Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Italy Thing

I have a minor obsession with Italy. I don't recall when it started, but there's always been something about the language, the culture, the people, and the food -- of course the food -- that has captivated me. Long before I ever visited the country, I just had a sense that Italians were a warm convivial people who enjoyed life and had impeccable style. Egged on by movies like Stealing Beauty, I fell in love with the picturesque countryside, the simple fresh meals eaten outside, the idea of these intrinsic artists with a twinkle of mischief in their eyes.

A few summers ago, I finally had the chance to visit the country and put an end to the yearning. But I still feel like my love is unrequited. Oh, of course, I had uncountable affirming experiences -- discovering that every shop in Florence has incredible design and architecture, finally understanding the hype that surrounds balsamic vinegar at an olive mill in the hills of Tuscany, buying fruit from the produce stand in dreamy Lucca's main market and having the lady drop 2 unsolicited black plums in my bag, drinking wine with nearly every meal, never disappointed by a single sip, going into raptures over so many tiny adorable cars (small cute cars is another minor obsession) scooting through cobblestone streets, and of course having the freshest most perfect pizza I've ever tasted.

Yet, I feel like I only scratched the surface. I visited Italy with a tour group. Which is to say, I saw this country from within the confines of a giant bus, speeding from stop to stop. We'd alight on our destination in a giant drove, walk around a bit, then move to the next. Other than our base city, Montecatini Terme, we really only spent a day or less in most of the cities we traveled to. And often our meals were designed for large elderly midwestern men who would take America with them in their suitcase if they could. Not exactly how I would choose to experience any country.

So, I still need quite a bit more getting-to-know-you time with Italy. I have yet to learn the language, although my phrase-a-day calendar has taught me important ones like "there is no more hot water", and "every woman needs a little black dress". And I'd be ready to go back for a long long time in a heartbeat.

So it's a given that, when I decided to make a French-style yogurt cake, I replaced the vegetable oil with fruity extra virgin olive oil, and the ground almonds with ground pine nuts: I made an Italian-style French-style yogurt cake.

Yogurt Cake with Olive Oil and Pine Nuts

Based on the recipe listed in this adorable post, but with the replacements mentioned above.

The result was a dense, short cake with a rich flavor and overtones of olive oil and pine nuts. It filled the kitchen with an amazing scent. I should really try the base yogurt cake at some point, so I can get a feel for the real thing, but my head is already filling with variations: berries soaked in balsamic vinegar; vanilla and saffron... mmmmm.

1/2 C plain yogurt (I used Fage 2%)
1 C sugar (I used a mellow cane sugar,
so as not to steal the spotlight from
the other flavors)
3 eggs
1 C unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 C finely ground toasted pine nuts
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 C fruity extra virgin olive oil
zest from 2 lemons
juice from 1-2 lemons
1/4 C powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, and eggs, stirring until well blended. Add the flour, ground ground pine nuts, and baking powder, mixing just to combine. Add the oil, stirring to incorporate, and then add the zest. Pour the batter into a buttered 9-inch round cake pan (I used a springform, which worked great).

Bake for 45-55 minutes, until the cake feels springy to the touch and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. If, after forty or so minutes, the cake is browning too quickly, you may need to tent it with foil.

Cool cake on a rack for about 20 minutes; then turn it out of the pan to cool completely. When the cake is thoroughly cooled, combine the lemon juice and powdered sugar in a small bowl and spoon it over the cake. The glaze will be thin and will soak in like a syrup. If necessary, prick the cake in a few places with a fork to help the glaze soak through.


  1. Mmmmmmmmm! Can I get two of these cakes to-go? (have you contemplated serving it with some tart fruit, like raspberries or *gasp* currants? or is that a corruption...?) I need to learn to post more recipes... you are the guru!

  2. first of all, annie, this talk of corruption is nonsense. my recipe is a corruption itself. we encourage creativity here, and i love the idea of the smooth cake being peppered throughout with little currant dots.

    secondly, here are a couple remedies to the recipe dearth:
    - make something with all that gorgeous squash
    - cook with your friend tannaz when she comes to visit you next month, then post the recipes!

    I'm leaning towards option 2.

  3. Tannaz, it's Brian (evlgnis) here! Yay! Very nice bloggery, if i do say so myself. Also, Pam's friend's, collectively, are awesome.