For Salvatore Aceto, lemons are not fruit. Or rather, not merely a fruit. They are poetry. They are love. His life bears this out.
The sixth-generation lemon farmer met and married his wife in his lemon grove, a terraced farm richly green and yellow from some 2,700 trees tucked tight to Italy’s Amalfi hillside. Ask for a tour and his narrative about the region’s unique sfusato amalfitano lemons will be punctuated with soliloquies about the lemon juice—not blood—he says runs through his veins.
And then there is the lemon cake. The torta al limone his mother taught his wife, Giovanna.
“I married her just for the lemon cake,” Salvatore says, quite seriously.
It’s understandable. As so much of the food of Amalfi is—lemon risotto, lemon pesto, lemon liqueur, even pasta is boiled with lemon—Giovanna’s cake is unsparingly saturated with citrus. Multiple tablespoons of zest go into the batter, perfuming the kitchen as it bakes. But it is the finishing flourish that puts this cake over the top.
Using nearly a cup of lemon juice, Giovanna makes a golden syrup that is poured over the just-baked cake while it’s still in the pan. The already moist cake slowly absorbs the lemony syrup, becoming even more tender and glistening when it later is turned out of the pan and sliced.
The result is a ridiculously tender cake with bold, bright flavor that wants for nothing. And it makes clear Salvatore’s love for his lemons. And his wife.