I’m in love with the word plumcake. I came across it only in the last couple of years as I started to discover and read more Italian food blogs. It looks like it should be two words, but separating them would mean a cake made with plums which is delicious no doubt, but another thing entirely. In Italy, a plumcake (which Italians pronounce “ploom-cake”) typically refers to a sweet cake made in a loaf pan–what many of us refer to as a quick bread. But there is no rule that says a plumcake can’t be savory. They may not be as ubiquitous as banana bread, pumpkin bread, or a chocolate loaf cake, but they’re no less delicious and are a welcome change to your baking routine. I’m in the process of eating down the pantry, a practice I should do more often. I’m guilty of occasionally being over-ambitious at the grocery store so I currently have a very well-stocked refrigerator, freezer, and dry goods pantry which is providing me with ample ingredients for new recipes and old favorites. Recently, I was craving what Italians call a torta salata (savory cake/tart/torte), so I went to one of my favorite Italian recipe websites, Giallo Zafferano and started scrolling through their archives where I found this delightful recipe for vegetable plumcake known as plumcake alle verdure. Isn’t it pretty?
Like a sweet quick bread, plumcake alle verdure gets its leavening from the use of baking powder. It has a slightly compact crumb, but one that is tender and soft. Once cooled, the plumcake slices cleanly revealing the colorful array of vegetables. The cheese melts into the batter during baking and helps create the craggy and crisp outer crust, not to mention the most fragrant aroma.
There is some prep on the front end of this recipe which is necessary but not difficult or time-consuming. Cutting the vegetables, ham, and cheese the same size not only adds visual appeal to the finished plumcake, it also ensures each component cooks at the same rate. I used the size of the peas as my template and cut all the other ingredients the same size. To save some time on the prep, I used frozen peas and carrots blend. Frozen vegetables are one of my favorite and oft-used cooking shortcuts. The vegetables are frozen at the peak of freshness and having them handy in the freezer is a huge time-saver. I modified the recipe only slightly and added in oil-packed sun dried tomatoes since I enjoy their flavor, texture, and color in savory baked goods.
This is a recipe that invites improvisation provided that all the ingredients and their respective flavors pair well together with no ingredient being too aggressive in flavor. Since I used assertively-flavored oil-paked sun-dried tomatoes, I kept my olive choice on the milder-flavored side and used one of my favorite varieties, Castelvetrano. I love the piquant flavor of provolone cheese, so I kept my cured meat choice to a mellow-flavored, low-sodium prosciutto cotto (cooked ham). The result was a well balanced vegetable plumcake in both flavor and texture that is perfect for lunch or a snack. Plumcake alle verdure is meant to be eaten at room temperature so it would also be perfect cut into bite-size cubes and served as part of an antipasto platter and paired with a sparkling Prosecco.
Adapted from Giallo Zafferano
It is important that the ham, cheese, and all the vegetables are cut into equal size pieces–I use the size of the peas as my template. This will ensure that these ingredients all cook at the same rate and gives the plumcake a beautiful presentation. Be sure to grease and flour your loaf pan very well to ensure that the plumcake can be inverted out in one piece without tearing. Cool the plumcake completely in the loaf pan before inverting it out.
Special equipment: 9 x 5 x 3-inch (23 x 13 x 8-centimeter) loaf pan
1 1/3 cups (180 grams) all-purpose or Italian “00” flour, plus more for coating the loaf pan
3 teaspoons (16 grams) baking powder
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ cup (100 mL) grapeseed or vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the loaf pan
½ cup (100 mL) milk (whole or 2%)
1/3 cup (50 grams) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 cup (130 grams) small-diced zucchini
1½ cups (210 grams) frozen peas and carrots blend, defrosted
1 cup (100 grams) small-diced Provolone cheese
½ cup (50 grams) sliced Castelvetrano or Manzanilla olives
½ cup (70 grams) small-diced cooked ham (optional if making vegetarian)
¼ cup (40 grams) sliced sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, drained
Preheat the oven to 350℉ (180℃).
Grease the interior of a loaf pan with 1 teaspoon of the oil then coat evenly with 1 Tablespoon of flour, tapping out any excess. Set aside.
Have all the vegetables, the ham, and cheeses ready in prep bowls. Set aside.
Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl and set aside.
Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl and add in the salt and pepper. Using a hand-held mixer, whip the eggs until they are evenly beaten and slightly foamy. With the mixer running, pour the oil in gradually and mix until it is fully incorporated into the eggs. Add the milk in gradually and mix until it is fully incorporated into the eggs. Begin adding in the flour mixture in spoonfuls and incorporate it before adding more, stopping periodically to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Once all the flour has been added, switch to using a spatula and fold in the Parmigiano until it is incorporated into the batter.
Add in the zucchini, peas-carrots blend, Provolone, olives, ham, and sun-dried tomatoes and fold them in until they are evenly incorporated throughout the batter. The batter will be thick. Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top with the spatula to create an even surface. Tap the loaf pan on the counter a couple of times to break up any air pockets that may be in the batter.
Bake on a rack set in the center of the oven for 1 hour or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool the plumcake completely on a baking rack before inverting it out of the loaf pan and placing it on a serving platter. Serve at room temperature cut into slices. The plumcake can also be cut into cubes and served as part of an antipasto platter.
Vegetarian Option: Omit the ham.
Storage: Store in the refrigerator tightly covered with plastic wrap and eat within 2-3 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.