The Italians love bitterness. Their word for bitter, amaro, is peculiarly similar to the word for love, amorePhotograph: Photos 12//Alamy.The sweet almond liqueur Amaretto has its charms, but may not seduce us all.Whenever Amaretto is mentioned in front of my parents, they go quiet and smile at each other conspiratorially. Clearly, it has some great personal significance for them. I may owe my very existence to this almond liqueur, though I won’t ask. Nobody wants to think of their parents like that.
There’s no denying that Amaretto has a seductive taste, intensely sweet, but with a bitter almond edge. The word means something like “little bitter one”. The leading brand, made by Disaronno, doesn’t contain almonds – the flavour comes from apricot kernels and a Colonel Sanders-esque blend of secret herbs and spices, so it’s safe for romancing someone who has a nut allergy.
The Italians love bitterness. Their word for bitter, amaro, is peculiarly similar to the word for love, amore. It’s the distinctive note in many Italian drinks, including their wines. There’s a Puglian grape variety called Negroamaro, literally “black and bitter”, though it actually makes some of the least bitter wines in the Peninsula. Perhaps it’s a joke: another variety, from Piedmont called Dolcetto, meaning “little sweet one”, makes wines that aren’t sweet at all. If you taste a distinct but pleasant bitter note in a wine, odds are that it’s Italian. If the bitterness tends towards burnt rubber or stewed coffee then you’re probably drinking Pinotage and should stop immediately. The Italians know that bitterness has to be balanced with something sweet. A bit like life, or love.
Amaretto though, isn’t nearly bitter enough for me. I can have a sip or two, appreciate that intense taste, but any more and it becomes cloying. Perhaps that’s all you need for the magic to happen. We have a bottle gathering dust in our house that I bought in 2009 when my girlfriend (now wife) wanted to cook a proper American Thanksgiving. The Amaretto went into a concoction involving baked yams with sprinkled Amaretti biscuits on top. As you might guess, it was too much for me. As you might guess, it was too much for me. I’ve never got to grips with the American love of mixing sweet with savoury. She hasn’t cooked it since.
So what to do with it? I looked up recipes for cocktails with Amaretto. There’s a nice one called an Amaretto sour which consists of egg whites whisked with amaretto and lemon juice. Go heavy on the lemon juice is my advice. There are also lots of recipes for cocktails with cream and the like, which sound revolting. Not as revolting, however, as a mixture of Kahlua, Baileys and Amaretto called the orgasm. Oh God, now I’m thinking of my parents again. Back in the cupboard you go!