TUSCAN RECIPES … today, Apple Cake — Upside Down
Nonna Margherita Dottorelli in her kitchen, 1905
Some excellent Tuscan recipes from her granddaughter, Marta Dottorelli, who refuses to be just a character in a novel made up by that writer.
Torta Soprasotta — “upside-down-cake” with apples
One of the stories the writer spreads is that Signora Chiara did not actually make her trips in the Amazon.
The beautiful Chiara (whose house I take care of) has given me a book about her travels, with the many pictures she has painted of the Amazon’s endangered plants and flowers. She may not be completely true about some little things in her life. (She hides away the new flower paintings that she makes, for example, and pretends that she does not go out painting in our Tuscan hills, where I warn her there is much danger — but of course I have found the key to her locked drawer!) However she is a botanist molto intellectuale and knows the name of every growing thing.
How do I know this?
I brought her a basket of apples from the tree that Niccolo’s grandfather planted many years ago.
When she saw them, Signora Chiara recognized immediately that these were very famous in the history of our country (even more famous than I knew; I did not tell her that) — apples that are shown even in wall paintings in Pompeii.
(I have heard about the scandals in that ancient city, but I did not say to her: Please do not tell me about this place where they make even more scandals than you make with that archaeologist down the hill! No, I said only, Taste this – eat! What do I care about these long-ago stories! Still I was of course impressed with her knowledge.
So I cooked for her, then, the dolce that I will tell you about now.
This was the secret recipe of Nonna Margherita’s own grandmother, and I give it to you only because I know you too are scandalizzati — shocked! — at the way that writer pretends she knows everything about my life, when she does not now enough to fill one tiny thimble.
Nonna’s Grandmother’s Cake (with ginger) Upside Down
Put the oven to medium. (If you are using a stove with wood, you can tell “medium” by opening the oven and putting in your arm; the hairs on your arm will stand a little to “attention” but not too much.) If you have the “gas” this should be set at about 350 Farenheit or 175 Centigrade.
Make half of a cup of sour milk. (You don’t know how? Put one spoon of vinegar into the milk.)
While this is sitting — melt, in a heavy iron pan, two or three large spoons of butter. Into this put two or three large spoons of dark brown sugar and stir until it is bubbling.
You will already have peeled some good old-fashioned apples and made them into thin crescent shapes (maybe three or four apples; all these amounts are depending on how big is your pan). (The apples will not have become “brown” as they waited, if you have sprinkled them with a little juice of lemon.
I have heard that scientists in their white coats are now making apples with the mixed genetics, which do not turn brown. Beh! A little lemon in your own kitchen will do the job!)
You will arrange these apple slices in a nice pattern on top of the bubbling sugar.
You will quickly make the “ginger cake”:
Heat on the stove one cup of molasses together with a third of a cup of olive oil.
Let this cool a little, while in another bowl you are stirring two cups of flour together with a coffee spoon of baking soda, two of ginger (the powdered kind), a little salt.
Take the milk you have made sour, add to it one egg which you will have beaten with a fork, then put this into the molasses and beat with the fork some more.
Stir these liquids quickly into the flour and beat together but just until they are smooth.
Pour this over the apples, and bake just until it is done, about half an hour.
Loosen the edges, and turn the pan upside down onto a pretty plate so you have the apple moons on the top with a lovely sugar crust.
If some of the “apple moons” are not behaving nicely, pry them off with a knife and put them where they belong. With every sort of cooking, it is important to let the ingredients know that you are the one who is the capo — the boss (as “that writer” might say in her idiom – but don’t make me think of her right now!)
This dessert is happiest if it is served warm, with some big spoons of whipped cream.
And please remember — as we say in Tuscany, “Mangiare bene é la miglior vendetta.” Eating well is the best revenge!