Annabel Langbein: Sweet treats to make a picnic complete (+ recipes)
To the northwest of Naples, about an hour inland in the rolling hill country of Campania, lies the small medieval walled village of Sant'Agata de' Goti. A more perfectly preserved and picturesque town would be hard to find. Glossy-haired beauties saunter their curves languidly along narrow streets under the patina of flaking plastered archways, while young slick-haired bucks whizz by on their Vespas, oozing testosterone. You feel like you have just walked into a 1960s Fellini film set.
I first came here, some years ago, to write about Mustilli, a winery and farmstay located in the heart of the village. This family estate has been growing grapes and making wine here since the 15th century. The grapes are traditional cultivars such as falanghina, greco and aglianico - perfect for the robust wines that match the rich flavours of the Italian table.
Out on the farm, a dozen or so workers were handpicking small bunches of dark red grapes, filling large crates. Life here in the vineyard goes on much as it has for centuries.
On the dot of noon everyone broke for lunch. As I prepared to leave, a couple of the women called for me to join them, patting a muddy upturned grape box for my seat. With nothing to contribute to this shared picnic, I was reluctant to join in, but they insisted, so I stayed, feeling uncomfortable but also excited. I mean how often do you get to eat the country food of the people in places like this?
A few crates were gathered and an old door placed on top to form a makeshift table. One of the women produced a thick rustic homemade loaf, filled with a mixture of wild greens cooked in olive oil with lots of garlic and some chilli. Another had prepared a salad of the sweetest tomatoes, mixed with peppers and onions - all from her garden. It was dressed with nothing more than a squeeze of fresh pulpy tomato juice, salt, pepper and a tangy green olive oil. Someone else had a dish that looked like caponata - chopped eggplant with olives, a little tomato, garlic and capers, cooked, of course, in olive oil.
Olives, anchovies, canned tuna, bread and cheese were added to the table, along with a flask of red wine. As we shared this wonderful picnic I pinched myself for my good luck.
Looking back over the great meals of my life, this experience stands out as one of the best. They say food tastes better when you are happy and this is true. I can remember every detail of that special picnic and have often thought what my contribution would be. It would have to be a cake - a little sweet something to finish the meal. Any one of these would fit the bill nicely.
If you haven't got nectarines, any stonefruit is good - it's delicious made with apricots, peaches or plums - and you could even use well-drained preserved fruit or berries. Get the recipe
This brilliant cake takes its cue from the wonderful boiled sultana cakes of old - with the addition of a crunchy topping. The one-pot method guarantees a moist result. If you don't like ginger, use dates, prunes or dried apricots instead. Get the recipe
This cake is moist yet light, and easy to make. It can be cooked as one large cake or divided in half and cooked as a loaf and 12 cupcakes. It keeps well for several days in a sealed container and can be frozen, iced or plain. Get the recipe
Essential Annabel Langbein (Annabel Langbein Media, $65) is a beautiful compendium of Annabel’s best-ever savoury recipes and cooking tips — on sale at Paper Plus, Whitcoulls, The Warehouse and all good bookstores or visit annabel-langbein.com