“Olive oil,” Stefano’s dad Andrea used to tell us, “is good for you.” He didn’t qualify his claim, or finish his proclamation with …in moderation. It was simply, unconditionally, good for us.
This was a lucky thing, since we never wanted for olive oil. The olive trees on the family’s two different plots of land were prolific producers of olives, and in turn, the nuts of that fruit yielded enough oil for Andrea and Maria’s household, our household, and Stefano’s brother Marco’s household, with more left over for the friends and relatives that had helped with the olive harvest.
I don’t think I ever saw Stefano’s mom, Maria, cook with any oil other than olive oil. Her salads and vegetables glistened in it, her sauces simmered in it, and her meats nearly bathed in it. She sometimes fried in it. She even baked with it.
It was perhaps Maria’s olive oil cake that Stefano missed the most when we moved to the U.S. There simply weren’t other breakfast options here that worked for him. Yes, olive oil cake is a breakfast food. It’s not only a breakfast food – it works very well with afternoon coffee – but it is very special as a breakfast food. So, after a few weeks of trying out boxed cereals, muffins and other pastries, we called Maria and asked her to give us the recipe for la pizza dolce, or sweet pizza, as it is called in Italy.
There are hundreds of variations of la pizza dolce, which is sometimes also called la pizza dolce di Pasqua or la pizza di Pasqua, reflecting its association with Easter. This recipe is simple and pure. Flour, sugar, eggs, and olive oil. Something to help it rise. Stir it all together by hand, gently. Before you know it, the kitchen is filled with the sweet, earthy aroma of this golden-hued, humble cake.
Maria used to serve it in the morning before school to Stefano and his siblings, together with latte and just a splash of caffè. On Easter morning, as a special treat, they enjoyed it with uova sode (hard-boiled eggs) and salame corallina.
Epilogue: As we write this, our oldest son, Sean, comes in from outdoors. Seeing the pizza dolce cooling on the cupboard, he says, “Hey mom, can we have that for breakfast tomorrow?”
3 eggs, the best you can find.
300 g (approx. 2 and 1/2 cup) flour
300 g (1 and 1/2 cup) sugar
250 ml (1 cup) milk
100 ml (approx. 1/3 cup) olive oil*
1 pouch of Pane degli Angeli, or substitute with 1 Tbsp. baking powder
*you can reduce the oil to 1/4 cup for a lighter version of this cake.
Preheat the oven to 350° F (180° C) and butter and flour a 9 in. (20-25 cm) round cake pan. Crack the eggs into a medium mixing bowl and beat by hand. Add the milk and the olive oil, and whisk together until well mixed.
Add the sugar, and stir well. If you are using Pane degli Angeli, pass it first through a small hand strainer to remove any lumps, and add it to the flour. If you are using baking soda, add it directly to the flour. Mix the flour into the batter, stirring gently with a wire whisk.
Pour the batter into your prepared cake pan, and bake for approximately 35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the edges have pulled away from the sides of the pan. Be careful, because if you take it out too early it will sink in the center. Remove from oven and allow to cool before serving.