Monday, August 23, 2021

Tunisian Orange Cake

A few months ago, I shared a recipe (here) for Ciambella (aka Marbled Breakfast Cake) fromThe River Café Classic Italian Cookbook. Here’s another breakfast worthy cake. This Tunisian Orange Cake recipe comes from an outstanding cookbook, This Is Camino (2015) by Russell Moore and Allison Hopelain with Chris Colin. In addition to its deliciously nutty yet bright taste and perfect moist texture, the cake takes very little time to make (especially if you have breadcrumbs in your pantry and use almond flour as a shortcut).


This Is Camino


Back in 2015, I wrote about This is Camino and shared the cookbook’s recipe for Red Lentils (here). In This is Camino’s introduction, Hopelain describes the restaurant she owned with Moore: “At its heart, Camino is about an approach to food, one that can happen anywhere. Neither Russ nor I are grandmothers, but fundamentally ours is grandmotherly cooking. Specifically, a frugal grandmother who grew up in the Depression, had plenty of style, kept a sweet vegetable garden, and could shake a good cocktail.” 


One can’t miss Moore and Hopelain’s resourcefulness when cooking from This is Camino, and the Tunisian Orange Cake recipe is no outlier. Moore writes that he came across the cake recipe in Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Book. He calls the Tunisian Orange Cake a “…perfect Camino cake—it uses breadcrumbs (good use of leftovers, plus the added bonus that you can’t overwork the gluten) and the zest AND juice of the citrus, and if you make two cakes, you won’t even have any leftover random half a lemon.”


The recipe makes a 9-inch cake. If you prefer weighing ingredients, I provide a few helpful metric weights that I use when I make this delicious cake.


2/3 cup (135g) olive oil, plus more for the pan

3/4 cup whole almonds 

1/2 cup (70g) Breadcrumbs (see page 33), ground fine

1½ teaspoons baking powder

1 cup (200g) and 1/3 cup sugar (67g)

4 large eggs

1 orange, zest and juice

1/2 lemon, zest and juice

2 whole cloves

1 cinnamon stick

Plain yogurt, for serving

Dates, for serving


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment paper, then brush the parchment and sides of the pan with olive oil.


Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven until they are a shade darker, about 8 minutes. Set aside to cool for a few minutes. Grind in a food processor until fine.


Sort through the breadcrumbs and pick out any particularly big pieces. Mix together the crumbs, ground almonds, baking powder, and 1 cup of the sugar.


In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, olive oil, and the zest of the orange and lemon. Pour the egg mixture into the breadcrumb mixture and stir, then scrape the batter into the cake pan. Bake for 40 minutes, until evenly brown and set. Remove from the oven and let the cake cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes.


Meanwhile, make a citrus syrup by combining the cloves, cinnamon, juice of the zested orange and lemon and remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a small pot. Cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and the syrup thickens, about 3 minutes.


When the cake is cool, remove it from the pan and poke a bunch of holes through the top of the cake with a skewer. Drizzle about half of the citrus syrup over the cake—this will help it keep for a few days. Serve each slice of cake with dates, a spoonful of yogurt, and a drizzle of the syrup. It’s also good with any stone fruit or citrus segments.


If you don’t finish it all, it is best to store it at room temperature covered in foil, not plastic. 




Now, what about those Breadcrumbs on page 33? Again, pure Camino: 


“I’d rather you didn’t make any of the recipes in this book that require breadcrumbs if it means you are going to buy fresh bread just for that one recipe. Please make breadcrumbs with leftover bread!


Cut up whatever ends or slices you have, put them on a baking sheet, and dry them out in your oven heated just by the pilot light. Depending on the ferocity of your pilot light, the bread should be rock hard after a day or two. Grind it in a food processor and store the crumbs in one of the many empty yogurt containers you have lying around. Don’t refrigerate. If somehow you don’t use them, and the crumbs begin to get moldy, throw them out—you gave it a good shot!


P.S. Use any kind of bread that you have.”


(One day I plan on making semolina bread just to use in this cake.)


Here’s the easy shortcut I mentioned, above: use 107 grams of almond flour instead of roasting and grinding the whole almonds. I use Bob’s Red Mill Super-Fine Almond Flour and like the results.


All good things must come to an end, and after running Camino in Oakland for 10 years, Russ and Allison decided in 2018 to retire their successful restaurant. The silver lining is that one of Camino’s Monday Night special menu items, kebabs, became the star of Allison and Russ’s new restaurant, The Kebabery. I understand that The Kebabery is moving from its original Market Street location to 2929 Shattuck in Berkeley, California. Check it out! In the meantime, I hope you enjoy a slice of Tunisian Orange Cake for dessert or breakfast.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Maccheroni ‘ncasciata

Penguin Random House UK recently published Rachel Roddy’s third cookbook, An A-Z of Pasta - Stories, Shapes, Sauces, Recipes (2021). Many of my favorite Italian recipes come from Roddy’s old food blog, Rachel Eats, and from her first two cookbooks: Five Quarters - Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome; and Two Kitchens - Family Recipes from Sicily and Rome. In her latest cookbook Roddy turns her focus to pasta. An A-Z of Pasta shares a trove of simple yet excellent recipes that will likely become family favorites. 


Roddy opens An A-Z of Pasta with a refreshingly short Introduction and then dives right into presenting different pasta shapes in alphabetical order. Missing is the current cookbook trend of a long personal narrative and extensive ingredient/equipment section. Instead, Roddy successfully weaves essential information about ingredients and pasta making into her survey of the shapes beginning with the letters A, B and C. By the time she covers conchiglie and turns to ditali, Roddy communicates a lot of basic information about pasta while also sharing illustrative and appealing recipes.


Whenever I get an exciting new cookbook, I read it cover-to-cover and then pick out the recipe I want to try first. An A-Z of Pasta gave me a long list of possibilities: Spaghetti alla chitarra con pallottine di pollo in bianco (Spaghetti alla chitarra with tiny chicken meatballs and white wine); Quadrucci alla romana (Quadrucci and peas Roman style); Pappardelle al ragù di cipolle (Pappardelle with onion ragù); and Mezze maniche con gamberi e zucchine (Mezze maniche with courgettes and prawns). In the end I went with a Southern Italian eggplant-spiked baked pasta called Maccheroni ‘ncasciata.


Roddy writes that “Maccheroni n’casciati is a generous and rowdy dish of pasta, small meatballs, cheese and fried aubergine.” Like a lasagne, this dish takes time, but the finished bake warrants the effort. Roddy says her version serves 4 to 6, but I think it will sate a few more.


800g tomatoes, ideally fresh but you can use tinned

1 onion, peeled and sliced

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped

olive oil

a sprig of fresh basil


300g ground beef

1 slice of crustless bread, soaked in a little milk

1 egg

a sprig of fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

75g Parmesan, grated

2 aubergines, diced into 2cm cubes

500g maccheroni

200g mozzarella or caciocavallo

butter and breadcrumbs, for dish

2 hard-boiled eggs


If the tomatoes are fresh, peel by plunging them into boiling water for 60 seconds, then into cold water, at which point the skins should split and slip off easily. Chop the tomatoes roughly, separating away most of the seeds. Chopped tinned ones with scissors.


In a large pan, gently fry the onion and garlic in some olive oil until fragrant, add the tomatoes, basil and a pinch of salt and allow to simmer away for 15 minutes.


Make the polpette (meatballs): use your hands to mix the ground beef, bread, egg, parsley and 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan and mould into walnut-sized polpette. Allow them to rest if you can, then fry in a little olive oil until brown and pour in the tomato sauce.


Either deep fry the aubergine or spread on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and salt, toss with hands and bake at 180°C until golden—about 30 minutes.


Boil the pasta in well-salted water until very al dente. Drain and toss gently with the sauce and polpette and the mozzarella.


Butter and breadcrumb a large baking dish about 25 x 30cm, 2 litre capacity. Pour in half the pasta/polpette mix, make a layer of aubergine and sliced hard-boiled egg, then cover with the rest of the pasta mix. Top with the remaining grated Parmesan and bake at 200°C for 20 minutes.


My copy of An A-Z of Pasta came from my favorite Seattle bookshop, Book Larder, which slipped a handy little temperature conversion card into my book. For us Americans 180°C equals about 350°F, and 200°C converts to 400°F. 


I made my first pot of Maccheroni ‘ncasciata without any problems. I used a 28oz (794g) can of Bianco DiNapoli whole tomatoes that top any fresh tomatoes I could find on my island in July. I also relied on my own polpette mixture, which is a little more involved than Roddy’s, but remains a family favorite. The oven baked eggplant cubes tasted great. I don’t use a lot of dried pasta, but I am happy with how the rigatoncini from Rustichella d’Abruzzo worked in the recipe.


I am happy to add An A-Z of Pasta to my cookbook library even though the work recalls two other books in my collection. Its ABC organization and classic pasta/sauce pairings resemble The Geometry of Pasta (2010) which features outstanding recipes from Jacob Kenedy. But while Caz Hildebrand’s black and white graphics share center stage with Kenedy’s recipes, An A-Z is all about words and stories. Roddy’s writing craft seems as elemental a part of her book as the recipes.


An A-Z of Pasta’s subtitle, “Stories, Shapes, Sauces, Recipes”, cannot help but call up Sauces & Shapes – Pasta the Italian Way by the great Oretta Zanini De Vita and Maureen B. Fant. Sauces & Shapes, however, feels more instructive and focuses on how Italians do pasta. An A-Z of Pasta strikes me as more personal. 


Finally, I want to acknowledge Jonathan Lovekin’s handsome photographs that add so much to Roddy’s book and its home cooing vibe. Likewise, Saffron Stocker’s book design beautifully marries text and images.