27 May 2010


SARONNO, Italy - Ask anyone south of Milan or north of Como where Saronno is, you’ll probably be greeted with a blank stare. Ask if they have ever eaten Amaretti DiSaronno, or spiked their coffee with Amaretto di Saronno, and everything changes.

While the word amaretto (singular) and amaretti (plural) are the diminutive of “amaro” or bitter, and mean “a little bitter”, both Amaretto DiSaronno and Amaretti diSaronno are sweet.

Amaretto DiSaronno is an almond flavored liqueur which was first made in 1525. There is a lovely little story behind the origin of this special liqueur, the story of a romance between a painter, Bernardino Luini, a student of Leonardo daVinci, who was hired to paint a series of frescos in Saronno’s most famous monument, the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of the Miracles, and a local girl he hired as his model.

The story is that out of gratitude and affection she wanted to give him a gift and created a liqueur by steeping apricot kernels in brandy. The Amaretto DiSaronno sold today is made from the original recipe and imported by Bacardi. The only difference is it is now sold in a glass bottle made by a Venetian craftsman from the island of Murano.

I confess I am not a big Amaretto fan but it is good if you are making Tiramisu and on ice cream. And on one of the web sites I saw a suggestion to add it to pancake batter. Might be worth a try. Here are a few Amaretto drink recipes you might want to try:

1 part Amaretto liqueur
1 part Cognac
Pour ingredients over ice into an old fashioned glass and stir gently.

1 part Amaretto liqueur
1 part Scotch
Pour ingredients over ice into an old fashioned glass and stir gently.

1 part Amaretto liqueur
1 part Vodka
Pour ingredients over ice into an old fashioned glass and stir gently.

2 oz Amaretto
1 oz fresh lemon juice
½ oz Simple Syrup
Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Add ice, shake vigorously, and strain into a sour glass.

Amaretti di Saronno cookies are a lot younger than Amaretto di Saronno, by about 200 years. They were first made commercially in the 1700’s by the Lazzaroni family of Saronno, but they too have a story.

It seems the Cardinal of Milan was scheduled to visit Saronno. As it was a very special occasion for the town, two young lovers decided to make a special cookie in his honor. They baked up a light biscotti confection from sugar, egg whites and apricot kernels. The apricot kernels gave the cookies a slightly bitter taste, which earned them the name “amaretti”. The cookies that the Lazzaroni family make today are made from the same three ingredients and still have the beautiful crunchy-chewy texture the original cookies had. They are the only cookies that can be called diSaronno.

Lazzaroni recently opened a couple of retail shops in Saronno, one of them is on the other side of the piazza in front of my apartment building. I like the shop because it carries their full line of cookies, which are very good.
They also carry local artiginale food products I never see in the regular grocery stores. One product I buy is a dense cake similar to an American fruit cake, but with bigger chunks of fruit. It’s not overly sweet and tastes great with that first cup of coffee in the morning.

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