I asked Alessandro the other day what his idea of summer was – his answer? Pasta con pomodoro fresco e basilico (pasta with a sauce made from fresh tomatoes and basil). My idea of summer? Biting into a slice of crunchy, juicy and perfectly sweet watermelon after a refreshing dip in the sea (failing which, a dip in a swimming pool). Like him (and myself) I am sure all of you have your own idea of what summer is (maybe a crisp glass of white wine enjoyed on the porch, a barbecue with friends, the smell of sun lotion etc), it is after all most people’s favourite season of the entire year.
Having spent the majority of the last 12 or so years in the UK, first in Brighton and then in London, I got used to a somewhat different type of summer than my childhood ones in Germany, where the days from late May to early September were filled with trips to the Lidos or lakes nearby, picnics in parks and day long barbecues in the garden. Instead I got used to making the most of the warmer days, knowing they would likely not last beyond the end of the week and not hesitating to head to the park for picnics with friends as soon as it was warm enough to leave the house without a coat and the sky free of clouds tempting me to leave the umbrella at home. Now that I live in Rome I have had to adjust again. Not only are both my work wardrobe and my normal wardrobe wholly inadequate and insufficient for this hot weather, I am actually wary of wearing the clothes that normally get worn on holidays only – I am being told the current heat is just the beginning, the gentle introduction of expats like myself to the real Roman summer heat which will turn Rome into somewhat of a ghost-town come August when the locals flee the city for trips to the beach and only some ill-advised tourists, fanning themselves frantically with their maps and guidebooks, will seek shelter in the shade of Rome’s famous monuments.
Leaving aside the heat, I also had to adjust my expectations of when certain seasonal products will hit the market stalls, things I associate more with late summer like juicy figs and lip-staining blackberries arrived at farmers’ market stalls and on supermarket shelves weeks ago, same for apricots and strawberries, the latter arriving so long ago I can’t even recall exactly when.
This cake came about after I got a little overexcited when I spotted my first peaches at the market – although their furry skin gives me goosebumps every time I bite into them, I adore the taste of peaches – there is something about their juicy flesh, the sweet and musky flavour with just a hint of acidity that is just so inviting. So there we were, 2 of us with at least 1kg of peaches, plus a ginormous watermelon and a large bag of apricots. Something had to go, and, after perusing one of my latest acquisitions – Love Bake Nourish by Amber Rose – I decided to turn some of the peaches into a cake Alessandro and I could enjoy for breakfast.
The book itself is beautifully designed yet caught my attention with its promise of recipes using wholesome ingredients, and the book sure did not disappoint. While the recipes might not be wholesome in terms of their fat or sugar content, they certainly are when it comes to the ingredients – expect to find recipes using ancient grains and sweeteners like honey and maple syrup. Rather frighteningly, I have bookmarked most recipes already (minus the chapter on tea – I really don’t need any reason to expand our huge collection of teas).
Amber’s original recipe used spelt flour only, but I added some polenta for a bit of texture to stand up against the soft peaches. I also left out the lemon zest the recipe calls for as I did not think the cake needed it.
Peach Polenta Pine Nut Cake
Slightly adapted from the Peach & pine nut cake recipe in Love Bake Nourish by Amber Rose
120g butter, at room temperature
70g wholemeal spelt flour
1/3 tsp baking powder
120g maple syrup
55g natural yoghurt
50g pine nuts
1-2 peaches, stoned and cut into thin slices
1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius and grease a 20cm cake tin or fluted pie form (which is what I used).
2. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the two eggs, one at a time. Whisk together the flour and the polenta with the baking powder and fold into the butter mix together with the maple syrup and natural yoghurt.
3. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin or pie form and arrange the peach slices in a circle on top of the batter. Lastly, scatter the pine nuts over the peaches.
4. Bake in the oven for ca. 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
5. Once removed from the oven leave to rest for at least 5-10 minutes before carefully removing the cake from its tin / form.
6. Serve as is or with some lightly whipped cream or creme fraiche on the side.