When I was asked to pick which Alessi pieces I would like to work with, I faced an overwhelming catalog of riches to choose from. Alessi has over 90 years of history and has objects in every size, in a myriad of materials from steel to porcelain. Although I would have loved to try my hand at some of their most iconic pieces, I focused on some more unique pieces that both reflected the summer theme and also spoke to my personal sensibility.
One of the newest pieces from the Spring/Summer collection that immediately struck me and lingered in my memory was the evocative Quattro muri e due case, which means “four walls and two houses” in Italian. I was struck by the poetry of the name and in the physical object, a sensuous piece of bamboo formed into a tray that indeed looks like a four-walled courtyard with two houses at either end acting as both gateways into the interior space and as handles for the tray.
It’s a beautiful, thoughtful piece that immediately makes me think of the rolling hills of Tuscany with little farms nestled perfectly, picturesquely within their folds. Alessi describes this piece as “a little rustic, a little frugal, a little agricultural, and a little rural.” The artist himself, Michele de Lucchi, a well known Italian architect and designer, has stated that, “Landscape has become a very poetic condition and something we’re increasingly worried about damaging. In Italy we destroyed a lot of our wonderful landscapes. So one message of the tray is to present a human being living in the world without fighting against the natural landscape.”
While knowing the backstory to this tray has certainly enhanced my appreciation of it, I already knew it spoke to me from first glance. It just makes me happy when I look at it, and I want to use it to display everything I make. It’s like a little piece of la dolce vita in my home.
For this lovely piece, I chose a recipe that I felt could best reflect its message of a simple, unaffected connection with the land. This olive oil cake is scented with citrus, and paired with peaches roasted with honey, almonds and Vin santo- all part of Tuscany’s bounty. I imagine this is the sort of unassuming cake you might find served at one of these farmhouses.
You can use any olive oil you like – using extra virgin or a more robustly flavored olive oil will give the cake a more pronounced olive oil flavor, but whatever you use you will get a wonderfully moist cake with a dense, tender crumb. It is delectable on its own or dressed up with the peaches. The sugar and honey help bring out the sweetness of the peaches, and I always love the combination of almonds with peaches. Vin santo is the classic dessert wine of Tuscany – if you can’t find any, a white wine will do. I used a mix of white and yellow peaches for the color contrast, although you can also use any ripe fruit, like cherries or apricots. It’s a cake made for golden afternoons.
Some of the other pieces in these photos are the Caccia cake server, the very clever Taste-huile olive oil taster (shaped like an olive), and plates from the Tonale collection. Working with such beautiful pieces has certainly been inspiring!
Olive Oil Cake
- 1 1/2 cups (188 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 cup (200 g) sugar
- 3/4 cup (162 g) olive oil
- 1/2 cup (122 g) whole milk
- 1/2 teaspoon orange extract
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- confectioners' sugar for dusting
- 2-3 ripe peaches
- 3 tablespoons (38 g) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (170 g) honey
- 1/4 cup (60 g) Amaretto
- 1/4 cup (60 g) Vin Santo
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
For the cake:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9" round cake pan and set aside.
- Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
- Combine eggs and sugar in bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium speed until combined.
- Add in olive oil and beat until combined. Add in milk and orange and vanilla extracts, and beat until combined.
- Add in the flour mixture and beat just until combined (do not overbeat). Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 35-45 minutes until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean.
- Let cake cool on wire rack before unfolding. Dust with confectioners' sugar before serving.
For the peaches:
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Wash peaches and slice in half. Cut each half into 1/4" thick slices.
- Place peaches in a baking dish. Sprinkle the sugar over them.
- Combine honey, Amaretto, Vin Santo, and lemon juice and pour over the peaches - it should almost cover them.
- Bake for about 35 minutes until the juices are bubbling and the peaches are fork-tender.
- Let peaches cool completely before serving.