Posted by: lisetta | January 31, 2010

A Martin(o)

Of all the desserts in the picture of the table I posted the other day, Martin caught the one which held the most interest, not only for its taste, but for its cultural significance. Its own blog entry was coming sooner or later. Behold:

The cookies and the fish, whose belly holds a layer of marmalade, are made out of handmade almond paste! It was, by far, the most delicious and precious dessert on the table. How so?

For starters, they were made by nuns. Not just any nuns: cloistered nuns. You know, the ones who vow to spend their life in prayer, and sometimes total silence, remaining all the day – and their life – in the convent. I’m not 100% certain, but think the nuns who made these sweets belong to the Clarissa order. Carlo’s family says that they’ve been making this almond paste for centuries. Imagine that.

I’ve eaten plenty of almond paste in my day, from Southern Spain to Sicily to Lebanon. This one had a somewhat creamy, yet slightly grainy texture.  Neither too sweet nor overpowered by artificial flavorings, its flavors were subtle. The nuns gifted it to Carlo’s family for his nephew’s baptism. I felt blessed to celebrate with them.

When I lived in Italy and travelled around, I often stayed in convents or hotels run by nuns. Remember a week with the Suore Libanese in Rome and a week in a convent with a view of the Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi. At the convent in Assisi, the nuns cared for orphaned children from Southern Italy, and invited us to both breakfast and dinner. We got a room there because we had una raccomandazione (a recommendation) from one of Alberto’s business acquaintances, but nowadays many convents and monasteries accommodate travelers with a simple credit card reservation. Check out Monastery Stays to learn more.



  1. That reminds of an old Dutch tradition where each year around the 5th of December (which is our day of Santaclaus/Sinterklaas) butchers would sell off parts of a large depiction of a pig made of marzipan. I don’t think it’s done anymore but I remember that there was always a place each year that had one. They are always custom or home made and are supposed to represent the quality of the wares of the entire store.

  2. How interesting! What made them think of making a marzipan pig, I wonder? I didn’t realize marzipan made it so far up north – and thought you guys only ate chocolate letters and speculaas on that day. 🙂

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