My dear friend Valentina (Hortus!) wrote a book, and after a year of hard work, research, intuitions, doubts, shared inspirations and support behind the scenes, today I can flip through its pages and feel proud almost as if it was my own cookbook!
In these pages, I can even see the story of our friendship, together with many nice recipes and pictures, timed by seasons and food, the same who Valentina sometimes cooked for me as well.
I recognize her mother’s hands mixing the pasta dough, surfaces and textures of old tables where I happened to eat and/or shoot, flowers and plants of her garden, props (including also some of our TheFreakyRaku ceramics!!), details of her life… of which I am lucky enough to be part of.
Above all though, among these pages, I find the gentle and passionate soul of this special girl, who has been able – with talent, sensitivity and an humbly approach – to put on paper an authentic glimpse of a life on an italian farm.
I am proud of you Vale, as much as the first day I met you… when I already knew in my heart you’d become the sister I never had!
In the pictures my ‘freaky’ version of Torta della Nonna I made following the recipe in her book “Naturally Vegetarian”.
It’s incredibly good, but more important: it works .. and if it works with me that I am a real disaster in following recipes because I am born with an innate sense of rebelliousness, it means that it’s truly well-written !! You can purchase the book HERE , if buying from italy, get it HERE.
And now, let’s go to the recipe for this delicious “Torta della Nonna”! Here it is, straight from the book:
- 350g (2¾ cups) whole-wheat or spelt flour
- 100 g (3(4 cup) white wheat or spelt flour
- 50g (3/4 cup) brown rice flour
- Grated zest and juice of 1 medium lemon
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 200g (2 cups) packed light brown sugar
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 3 eggs
- 100ml (1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp) organic sanflower oil, plus more for greasing the pan
- 75ml (1/3 cup) almond milk or regular milk, plus more to brush the top
- Lemon custard, cooled (recipe below)
- 40g (1/3 cup) pine nuts
- Candied lemon peel or candied ginger peel (optional)
- 4 large egg yolks
- 50g (1/3 cup) potato starch
- 160g (3/4 cup plus 1 tbsp) packed light brown sugar
- 500ml (2 cups) full-fat regular or almond milk
- 3 medium lemons
- ½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped
- In a medium saucepan, place the yolks, potato starch, and brown sugar. Whisk well until the mixture becomes a smooth cream. In a separate small saucepan, place the milk, the peel of 3 medium lemons plus the juice of 2 lemons, and vanilla bean pod and seeds. Warm the milk mixture over low heat until lukewarm - do not boil. Slowly whisk the milk mixture into the egg mixture, adding the vanilla bean and lemon peel as well, and heat over medium heat. Keep whisking the mixture slowly as the custard heats up, or it might stick to the bottom of the pan. As it starts to thicken, whisk more vigorously. When it thickens to the point that you feel some resistance when you are whisking, remove the pan from the heat. It will thicken more as it cools down. Cover the top of the custard with plastic wrap if you are not using it right away, and store it in the fridge.
- Make the dough: combine the flours, lemon zest and juice, vanilla, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, eggs, and sunflower oil in a food processor and process until the dough starts to come together (the dough will have large chunks). With the processor running, add a little bit of milk at a time to make the dough come together. (You might need more or less depending on what kind of flour you use). If you are not using a food processor, just do the same in a bowl and knead by hand. The dough should be firm but quite sticky, almost difficult to work with without flour. Scrape it out of the bowl, wrap in a plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 180 C° (350°F). Oil and flour a 9-inch (22 cm) pie pan.
- Remove the dough from the fridge and divide it into two parts, one slightly smaller than the other. Roll each one out between two sheets of wax paper until it is about ¼ inch (5 mm) thick.
- Line the pie pan with the larger dough disk, reversing it in with the help of the wax paper. Fill the pie with the custard, then cover with the other disk of dough and pinch the edges closed. Brush the top with milk and spred the pine nuts on top.
- Bake for 35 to 40 mintues, or until golden on top. Wait for the cake to cool completely before slicing and serving. Even better make it the day before. Garnish with candied lemon peel or candied ginger strips.