Thursday, December 1, 2011

Solo Ciccia: meeting meat in Tuscany

Summer may seem far away, but thinking back to the month of August, I feel like I can head back to Tuscany in a minute.

Tuscany: a region of Italy that has long held the image of one of Europe's most romantic regions. Rolling hills and lush vines make up a beautiful scenery--and are the perfect setting for a terrible copilot like myself.

Oh no, I wouldn't even have the ambition to drive in Tuscany. No vintage Jaguar and scarf-wearing for me--I'd rather stick to gripping onto the map in the passenger seat of a Fiat 500.
Holding onto a map, mind you, is something quite different from helping out with directions. You'll easily understand how a bad copilot and tiny roads lost in the middle of vineyards could lead to major drama.

In our case, we just became a little more hungry with every wrong turn. And when hungry means hungry for meat, there's a place for that in Tuscany: Solo Ciccia.

Those who have read Anthony Bourdain's Heat are no stranger to the star butcher Dario Cecchini. In true Tuscan fashion, Cecchini masters the art of turning any cut of meat--or any part of the animal--into a delectable dish. On Sundays, Cecchini hosts lunches in true 'table d'hôte' style with a thematic you would easily get, even if it wasn't printed on the menu: La Vacca Entera, or the Whole Cow.

Now I'm most definitely the type to shy away--or squirm, or run away--from "strange" cuts of meat. Yes, dissecting a dead cow's internal organs in fun-filled, but eating them? Eh, not so much... until mid-August.

Notice the dessert offering; we weren't very hungry anymore by then (understandably), but since I don't need hunger to enjoy cake, I dove right in.
Olive oil, orange, and pine nuts: Tuscany in a mouthful. The crunch of a fine layer of sugar on top provides a welcome counterpoint to the moist texture of the cake.It's quick and easy to make, and as the weather becomes cooler, it serves as a nice reminder that Summer isn't ever that far away.

As close as I can try to come to the cake I had at Cecchini's, nothing beats having a bite above his shop before taking a walk in the village and heading back out on the road to get lost again, thanks to that terrible copilot I mentioned.

For a much-needed staycation, however, this cake is the way to go--a little Tuscan sun right in your kitchen.

Torta al'Olio
adapted from Italy Cooks by Judy Zeidler
makes 1 large cake

5 eggs
1 c. raw sugar
1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 oranges, finely chopped (whole!)
1/2 c. olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons for top
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 c. whole-wheat flour
2 TS baking powder
pinch salt
Raw sugar, to top cake
1/2 c. pine nuts, toasted

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F.
Oil a springform cake pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix flours, baking powder and salt and set aside.

Beat eggs and sugars with an electric mixer until the mixture forms "ribbons". Add oranges and mix.

Add olive oil, alternating with dry ingredients, and mix until smooth without overmixing.

Pour batter into prepared pan, sprinkle with sugar and pine nuts.
Bake approximately 30 to 40 minutes (depending on the size of your pan) until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool on a rack before serving.