Medici Madness

There is no March Madness in this house. (For those of you not in the sports world, March Madness is about basketball. ... At least I think it's about basketball...) We went for Medici Madness instead.

For years, we have enjoyed Lorenza de Medici's updated recipes from her family treasure trove of splendid Renaissance manuscripts. Today, I have made one of our all-time, favorites: Crema di Cipolle alle Mandorle from her book, Florentines.

I learned from my live-in encyclopedia (Mark) that in the late Renaissance, the expansion of the Ottoman Empire disrupted trade routes, forcing European cookery to turn away from imported spices to herbs – thyme, rosemary, nepitella, sage, – readily available in their beautiful countryside and gardens.

These herbs are what we equate with Italian cuisine. Prior to that, recipes featured unexpected combinations of exotic spices in savory dishes, including saffron, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, black pepper and rosewater. (In another post, I will write about an exquisite rosewater pasta recipe.)

Today's soup is, as Italian cuisine often is, very simple. Onions sautéed till soft, mixed with ground almonds and broth, simmered for a while, then puréed with some cinnamon, nutmeg and ground amaretti cookies. A little salt and black pepper round out the flavors.

It is creamy with no milk or cream, full of great vitamins, comforting beyond belief, and delicious beyond any expectations. Who could believe something this rich and decadent is actually good for you?

So, while I write this, Mark is contentedly paging through volumes of gardening books looking at limonaias in Renaissance villas, including several Medici villas.

I guess we are both in an Italian dreaming state of mind!

Grazie, Lorenza! Grazie a voi ed alla vostra famiglia!

~ David

Crema di Cipolle alle Mandorle
(adapted from Florentines)

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 pounds (about 4 large) red onions, thinly sliced
6 ounces ground almonds
6 cups light chicken or vegetable broth
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
6 amaretti cookies, crushed into crumbs
salt and pepper, to taste

In a large soup kettle, heat the olive oil and sauté the sliced onions for 10-20 minutes, until soft, translucent and beginning to turn golden. This is the point where their natural sweetness begins to emerge. The cooking time for this will vary depending on the heat and the size (width) of your kettle.

Add the ground almonds and stir to coat the onions. Then add broth slowly while stirring. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes.

Add the cinnamon, nutmeg and 2 tablespoons of the cookie crumbs. Purée with an immersion blender or in a blender. If using the blender, return to the pot and reheat to serve,

Serve in heated bowls and garnish with remaining cookie crumbs.

Serves 8-10 as a first course.


  1. The soup looks beautiful - I love anything with crushed amaretti cookies in it. And can't wait to see your rosewater pasta recipe!

  2. Thanks, Ahu! Amaretti cookies are my favorite - I wish I could make them at home! Will work on the rosewater pasta soon... I thought it might pique your interest! :)

  3. Wow David, this recipe sounds amazing. I must try it. Thanks (and than you Mark for being a human encyclopedia) :)

  4. Magda - it is so seductive! I think you will really like it! (Your compliments to the HE - human encyclopedia - have been passed on!)

  5. If there´s a cookbook that I didn´t expect is one from the Medici era. I absolutely love those eras, have read Catalina´s story so many times and am sure I lived an old life in europe at that time. This is such an interesting soup, with amaretti and spices! I´ve been meaning to make amaretti for a long time. What a wonderful book and recipe David!

  6. David, where do you get amaretti cookies? Remember, I AM in the Albany area! Or is there a recipe I missed?

  7. Onions and almonds...I'm intrigued! I have a tiny paperback of Lorenza's - The Renaissance of Italian Cooking, and LOVE her family recipes - this one is a definite one to try - Thanks again David!


  8. Paula - the book Florentines is out of print, but used copies are easily found on Amazon.com - if you NEED a copy! :) If you get a good recipe for amaretti, let me know... I have not been successful so far...

    Susan, you can get amaretti (I am pretty sure) at either Andy's or Cardonas on Delaware Avenue. They will also have them at really upscale groceries - maybe even at Williams-Sonoma.

  9. Karin - now I need to find a copy of The Renaissance of Italian Cooking! NEED, mind you. I always need a new cookbook! :)

  10. Oh! I can already tell that I would love this. What a pretty recipe! I am VERY excited to see your rosewater pasta recipe.

  11. What a deliciously rustic soup, and decadently topped with crushed amaretti! Such lovely flavours!

  12. Amaretti w, almonds & nutmeg?
    This soup is so unique, I have to try it!

  13. Anna - I guess I need to get that rosewater pasta photographed! Soon, I hope!

    John - the amaretti really make the soup.

    Colette - definitely unique but, once you try it, you will be hooked!

  14. Can't wait to get to the market tomorrow morning and buy a supply of wonderful red onions for this recipe! They are in great abundance in the Mediterranean right now, and since moving to Malta I've learned to appreciate them and value them highly. I use them in lots of different ways, but this soup recipe sounds soooo extraordinary, I must give it a try asap! Grazzi hafna hafna, xo C

  15. Thanks, Clotilde! Let me know what you think. The red onions really make a difference, although I want to try it with sweet yellow onions sometime.

  16. This soup is so inviting and intriguing--ingredients I would never think to put together! I am going to the farmer's market soon--Carlsbad is fortunate to have two each week--and I will see what they have for red onions. The cookies, I am not sure where to go here (since I don't know the stores well) but looking for them will give my mother and I an interesting mission! As always, I can''t wait to try it.

    BTW, I just made your citrus almond cake AGAIN--love it!

    xoxo from Susan

  17. Susan - most Italian import stores will carry the amaretti, and even some upscale grocery stores. I love the bitter flavor they get from the meat of the apricot kernels. I hope you get to make the soup for your mother! Hope all is going well in California! Bisous, d


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