Perfect Orange Cake!

Gâteau à l’orange or The French know their cake:

Years ago my mother gave me this cook book. It’s a first edition from 1950 of French recipes by Mme. Germaine Carter. Of interest for the story of how it was compiled as for the recipes themselves; Mme. Carter, her husband (the British consul at Boulogne) and Mr. Rapp (British ambassador to Mexico) were interned together in Brandenburg during WWII and passed much of the time discussing French cooking and compiling this book.

Easy and delicious:

Although there are many things in this book that I will probably never make – say, Calf’s Brains with Cream Sauce or  Lark Pâté – I have found that the recipe for mayonnaise is stupendous and, like the two cake recipes I use again and again, easy to follow with reliable results. First take a look:

 Mme. Germaine Carter’s Gâteau à l’orange

Looks good, yes! Here’s the recipe:

4 eggs beaten
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups milk
3 cups sifted flour
4-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
grated peel of 2 oranges
juice of 1 orange**
1 cup butter

Beat the eggs wit the sugar; add a little milk. Sift the flour wit the baking powder and salt. Add milk and flour alternately, beating well. Add the orange peel and juice of 1 orange then the butter. Beat well and pour into 2 greased loaf pans. Bake in a moderate oven (350ºF / 180ºC) for 40 min. Remove from the pan to a cooling rack.

It is in fact, as easy as it sounds. My only modifications have been to bake the whole shebang in a large sheet cake pan and to check it after 35 min. She follows this recipe with another for ‘orange syrup’ which uses the juice of the second orange, another cup of sugar and a 1/2 cup of water; however, I’ve only done that once. The cake is quite ‘orangey’ enough without and my whole family loves it ‘as is’ with no icing or with sweetened whipped cream and fresh strawberries as in the photo. It does make a lot of cake so it’s perfect for a party, the layer cake you see in the picture is what I made with the 1/3 that was left over the second day after the other 2/3’s had been devoured ;).

Hope that you all enjoy Mme. Carter’s Gâteau à l’orange as much as we do.

**This is one recipe in which those beautiful Italian ‘blood’ oranges are not recommended unless you want your cake to turn a bluish-grey! The beautiful hot pink juice of these oranges is Ph reactive and will  change color when it combines with the baking powder

An American Kitchen in Italy

I’ve been editing a series of cookbooks this week: appetizers, cupcakes, tappas, amuses-bouches…I’ve also been cooking because NOW is the time to get fresh produce in Italy. Honestly it’s always a good time but summer is when classic Italian veg is at it’s peak: tomatoes, aubergines (eggplant), zucchini, bell peppers. It’s all good.
There is another wonderful thing that I’ve discovered since I moved here and that’s veg prepared sott’olio. My favourite is melanzana (aubergine or eggplant). Conserving things (even cheeses) ‘under oil’ is an Italian tradition but I do the ones that stay in the fridge. I don’t have time for canning but a lovely lady from piedmont explained to me how she made her’s (which were delicious) and I worked out my own way to make them at home.

Prep and cooking: only about 30 min!
Ingredients:
2 small Eggplant sliced in rounds 1/4″ thick (before you blanch and stick your tongue out and screw up your face in disgust…they’re GOOD this way; I swear! If you you can’t tolerate the idea use zucchini, or even yellow ‘crookneck’ squash)
2 TBS chopped fresh herbs. I suggest the following combinations: Eggplant / sage; Zucchini / mint; Yellow squash / thyme. Feel free to experiment.
2 cups extra virgin olive oil (it’s alot but you can use what’s left in the dish for the next batch.
3 cloves garlic sliced paper thin (optional – if you don’t like garlic you can replace this with shallot or even sweet red onion)
1 tsp. basalmic or red-wine vinegar.
Salt

Okay, now it’s really easy: slice the veg. sliver the garlic. chop the herbs fine.

Heat a large cast iron skillet until it smokes. Before setting mine on the stove I rub it with 2 TBS seasalt and 1 tsp olive oil and then wipe all of that out with a paper towel. Don’t use stainless steel. Don’t use anything thin. If you’re stuck use a non-stick skillet. I repeat: DRY SKILLET!

 Place the eggplant rounds (or zucchini strips or squash strips) in the skillet (don’t crowd) and let them toast. It will take awhile, they’re full of water (squash and zucchini will cook much faster!).
While you’re waiting, fill a flat, fairly small glass casserole or plastic dish with 1/3 of the oil, vinegar, herbs, and garlic or shallot. Wiggle the tines of a fork around in it to mix a bit and sprink with salt.

When the edges of the eggplant start to turn colour, turn them ;). They should look like the pic below, if they don’t turn them back and let them cook longer.

Let them continue cooking until the under sides look like the tops.

Now, take each slice out of the pan with a fork and set it down in the dish of oil wiggle it with the fork and then flip it over so that both sides are coated.
Arrange them in a fan as you work and squish them down with your fork.

Layer #1

Add more slices to the pan and keep going like this, adding layers as you go along with oil, herbs, garlic and a few drops of vinegar as you go. Remember to coat both sides with the oil and keep pressing lightly with a fork. It should look something like this:

Layer #2 (the white things are garlic slices)

Finish the final layer with a bit more oil and a final sprink of herbs. Let cool on countertop. Cover with plasticwrap (clingfilm) and put in the fridge. You can eat them right away and they’re good, but they’re even better the next day (or the day after). They will keep for at least a week; in our house they never last that long! After resting they will look like this:

These tasty slices are DELICIOUS with soft or aged goat cheese (chevre), fresh mozzarella, feta, or shaved parmesan. Party plating would be to take a tablespoon of or strip of fresh mozzarella, roll-up in one of the eggplant slices, close with a half a cherry tomato and a toothpick. They are also good over a slice of toasted bread with thinly sliced tomato and chevre or mozzarella.

Itsy Bitsy Spider climbed up the garden’s rose.

This morning while I was trimming the grass around the roses with a pair of scissors I looked up at the white ones and saw the most magnificent white spider! She had just a few pink stripes on her body so that she matched the rose perfectly. I wish that I had a steadier hand or that she hadn’t been so quick on her feet…

Pesto: It’s not just a recipe, it’s an adventure!

My daughter has been asking for Pasta con Pesto for 2 days now. It’s her steady dinner request second only to Pasta al pomodoro. Our basil isn’t big enough yet so today we just decided to play with what we had:

Sage
Rosemary
Mint
Summer Savory
Lemon rind
garlic
walnuts
parmesan
salt

It’s Artichoke season…no it’s Luna Park Season!

 Warm weather has arrived  and with it the local fun fairs. It’s not exactly the State Fair of Texas but still fun…the Luna Park. Hardly anyone else there on a Wednesday afternoon but we still enjoyed our fried stuff sandwichs, french fries and beer. Robin got to be a ‘race car driver’, We all got a ride on the ferris wheel, eyes full of neon lights and ears full of loud disco music…chi vole un po’ di luna park ogni tanto…

I gave my love a cherry without a stone…

Spring has arrived in Lombardia. This is the cherry tree in blossom that I see on the walk back from taking Robin to school in the morning. The cornice of the house that you can see on the right is the house where we live and I can also see this tree from my kitchen window. Lovliest of trees