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, peeled, cored & cut into wedges
- 350ml amaretto
- 4 large eggs, separated
- Pinch of salt
- 100g light muscovado sugar
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 100ml milk
- 100g amaretti biscuits, roughly crushed
- 200g plain flour, plus 1tsp for the cherries
- 150g black cherries in syrup, plus extra to serve
- Melt the chocolate & butter together in a large bowl set over a saucepan of bubbling water, leave 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 golden & caramelised
- Drain any remaining amaretto from the pan & set aside to cool
- Whilst the pears are cooking, gently wash the cherries to remove any syrup
- Dry the cherries using a tea towel & roughly chop two-thirds of them before dusting lightly with the extra 1tsp of flour
- In a large bowl beat together 50g of the sugar with the egg yolks until pale
- Dissolve the baking powder in the milk before adding to the bowl along with the remaining amaretto, cooled chocolate mixture, crushed amaretti biscuits & flour
- Mix everything together until thoroughly combined
- In a separate large, clean bowl whisk the egg whites with the salt until they form stiff peaks
- Continue to whisk the egg whites, gradually add the remaining 50g of sugar, a tablespoon at a time until all of the sugar has been used & the mixture is glossy, resembling a meringue
- Gently fold the egg whites through the cake mixture until thoroughly combined
- Pour half of the mixture into a 22cm round cake tin, greased & lined with baking parchment
- Drop in half of the cherries before covering with the remaining cake mixture
- Spread the caramelised pear wedges & remaining cherries over the top of the cake
- 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 clean
- Leave the cake to cool for 30 minutes before removing from its tin & allowing to cool fully on a cooling rack