It was certainly a life-affirming and life-changing experience, particularly in my understanding of how history, ingredients, agriculture, locale and family all influence the nature of what we cook and eat.
Memory is also a key part of the culinary experience. When I make pasta by hand, I remember Chef Roberto’s energetic guidance, and when I taste fine balsamic vinegar, I recall Mary Beth’s exquisite attention to detail as she taught us to identify flavor notes.
Exceptional ingredients can transport me back to that time. When I pick up a bottle of imported olive oil in the market, I instantly recall that hot September afternoon when I hiked through groves of olive trees from the winery at Fattoria del Colle to the medieval town of Trequanda.
There was such an abundance of simple, wonderful ingredients that found their way into dinner and dessert as we cooked each night with a glass of wine in hand and watched a fiery sun set beyond the Tuscan hills.
This bright and sunny Orange-Scented Olive Oil Cake recalls that extraordinary journey for me. There are many recipes for olive oil cake. This recipe from “The Modern Baker,” by Nick Malgieri makes two cakes, uses pure olive oil instead of extra virgin for smooth earthy flavors of the Mediterranean, and gets its sweet, bright finish from the zest of three navel oranges. It couldn’t be simpler, and the memories it evokes for me of the people and tastes of that trip couldn’t be more delicious.
I’m bringing my Orange-Scented Olive Oil Cake to Maryann and Marie’s 2nd Annual Festa Italiana, a great opportunity to share food with good friends and remember those magical nights in Tuscany when the wine tasted fresh from the vine, the food and conversation filled the soul and the lights of Trequanda looked like fireflies against the late summer night sky.