Sweet Memory of Italy
The first time that I ever tasted a coconut macaroon, I was 15 years old and I was sitting on a tour bus in Assisi, Italy. I was on vacation in Italy with my parents, my sister and a family friend. It was one of those package tour deals so we were traveling with the same group of people. There was a man on the tour who had Italian relatives he had never met. Prior to departing the United States, he had made contact with his relatives, who lived in or near Assisi, and made arrangements to meet them the day that our tour bus rolled into town. He left the group that day to meet his relatives and when he rejoined us on the bus, he had a large brown paper bag and an amazing story of Italian hospitality. This man told us that his relatives had gathered to meet him and put out a feast for him to enjoy during his visit. Homemade pasta, wines, cheeses, breads and cured meats were shared. No meal in Italy (or anywhere really) is complete without sweets and so this man's family had made, among other things, coconut macaroons. Lots and lots of coconut macaroons the leftovers of which were given to the man to share with the other members of the tour group.
I can still smell the cookie that I took from that bag on the bus in Assisi so many years ago. Such a simple cookie made of shredded coconut and meringue. It was chewy and light and just delicious. As is often the case, the simplest of pleasures are the most memorable.
What prompted this sweet memory of Italy? Well, I have been on sort of a coconut bender recently and when I came across a recipe for coconut macaroons, I decided that I had to make them. The results of my efforts were pretty good but they did not come close to that first coconut macaroon that I tasted so many years ago.
The list of ingredients for this simple pleasure is short: sugar, egg whites, sweetened shredded coconut, cream of tartar, salt and vanilla. That bottle of vanilla to the right in the top photo is my favorite - Vanilla Bean Crush from Sonoma Syrup Co. When you open the bottle, the scent of the extract, which is both fruity and flowery, fills the kitchen. There are vanilla bean seeds in this extract which enhance the vanilla flavor in your finished baked goods. It is the only brand of vanilla that I use. By the way, these comments are my opinion only and were not solicited in any way by Sonoma Syrup Company. I have no connection with Sonoma Syrup Company and I have not received anything from Sonoma Syrup in exchange for these comments.
These macaroons mix together in a jiffy and before you know it you're scooping them onto the pan. Like most meringue based cookies, they need about 18-22 minutes to bake. The cookies should be toasty and the outer crust should appear to be set. These are delicate when they come right out of the oven so let them cool on the pan for about 10 minutes before moving to a rack to cool completely.
I'll leave you with another lovely shot of Assisi. Do you have a memory from a visit to far off land that is rooted in something you tasted there? I would love to hear your stories!