I recently bought a new cookbook, Julia Busuttil-Nishimura’s Ostro. Initially, I was attracted to the Melbourne-based Maltese-Australian cook, teacher and author’s interpretations of Italian dishes, as she has spent a lot of time studying and working in Italy. In her stunningly photographed book, there are some lovely-looking recipes for regional Italian classics such as homemade trofie with pesto genovese, pasta and chickpea soup and pork cooked in milk, for instance. I also love her food and cooking philosophy which has much in common with mine. That is, slowing down and taking the time to source the best, seasonal ingredients and make things – pasta, mascarpone, even butter – by hand is a true pleasure in itself.
Yet, despite being attracted to the mostly Mediterranean scope of the book at first, I’ve actually found myself making something – banana bread – from it that reminds me of Australia a lot lately. My home country can’t take credit for inventing this loaf-shaped cake. That honour, appears to belong to the Americans. Australia, however, has been a prolific producer of the crop since Chinese migrant communities introduced bananas to the tropical and sub-tropical parts of the country in the mid-1800s. And, ever since banana bread recipes began appearing in American cookbooks in the mid-20th century, Australians have taken to it as much as their Anglophone cousins across the Pacific.
Every time we return to Australia together, TP, my husband, makes a beeline for a café that has banana bread – something virtually unheard of in Italy – to offer its patrons. So, a few overripe bananas on my kitchen countertop and my banana-bread loving Italian husband prompted me to make Julia’s interpretation of the loaf. I’d actually been trying for many years to find the right recipe for this classic and I can now say that I’ve found it. At first, I was skeptical at the sight of extra virgin olive oil in the ingredients list (before I had only ever tried to make banana bread with creamed or melted butter) but the resulting loaf won the hubby and I over with its wonderfully moist crumb. And, as someone who loves to try their hands at making things that you’d normally buy – think yoghurt, mascarpone or bread – I must admit I was attracted to Julia’s accompanying recipe for homemade salted butter to serve with it. It’s common practice in Australian cafés to serve warm banana bread slices topped with butter come breakfast, brunch or afternoon tea time.
The following recipe is almost exactly the same as Julia’s. Since self-raising flour is not readily available in Italy, I had to replace this ingredient with plain flour and a couple of teaspoons of baking powder. I also took the liberty on a few occasions of making this cake with soft brown sugar (including the rich, caramel-like dark muscovado variety that was used in the banana bread pictured) when there was no raw sugar left in my kitchen pantry. As for the homemade salted butter, I’ll be sharing that recipe in my March newsletter due out in the final week of the month. Don’t forget to subscribe at the link here to get this exclusive feature.
- butter, for greasing
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 150 g raw (or soft brown sugar)
- 150 g plain flour, sifted
- 10 g (2 tsps) baking powder
- 2 very ripe bananas (about 250 g in total), mashed with a fork
- 50 mL (2 ½ tbsps) milk (or buttermilk from making the butter), room temperature
- 100 ml extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 180 º C. Grease a 24 cm loaf tin with butter and line with baking paper. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar until the batter is pale, fluffy and at ribbon stage. Place the sifted flour and baking powder in a bowl and whisk until well-combined. Carefully fold the dry ingredients into the beaten egg and sugar until fully absorbed, then carefully fold in the mashed banana, the milk and the olive oil until just combined.
Pour the batter into the greased and lined loaf tin and bake for approximately 45 minutes or until a cake skewer inserted at the loaf’s centre comes out clean. Remove from oven, leave to cool for 10-15 minutes before serving warm by the slice with a thick slather of homemade salted butter. This loaf works wonderfully at breakfast brunch or afternoon tea time!