Friday, January 20, 2023

Food…for thought…..by Sheila Claydon

 





In the same way that many of my books have children in them, a lot of them mention food. Often it is merely a passing mention of a meal with maybe a sentence about the ingredients. A way of linking parts of the story. Two are different, however. The meals in Mending Jodie’s Heart and Miss Locatelli, although written differently, recall some of the most wonderful food I’ve ever eaten. 

Up in the hills of northern Tuscany, close to where  Michelangelo sourced the carrera marble for his  amazing  sculptures, there used to be a small family run restaurant. I don't know what it was called because there wasn’t a sign outside. Its reputation was by word of mouth. Nor do I know if it is still there. All I know is that I was lucky to be taken there by an Italian friend who had found it.

There was no choice, no fancy decor. Everyone was served the menu of the day sitting on benches at rough wooden tables. But what a menu.  Chicken liver pate with crostini. Wild boar with figs. Grilled summer vegetables. Homemade bread. Homemade honey cake. Bowls of fresh fruit and walnuts. Wine. And almost every ingredient either grown, or in the case of the meat, raised and then slaughtered by the family. Even the many herbs used in the cooking were picked in the surrounding fields. I’ve never forgotten it, nor the fact that one of the waitresses was a very enthusiastic nine year old girl, the youngest member of a very busy extended family. 

This all happened more than 25 years ago so there is every chance that modern life has taken over and the wonderful food replaced by something more instant, although I hope not. I hope, too, that the nine year old girl has taken over the family business and is still serving real food to those discerning customers who have managed to find such a treasure hidden away in the Tuscan hills.

Today, it is so easy to use our busy lifestyles as an excuse to buy instant meals and maybe even eat them while we watch one of the ubiquitous cookery programmes on TV,  but at what cost? As someone passionate about nutrition and real food I could depress you with facts about how so much of our food is processed and marketed today. I won't though. Instead I'll hark back to that wonderful meal and give you a real food recipe. The honey cake made by Elise, the young girl in Miss Locatelli. Easy to make. Delicious. 

And please don't throw your hands up in horror when you read the list of ingredients. Honey cake is not meant to be eaten in large quantities. It is a desert that can be eaten on its own. With coffee or a glass of white wine. Enjoyed with cream. Sprinkled with chopped almonds, or dusted with cinnamon or nutmeg. Apart from the wine, these are all things that will not only counteract the sweetness but which will also balance out sugars, preventing short term glucose spike in some people. This is made with real food, not ultra processed seed oils and cheap honey blended from different countries. Enjoy!

Tuscan honey cake

  • half a cup of melted and cooled butter
  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons of locally grown honey
  • 3 large free range eggs
  • half a tsp of real vanilla extract (check the label)
  • t tbsp cornstarch
  • half tsp salt
  • half tsp baking powder
  • half tsp baking soda
  • 1 3/4 cups of flour 
  • half cup plain full cream yoghurt

  • Spray and line a 9" cake tin and preheat the oven to 350F
  • Whisk butter and honey until combined
  • Beat in the eggs one at a time
  • Add the vanilla extract
  • Blend in the cornstarch, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
  • Mix in the flour
  • When everything is incorporated add the yoghurt and mix gently until combined
  • Tip the batter into the cake tin and bake for 35 minutes 
  • Leave for 10 minutes before turning onto a rack to cool completely
  • Sprinkle with chopped almonds or dust with cinnamon or any other flavouring of choice
Serve with whipped double cream and a drizzle of extra honey if you wish.

Slicing and storing in the freezer is the best way to prevent the overindulgence of eating all of it in one or two sittings. It also means you have a desert ready to be gently restored to room temperature when you want a sweet treat.

I realise, of course, that real food costs more. Locally grown honey is a lot more expensive that those huge jars of blended honey, much of which comes from China. Battery farmed eggs are a lot cheaper than free range. Real vanilla extract is not only difficult to find but costs a lot more than that found in most grocery stores. Even plain full fat yoghurt can be more expensive but unless you use this and not a low fat (full of added sugar) version, the honey cake flavour will not be authentic. In fact I'm not even sure if it would work the same.

There are many, many Italian recipes online. A lot of them, while undoubtedly still delicious, are versions of the real thing, in the same way that pizza, world wide, is nothing like real Italian pizza. However there is one thing that we can all do to keep us as close to the Italian way of cooking as possible, and that is to use quality ingredients, free range, locally grown, the best we can afford. That is what the Italians who live in the Tuscan hills do. Difficult I know. Not always possible, but well worth it when it is. 

Enjoy!



3 comments:

  1. Sounds like a great dessert. There are a few I've made in the past that leave me dreaming. Keep writing

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  2. Wonderful recipe. I remember such little places to eat in Europe. In a small village in Spain, in particular, where you ask for a restaurant and you are led into a private house, eating at the hosts' table, and what you eat is probably the meal they prepared for themselves. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I like wild boar, especially the bacon, but wild boar with figs sounds absolutely delicious. That honey cake sounds wicked, too. I might have to make it.

    ReplyDelete

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