fig. a: torta alla caprese
Recently we started working through Josée di Stasio's à la di Stasio: Les Saveurs de l'Italie DVD collection. We watch a great deal of our television programming not when it actually airs, but later on DVD, and à la di Stasio, the local cooking show sensation, is no exception. Occasionally we happen upon an episode of à la di Stasio as it's airing, but for the most part we've watched them commercial-free on DVD. We were particularly excited, particularly eager about the Italian series, though. We'd heard all kinds of promising tidbits about the series' production from Elena Faita, who was part of the consulting team--we had a feeling we could expect good things and, as you might have gathered over the last three years, we're crazy about Italian cuisine.
The set consists of six shows, four on specific Italian cities and their environs (Rome, Modena, Naples, and Palermo), one on a crucial geographic region (Chianti), and a final episode dedicated entirely to the famous Don Alfonso 1890 restaurant. Naturally, given our ongoing obsession with pizza napoletana, we started with Naples. We had a feeling that at least one of Napoli's famous pizzerias would get highlighted, and we were right--an early section of the episode consists of an interview with an octogenarian pizzaiolo at Da Michele, the camera simultaneously giving us a sense of the lively atmosphere there, as well as glimpses of Da Michele's transcendent pies.
The remainder of the Naples episode features quite a few utterly tantalizing recipes, including two by Irene Mucilli of the rustic La Pignata à Pontelandolfo that really knocked us for a loop: Polpette con cacio e uova (egg and cheese croquettes), which looked particuarly good when served with a tomato sauce, and Cavatelli with Rapini and Pancetta. Funnily enough, though, it was the episode's last recipe, its only dessert--Torta alla Caprese, the torte of the island of Capri--that we ended up making first, and it wasn't Michelle who led the charge on this cake, as you might have expected, it was me. I say this not to brag about having made the torta, a cake known simply and affectionately as La Caprese in the region, but only to emphasize that if I can make it, you can make it.
The recipe is presented by one Edda Bini Mastropasqua--of Ischia and Montreal--and she stresses that although she gets many requests from family and friends to make her Torta alla Caprese, all the glory must go to this fabulously simple and rewarding recipe because otherwise her talents in the kitchen lie almost completely with savory foods and not with sweets. I'm more or less the same--I've got a strong sweet tooth (very strong, in fact), but when it comes to cooking, 99% of the time I lean towards the savory side of things. But having made the recipe four times since first discovering it, I, like Edda Bini Mastropasqua, am tempted to call this La Caprese recipe foolproof. The cake that results is a moist, luxurious chocolate-almond torte that only needs a light dusting of confectioner's sugar (patterned or not) to complete the scene, although I highly recommend accompanying it with vanilla ice cream or, even better, a delicate milk gelato.
Torta alla Caprese
1 cup sugar
5 large eggs
9 oz almonds with skins, ground*
1 tbsp baking powder
7 oz 70% cacao chocolate
7 oz unsalted butter
1/4 cup espresso coffee, brewed
Preheat the oven to 350º. Butter the interior of a 12" circular baking dish.
In a mixer, beat the eggs and the sugar for 5 minutes at medium speed. Fold in the almonds and the baking powder.
In a bain-marie, melt the butter and the chocolate together over medium-low heat. Add the coffee and mix well. Add this mixture to the almond mixture and mix well.
Pour the batter into the baking dish and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes. Turn the cake out onto a plate and let it cool fully. When it is no longer warm, dust it with confectioner's sugar.
fig. b: giving the torta a right dusting
Serve, cutting the cake into long, thin wedges.
* Use a nut grinder, a spice or coffee grinder, or a food processor. Make sure they are very well ground. We prefer a hand-cranked nut grinder because it gives the almonds a lighter, fluffier texture that we feel produces a better Caprese.
Dedicated to JK.
Monday, January 21, 2008
fig. a: torta alla caprese