Torta Mantovana di Prato – almond and pinenut sponge cake

torta Mantovana

A mystery cake: it is called mantovana, meaning from Mantua (in Lombardy) but it is in fact a speciality of the Tuscan town of Prato. 
It is a buttery and eggy cake with a tight, tender crumb, subtly perfumed with lemon zest and topped with almonds and pine nuts. There is no baking powered in the batter and this makes for a rather flat cake. It is one of those cakes that Italian 19th century cook books would define as da credenza, i.e. a dresser cake, one that that home cooks would keep in a dresser, on a platter or on a cake stand, covered by a napkin – as I do.
It really is ideal with a mid morning coffee or with an afternoon tea. 

Continue reading “Torta Mantovana di Prato – almond and pinenut sponge cake”

Chiacchiere di carnevale – Carnival pastries

 

It is Carnevale right now and most Italians would not pass the opportunity to munch on the delectable seasonal deep fried pastries called chiacchiere (pronounced kiah-kihe-reh). They are crisp, not overly sweet, feather light and shatter as soon as you pop one in your mouth. They are insubstantial and irresistible, at any time of the day.  Continue reading “Chiacchiere di carnevale – Carnival pastries”

Torta di grano saraceno trentina – buckwheat cake from Trentino Alto Adige

Torta di grano saraceno - buckwheat cake

Trentino Alto Adige is a strange corner of Italy: more Heidi’s playground than your typical sea & sun postcard from Italy. On the north-east border with Austria, its gorgeous Alpine scenery, flower-festooned wooden houses and German street signs give its past away: Trentino was part of the the Austrian-Empire, from the early 19th century to just after the first world war.  This is reflected in its food: gulasch suppe,  sauerkraut, apple strudel are common  dishes.
Torta di grano saraceno is one of the most famous cakes from the area, a buckwheat and nut sponge cake, generally filled with a sharp berry jam (blueberry, black currant or raspberry jam). Continue reading “Torta di grano saraceno trentina – buckwheat cake from Trentino Alto Adige”

My Castagnaccio ricco – chestnut pudding

castagnaccio

 

Castagnaccio is one of the oldest sweet dishes in the Italian repertoire: chestnut flour whisked with water and a little olive oil, a few needles of rosemary for perfume, then baked until it turns into a sort of cake, a true poor people’s dessert in this most basic version. Chestnut flour is sweet and this makes adding sugar to the batter unnecessary. For greater extravagance, you could add pinenuts, walnuts and sultanas.
In Italy, well until the second world war, chestnuts were regarded as an important, cheap but nutritious food for a large section of the population – if you were poor,  meat was an occasional luxury and  beans and chestnuts were more likely to be part of your diet.

Truth be told, the castagnaccio you see in most bakeries now can be the stuff of nightmares: stodgy, to say the least, Continue reading “My Castagnaccio ricco – chestnut pudding”