Two days ago it was Ferragosto. Which maybe does not mean much to you if you were born north of the Alps. If you are Italian, though, you know that 15th of August makes Christmas look like a pale imitation of a holiday. Someone might be working on Christmas: for sure some women are, preparing lunch for 20 members of the family on average. Ferragosto is a Catholic holiday as well, but it feels quite pagan. Everyone, literally, goes to the beach or to the mountains, everyone is on holiday, and apart from the very touristic destinations, you won’t find anything open. Every family will pack food prepared the day before, drive through traffic jams, and queue patiently for their little piece of lawn in the sun, to have a picnic. Fighting is traditional, and helped by heat and overcrowding. Also, the tradition requires politicians to make the silliest declaration of the year, knowing that the news, apart from the traffic jams, would otherwise be really empty. It is the apex of summer.
When I moved abroad and I discovered that it is actually allowed by natural laws to work on that day, I must admin I had a major cultural shock. It took me a while to recover, and a few years of making it to the office in the fog, or under a persistent rain, to really come to terms with the idea. For some reason the weather appears to be quite often awful on that day. This year, it was raining the whole day, with no breaks. It has not stopped yet, and it really looks like summer is already over. But! I won’t despair – not yet. The farmer market is still exciting, I still buy much more than I can carry, let alone eat, and new varieties of fruits and vegs are still appearing every week.
This week it was peaches. Do you know the little flat peaches? They have a white flesh and are very sweet. In Italy they have appeared in the last few years, before that I have seen them produced just near the Etna (where they are called pesca tabacchiera). They are not very popular in the UK, where they are relegated to the posh supermarket aisle. They are very popular in Spain, where I first ate them. Surprisingly they are quite popular also in Germany; they actually grow here, since I have seen them at the market. This week they also had flat nectarines, insanely red and sweet. I bought so many I decided to bake a cake with them. I went for a very simple recipe, vaguely inspired by a prune gratin by Pietro Leemann (I’m getting obsessive here, I know), but then twisted and adapted to include the creamy quark I get at the market.
It was a real surprise. The resulting cake has a feather like consistency and a slightly acidic flavour, that goes very well with the sweet tones of the peaches. The top is light and dry, the bottom is moistened by the fruit. Just one caveat: it is so light, it is possible to eat the whole thing by yourself, if you get distracted. Make sure you don’t share it with too many people. I ate it cold, but I guess it must be very nice also warm, maybe with ice cream…
Peaches Gratin Cake
1 kg nectarines
80 g white caster sugar
3 eggs, separated
50 g butter, softened
1 dl milk
200 g full fat quark (or greek yogurt)
100 g semola flour
To finish: 20 g pistachios, 10 g muscovado sugar
If using normal peaches instead of nectarines, peel them by plunging them in boiling water for a minute. Cut the peaches in half on in three depending on size. Butter a baking dish with high sides (one you can serve the cake from). Arrange the peaches into it, cut side down.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Whisk the egg yolks with white sugar and butter until white and fluffy. Add lemon juice, lemon zest and a pinch of salt. Mix well. Add quark, milk and flour. Mix well again.
Separately whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Add the egg whites to the cake mixture, starting with a little of it so as to obtain an even consistency, which makes mixing easier. Incorporate the rest of the egg whites carefully. Pour on top of the peaches and bake for about 30 minutes, until high and airy. Sprinkle with chipped pistachios and brown sugar. Bake for a further 20 minutes until the top is golden. A skewer inserted in the cake will come out clear.
You can serve it directly in the baking dish, or it is possible to take it out by the slice.