As you may or may now know, I’ve recently returned from an amazing trip across northern Italy, which is why things have been a little quiet here on MT lately. I spent an 10 amazing days travelling between Venice, Verona, Milan & Turin before finally ending our trip on the southern coast of France in Nice. I experienced the sights, smells, architecture, weather, attitudes & atmosphere of a country that I love so much (I’m determined to retire here one day). But perhaps one of the most important experiences (at least to this foodie) is tasting the local cuisine…
I adore the carb-loving Italians with their fantastic breads, meats, pastas, sweets, pastries & oils. Not to mention the quality wines, coffee, prosecco & one of my favoured aperitifs, the brightly orange hued aperol spritz. Needless to say, I ate & drank well (a lot) every single day (expect many Italian inspired bakes in the coming months). Now I wouldn’t normally condone a diet that consists of gelato, wine & pastry every day but diets are but a myth when I travel. As usual I set about checking off the regional dishes & specialities such as linguine al nero di seppia & bussolai in Venice, bigoli in Verona, risotto alla Milanese & sfogiatella in Milan, grissini & slow cooked veal in Turin, socca & pissaladière in Nice. I never travel far without my foodie list of must eats.
There are so many thing’s I enjoy about Italian dining… finding a great little coffee shop that serves fresh pastries & nothing but the best shots of thick, concentrated espresso to be consumed right at the bar for breakfast, grabbing a huge, fresh slice of pizza or focaccia for just a couple of euros for a filling lunch between sight-seeing & enjoying every evening dining al fresco in the sunshine, just watching the world go by. These are the experiences that I thirst for when in Europe.
Two of my favourite practices in Italy however are firstly the guarantee of a bread basket with every meal, breads & olive oils are one of the simplest enjoyments when it comes to food (plus I wholeheartedly agree that all meals should be accompanied by my doughy friend) & secondly that it is perfectly acceptable to enjoy pastries & cakes for breakfast (the Italians know how to live!).
Naturally I find myself seeking out traditional & authentic bakes wherever I am in the world, but the rush of excitement that fills me every time I find myself wandering amongst alleyways & narrow winding corridors & I come across the ornate, rustic sign of a classic pasticceria doesn’t quite compare to the same offering we have back here in the UK which lack that certain charm. Amongst some of my favourite sweet offerings whilst away were bussolai buranelli, crostata, croissant alla marmellata, torta di mele, sfogiatella & the most beautiful apple frangipane tart in Nice.
As a bit of a market enthusiast, not only because this is where you tend to find the more unusual or obscure items but also the freshest & most colourful array of local produce, I always enjoy smelling the leafy herbs & dried spices, admiring the weird & wonderful seafood, tasting the abundantly large colourful fruits & pungent cheeses. As anyone who knows me well can attest that when returning home, my suitcase is abundant with jars, bottles & sachets of whatever I am allowed to bring back into the country, all well-preserved, wrapped amongst shoes, socks & worn clothing in a gamble to make it back in one piece (I’ve mastered this art over time).
It’s a little difficult to bring back fresh produce from abroad which is unfortunate because once you’ve experienced the sheer size, colour, smell & taste of the fruits & vegetables from the countries in which they grown, your weekly shopping Lidl will become such a bitter experience. In defence of the UK however, I was very surprised that after enjoying torta di mele in Italy, I was seriously underwhelmed by the quality of their apples (they were no granny smith). So in a bid to create something inspired by my trip, I’ve opted for another commonly used fruit & cake which appears often in pasticceria’s, pears with chocolate.
Fruit & chocolate are such a wonderful combination alone but in an attempt to add an Italian twist on a simple cake I’ve added just a hint of almond throughout. This cake is incredibly light & I find best served with a little cream, syrup or some good quality vanilla ice cream. Perfect served with a cup of coffee for merenda or dolce.
PEAR, CHOCOLATE & AMARETTO CAKE
(makes one 22cm cake)
- 200g dark chocolate
- 170g butter
- 3 pears, cored & cut into wedges
- 300ml amaretto
- 4 large eggs, separated
- 100g light muscovado sugar
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 100ml milk
- 100g of either cantucci or amaretti biscuits, roughly crushed
- 200g plain flour
- 70g chocolate chips
- Melt together the dark chocolate & butter in a large bowl set over a saucepan of bubbling water (make sure that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the boiling water though), set aside to cool to cool
- Heat a large frying pan over a high heat before adding the amaretto & pear wedges
- Cook the pears for about 15 minutes, turning them occasionally until the majority alcohol has evaporated & the pear is beginning to turn golden & caramelised
- Drain any remaining amaretto from the pan (it should be a little syrupy now) & set aside to cool
- In a large bowl beat together half (50g) of the sugar with the egg yolks
- In a separate large, clean bowl whisk the egg whites until they double in size & begin to form stiff peaks
- One spoonful at a time, gradually add the remaining half (50g) of sugar to the whisked egg whites whilst continuing to beat until the mixture is thick & glossy, resembling a meringue
- Combine the baking powder with the milk & set aside to dissolve for a minute or two
- Sift the flour into a bowl & crumble in all but three or four of the biscuits into the bowl & mix to combine
- Next, add the milk, strained amaretto, chocolate mixture, flour mixture & chocolate chips to the egg yolks & fold everything together until well combined
- Once combined, take one spoonful at a time of the whisked egg whites & fold each one through until all of the egg has been combined with no pockets of egg white remaining in the mixture
- Pour the mixture into a 22cm round cake tin, greased & lined with baking parchment
- Place the caramelised pear wedges over the top of the cake
- Finally, crumble over the remaining biscuits
- Bake the cake at 180C for 1 hour until the cake springs back when pressed lightly or a tester inserted into the cake comes out cleanly
- Leave the cake to cool for 15 minutes before removing from its tin & allowing to cool fully on a cooling rack