Torta Di Caprese
This is how you fall in love…
There’s a story behind this cake.
I had already fallen hopelessly in love with Italian food, the people, and the country. There always seems to be a story behind the food, the place it originated, and who made it first. When I had the chance to take a trip to a cooking school based in the Veneto, I certainly didn’t need to be asked twice. Bursting with sheer excitement, I was hardly able to contain my imagination about what I was going to cook, the produce that was going to fill me with love, and of course, what I was going to learn. I was there: well, indeed, in my mind, I was.
With an enthusiasm that had no boundaries, off I went. Believe me when I say I could’ve skipped to the airport. Arriving at Verona, there was a minibus waiting for us, and off we headed for the Estate, which was going to be our base for the week. I wanted there to be Cyprus trees, lining the road up to the estate, and my goodness, there they were standing proud. As I said, the Italians have a story behind almost everything, and so it is with these majestic trees, towering above the landscape. They symbolise “Mourning.”
That afternoon there was a gathering in the main hall of this most beautiful estate to meet the other people who had come from all over: United States, Canada & the UK. All were here for different experiences.
“The Menu”, as the piece of paper said, just made me all warm inside. No, it did. Pasta Fagioli, Agnolotti di Zucca e Amaretti, Baccala Mantecato, Risotto Nero, and Gnocchi di Patate con Funghi. I was in heaven; the menu just kept on giving.
Out of the corner of my eye was this rather pretty looking cake, dark in colour, not especially risen. Knowing Italian cakes or Torta, I thought it might have polenta or ground almonds in it. Making my way over to the table, I took a slice; I was momentarily silenced, in love. For me, that was the best Torta I had ever tasted, slightly bitter, not too sweet, a little crumbly, but still moist. The cake I had been looking for, this was “The Cake”. People who know me well know I’m not a great lover of sweet, sugary desserts. In fact, I’d opt for cheese every time.
I was occupied with the thought of what was to come over the next few days: learning in the kitchen, visits to a rice factory, trips to Venice and Verona, and wine tasting and pairing. Not to mention the visit to Caprino Veronese Market, surrounded by vineyards and olive trees. Every Saturday, this village attracts numerous visitors to its weekly market.
I was enjoying every minute of this; the experience was awe inspiring, but this cake just kept on appearing, from where I have no idea. I went to bed thinking about it, and I woke up thinking about the cake. So, after breakfast, off I went on my mission to find out more about this delicious cake. Typically, I was given answers that were, either: “no sorry, I don’t know this cake” or “ask the chef, he makes it”. I seemed to come to a dead end, every time, until one of the sous-chefs told me what I wanted to hear, a persons’ name: “Antonella.” She didn’t start work till around 10 pm, and according to my source, she would be in tonight. I know this sounds somewhat bizarre, but I was going to get that recipe if it killed me.
The poor woman looked startled and bewildered that I was waiting to speak with her. Why would I be waiting for her? With a little translation, pleading and smiling, she finally agreed to let me have the recipe. It would take a few days. Antonella had been making this cake for so many years that she made it by eye.
Not letting the piece of paper on which the recipe was written out of my sight, I traveled home, and translated it. I referred it to other recipes; it was very different from some I found, with techniques that varied from the others.
I’m pleased to present to you TORTA DI CAPRESE, from the island of Capri. Thank you, Antonella, who came over to the mainland with her parents and siblings when she was about 13 years old, from Capri. The Torta is crumbly on the outside and moist on the inside. It has no flour, so it is gluten-free. As you will see, there are both hazelnuts and almonds in the ingredients, toasted to give a lovely nutty flavour.