The humble almond is the mainstay of Sicilian sweets and desserts. Almonds symbolise good fortune, and as sugar-coated confetti are given at Italian weddings and baptisms. But these days almonds are consumed way beyond the Mediterranean, especially with veganism on the rise.
Almonds have a bad rep environmentally speaking though. 80% of the world's almonds come from California where it takes vast amounts of water to irrigate the crop. The water footprint of a single California almond can be up to15 litres!!
But there is an alternative. Almonds have been grown in Sicily for generations, and many farms still do not use any irrigation. 'How is this possible?' I hear you ask. Well the winter season brings ample rain that sufficiently hydrates the almond trees. The Assenza Brothers of the epic Caffe' Sicilia in Noto (a must must must visit if you are holidaying in Sicily) quote that the Noto almond trees require just “100 cubic meters of water per hectare as opposed to as much as 10,000 cubic meters of water per hectare in more industrial productions". So not only is their environmental footprint a lot lower but the taste is on another level, much more intense.
As is often the case, the more sustainable option doesn't always come cheap and Sicilian almonds can be difficult to find in the UK. The best place is to find them is online. If you are fortunate enough to get your hands on some, here is a recipe for some delightful chewy almond biscuits, super quick to make, gluten free and there is a good vegan version too.
Chewy almond biscuits
175g ground Sicilian almonds
100g icing sugar
Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
1 egg beaten
Mix the almonds, icing sugar and lemon zest in a bowl and slowly add the beaten egg. It should form a sticky dough. Dust a surface with a bit more icing sugar. Measure out a large teaspoon of dough, roll into a ball in the sugar covered surface and place on a non stick baking sheet. Repeat until you’ve used up all the dough and then press gently in the centre of each ball with your thumb. Bake at 180 degrees (160 fan) for 10-15 mins. Take them out when they just start to colour and are firm underneath so that the centres stay a little chewy. Leave to cool before enjoying with an espresso.
Vegan recipe: Replace the egg with 45ml of aquafaba (the liquid from a can of chick peas). Whisk the aquafaba with a fork or hand whisk until it is light and frothy, then add to the dry ingredients and follow rest of recipe above.