“Amaretti di Saronno” Romantic Mac & Cheese

Contrary to popular belief, the amaretti cookie and amaretto liqueur are unrelated. Both apricot kernel based delicacies hail from the Saronno region in Lombardy, Italy. 
Amaretti cookies are enjoyed as a delightful treat with coffee, at tea time or with a digestif at the end of a meal and are widely available in grocery stores around the world.  

The legend of the amaretti cookie is quite romantic. It is believed that in the early 18th century, an ambassador from the Vatican made an unscheduled stop in the town of Saronno. So surprised and humbled by this visit, a newly married couple raided their pantry and whipped up a batch of dry biscuits made of sugar, egg whites and crushed apricot seeds which are so sweet and fragrant they are used in the almonds stead. The guest, so pleased with the aromatic sweets, blessed the couple with a happy and lifelong union. This fortuitous event resulted in the preservation of the secret amaretti recipe over many generations until the sweet became popular and mass produced for the world to enjoy.

The pairing of nutty amaretti, sweet butternut squash and creamy sauce is so delicious. So sinful. So breathtakingly beautiful. That you won’t need your lover to make your heart flutter or your eyes twinkle, but in this case, throw moderation out of the window. 
Have your cake and eat it too, pretty sure you deserve it.
serves 4 – 6
1 lb. small shells “conchiglie” pasta
splash olive oil
3 cups butternut squash (peeled, seeded & medium dice)
drizzle olive oil 
salt and pepper
1/4 cup butter 
1/2 cup french shallots (fine chopped)
2 tbsp fresh thyme (chopped)
1 tbsp fresh sage (chopped)
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups milk (3.25%) 
1 cup heavy cream
pinch nutmeg
salt and pepper (to taste)
2 cup fontina cheese (grated)
1 cup friulano cheese (grated)
1 cup romano cheese (grated)
3 cups store bought amaretti cookies (crushed)
fresh thyme 
Preheat oven to 400 C. Prepare a sheet pan with parchment paper. Lightly butter an oven ready dish. 
Toss butternut squash with a splash of oil and season. Roast until starting to brown around the edges. Remove from oven, reserve.
Fill a large pot 2/3 full of water. Bring water to the boil and generously salt the water. Add a splash of olive oil.
Cook shells in salted boiling water until al dente (follow box instructions if not sure) strain pasta, toss with another splash of oil to prevent sticking. Set aside and reserve.
In a large heavy bottom pot, over medium heat, melt butter and cook until butter starts to brown.
Add the french shallots, butternut squash, thyme and sage. Cook until shallots are translucent. 
Stir in flour, cook until flour starts to toast becomes fragrant.
Whisking constantly add white wine. Reduce liquid by 1/2, stirring frequently.
Whisking constantly, add milk and cream one cup at a time until all incorporated and smooth. 
Cook for 10 – 15 minutes over medium low heat, or until thick and creamy.
Off the heat, whisk in the nutmeg, cheese, salt and pepper.
Add the reserved pasta to the sauce and fold to combine.
Turn the mixture into an oven proof dish, sprinkle the top of the mac & cheese with the crushed amaretti cookies. 
Bake until the top is crusty, golden brown and the mac and cheese is bubbly. Approximately 15 – 20 minutes.


To serve spoon some of the mac & cheese into bowls and sprinkle with fresh thyme.