Friday, April 15, 2011

Paste di Mandorla for zio Filippo

I probably shouldn't call these paste di mandorle because technically they aren't.

But let me start from the beginning.

On Wednesday zio Filippo (F's uncle) passed away. It was in the air, I woke up feeling a little melanchonic. I just didn't have it in me to write anything funny or cutesy. But you know that already if you read my last post. Then, in the evening, we got the sad news from Sicily.

Zio Filippo was no longer a young man and in the past year the C word had entered his life. Despite this, his death took us by surprise. It is not that long ago that I remember him working his piece of land, telling us about the many fruits his plants were bearing, the plants he tended to with great love and care. He loved food and cooking and often sent us things he had picked, prepared with his own hands or delicacies he had discovered in the surrounding area. He loved to read, he loved theater and music. I have fond memories of him singing a beautiful aria one evening shortly after our wedding. That night food was plenty, wine was flowing in copious amounts and by the end of the evening both my relatives and F's had taken turns singing and reciting poems and not an eye was dry. It was beautiful, a memory I will always cherish.

But the thing zio Filippo loved above all, after his family of course, was his island, so ruggedly beautiful, so rich in history and art, so misunderstood and plagued by the corruption of few.

My in-laws were already on their way to Sicily when the news came and attended the funeral yesterday for all of us. F lit a candle in church and I left the office a little early to make these sweets for him. While his grandson, the one named after him and who is following in his footsteps pursuing a military career, was reading a letter about him to a crowd in Trapani and F was lighting the wick, I was mixing the ingredients, the essence of Sicily. Whilst grinding the almonds I started thinking of the beauty of the blooming trees, while I was zesting the lemon I thought of the island's clear waters, the crisp blue sky, the winds from Africa. I thought of zio Filippo, his bushy eyebrows, his family, the many children and grandchildren he left behind. I thought that he had done good, that he had had a full rich life, no regrets. I thought of his wife, zia Lina, of the first time I saw her making paste di mandorle in my mother in law's kitchen and of how hard it must be for her. They were married for more than half a century.

I was so lost in my thoughts that I realized too late that I had skipped an important step. I forgot to beat the egg whites. I just mixed them in! I baked the cookies anyway, determined to make these in Filippo's memory and honor. I'm glad I did, because they turned out delicious anyway. They were chewy and full of flavor. Perhaps they didn't rise as much and they were chewy and soft instead of being slighty cakeu and moist, but every bite was still a bite of Sicily.

Per te, zio Filippo.

I got the recipe from Manu's Menu.
This is a vegetarian recipe, it uses up those left over egg whites in your freezer, it has just four ingredients and it is gluten free. What are you waiting for?

Ingredients (for about 25)
250gr almond meal
175gr sugar
2 egg whites
1 tsp of lemon zest
almonds, candied cherries or candied lemon/orange peel for decoration

You can buy almond meal or buy almonds and grind them in a food processor, which is what I did. My mini food processer didn't grind the meal as thin as I would have liked, but it worked fine anyway. Add the sugar and lemon zest and mix. I only used about a half a teaspoon because we like the flavor to remain very subtle and were surprised how much it came through. Beat the egg whites until they are stiff (best if your eggs are at room temperature) and mix everything. When the dough has come together, spoon it onto a tray (or use a pastry bag), decorate the sweets (I only used almonds because we are not in love with candied fruit). At this point, and here is another step I had to skip if I wanted to publish this post in time, let the cookies rest for 10 hours or overnight before baking. I don't remember zia Lina doing this, and mine were yummy nonetheless, but read it in several recipes on line. Bake them in a preheated oven at 125°C, fan forced, for 10-12 minutes. Don't let them overcook or they will turn hard instead of staying lusciously soft on the inside. Store them in an airtight container, they keep well.


  1. I am sorry for your loss of someone who so enriched your life. xo

  2. I am so sorry to hear about your loss. I know how painful it can be to lose someone you love. I can relate to mindlessly baking (I've been doing that a lot lately!) Thank you for sharing another great post with me. I hope you have a wonderful weekend, full of laughter and life. You inspire me with your passion and creative soul!

  3. I am so sorry to hear about what happened to your uncle. I am sending all of you a big virtual hug! He sounded like an amazing person. It is so nice that you baked in his honor... I am sure he would have appreciated it, like all true Sicilians!
    You paste di mandorla look really yummy... I guess the resting time is not that important after all! ;-) They look so inviting! Un abbraccio!

  4. I am so sorry to hear about your loss :(, I feel for you. I hope these beautiful cookies bring you happy memories of such a lovely person.
    *kisses* HH

  5. With 4 ingredients these sound fabulously easy which is a big bonus. And my condolences about your uncle too. That's terrible to hear, may he RIP :(

  6. These cookies sound wonderful- thank you for sharing. And I am so sorry about your loss- many condolences.

  7. I am so sorry to hear of your loss. I hope these beautiful cookies added some sweetness to you at this time.

  8. Love your blog and I wanted to pass something along... An award is waiting for you here Hope you enjoy it!

  9. I am sorry about this sad time in your family-in law; hope the cookies will become a tradition to remember this man by; they look lovely, pure and classic.

  10. Thanks to all of you for your kind words and thoughts. I will send them on to F.
    Manu - Perhaps the resting time isn't essential, but whipping the egg whites is ;o)
    Pola - thank you for your award, I am honored!

  11. What a beautiful post. By your words..I know he was a man I would have loved to have met.

    The cookies are perfect.

  12. I cannot think of a more beautiful way to honor someone you love, than with food. Cheers.



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