Monthly Archives: July 2013

Is it true that no almonds are used in the production of Amaretto Disaronno?



Amaretto is an almond-flavored liqueur, and Disaronno is the king of amaretto. The name amaretto comes from the word amaro which means bitter in Italian. Not to be confused with many amaro that are bitter liqueurs mainly flavored by herbs, amaretto is a bitter liqueur sweetened with almonds, or in the case of di Saronno, apricot kernels. That’s right, the stone of an apricot is what gives Disaronno its flavor.

The legend of Amaretto Disaronno (or Disaronno Originale, as it’s now known) dates back to 1525 in the town of Saronno, Italy. The artist Bernardo Luini, a student of Leonardo da Vinci, was commissioned to paint a fresco of the Madonna and used a beautiful, local innkeeper as his model. As a gesture of her gratitude, she gave the artist a flask of what is said to be the original recipe of the amaretto from Saronno.

To this day, the recipe has remained a secret. The company states that it is pure alcohol, apricot kernels, burnt sugar and a blend of seventeen different herbs and fruits that give Disaronno its unique flavor. There are absolutely no nuts used in production, so it is safe for those with allergies.

And the trademark rectangular bottle? It was designed by a master glassmaker from Murano in 1971.

Are there some tricks to making the perfect cup of coffee with my Bialetti moka pot?



Most Italian households have some version of the moka pot. While it is very easy to use, there are some tricks that can bring your Italian coffee to the next level. The good people over at have written a wonderful step-by-step guide that says it all (with pictures!):


What is the difference between mostaccioli and penne?

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Very little.

Both mostaccioli and penne are tubular pastas with ends that are cut at an angle. The difference between the two is the surface of each. Mostaccioli (or little mustaches) have a smooth surface. The name mostaccioli is found only in the U.S.; the same pasta in Italy is called penne lisce.

There is, however, a ridged mostaccioli called mostaccioli rigati, which is just…penne. Yes, they are the same. The name penne (or pens, because of its quill shape) is more universally known. The ridges of penne allow the pasta to cling to sauce.

Why is a cappuccino only for breakfast in Italy?

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Because of the milk.

When dining in Italy, there is no surer way to let the people around you know that you are a tourist than to order a cappuccino after your dinner. It breaks another of those Italian food rules that I often speak of: A cappuccino is for breakfast only.

First of all, most Europeans don’t drink milk the way that Americans do. An Italian adult drinking a glass of milk with dinner would be a rare sight. Italians are very conscious of digestion, and they know that milk during or after a meal can be hard on the body. (Their focus on digestion is the reason why there are so many wonderful Italian aperitifs and digestifs.)

Italians also don’t eat breakfast the way that Americans do. For most, a cappuccino and a small roll or pastry is breakfast. In fact, the only restaurants in Italy that serve an American-style breakfast are in hotels.

So, when a tourist orders a cappuccino after their dinner in Italy, they’ve essentially just ordered breakfast.

Is it true that Fettuccine Alfredo wasn’t even created in Italy?

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Actually, no.

Believe it or not, Fettuccine Alfredo was first created in Rome in 1914 at a restaurant named…Alfredo. Chef and owner, Alfredo Di Lelio, first made the dish for his pregnant wife who was struggling to keep food down. He later added it to his menu. It was primarily popular with American tourists and quickly found its way to the states.

Outside of Rome, it would be very difficult to find Fettuccine Alfredo in Italy. While it has remained popular among American tourists, residents of Italy generally don’t eat it, with some parts having never even heard of it. This is perhaps why it is generally believed that the dish was created here in the states.

The bad rap it gets from Italians can most certainly be attributed to some of the updated American versions which can include either chicken or shrimp. Adding chicken breast to pasta and mixing seafood and cheese with pasta breaks two of the cardinal rules in Italian cooking.

Is it possible to make authentic gelato at home?


Yes, but not in a standard home ice cream maker.

The two main differences between gelato and ice cream are fat and air. Unlike ice cream, gelato has more milk than cream, making it lower in fat. While a simple change of recipe might sound like an ice cream maker should still do the trick, it’s the churning speed that prevents the maker from making gelato. Ice cream churns at a higher speed, so there is more air in the final product. A slower churn and less air is why gelato has a much denser consistency.

Though they are priced a bit more, there are a few home gelato makers available, and they make fantastic gelato. Unlike many of the ice cream makers on the market, almost all of the gelato makers have a built in a self-refrigerating compressor. This makes it possible to make many batches at one time. It is also ready to eat when finished.

Cuisinart, Lello, and DeLonghi all have makers available on Amazon at the time of this post. I personally own the DeLonghi GM6000, and I love it. The finished product is comparable to some of the best gelati I’ve had in Italy. Though the current $260 price tag may seem a little steep, each batch (about a pint and a half) costs about a third of what a pint of grocery store gelato would. I’ll be sharing some of my gelato recipes in future posts…coffee toffee crunch, anyone?

Is it true that Campari gets its color from crushed insects?


Not anymore.

Campari, for those of you who are unfamiliar, is a bitter Italian liqueur known for its dark red color. From its inception in 1860 until 2006, the aperitif had been colored with carmine dye made from crushed cochineal insects. As unappealing as it sounds, carmine dye is actually quite common in a variety of other items including fabrics, cosmetics, and food colorings. In fact, you can still find the dye in many jams, juices, and candy. For some, carmine dye can be the cause of severe allergic reactions.

Campari now uses an artificial colorant. Many loyalists have complained that the taste and consistency have changed with the new recipe. The color does seem to be a bit more orange than the original deep red. Regardless of the change, Campari has remained one of the top selling liqueurs. With some soda and an orange slice…don’t mind if I do.