The other day Chica Andaluza posted her recipe for olive oil pastry, having discovered as I have how easy and tasty it is. I commented that I used olive oil for cakes too and she asked me to post a recipe. I rarely make cakes and when I do I usually make it up as I go along but here, especially for Chica and for this blog, is a measured, tried and tested recipe, successfully made and tasted today. I used some jam that hadn’t set very well but you could use any fruit in syrup.
Almond cherry cake
150 grams ground almonds
100 grams plain flour
125 grams sugar
100 ml olive oil
a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
150 ml cherry jam (or other fruit in syrup)
Put all the ingredients except the jam in the food processor and whizz until mixed. Pour the mixture into a 25 cm cake tin. I lined mine with greaseproof paper which makes it much easier to take the cake out once it is baked. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes at 200°C. Test it with a skewer to check that it has cooked all the way through. If you don’t want a sticky, syrupy cake you could leave it to cool at this stage and eat it as it is.
But, then, who doesn’t want a sticky, syrupy cake? While the cake is still hot and in the tin, pour over the syrup, leaving the fruit to add later. When it has cooled remove it from the tin and put the cherries (or other fruit) on top. Serve with cream or ice cream. We happened to have some chocolate ice cream which went very well with it.
Although it’s been cold we’ve had very little rain this month, worrying for the garden and the water table since February is usually one of the wettest months here before the dry weather begins in April and brings drought until the autumn. The vines survive the drought because they have such deep roots and can always find enough water, but the vineyards look barren now, with the vines pruned and no sign of spring growth yet.
The almond trees are still flowering, though, and the blossoms seem to have survived the cold wind we had last weekend.
In the huge area that was burnt by wildfire the autumn before last – see my slideshow here – there’s proof of nature’s ability to regenerate. Among the still blackened lentisk branches (Pistacia lentiscus) spring new shoots of bright green red-edged leaves:
And the evening light on the village looked warm even if the nights are still cold.
Perhaps not authentic, but yesterday I wanted to make something that would cook while I was working, so I slow-cooked chicken pieces in an earthenware dish in the oven with a tagine spice mix of cinnamon, turmeric, paprika and cumin. It took about 5 minutes to prepare and a couple of hours later it was ready to eat.
I put the chicken pieces with olive oil in an earthenware dish, added three quartered echalottes, three large chopped cloves of garlic, two sliced carrots, half a lemon cut in quarters, some sprigs of rosemary, a little salt and a large spoonful of the tagine spices. I poured over the juice of the other half of the lemon and a cup of water, covered the dish with aluminium foil (a proper tagine pot would be ideal, but I haven’t got one) and put it in the oven at 150 C for a couple of hours. Half way through the cooking I added some pruneaux. We ate the tagine with basmati rice, although bulgur, couscous or flatbread would be more traditional.
Perfect for a winter evening!
It looks as though the weather is going to turn cold again, with freezing nights, grey cloud and snow forecast for the mountains. Snow here in the village is very rare – we had some a couple of years ago and it was the first time for fifty years – but we feel it in the wind when it falls on the mountains to the north. The signs of spring continue to appear, though, and today I noticed this almond tree starting to flower, a lot more buds about to open, and from high up in the tree came the sound of many bees already out and attracted by the blossom.
This delicious, colourful Catalan sauce made with red peppers and ground almonds originates in Tarragona and is traditionally eaten with calçots, sweet onions which are barbecued in early spring and eaten out of doors. The sauce goes very well with grilled chicken, pork or fish too, like mayonnaise, and can be added to stews. I was once slightly surprised in a restaurant in Tarragona where there was no written menu and when the waitress told us the choices I missed the word ‘manitas’ from the dish ‘manitas de cerdo’ in romesco sauce – expecting pork, I was served pig’s trotters, not a problem as they made a very tasty sauce with the spicy romesco ingredients although there were a lot of small bones, but it was an unexpected delight!
I sometimes buy a very good version of this sauce in a jar, made in French Catalunya, but at this time of year when we have so many red peppers and tomatoes in the garden there is no excuse not to make my own again. Looking at the bowl of red and yellow peppers I’d picked yesterday evening I thought to myself that it’s no surprise that both the Occitan and Catalan flags have red and yellow as their colours – they are the colours of summer here.
There are many variations of this dish, but this is what I did today:
I skinned 10 long red peppers that had been cooked on a vine-wood fire on the barbecue. You can use barbecue charcoal, or even a gas grill, but I think the vine wood gives the peppers a special flavour. Let the skin burn a bit because this makes them easier to peel. I blended the flesh of the peppers into a paste and added them to 2 tablespoons of fresh breadcrumbs (from day-old bread), 2 roasted tomatoes that I’d pressed through a sieve to remove the skins and seeds, 3 tablespoons of ground almonds, a teaspoon of paprika, a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and salt to taste.
Once all the ingredients have been mixed together, the sauce is ready to serve. I divided this quantity into four, leaving some out to eat tomorrow with chicken or fish and putting three servings into tubs to freeze. I haven’t tried freezing it before, although I can’t see why it shouldn’t work. I’ll let you know one day in the depths of winter when I thaw this taste of summer!
It’s two years this weekend since I started this blog. As I said last year, on the first anniversary, we’ve learnt a lot from becoming part of the community of gardening bloggers and have made many friends and even met some of them – Ian at Kitchen Garden in France and Kate at Hills and Plains Seedsavers and Vegetable Vagabond in Australia, who have both visited us here and who invited us to join their Kitchen Garden International weekend last September in south-western France. We’ve exchanged seeds with Ian and Kate and also with Laura at Mas du Diable, quite near us in the Cévennes, and with Michelle at From Seed to Table in California, where the climate is also Mediterranean. The blogs I read and from which I get enjoyment and inspiration are listed in the side bar, and there too many to mention here, but two which I read most often because they are by fellow Mediterranean gardeners, in a similar climate to ours, are Jan’s in Catalunya and Heiko’s in Italy. So, as well as our gardening neighbours here in Gabian who are a wonderful source of useful advice, we are benefiting from the knowledge and experience of gardeners and cooks all over the world. Thank you all!
Mid-February in the garden
It’s a quiet time in the garden, a time for planning the next year, but not for harvesting very much. Apart from herbs – thyme, rosemary, mint and bay especially – which we use daily, we’re picking only leeks and cabbages at the moment, with the chard and lettuces just recovering from the cold weather we’ve had.
It seems to be a late spring – there is no sign yet of almond or apricot blossom and their buds are only just beginning to swell.
Left, the still-bare branches of our apricot tree, and above, canes and flower of bamboo, battered by the north wind, but beautiful against the clear sky on a cold day.
After a cold walk back from the garden we warmed ourselves with a bowl of Lo Jardinièr’s flageolet bean and vegetable soup, with goats’ cheese and cured pork on toast and some red wine from Montesquieu.
Spring will come, though, and today we’ve sowed our tomato seeds and put them on the seed starter box which Lo Jardinièr made last year. We put the new mini-greenhouse on the balcony in the sun today to try it out and, although it was a cold day – about 6 degrees C – the temperature inside reached 22 degrees! So it will be good for the tomato and pepper plants once they germinate and before we take them to the garden to put in the more rustic-looking cold frames we have there.
I can see this chimney from our top-floor window and it tells me whether or not there will be rain – if the wind is coming from the south the clouds come over the sea and we usually have rain, although not always as heavy as this. If the wind comes from the north, the smoke is blown the other way and we have dry weather because the rain from any clouds which do appear has already fallen in the mountains inland.
Today was almost spring-like, with warm sunshine and a north wind silvering the leaves of the olive trees at the edge of this vineyard at the top of the hill above our garden:
In the garden most of the plants had survived the cold nights well:
Spanish habas (left), 2nd sowing of broad beans (far left) and first sowing of broad beans above.
This almond tree looks a lot better against a blue sky, rather than last week’s grey one, even though it won’t have blossom for another couple of weeks. First signs of spring: a mimosa tree in a sheltered garden in the village has yellow flower buds about to open. The almond blossom usually follows very soon afterwards.
The catastrophic events in Haiti have been on my mind for the past few days – how can one small country have to put up with so many disasters and problems? There seems so little that individuals can do but we can donate towards the aid effort at the websites of the British Red Cross, the American Red Cross or the French organisation Action Contre la Faim.
and the sun trying to come through the clouds and our neighbour’s almond tree.
We planted out cabbage and lettuce and harvested more late tomatoes, some red and some still green. It will be time to clear all the tomato plants soon but there is still a chance some more will ripen if we get sunshine next week, as forecast.