"Le Matte," the group of Italian women I've told you about, who meet each week to chit-chat in Italian, met at my home last week. Over the years, these gatherings have morphed from a simple coffee and cake gathering to an event with an intimidating array of savory and sweet treats. Recently, we've tried to limit the foods to two savory and two sweet items. Otherwise, the hostess has to spend too much time in preparation, a deterrent for many who might otherwise offer their homes for the meetings. It seems to be working, along with another new twist started in the last few months. We now team up with a partner and share the work. That makes it much easier and more fun too.
Last week I teamed up with my friend Anna, who hails from the Trentino region, and who also happens to be a great cook. (Well, actually most of the women in this group are terrific cooks.) I made the sweet things -a pastiera and lemon tiramisu - recipes I've already posted. Anna offered to make the savory foods and chose two different breads including this olive and ham loaf. It has a really tender crumb and it's packed chockful with flavorful ingredients. After the group had dispersed, she left me a couple of slices which we ate for dinner that night, alongside some sauteed vegetables and couscous. But it's also great all by itself if you're having friends over for dinner and want a little something to serve beforehand with drinks.
One of the ingredients Anna uses in the recipe is mimolette cheese, something I had never heard of before. It's a cow's milk cheese that has a greyish crust and an orange-colored interior, and sort of resembles a cantaloupe. Anna said if you can't find it, you can substitute a good quality aged cheddar cheese instead.
Olive and Ham Bread
For the ham, ask the person at the deli counter to cut you a thick slice of baked ham, then dice it into small bits.
1/2 cup whole milk
3 T. mixture of fresh herbs, minced: Italian parsley, basil leaves and chives
3 T. strong French mustard
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or 2 cups all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup rye flour
1 T. baking powder
1 1/4 sticks melted butter
1 cup grated mimolette cheese or sharp aged cheddar cheese
1 7-ounce piece of baked ham
1 cup pitted green olives
Preheat oven to 360 degrees.
Butter a 5 x 9 inch loaf pan and coat lightly with flour.
Beat the eggs with a fork, then add the milk, herbs, mustard, salt and pepper to taste.
Sift the flour and the baking powder in a bowl; Add the melted butter, the grated cheese, the olives, the egg/milk mixture and the ham.
Blend the ingredients with a wooden spoon and transfer to the loaf pan. Bake for one hour. The cake is done when a sharp blade inserted in the center comes out dry. Wait 15 minutes before unmolding on a cake rack.