by Simona Vitagliano
How much we like almond paste!
With its versatility and that sweet and unique flavor in the world, it is the basis of many sweets belonging to the Neapolitan pastry, but its roots go deeper into the south: in Sicily.
Also called royal pasta, translating from the Sicilian dialect, it was officially recognized as a traditional Sicilian food product and included in the list of traditional Italian food products (P.A.T) of the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies.
Today it is used in many recipes all over the world. But what is his story?
If we think of the cassate and all those biscuits that colonize our tables during the most important holidays of the year, it seems impossible to us to imagine an Italian gastronomic entity devoid of this very good dessert base.
And yet, its origins are far away and are lost over time, so much so that there are very few certainties about it.
Some date the first almond paste ever existed around the end of 1100, placing it in the Martorana convent of Palermo, annexed to the church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio; according to their reading, the name “real” would have been born precisely because of its goodness, implying that it was a delicacy “worthy of a king” also for the aesthetic characteristics that allow it to recreate sweets not only delicious but also beautiful to be seen.
The sources, however, are contradictory and also give many other versions.
According to others, in fact, it must even exceed the year zero and reach the third century BC when, with the intensification of maritime trade, sugar began to be brought to Rome by Indian and Persian merchants; subsequently (VI century), the Arabs began to work it for the realization of sought-after sweets, also because of the simultaneous diffusion of sugar cane plantations. It was they who brought the cult of almond paste to Sicily, along with the wealth of rich and spicy dishes that we know well. Everything would have been born from a mixture of their invention between sugar and ground almonds and, at this point, the two versions of the story fit together: it would have been precisely at this juncture that, in the 11th century, the monks and nuns of the Convento della Martorana of Palermo they would be dedicated to the preparation of these sweets made of water, sugar and almonds.
Everything corresponds, also because the aforementioned church of Santa Maria of the Admiral Giorgio di Antochia, annexed to the Convento della Martorana, was dedicated to the admiral of King Roger II.
As we know, today almond paste is the prerogative of many traditional recipes and preparations and is a fundamental element for the small and large pastry shops of Southern Italy (and not only): in addition to Puglia and Campania, in fact, Lazio also has soon appreciated the tasty flavor, using it to make many local delicacies.
Many modern patissiers work it with lemon, honey or orange, which gives it an even more pungent and particular citrus aroma: it is the triumph of cassate and the famous fruit of Martorana.