I’m just back from another spectacular visit to the Algarve region of Portugal where simple food shines and descriptive words like “farm fresh” and “local” are most at home. I’ll confess that I didn’t cook a lot, though I did prepare humble lunches using basic yet fresh produce. I’d slice and arrange tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and fresh basil onto a platter. And while drizzling and sprinkling the salad with olive oil and sea salt I’d imagine a woman not so different from myself — yet two thousand years before —performing the same simple task in her villa just like me. Both of us perched upon a hilltop above the majestic sea using ingredients within reach. Simple foods like this salad can be pretty powerful, reaching deep into the soul. In a landscape dotted with ancient ruins and fragranced by ingredients cultivated first by the Romans — figs, rosemary, sage, sea salt — I was inspired as I fell into a trance preparing modest meals.
After a long flight and drive to our destination, my family was greeted at the villa by joyful parents offering a hearty meal. Part of our welcome lunch was a delicate zucchini cake made by our Portuguese friend Celia. Moist, fresh and sweetened and spiced just perfectly, a tea cake never tasted better. This treat which filled our hungry bellies and calmed our edgy travel jitters transitioned our modern souls back into a timeless world. Upon my return to the states, part of me is still in Portugal feeling the sea breezes, gazing at the glistening sea, marveling at the wild fig trees and inhaling the herbal aroma. To help adjust to a more complex life this summer I will continue to prepare humble foods found locally in my town, allowing my mind to hover in a magical place.
I’m excited to share Celia’s recipe for zucchini cake with you, hoping with each bite you take you’re briefly transported to another place, another time. Happy summer!
Celia’s Zucchini Cake
Makes one large cake
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
½ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
100 grams chopped walnuts
Whisk the eggs with the sugar. Add the olive oil and vanilla extract. Stir well. Add the grated zucchini, a pinch of salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and flour. Stir well. Add the chopped walnuts.
Grease a 9×12 tray with butter and pour the mixture into it. Bake at 180 degrees Celsius (approximately 350F) for about 40 minutes. Cool and invert onto a large platter or board.
Feel free to freeze half the cake. Just wrap it well in saran wrap and place in the freezer. Defrosts perfectly.