Venetian apple cake – and Nevenka

It has been quite a while since you last heard from me in a blog post. Life seems to have got in the way of me posting regularly, but I have been busy and have lots of things to share with you including a recipe for Venetian Apple Cake. it might be the fifth (!) apple cake recipe that is on my blog, but I think you can never have too many (plus apple season goes on for so long).

Since December 2020, life in Melbourne at least, life has some semblance of normality. I am running in person cooking classes again and workshops. It has been so lovely to connect with people after the many months of isolation. Although online classes connect us from far and wide, there is nothing like being together in person again. Apart from cooking classes in my home, and running a workshop at Villa Floretti (more about that in a future blog post) I did some catering for my friend Rosemary Masic who runs the luxury clothing brand Nevenka. I first met Rosemary when I was walking by her little shop in Howey Lane in the Melbourne CBD several years ago, attracted by the name of the store (Nevenka is the name of the mother of a longtime friend, a beautiful Croatian lady) but also by its look, with a dried floral arrangement over the entrance and long frocks with lace and embroidery in the front window. Rosemary has Croatian origins, from the island of Hvar and the label is named after her mother, who passed away suddenly in 2006. The label is inspired by her Eastern European heritage. I immediately felt drawn to Rosemary as we are both children of the Adriatic. Nevenka pieces are beautiful, often one of a kind and if you follow my stories on Instagram, you will probably have seen me wearing some of them. One of the lovely things about visiting the shop (now closed, but will open again in a different location, probably as part of the studio where all her beautiful pieces are created) was that you could lose yourself in there for hours. You would chat, drink cups of tea and try on Nevenka clothes. It was grown-up dress-ups and a lovely way to immerse yourself in beauty and community for an hour (though it was often a lot longer).

The Nevenka studio is in South Melbourne, and that has taken over, at least temporarily, as a place where you can make an appointment to see the line of clothing. A few months ago, Rosemary asked me to cater for a “Tea and dolci” party at her studio in South Melbourne. Those on her mailing list, plus friends, were to be invited to the studio for morning or afternoon tea. I jumped at the opportunity. Here are some images from that perfect day in March 2021.

I made a selection of cakes and biscuits, chosen by Rosemary, and one of them was Venetian Apple Cake, a recipe from Adriatico, recipes and stories from Italy’s Adriatic Coast. It is a lovely mix and bake cake, full of sliced apples that have been marinating in lemon juice, making it not too sweet and a perfect accompaniment to tea or coffee (or Prosecco that we had in the afternoon at the studio).The image on the left below is of me, wearing a Nevenka frock, the photo taken from an afternoon of dress-ups in the shop on Howey Place. Rosemary was always ready, phone in hand, to snap pictures of us all dressed up. It was such a fun time!

Apart from classes, workshops and catering, I have been busy with cookbooks:

(1) the second edition of Italian Street Food, which went to the printers last week from my publisher, Smith Street Books. It has a completely different look and feel, with lots of beautiful graphics of street food, a new cover as well as new photos of Italy. Italian Street Food has been unavailable for some time now, though I have a few paperback copies of the first edition to sell (if you are interested). The beautiful new hard cover second edition will be available worldwide from 1 August 2021

(2) Istria: recipes, stories and memories will be sent to the printers in May 2021. I am so excited about this book, which is close to my heart and was written during 2020. My editor Lucy Heaver at Smith Street Books has done an incredible job in bringing it together. It looks beautiful, with a striking graphic cover, 80 recipes from the Istria Peninsula (an intersection of Venetian, Austrian, Hungarian with a touch of Eastern European), and ten short stories of Istrian people, places and memories. There are a few family photos in the book to accompany the stories from the 1930s, 40s and 50s, memories of times long gone. Some are based on old letters written by my father in the 1940s and hand-written heirloom recipes.  Release date for Istria is 1 October 2021. I cannot wait to share it with you.

I have also been planning a few events/workshops as collaborations . Through the long year that was 2020, I realised how important it is to connect, collaborate, form a community. So these are the things that 2021 has in store:

i. Crostata e caffè – an Italian language class and cooking class combined. I will be running this with my friend Monica Cazzamani, or as the Instagram community knows her, Su Misura Italy. We ran this class in February 2020 as a fundraiser for the bushfires in Australia, and had such fun, we decided to run it again. The class on 30 May is sold out, but we will repeat it later in the year. Please follow me on instagram if you want to know when the new date will be announced as I post there daily (you do not have to have an account to see the page).

ii. Aperitivo and meze – with Meni Valle – Meni and I meet regularly for an aperitivo at one of several inner city wine bars, and thought we should collaborate and get you involved as well! So on Saturday 14 August 2021 at 4.30pm we will be running an “aperitivo and meze” class, where Greek appetisers meet Italian appetisers. We will be making 6 dishes then sharing them with a glass of wine at my home in North Fitzroy. The class is limited to 12 people. Please click onto my online shop to read more (specifically what we will be making) and to book. Cost $125. Please note I have several flights of internal stairs in my apartment and no lift. SOLD OUT (hopefully we will run another one closer to Christmas!)

iii. I dream of Puglia at Villa Floretti – a workshop where we make pasta, a cake/dessert and arrange native flowers in the stunning location that is Villa Floretti on the Mornington Peninsula. This will be the third workshop that Richelle Marks and I run from her stunning home (with a view and an incredible garden). The workshop is limited to 12 people and there are 3 places left, so be quick. Date: Saturday 2 October 2021, starting at 10.30am. The class includes lunch, wine and a bunch of proteas and native flowers to take home. Richelle tells me that the wisteria should be in flower by then, so the table setting will be very photogenic! Cost $260. Click here to find out more and book 

If you are in Australia, I hope you can come to one of my classes or workshops; if you are elsewhere, then let’s connect in an online class! As always, I appreciate all your comments both on my blog posts and on Instagram (please note that I am seldom on Facebook anymore).

Stay healthy, safe and much love.

Paola xx

Torta di mele – Venetian apple cake

4 tart apples (about 400g without skin and core)
1 small lemon, juice only
3 eggs
150g sugar, plus 2 teaspoons extra
150g plain flour
30g cornflour
1 teaspoon (4g) baking powder
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
80g butter, softened
1 tsp cinnamon, powdered

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line the base and sides of a 24cm diameter cake tin with a removable base.

Peel and core the apples, cut into quarters and each quarter into 4-5 slices (depending on how big the apple is). Place in a bowl and add 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice, tossing the slices in the juice so they are coated. Set aside while you prepare the cake.

Beat the eggs and sugar with a kitchen mixer until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Place the flours, baking powder and salt in a bowl and whisk briefly. Fold the dry ingredients into the eggs until well incorporated, then add the butter and vanilla and fold until homogenous. Divide the apples into two lots, one of about 250g and the other of about 150g. Cut the 250g lot of apple slices in half, and then fold them into the batter, including any juice that is in the bowl. Set the other 150g of the uncut apple slices aside.

Place the batter in the prepared cake tin, pressing down with the back of the spoon or a spatula to flatten the top. Arrange the remaining one third of the apple slices in a circular pattern on top of the cake, pressing them down slightly so they are partially sunk into the batter. Sprinkle the top with the powdered cinnamon then with a two teaspoons of sugar.

Bake for approximately 50 minutes or when the top of the cake is golden and a skewer inserted comes out clean. Dust with extra icing sugar if you like. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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