, wriggle the stones out and scoop away any bits of stone or hard flesh from the hollows with a teaspoon before setting the halves, cut side up, in well buttered dish. Well buttered, well buttered, I’d like to be well buttered. Then in a small bowl, you mash together the butter – you have remembered to leave out in the kitchen so it’s soft – sugar, 6 crushed Amaretti, an egg yolk and a hefty pinch of lemon zest. Finally you divide this sandy coloured cream between the hollows of the peaches.

Your peaches need about 40 minutes in the oven. You on the other hand need to put your feet up for 40 minutes with a cup of tea or glass of prosecco depending on the hour (I think 5 o clock is about the right time for the-change-of-beverage-guard at this time of year! Unless of course you are making lunch, in which case 11 o clock is a perfectly acceptable time to pop a cork.) You could baste the peaches a couple of times, but it’s not essential. The peaches are ready when they are soft, tender and starting to collapse slightly, the flesh should be golden and slightly wrinkled and the stuffing blistering and crisp on top. Allow the peaches to sit – as always this is vital – for at least half an hour after coming out of the oven so the flavors can settle and  fruit wallow in the buttery, sugary juices.

When the time comes, serve each person two halves, making sure to spoon some of the sticky, buttery juices from the bottom of the dish over the peaches. As you hand each person their plate ask them to wait. Then, lead by example and spoon a large dollop of mascarpone on top of each half and then carefully unwrap your Amaretti – remember there is playing with fire to come! – and crumble the crisp domes over the white loveliness. Encourage guests to follow suit.

Eat and note how the tender, baked peach flesh, the butter laden/slightly almondy/distinctly lemony stuffing, the thick and dastardly good marcarpone and the brittle topping come together into a pretty glorious whole and then mumble (full mouth is forgivable) ‘What a good combination.’

I think these peaches are best about 45 minutes after coming out of the oven, so they are just still a little warm and the sticky juices are thick but spoonable. Having said that, I made a tray for a supper last week and they sat for about 5 hours before we ate them! They were room temperature and superb. If you do keep them overnight, keep them in the fridge, but remember to pull them out about half-an-hour before eating. I also like a two halves for breakfast with greek yogurt.

Pesche Ripiene. Stuffed peaches.

The seed for baked peaches planted by Jess. This recipe adapted from Claudia Roden’s Recipe (which in turn was taken from Sergio Torelli’s recipe) in one of my very favorite cook books’ The Food of Italy.’

serves 4

  • 4 ripe peaches
  • 50 g soft butter plus more for buttering the dish
  • 50 g soft brown sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Amaretti biscuits
  • a hefty pinch of the zest of a unwaxed lemon

To serve

  • Mascarpone
  • More Amaretti biscuits for crumbling

Set your oven to 180° / 350F

Wash the peaches and rub them dry. Cut peaches in half, remove the stone and then use a teaspoon to scoop away any hard flesh or fragments of stone that might be left in the hollow. Arrange the peach halves cut-side-up in a buttered oven dish.

Wrap the Amaretti in some paper or put them in a small plastic bag and then crush them using a rolling-pin. In a small bowl mash together the butter, sugar, crushed Amaretti, egg yolk and lemon zest. Spoon a walnut sized blob of this mixture into the hollows of each peach half.

Bake for 40 minutes – basting a couple of times – or until the fruit is tender, golden and a little wrinkled at the edges. Allow the peaches for sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.  Serve with mascarpone and more Amaretti for crumbling.

46 Comments

Filed under almonds, biscuits and biscotti, cream, food, fruit, peaches, Puddings, rachel eats Rome, Rachel's Diary, recipes, summer food

46 responses to “A good combination.

  1. I’m in love with this post. I have a feeling I’ll read it again. I think I ‘ride a wave of nostalgia’ more often than I care to admit. For me, food and nostalgia are often a package deal – one follows the other. I wonder which came first, my love of food, or my sentimental ways.

    • rachel

      I agree. I think taste memories are some of the most acute memories, for me at least. I wonder if my son will remember his first watermelon, eaten today, and how he squealed with joy at the first taste and then splattered it on the walls and (quite impressively) the ceiling!

  2. laura

    You are simply amazing. I’ve been able to read your splendid posts but not to leave a comment and I feel guilty about that because each one of your posts is magic and deserves its own comment. Thank you for your writing, for your ability to draw your reader into your world and share it so generously, and for those wonderful photos of your beautiful boy.

    • rachel

      You are very kind Laura, thanks. He is beautiful, but Oh dear such a noisy little Roman who I am very pleased to say is in bed so i can sit here with a glass of wine reading lovely comments.

  3. Rachel–We have a giant Lazzaroni tin that predates our marriage (25 years) that we still use for a sugar bin. My wife showed me the trick with the lit wrappers 30 years ago and our kids enjoyed it in exactly the circumstances you describe–inebriated adults, fascinated kids. We’re getting great peaches here now, so I’m definitely going to try this. By the way, you’re one of the few other food bloggers who either by dint of courage or character writes posts as long as we do. I always feel like you offer up some real content. Thanks. Ken

    • rachel

      I wondered how many people would know the trick! So glad we are united in the knowledge of this excellent after dinner trick. I do you you try the peaches – they are pretty good! Maybe you will even post about it and take some of your fantastic pictures.!

  4. Oh, Rachel, you should know that I’m at the point of saving your new posts in my Reader as the last to read because I know I love them the best. This post did not disappoint. I now not only want these peaches, but I’m dying to find a way to make those Amaretti on my own.

  5. I loved this post too. I usually have a hard time getting to the end of long posts, always looking for the recipe. But this post was enchanting and I will be buying peaches and amaretti.
    For those who need to mail order the amaretti check out world market here http://www.worldmarket.com/search/index.jsp?kwCatId=&kw=amaretti&origkw=amaretti&sr=1
    Renée

  6. Ah, the baked peaches with amaretti biscuits seems like a very good idea. After reading about your tradition of lighting the wrappers on fire, I will never think of amaretti biscuits the same way again.

    • rachel

      Fire has that effect! They are a good idea, especially if you have some nice peaches. – which I’m sure you do! Looking forward to your wild salmon ideas!

  7. This is perfect, Rachel. Eating those very amaretti is one of my earliest food memories, too — one of my earliest memories at all, actually! Only we got them in the square red tin. The amaretti were tiny and didn’t come wrapped in paper. I obviously missed out. And look what you’ve done with them! Once I try this, I fear I may never go back to the “seed” you speak of…

    • rachel

      Unwrapped! Oh no! The tiny ones were pretty exciting though! What is it about tiny food that is so appealing to kids. You have now planted a radish leaf pesto seed that is germinating. It will be made.

  8. I don’t know how this is possible–but the wrapper trick has escaped me all these many years…until now! sumptuous peaches–such a good way to prepare them. I’m ready to mumble.

    • rachel

      You have been deprived Nancy! So when I do make it to the pot luck I will bring the biggest tin of Amaretti I can find and a family sized box of matches and we can make up for lost time.

  9. Little devils, the Roddy children. Lighting wrapper fires…it sounds like perfect fun. Oh, I feel as if I owe you a million comments. Your writing has a way of grounding me. I get to slip into a Rome moment. I can hear the coffee pot sing while I settle in for a baked peach or two and the last of the Amaretti biscuits…

  10. This sounds so fun and boy is now a great time to bake a peach.

    • rachel

      As many biscuits as we could shove in our little mouths and matches to play with at the table – yes it was fun. I agree, tis the time for baking peaches.

  11. Hi Rachel,

    I love how your writing is so alive and evocative. The best kind of writing seems to bring together people’s memories and nostalgia into a collective melting pot, so that they are all intertwined and there is no distinguishing between yours and mine. When I read this post I thought back to the period a few years ago when I lived in Firenze — it was kind of a tragic-comic experience, my living with an Italian mother who did not know how to cook and would serve frozen pizza and microwaved pasta every night. On the other hand, I had at least a few meals that were so rich in flavor and experience that they will seem forever timeless in my mind. It was in Italy that I learned to love a crunchy cookie — un biscotto — with an espresso – since then chewy chocolate chip cookies have just never been quite as tantalizing…

    http://nataliesophoto.blogspot.com

    http://nataliejso.com

    • rachel

      Hi Natalie,
      Thanks for your comment, nice words and link to your terrific blog. I hope you write about your tragic-comic Firenze sojourn! The non-cooking Italian Mamma sounds much more interesting than all the cliche tales of cooking ones.

    • Stephanie

      Rachel,
      Are you aware that the Amaretti wrappers no longer “fly?” After 60 years of making wishes, the di Saronno company seems to have changed the paper. As a food person, can you investigate?
      Best,
      Stephanie

      • rachel

        I am (now) and it I most upsetting. Apparently it happened a few years ago, but you could still find old stock. I wonder if you still can. It is of course in the name is health and safety. sad though….

      • Stephanie

        Hi Rachel,
        My tech savvy son googled the problem and found out that old fashioned tea-bags work! So last night we launched an (empty) tea bag! Not the same as a cookie wrapper, but, honestly, no one really ate the cookies.
        I do wonder how Lazzaroni got away with it. I would have thought there would have been an outcry in Italy (Sicily?) but maybe the tradition has died out there. So very sad.
        Thank you for replying.
        Stephanie

      • Walker Stevenson

        Hi everyone: I was so disappointed last year (and this year too, when I hopefully bought a new box to retest) that the Lazzaroni wrappers don’t fly anymore. BUT I was just at a New Year’s party and they had a brand that DID! They are called Amaretti Del Chiostro (also made in Saronno). Perhaps not QUITE as tasty (they’re smaller, a little darker, and packed singly in cellophane within the paper wrappers), but it’s the flames that count!!

      • rachel

        Well, this is excellent news and I am going to try and find some Amaretti Del Chiostro asap – thank you thank you as yes, it is the flames that count

      • Stephanie

        Thank you for sharing this! We will look for the new brand too!

  12. Pingback: here, right now | Food Loves Writing

  13. Reblogged this on Waxing Lyrical and commented:
    A beautiful peachey & almondy recipe

  14. im walking out to buy peaches right now and make this. also, we used to buy blood oranges that came wrapped in paper and I think that was the most exciting thing of the season for me, always… something about wrappers ;)

  15. this too is a memory of my childhood… and i still dazzle friends on occasion. ok, maybe not exactly dazzle, but it’s fun…

    i didn’t realize how i’d missed reading you!

  16. I can’t believe I only stumbled across this post now, I wish I’d come across it a few weeks ago when I posted the same recipe (well, not the same exactly, Ada Boni’s recipe) – the mascarpone addition is genius and you’re right, such a good combination. I so enjoyed reading your post, you do have such a way with words. x

  17. Pingback: Amaretti Ice Cream Sandwiches | Emiko Davies

  18. Judy

    But it seems the papers no longer fly–has anyone else experienced this and/or know why?

    • rachel

      Hi Judy,

      I think you might be right, apparently the new wrappers don’t fly, which is such a shame. I clearly bought a box with the old-fly-wrappers but having received another mail like yours, I bought a new box and tried – no fly. BOO. I have sent an E mail to Lazzaroni – We need explanations. I will be in touch x

  19. Pingback: a bit shallow | rachel eats

  20. Toria

    Hi Rachel ,we tried lighting some amaretti papers tonight and were dissapointed they didn’t fly like they always used to,how did you get on with Lazzaroni ?
    Bye
    Toria (Kat’s mum)

    • rachel

      Hello Toria, I have heard they have changed the wrappers! Which is sad news. But apparently you can still find older boxes with flying wrappers – I clearly had an older box for the italian market Bye Rx

  21. I am gonna try this tonight with flat peaches, just removing the pit and using the space for the filling – really looking fwd to it!

    • I reply to myself – these were perfect. We made whipped sweet ricotta with lemon zest in lieu of the mascarpone as we had ricotta in the fridge and it worked really well. :) x

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