My adventure started a long time ago when, as a child, I spent five years travelling around the Mediterranean because of my father’s job. I still remember the taste of fresh goat’s milk in Crete, succulent lemons in Sicily and the smell of barbecue everywhere we went. And that warm breeze...
The food culture of the Mediterranean, however, is about so much more than food.
It’s about togetherness – cooking and dining together, casual entertaining and celebrating food. Sadly, we’re not lucky enough to live in a warm climate and enjoy dining al fresco and outdoor living on a daily basis. What we can do, however, is cook a beautiful Mediterranean meal together, whether it’s with our partner, mother or our kids, spend some quality time in the kitchen, and at the table, chatting and laughing away. Let the food bring us together. The Mediterranean way.
I’ve been back dozens of times since and many years later I’m still fascinated and inspired by the region, the people, their lifestyle and food culture.
Even though different cultures and traditions mix in the Mediterranean region, the countries have a lot in common. The sunny mild climate brings the most beautiful produce and the geographical location gives easy access to fresh fish and seafood. That’s what the Mediterranean cuisine is all about.
As diverse as the region’s foods are, fresh seasonal vegetables, whether baked, roasted or grilled, are the main component.
Ripe, juicy fruit full of flavour; fresh herbs, olives and olive oil; aromatic spices; grilled meats and hearty stews. The list is endless. Needless to mention the health benefits of the Mediterranean food and why it is often referred to as the world’s healthiest diet. It’s the perfect combination of taste and nutrition.
Venetian Style Blood Orange and Polenta Cake
Polenta is a type of cornmeal which originated in Northern Italy. It can be served as porridge or added to, for example, cakes. This particular cake is light, tangy and absolutely scrumptious. If blood oranges are not in season, feel free to use regular oranges.
For the cake batter:
- 4 eggs
- 100g polenta
- 200g ground almonds
- 220g golden caster sugar
- Juice and zest of 1 blood orange
- 150g butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the blood orange topping:
- 200ml water
- 2 blood oranges, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons honey
- 1 vanilla pod, split lengthways, seeds taken out
1. To make the topping: place the water, honey, orange slices and vanilla seeds in a medium saucepan. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the sugar has dissolved and the orange slices are soft. Set aside.
2. Using a hand mixer, whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract for 5 minutes until pale in colour.
3. Add the polenta, ground almonds, melted butter, and orange juice and zest. Fold through. Do not overmix.
4. Place the orange slices in a round cake tin lined with parchment paper making sure the whole surface is covered with oranges.
5. Transfer the batter mixture onto the orange slices. Bake in a preheated oven for 45 minutes at 180°C, until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool. Turn upside down and serve.
See Monika's food blog Pepperazzi.ie for more Med-style recipes and food photography.