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Calabrian Walnut Cake (Torta di Noci)

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Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.

Today: An essential (and gluten-free!) walnut cake for your baking repertoire.

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As walnut cakes go, this must be the most essential of them all. The cake itself is made of just three ingredients: walnuts, eggs, and sugar. A little lemon zest adds a delicate, fresh aroma, and powdered sugar makes it pretty. 

It's a traditional cake from Calabria in southern Italy -- the sort of cake that was born out of age-old peasant traditions; the sort of cake that your nonna might whip up and have sitting on her kitchen bench, ready to be offered to guests with a short, dark stove-top espresso for breakfast or an afternoon snack. Yes, cake for breakfast.

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This walnut cake seems rather humble when compared to other Calabrian sweets, which have a tendency to be deep fried, filled with custard or jam, and covered in honey, dark chocolate, or sprinkles.

This cake, however, is elegant in its simplicity and so incredibly moist -- it reminds me of the Spanish Tarta de Santiago Almond Cake. The walnuts are pulverized in the food processor, so it's chunkier and a little more rustic than a cake made with almond meal. In my opinion, it needs nothing more than a dusting of powdered sugar.

More: The Italians wrote the book on comfort food -- here are Emiko's five favorites.

This recipe is taken from a 1960s volume of Italian Regional Cooking by Ada Boni, who suggests splitting the cake and sandwiching it with a light lemon butter frosting. It also keeps very well, remaining moist for several days -- if it isn't eaten all by then.

Calabrian Walnut Cake (Torta di Noci)

3/4 pound (340 grams) shelled walnuts
4 eggs, separated
1 cup (225 grams) caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Confectioners' sugar for dusting

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Emiko Davies

Tags: Italy, Regional Italian Food, Calabria, gluten free, special diets