If I could sum up Italian cuisine in one word, it would be this one: simple.
I have had countless conversations on the topic of the true Italian cuisine, which differs greatly from the kind of food seen outside of Italy that is typically called "Italian". Most dishes revolve around a few key ingredients, with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt acting to enhance the flavours. Some examples of this are: pizza margherita (tomato, fresh mozzarella, basil), pasta carbonara (egg yolk, pecorino, pancetta), risotto (rice, onion, parmesan), anything alla ligure (pine nut, cherry tomato, olive), and so on. There should never be too many flavours layered in one particular dish. Even the cooking and processing of food is done only to a small extent. A tomato is a tomato, and it should look, smell, and feel like one. This applies to all ingredients used in the dish. Another interesting point is that Italian cuisine is light on spices and other strong flavours. It may surprise you that garlic is not commonly used! I believe this misconception arose because many Italian immigrants in North America are from southern Italy, where garlic is used in some dishes -- yet never at the expense of overpowering the other ingredients.
In summary: each ingredient is paired with others that complement, rather than compete with, its flavour; the raw foods are manipulated minimally, preserving their natural textures and forms; spices and herbs are used sparingly and sensibly.
It is no wonder that most conversations in this country revolve around the correct preparation of food. ;)
This is my little homage to a simple almond cardamom cake, that is not quite as it seems. It is a minimalist and humble dessert. Yet, the cardamom brings an invigorating note, which is paired well with the rough texture of the almonds and the sweet morsels of fruit. This cake is very similar to the traditional French biscuit joconde, or almond sponge. To note, it is naturally gluten free. The use of almond flour (blanched, finely ground almonds) is a staple in Italian pastry -- many cakes and cookies are traditionally made in this way.
Almond Cardamom Cake
- 120 g almond flour (blanched, finely ground almonds)
- 80 g cane sugar
- 1 tsp cardamom
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 2 tbsp milk (plant-based milk will also work)
- 2 eggs
- 80 g berries or fruit chopped into small pieces (I used peach)
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites. In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until pale and frothy. Add the almond flour, cardamom, salt, and milk. Mix until well combined.
Using a whisk (or a mixer with a whisk attachment), whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the mixture, starting with a third of the mixture and then following up with the rest. Add the fruit, and again gently fold just until combined.
Line a baking tray (such as a springform pan or square baking dish) with parchment paper. Spread the cake mixture evenly onto the pan. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes.
Let cool on the pan, and then transfer to a wire rack (peel off the parchment at this point). Cut into slices or squares, as preferred.