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Our family favorite…..Grandma’s Cake – Torta della Nonna

Our family favorite…..Grandma’s Cake – Torta della Nonna

Since my return from cooking class at Casa Ombuto in the Tuscan countryside last summer my family has fallen in love with this classic Italian dessert.
Now, I must admit the recipe requires patience and time. But if you add a bit of love to your preparation I know it will become your family favorite as well.
So, just turn up some Andrea Bocelli on on your iPod and let yourself drift to a place where green rolling hills are dotted with sunflowers and the bell towers above the terra cotta tiled roofs of the stone farmhouses ring out a gentle welcome.
To make you feel like you truly are in Italy, I am leaving the measurements in Metric. If you have a food scale or a computer you will have no trouble.

Pasta Frolla (short crust Pastry)
1 liter of milk
1 lemon, 1 orange
250 g of sugar
1 vanilla pod
80 g flour, 20 g corn starch
7 egg yolks
100g pine nuts – for decoration

Prepare the crust –

250 g flour
125 g butter at room temperature
1 to 2 tsp cold water or milk
1 Tbsp sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg

1 Cut the softened butter into pieces. Combine in a bowl with the egg and sugar and mix and crush with a spatula.
2 Sift the flour with the salt and add to the egg and butter, mixing with the tip of a knife.
3 Add the cold water or cold milk if the dough feels too dry. Do not overwork.
4 Transfer to a lightly floured surface and work the dough with the palm of your hand, then form into a ball. Work quickly, as the dough must not be handled too much. It does not matter if you see little bits of butter not properly incorporated into the dough.
5 Wrap into a plastic bag and let it rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour minimum.

1 Heat the milk together with the lemon and orange skins and add the vanilla.
2 Whisk the egg yolks together with the sugar, then add the flour and the corn starch and finally the hot milk.
3 Pour the mixture into a saucepan and heat over a low heat, stirring until you have a thick creamy texture.

1 Grease a cake tin with butter, and dust with flour.
2 Line the tin with the pastry and make small holes in the base (with a fork). Cover with a layer of baking foil with dry beans or rock salt over it, so the pastry does not rise too much when baking.
3 Bake the pastry in a preheated oven at 180 C ( 355 F) for 12 minutes. Remove the baking foil and beans/salt and bake for another 8 minutes.
4 Take the tin out and pour the cream into the pastry base.
5 Roll out the rest of the pastry to make a “lid” for the cake. Brush the top with egg and cover with pine nuts.
6 Cook for a further 12-15 minutes, with only the top part of the oven heated. Dust with icing sugar (confectioners)

The cream will have more flavor if the milk cools with the aromatics left in the pot. ( lemon, orange and vanilla pod)
Cut two pieces of parchment paper and dust with a bit of flour, then roll out the dough between the sheets. It is simple to transfer the rolled dough to the tin this way.

Although this Italian Recipe is named “cake” it is more like a pie. I will normally double the recipe since it is so time consuming and prepare another for a friend.

Torta della Nonna - Grandmas' Cake

Good friends, good wine, good eats equals good times.

Good friends, good wine, good eats equals good times.

Torta della Nonna - Grandma's Cake

Time could not pass quickly enough for the return of my cooking/traveling companion/friend Kelly and her lovely family to Seven Mile Drive. They had stayed on in Europe traveling to Naples, Sorrento and Florence for a week longer than I.  But, I was excited for her to arrive home.

My cookbook from Casa Ombuto was getting plenty of use. Each day I would prepare a breakfast buffet just like the one we had at CO and then a luscious recipe, like Grandma’s Cake or Tuscan beans for my family. They certainly were enjoying my newly acquired talents.  It was all so delicious and I knew Kelly would be as excited as I to share our culinary skills with a

Z'breakfast-eggs, fruits, yogurt and granola, cheese, salami and freshly baked 5 grain bread

mediterranean dinner party for some of our closest friends.

We met on Tuesday to prepare the menu. We chose Eggplant Caviar, Bruschetta and Antipasta for appetisers. For our first course we chose  Casarecce’ Pasta with speck and saffron; Basil, green beans, fresh tomato and mozz salad with a light dressing plus baked goat cheese salad. For the main course we decided on Roast Pork Loin Arezzo Style with Chunky Olive Oil and Parmesan Mashed Potatoes. We would finish with a light dessert of Zabaione and Strawberries. Each course would have a pairing of regional wines to compliment the flavors and we would finish with after dinner liquors: Limonciello, Amaretto d’Saronna and Frangelica. With the menu set,we agreed who would prepare which items and we were off to the Fresh Market to shop.

It was important that our friends get a true feeling of what our experience had been so we agreed we would prepare a sit down dinner, meaning table settings for at least 20 of our friends.  This could be challenging for most, however, you must remember, Kelly works for Williams Sonoma. I seem to recall her saying some weeks she actually owes them money when the mark-downs have been exceptionally tempting. So, we pulled the dining room table and chairs into the kitchen for the final 6 settings, visited the buffet holding all of my table cloths and napkins for the perfect selection and then raided Kelly’s kitchen for additional glass and bakeware.  We had a plan and it was coming together nicely.

We agreed to prep as much as we could. On Thursday we shopped and Friday we spent the entire afternoon together cooking. Some might find the idea of entertaining 20 dinner guests to a sit down dinner a bit intimidating but, Kelly and I were up for the challenge. In fact, we agreed we were having fun even during the preparation. Oh,and let me tell you I wish I had an application that could record the aroma in the kitchen to share on this blog! (Maybe we could invent that Matt?$!) We plugged my I-Phone in to the kitchen Bose to hear Andrea Bocelli belt out  “La voce del silenzio”. There  is something to be said for the smell of garlic and pork roasting along side cippolini onions in balsamic vinegar that just exudes Italia. We felt as if we were back at familiar Casa Omboto once again.

There is one element of our dinner party that was a true blessing to us all. On Wednesday I got in touch with Liza Chung, the brilliantly creative florist for Lindsay and Matt’s wedding. She had prepared a trial centerpiece for them a couple of weeks ago and had graciously brought it to the house for us to enjoy. This centerpiece was over the top gorgeous. ( I don’t wish to give any of her secrets away, so I will not include the picture in this post. Just stay tuned for wedding pictures after October 2nd.)  We loved having the scent of the flowers in the house but, like us, fresh flowers drop their petals, wither and die. The beautiful 3 and 1/2 foot tall glass vessel had been sitting in the living room waiting for Finn to send it toppling over. I phoned Liza to find out when and where to return it. She explained she had a meeting on Friday at TPC and would swing by and pick it up, asking what time would be convenient for me.  I explained I would be cooking all afternoon for a dinner party.  “Ohhhhhh…” she said.  I could hear a sparkle in her voice as she told me she would drop by late afternoon. Around 6 Friday evening Kelly and I had set the tables, the water and wine were chilling and just a few last minute dishes were warming in the oven when the doorbell chimed to “The Wedding March”.  It was Liza and her son with two of the most magnificent floral masterpieces I had ever seen. Liza had put a pic of them on Facebook the day before and I commented “I loved dahlias”, one of the main flowers of the design. They placed the beautiful gold vessels on the buffet , and were on their way, the perfect compliment to our culinary masterpieces.

By seven-thirty Kelly and I donned our clean Casa Ombuto aprons as the guests began to arrive with bottles of rich Tuscan wines in hand. They snacked on appetizers and drank chilled Prosecco until we were ready to share the main course. Our friend Michele led us in a beautiful blessing then Kelly and I explained each dish. We opened the buffet to our guests and smiled at the “oohs and aahs” as they loaded their dinner plates and headed for their seats.

In true Zitiello tradition, the wine was poured and Tom offered up the first toast, explaining what a wonderful experience Kelly and I had shared. He explained the trip was a dream of a lifetime but, better yet, one we could all benefit from….Munga!

It was a beautiful evening with great food, great wine and even greater friends.

Thank you to our teacher, friend and Chef Laura Giusti of Casa Ombuto, who was in our hearts and on our minds the entire week.  We miss you so Laura.