Monday, March 11, 2013

Nigella's Chocolate-Olive Oil Cake (and meeting her Highness!)

chocolate-olive oil cake
I'm a huge fan of Nigella Lawson "the UK's domestic goddess" so when the opportunity arose to hear her speak about her new Italian-inspired cookbook Nigellissima, I jumped at the chance.  On a very cold February night, I ventured out to the Union League Club in Chicago for a fun and interesting evening.  While Nigella signed copies of her book, the guests were treated to a sampling of recipes from Nigellissima.  Then she took the stage and was interviewed by long-time Chicago restaurateur, Ina Pickney. 

The first time I watched one of Nigella's cooking shows I was hooked.  I loved her unbridled passion for food and her "free-form" way of getting around a kitchen.  She makes no claims to be a chef, or that she's had any formal training.  Unapologetically, she is a home-cook who needs to get supper on the table for her family.  

While it was awesome to listen to her talk about her career and how she was influenced by Italian food while living in Italy, the main take-away I got from the entire experience was a bit melancholy. She talked about her mother who had an eating disorder and eventually died of cancer at the age of 48. While her mother was a great cook, food was always a source of stress and, more often, guilt. Her mother never ate with the enjoyment and pure bliss Nigella is so famous for. In fact, Nigella said the only time her mother ever ate food with joy or pleasure was when she knew she only had two weeks to live. Nigella swore she would never be that kind of person which is why she takes such delight in food - whether she is cooking for her family, friends or just for herself.
I found this revelation about Nigella's mother to be very sad. If we're making the effort to eat healthy most of the time and taking care of ourselves as best we can, we should be able to enjoy the occasional treat without feeling guilty about it, right? I know for myself, if I can't have pizza and ice cream every now and again, I'm not living.

In addition to Nigella's ability to make food sexy, I love that her recipes are simple and uncomplicated to prepare. She focuses on real, whole foods - nothing fat-free or artificial. And, I love how she claims to be "greedy" about food saying she doesn't like to waste any meals on eating something that isn't delicious. "It's never worth cooking anything for supper unless it can stand on equal footing with one of life's great and simplest gastro-delights, boiled egg on toast." Not that she wants to eat it every day; "...however little time or effort I can expend on the day's supper, I have to know it will deliver nothing less than pure pleasure." I agree.

Nigella & me
At the moment I've only tried a couple recipes from her new book - but so far so good.  Here is the recipe for her Chocolate-Olive Oil Cake which is amazing!  It's surprisingly light and healthy; it's flour-less and dairy free, but filled with ground almonds, chocolate and olive oil.  It's very, very easy and you probably have all the ingredients in your kitchen.  It's delicious served warm with some raspberries on the side, as well as a dollop of fresh whipped cream, mascarpone or ice cream - but I've found it's also just as good, if not better, the next day.  Enjoy!

Chocolate-Olive Oil Cake
2/3 cup olive oil (plus more for greasing)

6 Tablespoons good quality cocoa powder

1/2 cup boiling water

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups ground almonds

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

powdered sugar for dusting

 1.) Heat oven to (325 F). Grease a  (9-inch) spring form pan with a little oil and line base with parchment.

2). Measure and sift cocoa powder into a bowl and whisk in boiling water until you have a smooth, chocolatey, still runny (but only just) paste. Whisk in vanilla, then set aside to cool a little.

3.) In another smallish bowl, combine almond meal with baking soda and salt.

4.) Put sugar, olive oil and eggs into bowl of a freestanding mixer with the paddle attachment (or other bowl and whisk arrangement of your choice) and beat together vigorously for about 3 minutes until you have a pale-primrose, aerated and thickened cream.

5.) Turn speed down a little and pour in cocoa mixture, beating as you go, and when all is scraped in, you can slowly tip in almond meal mixture.

6.) Scrape down, and stir a little with a spatula, then pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for about 40-45 minutes or until sides are set and the very center on top, still looks slightly damp. A cake tester should come up mainly clean but with a few sticky chocolate crumbs clinging to it.

7.) Let cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack, still in its pan, and then ease sides of the cake with a small metal spatula and spring it out of the pan.  Leave to cool completely or eat while still warm - center will be very moist, almost pudding like.

Makes 8 to 12 slices.

"The Greatest Wealth is Health" - Virgil

 "Let Food be thy Medicine and Medicine be thy Food." - Hippocrates

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