When it comes to a passion for food, there’s few places on earth that can rival Italy. The people, the culture, the cuisine: it’s a global epicentre of culinary genius.
Relying on a bounty of Mediterranean ingredients and celebrating the unique flavour of each region, Italian cooking is perhaps the most replicated throughout the world.
Italian immigrants were responsible for introducing the USA to such simple masterpieces as the pizza, while spaghetti bolognaise landed on British shores thanks to the popularity of package holidays in the 1970s.
And while the classics are still enjoyed the world over, Britain in particular has embraced a more up-to-date love of Italian food and wine over recent years.
But if you thought it was all pasta and pizza, think again. Italian cuisine is very much ingredient-led, with basic, flavoursome essentials providing the basis for a multitude of delights.
For this delicate afternoon cake, I combine polenta, an Italian store-cupboard staple (and historically regarded as a foodstuff for peasants) and succulent, juicy and decadent Tarocco blood oranges – the jewel in the crown of Italian orange groves.
Blood oranges are a joy to work with, giving a distinctly raspberry-like addition along with the usual citrus notes. Paired with the humble, earthy texture provided by the polenta, this tangy and moist cake is a perfect way to round off an Italian meal.
Orange Polenta Cake
- Line the base of a non-stick, loose-bottomed 20cm cake tin with baking parchment. Set the oven at 180C/Gas 4.
- Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the almonds.
- Break the eggs into a small bowl and beat lightly with a fork, then add to the mixture.
- Mix the polenta and baking powder, before folding into the mixture along with the grated zest and juice from one of the oranges.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Bake for 30 minutes, turn down the heat to 160C/gas 3 for a further 25 -30 minutes or until the cake is firm.
- To make the syrup, squeeze the juice of 2 lemons and the remaining 2 oranges into a pan, bring to the boil and dissolve in the honey. Bubble away for about 5 minutes until you have a syrup.
- Spike holes into the top of the cake (still warm and in its tin) with a skewer then spoon over the hot citrus syrup. Leave to cool before transferring from the tin. Scatter over the candy rose petals before serving.