October, butternut squash time. I’ve never cooked so much with squash as this year. October is also the perfect month to organize short trips and visit small towns, enjoying the crisp air that you breathe in these medieval villages perched on a hill. Get the car, decide where to go, then choose a soundtrack which can suit the moment: Bruce Springsteen, light chats and projects or a relaxed silence, interlaced with a few knowing looks and enraptured expressions of joy in front of the ever changing landscape.
Last week we drove to Volterra, a town renowned for its Etruscan heritage, just twenty five minutes far from home. Those were twenty-five minutes of bends, rolling hills, woods and hamlets. When you reach the top of the hill a town crystallized in another time welcomes you.
The colours are those of an Autumn in a Tuscan medieval village, where the red bricks and brown stone mirror the red of the tree leaves surrounding the walls, which appear behind a back road every now and then.
When I am walking around with my camera I search for the unusual details to photograph. I love windows, doors, balconies, hanging clothes. I love all the traces of a daily life, a glimpse into another life. I loose myself trying to imagine how I could live there, where I would do the shopping, which would become the ‘usual place’ to come back and be recognized as a client, the lady having the macchiato.
I dream about Noa and how she would like it. I can almost see her boldly waling through the narrow streets, wagging her tail to everyone.
Then you see a cat, looking out the window and silently observing who passes on the street.
The Autumn colours and the crisp air of Volterra made me hungry. I came back home with a cake in my mind, a cake which had the same colours of the trees surrounding the medieval walls, a warm and welcoming orange, with the green pistachios reminding the few leaves which still believe in the warm air and in a renewed spring.
I had already done a butternut squash bundt cake in the past winter, but this time I tried it gluten free. It is a moist cake, pleasantly crumbly, a breakfast which turns even the most ordinary day into a special occasion to enjoy it. There is a good quantity of butternut squash pureed with extra virgin olive oil, a nice amount of vegetables well hidden under the appearance of a crumbly dessert.
The bundt cake is then brushed with a thick spread of apricot jam and sprinkles with a handful of chopped pistachios. How not to love it?
- 350 g of butternut squash peeled and cubed
- 180 g of fruity extra virgin olive oil
- 3 free-range eggs
- 180 g of cane sugar
- 150 g of gluten-free flour mix *
- 100 g of almond flour
- 15 g of baking powder
- 1 teaspoon of grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon of orange powder or orange zest
- 100 g of shelled pistachios coarsely chopped
- 4 tablespoons of apricot jam
- 1 tablespoon of water
- 100 g of shelled pistachios coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Blend with a mixer raw butternut squash and extra virgin olive oil, until you get a smooth orange cream.
Beat the eggs and the sugar with an electric mixer, then add the blended squash. Mix the almond flour with the mix of gluten-free flours, baking powder, nutmeg and orange powder. Fold in and stir to remove any lumps. It will be quite soft. Add the coarsely chopped pistachios and stir to mix.
Grease a 24 cm wide bundt cake mould and scrape in the mixture.
Bake for about 40 minutes, until golden and springy. Remove from the oven and unmould on a serving plate.
Warm the apricot jam with a tablespoon of water and brush it on the cake. Sprinkle the chopped pistachios on top, then let it cool completely before serving.
*I use Shauna James Ahern's gluten free flour mix, as explained in her book, Gluten free girl everyday. You can make it in advance and keep it in a jar for when you need it. Mix the following flours:
400 g of millet flour
300 g of rice flour
300 g of potato starch
You can keep the cake in the fridge for a few days, but once you tried it, it will be difficult to to let it last for more than two days!
In these Autumn days I enjoyed some free time walking randomly in Florence, with my camera in my hands. On Mondays I finish my lecture at the University around five o’clock in the afternoon, then I have a few hours to enjoy the city before it gets dark. Well, if my favourite moment in the countryside is the golden hour, that moment just before dark when everything is bathed with a soft and golden light, in the city I love to go around in the blue hour, when the night creeps in.
The sky is still slightly lit by the sun, which is just behind the horizon, but the alleys and buildings are already falling into darkness. The lights of houses and shops start to light up, to glister in the dark. This is my magic moment, when I feel like walking into a fairy tale of the late nineteenth century, with gas lights were lit by hand. And if you are in Florence, it is even more charming.
What is your favourite time of day in the city?
I found the same magic moment in Volterra, lucky girl!