Right, I know. I want another cookie like I want a left uppercut. I want hot broths spiked with ginger, lime, cilantro and chili. I want great rambling salads with six, eight, twelve kinds of veg. I spied the biggest bunch of chard I've ever seen at the market, yesterday. I bought two. And ate most of the both of them, myself.
You too, I imagine. Bear with me. This is urgent.
Well alright, urgent may be too strong a word, but just barely: supplies for this lovely are running low, critically so. See, you'll need amaretti, those festive red-bagged Italian biscuits, which I only ever see around the holidays. If you go now, you may yet find them, maybe even for a song. And since they keep forever, you can stock up for, say, March. But once New Year's is behind us, amaretti may be M.I.A. until December. December 2012. That's much too long to wait.
Go ahead. Toodle-oo. I'll wait....
(I find mine at World Market for around three bucks a bag. Or at my local Whole Foods, for twenty [gasp]-five [cough] dollars per glossy tin. Same brand, same factory, different packaging, h-o-l-y c-o-w. I do love a good tin, but not that much... I'm a bag girl.
Oh say, while you're at it, would you toss in a little tub of mascarpone? Lovely, thanks. It keeps, also, and carries the day.)
So what I'm about to tell you next feels sort of like cheating, because it's not exactly a recipe at all.
But have you ever noticed some of life's best edibles are like that, requiring no more than a slice, plop, dip, dollop or schmear? One pitch-perfect pear, say, and a crumble of old cheddar, the kind shot through with those tiny, divine surprise crystals. Or ice-cold water, all a-bob with sliced cucumber, which defies all culinary logic I know. I mean, how is it, exactly, that you can take two neutral (dare I say bland?) ingredients, don't cook them, don't season them, just, you know, combine them, and wind up with one flavor-filled, slurp-worthy quaff? Or browning the butter you drizzle on popcorn.
This isn't why we're here today, but let's just repeat that: brown (!) the butter (!!) you drizzle on popcorn (!!!). Same butter, same calories, two extra melting minutes, all kinds of extra caramelized-salty-nutty goodness. How I missed this nugget, these past several decades, I can't even begin to explain. But I consider it a public service to pass it on now. (Good samaritanship comes in all shapes, flavors and sizes.)
Or—and here we are, back at the tree trunk—this: take one bottoms-up amaretti, pile on the mascarpone, affix one more biscuit, and eat.
That's, um, it.
But, wow. Wow. One plus one equals something special, here.
I don't know if you know amaretti at all, or for that matter, mascarpone, but good golly, what a pair.
You've got two crisp, intensely-almond biscuits, their sweetness tempered by a pleasing bitter edge. Add to that a portion—and I do mean a portion, not a meager veneer but a stately smudge—of sweet cream, re-incarnated as plush, unctuous near-solid. Mascarpone is often called Italian cream cheese, but unlike our beloved bagel-bound Philadelphia bricks, mascarpone has none of American cream cheese's twang. It's sweet instead of sour, which is not to say sugary, just that rich, forward, lush roundness only pure milkfat possesses.
Taken together? They kind of have me in their grips.
In fact, I assumed I must be the last to know, when I first ad hoc'd this little sandwich, years ago. (I was scavenging the cupboards, in search of a little something snack-ish to accompany a cup of dark roast. I'm forever scavenging the cupboards, in search of a little something snack-ish to accompany a cup of dark roast. Something small, barely sweet, preferably crisp, ideally NOW. Which is why I bake biscotti in triplicate. And why I'm often out, as I was that day.) They're nothing special, after all, these biscuits, this cheese, fairly ordinary Italian staples, both. Surely, together, they're the sort of thing nonnas hush hungry bellies with while the pasta water boils? Quick as our very own PB & J? If endlessly more elegant...
But Google was pretty much silent on the matter, which was pretty much amazing.
There were, it is true, several recipes calling for amaretti and mascarpone. And coconut and strawberries and sugar and coffee and cocoa powder and nuts and all manner of distraction. Nothing so straightforward, so simple, so right. And while I flirted with the notion that these little amaretti sandwiches were a closely held, hush-hush, top Italian state secret, I decided they were probably just plain weird.
I also rather fancy buttered saltines. I parked them away under Weird and Wonderful.
But then, several weeks back, I left one on the table, abandoned to go get my olders from school. We brought home a few extras, friends for both boys, so I threw a tray of chocolate chip cookies into the oven. While these were baking, Henry and his buddy spied my little nibble, and asked after one of their own. So I made them each one, then brought milk and warm cookies, which they promptly refused in favor of more amaretti. I actually debated them on the point briefly, more out of disbelief than conviction, until I came to my senses and made up another batch. And another. And, okay, just one more. Now, I'm only speaking from eleven years' experience here, but FIRST GRADE BOYS DO NOT TURN DOWN FRESH-FROM-THE-OVEN CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES. Ahem.
Amaretti and mascarpone may be a bit weird. But I realized, that afternoon, I'm not alone in thinking them wonderful.
It doesn't hurt that they take ten-seconds to assemble— 'make' being a gross over-statement here, seeing as there's no mixing, creaming, beating or baking. This means they're a sweet little one-off treat, just the thing for elevenses or a post-dinner bite.
By the same token, I wouldn't hesitate to pile them on a silver platter, and pass them around a party with a bottle of bubbly. Striped socks or slingbacks, they can go either way. (But only if you snag those amaretti before they disappear!)
We're knee-deep in nothing around here at the moment, and will be for a while, yet. Winter break is waning, but still in effect. Mamo's here (!), and we're enjoying all that entails immensely. There've been birthdays and lemon curd and dark, damp ginger cake, and meringues from extra whites for the non-spicy faction. The run-up to Christmas has come and gone, last-minute gifts made, hidden, wrapped, and ripped open. The advent calendars have yielded up every last window, and though I'm still plunking out carols, they're sounding a little stale. The tea cups have new neighbors (hello, little teapot!). Days are slow, mornings late, play divided between new and old. There's been no snow, for all our watching, save the flakes we've snipped ourselves. (I'm getting a little antsy, but the hellebore's sure happy.) Ice cream has been eaten. And eaten again. We've settled Puerto Rico. We've played "rudolph nose air hockey". You know, important stuff.
I trust you are busy with much the same, as we tiptoe out of this year and on into the next. A very merry New Year to you, friends.
Amaretti + Mascarpone Sandwiches
I buy this brand of amaretti (but in bags, not tins), which seems to own the market, and is consistently swell. They keep forever unopened, and for nearly-ever after opening, if stored airtight. Extras are wonderful crumbled and sprinkled over greek yogurt + warm, stewed fruit. Mascarpone by any maker is pretty much grand.
Like Oreos, everyone has their own way with these. The boys popped theirs in whole, and crunched away madly. I twist in two, and savor each side.
Mascarpone, 1 teaspoon - 1 tub
Take one upturned amaretti, and spread with mascarpone, as thickly as you and it can manage. Clamp another on top. Eat and/or repeat.