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Healthy Almond Pignoli Cookies: In Memory of My Father-In-Law

Rest In Peace Santo Nolfo

Rest In Peace Santo Nolfo (1923-2013)

First off, I’d like to wish all my family, friends, patients, clients and followers a very HAPPY and HEALTHY holiday season. Remember that being around the people we love gives us good feelings that promote mental health and well-being. Cherish these days of rest with people you care about – it’s good for you!

One way to spoil yourself around this time of year is a special holiday treat. My husband’s father, Santo Nolfo, passed away last week at age 90. He loved all kinds of food – especially those recipes cooked by his wife Jeanie, who left us in April of 2012. In honor of my father-in-law, who was Sicilian, here is a classic Sicilian cookie recipe he loved. I think these are just as good as the ones from the Italian bakeries from his neighborhood in Brooklyn!

What’s Great About These Cookies:

No flour. No gluten (if you use a gluten-free almond paste like Solo). No butter or added fats. 2 grams of protein per delicious cookie!

With the timing given below, they will be a bit chewy, but of course it depends on how big you make them. Cook them a bit longer if you like them crisp. They are not carb- or sugar-free, as they contain a small 7 grams of sugar* but more nutritious than most delicious cookies!

Healthy Pignoli (Pine Nut Cookies) (adapted from Lidia’s Bastianich’s Italy in America)

Yield: About 30 Cookies


  • 14 ounces/2 x 7-ounce tubes almond paste (NOT Marzipan, which has less almond and more added sugars)
  • 1 cup evaporated cane juice crystals (use regular white cane sugar if not available)
  • 2 large egg whites
  • Finely grated zest of one large organic orange (to get just the orange part and no white pith, use a microplane)
  • 1-1½ cups whole pine nuts (Enough to fill a small bowl so you can dredge the sticky dough. You can always put the leftovers back into a sealed container or bag.) Use slivered almonds or pistachios if someone has a pine nut allergy.

(* To cut the sugar content, this time I used 1/2 c. monkfruit (luo han guo) extract crystals and only 1/2 cane juice crystals. Monkfruit is a Chinese fruit that is sweet but low in carbohydrates. It worked! The cookies tasted the same and were just slightly more chewy. I found it right at the Big Y!)


  1. 2 large baking sheet(s) covered with parchment paper.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. Hand crumble almond paste into the work bowl of a food processor.
  4. With the motor running, sprinkle in half the sugar and then process until the paste is in fine crumbs. (Without the sugar, a sticky paste will not crumble in the processor but will stick together and you don’t want that at this stage.)
  5. Add the rest of the sugar, the egg whites and orange zest. Process to make a smooth dough, about 20 to 30 seconds.
  6. Spread the pine nuts on a plate or small shallow bowl.
  7. Wet your hands.
  8. Form the dough into 1 to 2-tablespoon-sized balls (If you want smaller cookies use only 1 tablespoon size) by rolling in in between the palms of your hands, then roll the dough in the pine nuts until coated, then place on baking sheets.
  9. Press down centers to slightly flatten.
  10. Bake until lightly golden and springy to the touch, about 13 to 15 minutes. The pine nuts and the cookie surface should be a light brown.
  11. Let cool on baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool completely.

Thanks to my patient JS for sharing the recipe.

Happy Holidays!

Dr Emily Nolfo

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