I’ve just got back from a glorious week in Italy. My parents purchased a small house out there almost 10 years ago and have been doing it up bit by bit ever since. It is beautifully isolated with a spectacular view and particularly perfect weather at this time of year. Just being in that house and beholding that view helps me to feel inspired.
Food-specific inspiration was abounding in the regional food of Northern Italy, too. A trip round the local market to the fish stand resulted in a friendly fishmonger desiring to both practice his English and encourage us to spend more by shouting “do you want squid” and “try this” while extending a pair of hot tongs holding deep fried “calamare“ and toothpicks prodded through anchovy fillets marinated in a gorgeous salsa. The cheese and olive stands were equally enticing – with as many cheeses as you may find at a French market, all subtly different in flavour and with their different assigned uses. A meal out while the grandparents babysat delighted our tastebuds with the joys of slow-cooked beef cheeks, fried polenta, nettle & ricotta freshly made pasta, mini gnocchi in gorgonzola and vitello tonnato, a regional delicacy of braised veal served cold with a tuna, anchovy & caper sauce poured over the top. I tried my first octopus, which was surprisingly tasty and meaty, and the usual array of cured meats and beautifully ripe tomatoes that never taste the same elsewhere and come in every possible shape and colour, all greeted me like old friends.
All of this worked to inspire my tastebuds and imagination. I was so inspired, in fact, that by the time I left, I had 4 pages of ideas for recipes I want to test out, perfect and share with you all! Today’s recipe was the first idea I attempted.
It is a kind of French recipe with an Italian flavour. The French often enjoy cake as a savoury affair, something I credit and love them for. Cake in France does not solely mean sponges or brownies. It can just as easily be used to describe a loaf cake filled with cheeses, meats, vegetables and herbs. A
quick long, slow browse through the seasonal vegetables on offer in Italy at this time of year brought me back to an old favourite wherever they are offered in the world: asparagus. Dirt cheap in comparison to British asparagus, I picked up a large bunch and grabbed a large handful of regional black olives that had been cooked in a wood fire oven. The makings of a truly great French-Italian “cake” was born.
This is more of a Paleo-style loaf (use ground almonds instead of flour if you are having this as part of a Paleo diet), true to the “cake” style over “bread” loaves. It is easily made dairy-free and gluten-free and is already free of sugars and vegetable oils.
This is filling, soft, summery, and particularly yummy served as a lunch with cured meats, cheese and/or a big salad. Or simply toasted in slices with some butter as a filling snack!
Not as adventurous as some of my other food choices this holiday, perhaps, but pretty darn tasty all the same!
A delicious, soft and light savoury "cake" loaf that is full of springtime flavours. Easily made gluten and dairy free or even Paleo, this adaptable loaf is gorgeously simple and cheap, and far more nutrient dense than your average bread or cake.
- 1 red onion, finely sliced
- 250 g asparagus
- 200 g plain or wholemeal flour (gluten free or ground almonds are also fine)
- 2 tsp baking powder (or arrowroot powder)
- 1 tbsp dried oregano and/or basil
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 100 ml milk (non-dairy is fine - I used almond)
- 100 ml extra virgin olive oil
- handful pitted olives
- handful (about 30g) grated cheese, optional
Preheat oven to 190C/375F/gas 5. Grease a loaf tin and line with baking paper.
Fry onions in butter over low heat until soft and caramelised (about 5 mins). Snap the ends of the asparagus and discard (or use to make asparagus stock), then cut each stem into 2-3 pieces. Griddle asparagus in a hot griddle pan for 4-5 mins, until just getting blackened and soft. Leave onions and asparagus to one side to cool slightly.
Mix flour, baking powder and herbs in a large bowl. Pour in eggs, milk & oil and stir to combine. Stir through most of the asparagus, olives and onions (keep a few back to decorate) and the cheese. Pour into the tin and place the reserved vegetables on the top. Bake for 35-40 mins. Allow to cool. Serve warm or cold, spread lightly with butter or on its own as a side or lunch.