We have just returned from a weekend in Griffith and a morning with Denis, Annette and Dean Dinicola of Mandole Almond Orchard.
The family's orchard was alive with bees and covered in cloudy white blossoms, their petals falling like snow. Right now; this orchard really is a vision in white.
The Dinicola family had been farming rice and wheat in the Griffith area for three generations but only began planting almonds in 2004. Since then they have covered 600 acres with almond trees and have become the largest privately owned almond property in the Riverina.
The lovely Annette also made us a batch of light, fragrant Pasta de Mandorla biscuits and some deeply sweet, chewy almond torrone (recipes for both below). She is a wonderful cook and though she says most of her almonds find their way into sweets, also uses almond meal for thickening curries, or in salads with quinoa or freekah.
The family sell their crop to Almondco Australia Limited and Dennis also represents the Riverina as a board member for the Almond Board Australia.
Pasta di Mandorla
This recipe was given to me by Annette via one of her favourite books Mangia Mangia. It's also one of my favourite cookbooks and is jam-packed with beautiful, authentic Italian family food.
6 egg whites, at room temperature350g sugar
500g ground almonds160g icing sugar
1/2 cup toasted almonds, halved
Preheat the oven to 170C and line two baking trays with baking paper. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until combined. Fold in the almond meal, mixing well.
Place the icing sugar on a flat plate. Coat your hands in icing sugar to prevent the dough from sticking and form tea-spoons of the almond mixture in small 3cm balls by rolling them in the palms of your hands. Coat the balls in icing sugar, then place on the prepared trays and press half an almond onto each one.
Bake for 12-15 minutes until light golden. Cool on a wire rack before storing in an airtight container for a couple of weeks.
Torrone di Mandorla
Another recipe inspired by Mangia Mangia, this is substantial praline made chewy and extra delicious with the liberal use of runny honey.
Light olive oil200g honey
1 cup sugar500g roasted almonds
Lightly grease a 25x20cm baking tray with a little olive oil. Heat the honey in a saucepan over low heat for 10 minutes until light brown. Add the sugar and continue to cook, stirring, until you have a thick toffee consistency. It will take about 10 minutes.
Add the almonds and stir for another 2 minutes until well combined. Remove from heat. Pour the mixture into your baking tray and spread until even. Leave to cool for 5 minutes then cut into small pieces (while the mixture is still warm). Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 months.