About a week after we got back from France, our next door neighbours were off to Italy, leaving behind Zelda the black lab. Being the dog lover that I am, I offered to look after her for three weeks while they ate their way from Rome to Northern Italy with their three (smallish!) children. Roo and Zelda and I got into a nice routine of fun daily walks, backyard ball games and evening play dates and when the three weeks had passed I was actually a little bit sad to get back to a normal doggy routine. The sadness was eased somewhat by a generous gift from D. and S. that we appreciate so much especially considering that they must have carried it home in their carry-ons along with the three little ones and all their things.
We were presented with a beautiful, hand-painted espresso set and a pretty box of authentic, artisanal amaretti. I could smell those little morsels of bitter almond through the box and wondered how they didn't get devoured on that long flight home by D. or S. or one of the kids. When I opened the box that heady scent of almond filled my senses and I just couldn't wait to brew a cup of coffee to go with them. I immediately ate one. It crunched gently and broke in my mouth, then it seemed to melt into a delicious sweet almond powder. The flavour was so authentic that it almost seemed too good to be true. It wasn't reminiscent of "almond extract" but rather of the true flavour of bitter almonds. In fact the cookies themsleves had a surprisingly bitter quality that was really delicious.
Authentic amaretti are made with apricot kernels, or the little almond that is found inside an apricot pit. The kernels are extremely bitter and need to be blanched and skinned before using, but they hold the key to that unmistakable almond flavour. These amaretti were definitely authentic and are being rationed at our house to prolong the pleasure. I think there are two or three left in the box and I will be sad when the last one gets eaten because I'm pretty sure that any amaretti I will find here will pale in comparison.