Almond cherry cake made with olive oil

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.

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Almond cherry cake

150 grams ground almonds

100 grams plain flour

125 grams sugar

3 eggs

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.

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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.

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I think I’ll be making this again!

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An olive morning

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I spent this morning in warm spring sunshine in an olive grove on a hillside above the village at a demonstration of olive tree pruning organised by our friends at the Moulin de Casso.  An expert, Jean-Michel Duriez of the Association Française Interprofessionelle d’Olive, spent a couple of hours telling us all about the cultivation of the olive and then showing us how to prune a mature tree to let the light onto the leaves (and later the flowers and fruit) while the trunk is shaded.  He said that in many languages including Occitan and Arabic the word for pruning means ‘to lighten’.

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The important point to remember when pruning olive trees is to start looking at the trunk and work outwards, not to trim a lot of small pieces off the ends of the branches but to make as few cuts as possible.  He did say, though, that there were as many ways of pruning an olive tree as there are people who prune olive trees.

One interesting fact I learned today was that olive pruning shouldn’t be done until March and can be done as late as July.  Pruning earlier, in the winter, can cause new growth to appear which can then be badly affected by any cold weather such as we had in February this year.  It was also good to hear that soon there should be official recognition of olive production from this region if l’Union des Producteurs et Professionels de l’Olivier de l’Hérault is successful in its attempt to gain appelation d’origine controlée status for the Lucque olives of the Languedoc and the olive oil of the Languedoc. This will make it easier for producers to market their products outside the region.

Once the demonstration of the actual pruning began everyone had to disappear into the branches to see what should be done.

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Route barrée

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Going up the hill to the garden for the first time since we’ve been home, we found this.  Work has stopped for the weekend, but the project is to lay a water pipe all the way down the hill, closing the narrow road to traffic and forcing us to postpone plans to collect some more goat manure as it will be impossible to take the car and trailer near enough to the garden.  There were some good surprises, though.  The broad beans have survived very well, with help from the covering we gave them, during nights when the temperature reportedly sank as low as minus 10 C, and the parsley is also still green and growing.

We consoled ourselves with the thought that a lot of the work of gardening over the next couple of months will be in the house and on the balconies, sowing tomato and pepper seeds and keeping them warm in the mini-greenhouses until they are big enough and the danger of frost has passed so that we can plant them out.   We also consoled ourselves with a very good lunch.

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Rosé wine from the Domaine de Cadablès on one side of the village and bread dipped in olive oil from the mill at the other side of the village, Moulin de Casso.

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Some of the foie gras we conserved last March after our trip to the Gers, served simply with large-grain sea salt and pink peppercorns.

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Guinea fowl legs pot-roasted in a glass of local white wine with onion, garlic and smoked bacon, then put in the oven for the last 10 minutes to brown the skin, served with potatoes roasted in duck fat.

Local food….and wine

I went out shopping this morning and bought white wine from the Domaine des Pascales and olive oil from the Moulin de Casso, both in the village. 

IMGP6837 Anyone with romantic images in their mind of old stone grinding the olives might be disappointed, but this is what an olive mill looks like now.  Inside the modern agricultural building there is a small modern olive press, gleaming metalically, while olive growers bring trailers of containers of olives for milling, driving through and out at the other end after dropping off their cargo.  There are more photos of the mill, posted when it first opened two years ago, here.  This year hasn’t been a good one for the olive crop, here in the Languedoc or in other areas around the Mediterranean, so I hope we don’t run out!  The mill had enough left for me to buy a 2-litre bottle.  Although I use the more plentiful and cheaper Spanish oil for cooking, it’s nice to have a local and very tasty one for salads.

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The white wine is a stand-by, always in our fridge for cooking and sometimes for drinking.  Today I used it to poach some pears for dessert this evening when we have friends coming for supper.  I’m soaking some saffron threads to stir into crème fraîche to go with them.  The rest of the menu, dishes which I won’t photograph because we’ll have friends waiting to eat them, will be foie gras that we preserved in jars after our trip to the Gers last March, pork carbonade slow-cooked with onions, tomatoes, garlic and olives, served with baked potatoes, and then cheese before the poached pears.

Lactarius deliciosus

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These mushrooms count as local, or fairly local anyway.  They were given to us by a friend who’d been given them by a friend of his who had picked a lot.  So it’s third-hand foraging.  They are Lactarius deliciosus, Saffron Milk cap as they are known in English.  From my point of view, one of their great advantages is that there is, apparently, no poisonous variety with which they can be confused.

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They’re good simply fried in olive oil and served with chopped garlic and parsley.  But we had far to many to eat them all like that, so I decided to pickle the rest.

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I sliced them, put them in water and simmered with a couple of paprika peppers until they were soft – these took about half an hour, but other kinds of more delicate mushrooms would cook much more quickly.  While they were cooking I mixed 1 cup of white wine vinegar, 1 cup of water and 1 1/2 cups of sugar, added some bay leaves and some peppercorns, brought the mixture to the boil and simmered for about 10 minutes.  I sterilised some glass jars in the oven (10 minutes at 140 C) and the seals in the some boiling water.  When the mushrooms were cooked I drained them well on kitchen paper and packed them into the jars.  Finally, I covered them with the vinegar mix and put the sealed lids on.  I haven’t made these before but I think they’ll be nice dressed with olive and eaten as tapas.

pickled mushrooms

After this I was hungry but hadn’t planned anything for lunch so I made Mediterranean style oeufs en cocotte, with olive oil instead of butter and some crumbled blue cheese on top.  It worked, garnished with chopped parsley and garlic, of course!

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Store cupboard essentials

On yet another rainy day, Lo Jardinièr and I talked as we were eating a lovely lunch of pizza left over from yesterday when he made it, accompanied by a salad of grated carrot (not from the garden) and slices of green and yellow pepper (from the garden).  As we often do, we remarked on how easy it is to make delicious food so long as we have certain basic essentials in the store cupboard and fridge.

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There are ingredients we would never be without, some of which are so essential I haven’t included them in the photo: rice, pasta, the tomato purée we make at least 50 jars of every summer and which last us through the winter and spring until we have fresh tomatoes in the garden again……salt and pepper too, of course.  But apart from these, here are a few others: capers (although when I can find them I prefer the salted ones to these in brine); anchovy fillets; olive oil (of course); raisins or currants; chorizo; garlic (again, of course!); piments d’Espelette or other paprika peppers, fresh or dried); lemon; black olives; bay leaves (and other fresh herbs as available in the garden, thyme, rosemary, basil…..).  Even if we have no other meat or vegetables we can always make something tasty to eat with these.

And as I write this I remember other essentials we almost always have in the cupboard: red and white wine, tinned chickpeas and haricot beans, tahina, walnuts, spices – coriander and cumin especially – and so much else.  But these in the picture are the basics.

For the photo I put all these in a dish which for me is another essential as it’s been in my family almost as long as I can remember.  It was made in Sicily and my mother bought it in Benghazi soon after we moved there in the 1950s. She passed it on to me after she had used it many times especially, as I remember, for rice salads when we had big family parties.

Olive oil and chillies

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Sorting through belongings in a relative’s house while I was away I came across this reminder of a time when, in Britain, olive oil was bought in these tiny phials ‘for medicinal and household use’ and chilli peppers were used as a substitute for mustard plaster as a remedy for coughs and colds.  It seems strange to me, when I buy olive oil by the litre almost every week and use it liberally in cooking every day.  And although I don’t like hot chillies, I eat paprika peppers almost as often as olive oil.  I’m going to keep these souvenirs of the past.

It’s good to be home

Some of the ingredients I miss most when I’m away from home are good olive oil, aubergines and garlic (although I did take a bulb of garlic with me and surreptitiously added it to some of the food I ate while we were travelling – not in people’s homes, I hasten to add).

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Luckily there were a lot of aubergines waiting to be picked in the garden when we got home.  We had a long day’s journey yesterday, by very comfortable high-speed train because we don’t fly, but we were too tired to spend much time cooking so I simply sliced this aubergine and fried it in olive oil, adding chopped garlic, salt and thyme leaves after cooking.  The scent of the fresh thyme leaves told me I was home. We ate this with some delicious tender pieces of corn-fed chicken.

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Some souvenirs

There are olive trees all around our village and an olive oil mill run by friends of ours who produce wonderful oil.  But I like to taste oils from other areas too, so when I go to Catalunya or Andalucia I always bring back a few bottles.  This time I found two oils made from Arbequina olives, one made near to where we were staying, at Castellterçol near Barcelona, and the other from Jerez de los Caballeros in Andalucia.  They look and taste quite similar, although the Catalan oil (on the right in the photo) was slightly more peppery.

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Arbequina olives are smaller than most other varieties and I was told once by a grower that the advantage of this is that they do not attract the olive fly because there is not enough flesh for it to lay its eggs in.  This makes Arbequina olive trees very suitable for organic production as they do not need chemical sprays to protect against the fly.

For supper on Friday night in a restaurant in the village where we were staying, the first course was a salad of red peppers, tomatoes and salt cod.  It reminded me that we don’t often enough eat our red peppers raw – because they’re so delicious grilled.  They’re very sweet and tasty when they’re raw too, so tonight for supper I made a salad with chopped red and green peppers and sweet onion mixed with cooked potatoes and dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  I arranged this around the plates and then added pieces of chicken that had been marinated in lemon juice, garlic and paprika and then fried in olive oil.  I garnished it all with some finely sliced red pepper and a few basil leaves.

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>Spring fair

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Today la rue de l’Eglise, the widest street in the old part of the village, and the place where the Wednesday market is usually held were lined with stalls selling goats’ cheese, sheep’s cheese, honey, wine, olive oil, flowering plants, vegetable garden plants, asparagus, strawberries, and handmade crafts.  The weather was dull in the morning but it cleared up later, and the day seemed to be a success.

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asparagus, churros and children’s rides…..
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our friends from le Moulin de Casso, which I wrote about when it first opened, selling their olive oil.
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We bought some Bouteillan and some Picholine olive oil, each with its own distinctive and delicious flavour.  The Picholine oil went very well first on its own with bread and then with some Mas Rolland goats’ cheeses at lunchtime, accompanied by a salad made with leaves from the garden and grated carrot and apple.

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>Planting out aubergines and finding a green lizard

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We’ve planted out about a dozen aubergine plants our neighbour gave us – six of them next to a row of peppers on the left below.  We usually grow the grafted plants, bought from a garden centre, because they produce so many more aubergines than the ordinary plants, but this year we’ll try these, as well as a few grafted ones.  The Greek maize I planted out a couple of weeks ago is doing well (on the right below).

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Sweet corn (maize) and a row of lettuce.

We also planted a row of chard, also given to us by our neighbour, next to the two rows of haricot beans which are growing quite well.  I picked the rest of last year’s chard today as it was going to seed, and we ate it this evening with pasta and cured ham.

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Our ‘big’ iris has started to flower (left below), later but more spectacularly than our white and mauve irises, and the red salvia was attracting a few bees (right).

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And the green lizard under the olive tree

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They’re much more shy than the brown wall lizards, so I was lucky to catch this one on camera!

IMGP9247 Our garlic is growing quite tall, but I don’t think it will ever be as good as the garlic I bought from this stall in Pézenas market on Saturday.  It’s very fresh and tastes wonderful chopped raw onto salads and other vegetable dishes.

And home to lunch….

IMGP9331 After working in the garden this morning we came home to a lunch of aubergine puréed with olive oil, garlic and oregano, some broad beans straight from the garden cooked with cured ham, and goats’ cheese from Roujan with thyme from the garden and olive oil that was milled in the village from olives from Servian, only about 10 kilometres away – all local, fresh and delicious!