Summer in Italy brings with it a bounty of fresh fruit -- from sweet Sicilian lemons to sunset-orange apricots. Averaging over 200 days of sunshine per year, Italy is a farmer's paradise. The country's fertile fields and verdant valleys also produce the savory staples of Italian food: tender artichokes, ripe olives, and -- of course -- crimson-hued tomatoes. But, when you travel to Italy in the summer, you'll fastly see that la frutta (fruit) is king this time of year.
Stone fruits -- including plums, nectarines, peaches, apricots and nespoli -- hold a special place in Italians' summer memories. Picked throughout the sunny months, these tart-yet-sweet fruits are ideal for an afternoon merenda on their own or baked into a delectable dolce (dessert). From June through September, you'll find mountains of stone fruit -- orange, purple and crimson in color -- at Italy's open-air farmers markets.
But, if you can't travel to Italy in the summer, how can you enjoy a slice of Italian sunshine in your own cucina (kitchen)? Our peach-and-polenta cake practically drips with Italian yumminess -- boasting oven-caramelized peaches on a flurry-crisp torta (cake). Crown it with a dollop of sweet mascarpone cream and your taste buds will swear you're sitting in a sweet shop in Italy. We bet this Italian dessert recipe will become a summertime classic in your family.
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup finely-ground polenta (or cornmeal)
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 large peach, pitted and sliced into crescents
HAZELNUT CRUMBLE TOPPING INGREDIENTS
1/4 cup sliced hazelnuts
2 tbs of refined sugar
2 tbs butter, at room temperature
MASCARPONE CREAM INGREDIENTS
1 cup of heavy cream
8 ounce of mascarpone
1/2 tsp of pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup of powdered sugar
Heat your oven to 375° F (190° C). Lightly oil an 8-inch (20-cm) spring-form cake pan, lining the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. Brush a little oil or melted butter on top of the parchment paper and and inside edges of your cake pan. Then, flour the inside of the pan with about 1/2 teaspoon of flour -- pouring off the excess.
Now, in a large bowl, mix together your dry ingredients: flour, polenta, baking powder and salt. In a different bowl, use an electric mixer to whisk together the egg, lemon zest, buttermilk, vanilla extract, sugar and oil. Mix on medium-low speed for 2 minutes until the mixture is smooth and begins to form bubbles. Slowly, mix your dry ingredients then into the wet mixture -- stirring with a spatula or on the lowest setting of an electric mixer.
Pour your smooth cake batter into the pre-prepared pan, baking for 15 minutes.While the cake is baking, use your fingers and combine together the room temperature butter, 2 tbs of sugar and sliced hazelnuts. The uncooked topping should feel sandy and coarse.
Quickly remove the cake from the oven after the 15 minutes have passed. Your cake will be partially cooked and may appear wobbly or pale. This is fine. Gently place the peach slices atop the cake in a pretty spiral pattern. Then, crumble clumps of your hazelnut topping on the peach slices. Do this quickly so the cake doesn't cool off too much. Return the topped cake to your oven and keep baking for another 35-40 minutes. ((If you're using a convection oven, you can reduce this to 25-30 minutes)).
As the cake continues to bake, prepare the mascarpone topping. With a stand or hand mixer, whip the cream and powdered sugar on medium-high speed until peaks start to form. Then, mix in the mascarpone on the lowest speed -- mixing until a smooth cream has formed. Be sure the lower the speed here or you may make butter instead!
Your cake will be done when the topping and edges are golden-brown and the fruit has sunk a little into the cake top. Remove your baked caked from the oven and let it cool, ideally on a wire rack, for 10 minutes or so. Then, remove the spring-form ring and allow it to cool for another 25-30 minutes.
Slice and serve with an indulgent dollop of mascarpone whipped cream. Buon appetito!
P.S. This recipe was inspired by Domenica Marchetti's elegant "A Cake for Apricot Season"