An Italian cooking in England: food, photography, recipes.

Cardamom and rye chocolate cake

Posted on June 14, 2015

FCG_chocolate_cardamom_rye_cake_6As I type this, I’m sitting in at the dining table, sipping a warm chamomile (my new favourite drink, it appears. What can I say… I lead a rock’n’roll life) and eating my usual breakfast, plain yogurt with homemade muesli. Today, though, Scottish strawberries and raspberries have also found their way in the bowl. I’ve worn sandals for the past 3 days in a row. My usual make up makes me look pale, because my face is lightly tanned. In other words, the unpredictable British summer is here, and, to my shame, today’s recipe is conspicuously un-summery. Oh well. It’s a chocolate cake, substantial, moist and flavoursome. Our oven broke in April and for weeks I couldn’t bake anything. At the time, I was also going through my handwritten and cut out recipes, organising them in a ring binder. I found lots of recipes I’d drafted or saved from magazines years ago, and never made. After months of not feeling like experimenting much in the kitchen, a rush to bake my way through the ring binder got me. My birthday was coming up, so I picked two recipes that I’d be able to prepare in advance, that would be easily transportable in plastic boxes, to bring to the office on the day. One was this. Luckily, a new oven arrived just in time. I jumped on the chocolate and rye flour combination bandwagon, which seemed to be mentioned everywhere this past winter, and liked it.

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As I mentioned above, my birthday happened, a few weeks ago now. So much unexpected stuff happened in my life since I turned 27 last year, I almost feel less experienced and prepared for what’s ahead of me. Which, thinking about it, is probably because the ‘what’s ahead of me’ used to be a lot clearer a year ago than it is now. There has been a lot of change, compromise, rearranging and reassessing my own expectations, hopes and circumstances. It has been difficult, not least because of what I’ve inflicted upon others with my choices. Unprepared and inexperienced, perhaps, but overall more resilient, more aware of my own faults and thoughts. All of this, together with being handed over responsibility for a work project with a crazy deadline, meant that my stress levels have gone up, my brain power down, and everything has had to do with a much less energetic Roberta. I’m not complaining, I like being challenged and learning the hard way as a result. It takes some adjusting to, but it’s worth it. So, to cake, summer, unseasonal recipes, hard lessons, life and sandals. Happy birthday to me!

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Cardamom and rye chocolate cake

Yields 8 big slices, or 12 thinner ones. Adapted from a cake called ‘La bella caprese’, by Gino d’Acampo, originally published in the festive season 2011 issue of the Costco Connection, but I’ve just found the same recipe on the Mail Online website too. The chocolate I used was around 70%, the ground almonds lightly toasted in a pan then cooled. My cake tin is 18cm, the original recipe calls for a 23cm one: anything in between will work, just give a different height to the cake. You will have to keep an eye out while it’s baking too, as timings will vary depending on the tin width.

Ingredients
butter and cocoa powder to grease and dust the cake tin
100 gr unsalted butter
250 gr dark chocolate (I used 70%)
5 cardamom pods
4 medium eggs
160 gr icing sugar
80 gr ground almonds
70 gr rye flour
1/2 tsp baking powder

Grease and dust your cake tin, and turn the oven on to 175°C fan. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a heatproof bowl placed over a pan of simmering water. Make sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water. In the meantime, bash the cardamom pods in a pestle and mortar, discard the outer pod and stringy bits, and add the seeds to the chocolate mix. Once everything is melted, take away from the heat and leave to cool. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs and sugar together until fluffy and pale. Add ground almonds and chocolate mixture, and mix until evenly combined. Add the rye flour and baking powder last. Quickly stir to combine, then pour in the prepared tin and bake for 35/40 minutes. Start checking after 25 minutes if the tin you’re using is wider than mine. You want to take the cake out when it still has the tiniest (and I mean tiniest) wobble in the middle. Also, the sides of the cake should be shrinking away from the sides of the tin. Leave to cool before unmoulding, and take care when doing so as the cake is soft and tends to break.


FC&G in trasferta: kefta and eggs tagine

Posted on April 19, 2015

FCG_Morocco_tajine_kefta_aux_oeufs_2It took me two years, but today I finally give you the third and last instalment of my Morocco series. In spring 2013 B. and I travelled around the Country for about three weeks; instead of dividing my posts by location, I decided to split them by overarching themes. The first one is dedicated to nature, landscapes, flora and fauna. The related recipe is a very straightforward one for the ubiquitous Moroccan dessert that is orange with cinnamon and honey. The second one brings together images of contemporary life: people, streets, shops and so on. The recipe I gave you then was one I found throughout Morocco, for a chicken tagine with green olives and preserved lemon. This third and last post is my take on the architectural heritage that is so instantly recognisable as Moroccan (or Northern African at least). There’s the medinas, intense clusters of richly decorated and crumbling buildings. Now I remember each medina by the predominant hue of its walls: white, Ocean-lined Rabat, yellow, wood-scented Fez, red and lively Marrakech. There’s the kasbahs of the desert, their knobbly, scorched terracotta red walls. There’s the ornamental plaster decorations, each so different from the next and yet so similar. There’s the wonderful Volubilis, an entire Roman town unearthed and welcoming you to roam its streets and climb its house walls (careful at the guards and their whistles, though). In the South, along the Ocean, salt, wind and time slowly overpower everything a building is made of: paint chips off, plaster crumbles, stone and brick erode away. The poetry of this decay is almost unbearable at times, although it does highlight the lack of resources put towards the preservation for future generations.

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This tagine was our last dinner in Fez. We were staying in a small family run riad on the edge of the medina. On the last night we decided to dine in and our host’s wife served us a homemade tagine with tiny meatballs and eggs cooked in the tomato sauce. On the same night, a young French teacher on her way back from France was staying there too, so the three of us ate together in the cool, candle-lit courtyard of the riad. We were surrounded by intricately-decorated walls going up four floors. As I dipped the bread in the rich, eggy sauce of this homely and comforting dish, chatting, our voices echoing in the stillness of the night, I felt the heat and tiredness of the day wash off me. It was a pleasure recreating this tagine back home. I used lamb, but beef or a mixture of the two meats can also be used.

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Kefta and eggs tagine

Serves 4. You could serve with a more traditional flatbread, or a portion of less traditional couscous. The chilli is not meant to give heat, just warmth, so adapt amount depending on the heat of your chillies – mine are bird’s eye (we think), so a little goes a really long way. Adapted from North African Cooking, Tagine: spicy stews from Morocco and a few online sources.

Ingredients for the sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
pinch of salt
3 garlic cloves
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1 dried chilli
2x tins of chopped tomatoes
1/4 tsp saffron threads
Ingredients for the kefta
500 gr lamb mince
2 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground sumac
3 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves
To serve
4 eggs
fresh coriander and/or mint leaves
ground sumac

For the sauce, warm the oil in a sautee or sauce pan (you will need a lid) on a low heat, then add chopped onion and salt, and slowly sautee until translucent. In the meantime, mince the garlic cloves, cumin seeds and chilli in a pestle and mortar. Add the paste to the pan and stir. After a minute or two, add the chopped tomatoes and saffron, stir and cover. Cook on a low heat for about 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly. Turn the heat off and set aside. The sauce keeps in the fridge for a few days, or can be frozen once cold. For the kefta, place the lamb mince in a bowl. Grind the garlic and all the spices in the pestle and mortar, then add the paste to the mince. Add the chopped mint and coriander leaves, and mix until even. Using a teaspoon, form walnut-sized meatballs and place them on a plate or tray. Gently place them in the sauce, bring to the boil then simmer on a low heat for 45 minutes. Depending on how thick your sauce is, you may want to use a lid. If you don’t, I suggest you cover the pot with a splatter guard. To serve, crack the eggs open in the tagine (find 4 snug spots among the meatballs), sprinkle with sumac and cook for a further 15 minutes or until the eggs are poached to your preference. Sprinkle with fresh mint and/or coriander leaves and serve.


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