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Summer festivities

Summer at Villa Romantica stands for large gatherings around the wood-fire pizza oven. It is an occasion to catch up with friends we rarely see throughout the year. The number of invitees has grown over the years, and the question, as always for us Italians, is ‘how am I going to feed them all’?

What’s first?

Martha selected a band called ‘The Recipe’ and organized a huge marquee to cover the dancing area while I planned a series of ‘eating moments’. For the early comers, the table was laid with Italian cheeses, a selection of my best bread (turmeric bread is always a favourite!) and the ‘bagnacauda’ as the center piece.

The grazing table with a selection of cured meats, cheeses, crackers, fresh fruit, sweets, and other nibbles. We decided to feature funky and antique props like my grandfathers first Pasta machine, aged grappa, and the bottle from a 1982 vintage wine (which we opened the day before).

Bagnacauda, which literally translates ‘hot dipping’, is a combination of salted anchovies and garlic – in the same proportions. It sounds almost unpalatable but trust me – it always proves to be a success. The key for its success is not to reveal the ingredients before it has been tasted by your guests! The bagnacauda, which is kept simmering in a cast iron pot, is surrounded by an array of raw vegetables to dip in. Soon after my guests started nibbling, the table became the point of attraction; my guests come to ask me what it’s made of and go back in the queue for more.

Pizza me up!

Meanwhile, the wood fired oven reached the temperature of 300’C. Most of the logs are removed, ashes are wiped off the oven floor and the first rolled pizza dough is ready to go in. Five minutes and the pizza is ready; with its thin crust and slightly burnt edges is simply irresistible. I prepared 100 doughs hoping to satisfy everyone’s cravings for Italian pizza. As for the toppings, the girls have laid a colorful grazing table, to feast the eye on.

100 dough’s lined up ready to be rolled
Our WWOOFer from France rolling out the Pizza dough
Ready for the oven!
La Pizza, ready to be devoured!!

What’s for dessert?

Now my question for this part was… which dessert can I create to surprise and delight our friends this year?  I decided to go with the crostata di frutta – fresh fruit tart, which is our family summer celebration cake. But how many did I need to prepare if there were just over 100 of us? How about making one tart but very large? Let’s say, exactly 800 mm in diameter, so I could present it on my grandmothers round antique table?

Nice idea, but how in the world would I do it? As it can’t be cooked whole (my oven’s not THAT big!) I decided to divide the base into 8 triangle-shaped cakes. Once the cakes where all ready, I realized that joining them together was not a straightforward task as the borders did not match anymore! The problem wasn’t the look; 2.5lt of runny custard cream needs to be poured onto the base. Here’s the idea I went with: a mix of oat flour, sugar and butter proves to be a perfect filler to patch the holes. Once the cake was covered with the custard and topped with berries and mint the result was stunning. If I do say so myself!


My daughter and her husband cutting the cake:
Crostata di frutta (800mm in diameter), presented on my grandmothers antique table

This was the only decent photo we got of the cake.
Crostata di frutta (800mm in diameter), presented on my grandmothers antique table

We danced well passed midnight to the rhythm of the beat, so much so that a jet-lagged tourist was on a nightly stroll and decided to follow the sound of the music… she found Villa Romantica and joined us on the dance floor!