1. Thirty feels good & I love this Spring!
Too many things have happened in the past couple of weeks. Important matters, life changing events and personal/professional achievements. Spring bloomed and with that, a light breeze of relief and satisfaction started to blow in my life. And… it happened.
I had dreaded it, tried in vain to escape from it and obsessed about it so much, but when I finally turned 30, I realized that I already liked it. I figured out that my previous birthday had been more scary. On that day (my 29th birthday), my friend Tommaso and I were shooting my head shots (the one on the right and here) for this blog. I was so scared of getting old without having constructed enough foundations. This year however, despite some difficulties, I was just happy, with no need for many descriptive adjectives to communicated how I really felt. My birthday party was an unconventional, casual picnic in one of Rome’s beautiful villas with a bunch of intimate friends, some easy peasy veggie pies made with home-grown, Sicilian vegetables from a friend’s garden, and a big, Easter chocolate egg. Even the weather was on my side; We enjoyed long hours of laying on the grass with the warm sun kissing our skin, chatting, eating & drinking.
Before my birthday however, there was my thesis defense session and graduation. As I mentioned, as the final project in my graduate studies in Graphic Design & Photography in Rome’s Fine Art Academy, I created a cookbook with my own recipes & photography, and designed every single detail from typography to layouts. I was very satisfied with the project (despite being exhausted) and I was quite speechless by the flattering compliments of the professors and everybody else. This has made me more confident in the journey that I have chosen to step in; the one that embraces good food, photography, editorial design and a lot of determination.
I will soon add more photo/info about this cookbook prototype but in the meanwhile let me say that YOU appear in the acknowledgments! How could I not thank each single one of you who reads, likes, and share what I do and gives me a lot of support?
Speaking of your support, as you probably know (if you follow me on facebook and/or twitter), Lab Noon is a finalist in the 6th Annual SAVEUR Blog Awards! From a record-breaking pool of nearly 50,000 submissions, it was selected as one of top six contenders in its category. This was a dream when I had just started this blog, and thanks to Saveur editors, previous winners (among the editors) and most importantly, thanks to you who have nominated me, this dream came true in the very first year of this blog! This too, encourages me to work harder and push this little blog and its affiliated projects forward.
Lab Noon is nominated in “Best Special Interest” category with other 5 blogs of great talent and originality. This is the great thing about Saveur blogs awards; you get to know a lot of amazing people who are doing beautiful things. To know us better please read the presentation of our blogs and our bios on Saveur’s site.
In order to vote your favorite blogs simply click here (or on the Saveur badge in the sidebar) and register/log in to Saveur’s website. I would appreciate it if you supported me and cast a vote! Remember to check other wonderful blogs in every category. I’m sure you will find a lot of pleasant surprises. Share the love on your social media with the link saveur.com/blogawards and the hashtag #SavBlogAwards.
2. Let’s celebrate with a healthy, moist and fragrant cake!
I didn’t have a birthday cake right on my birthday. But since it was Easter, and as I told you there were just too many reasons to celebrate, I baked this one a couple of days later. Easter, just like any other holiday in Italy (and many other places) means a lot of heavy meals, chocolates and Colomba (a typical Italian Easter cake similar to Panettone for Christmas). And then, there are those of us who have just finished celebrating Norouz, the Persian new year with —again— a lot of food, sweets and pastries and salty nuts.
This one is a relatively light and healthy cake. There’s no butter in it and the only fat is 4 tbsp of olive oil. The main ingredient is fresh sheep ricotta. Ricotta makes the cake incredibly moist and soft. Spring is the time when the milking season of sheep begins. So if you know some farms around, ask for fresh sheep dairy. I remember when I was little, by around May you could find excellent sheep yogurt in shops. The supermarket near my home has some products from local farmers and fresh sheep ricotta is one of them. However, if you don’t find sheep ricotta, by all means use normal ricotta cheese. Just make sure you find a skim one (to keep the cake lighter). The ricotta cheese I use normally has 150-160kcal/100g and 11-12g fat.
Ricotta is also the base of the frosting, mixed with orange blossom water and some maple syrup (depending on how sweet you like it). The southern cities of Iran such as Shiraz and Kerman are famous for excellent citrus. Dry, warm weather is essential for good quality and fragrant citrus. Just like in Italy, where best oranges grow in Sicily and best lemons & citrons in Campagna. We owe that refreshing scent to the sun of the south. They say if you walk in the allies of Shiraz in this time of the year, you’ll get drunk by the mesmerizing aroma of orange blossoms that have invaded the city.
Spring/Easter time in Naples is the season for Pastiera; a wheatberry and ricotta cake filled with ricotta cream and the perfume of citrus and orange blossom (Check out Emiko‘s perfect recipe). That’s where I got the inspiration for my ricotta cake. The ground almond (or almond flour) makes the texture rich and creamy. The cake is elegant and delicate and yet it has a home-made and rustic feel about it. That’s how I like cakes, and just for the record, I really dislike bright-colored, perfect, statue-like cakes covered with sugar paste. So this one layer, simple cake was my almost-birthday cake. It would also make a perfect afternoon snack with a cup of tea when there’s still a little chill in the air. And why not? A lazy weekend breakfast when the sun is already high in the sky.
If you feel more fancy, double the amounts, and make a two layer cake and use the ricotta cream as a filling and dust the top layer with icing sugar. I suggest baking the cakes in two separate pans rather than a single thick cake to cut in half later. It’s a very moist cake and It might not cook thoroughly if very thick.
This amount makes a one layer cake in a 9″/23cm pan.
- Ground almond/Almond flour 70g
- Sheep ricotta cheese 500g (250g for the cake & 250g for the frosting)
- 3 Free range organic eggs
- Semi-whole wheat flour (type 2 flour) 100g
- Whole grain spelt flour* 50g
- muscovado sugar (unrefined brown sugar) 120-150g**
- freshly grated zest of 1 lemon
- extra virgin olive oil 4 tbsp
- Orange blossom water 2-3ml/1 tsp (in two parts, 1 for the cake, 1 for the cream)***
- maple syrup 3 tbsp**
- crushed pistachios 30g
- baking powder 3g/ 1/2 tsp
- a pinch of salt
- Preheat the oven at 180°C/350F/Gas number 4.
- Cream the ricotta with an electric whisk or in a standing mixer until it starts to get smooth. Immediately add the sugar. Continue whisking until it turns into a smooth caramel-color mousse. Add the grated lemon zest and half of the orange blossom water. (At this point it should smell strongly like orange blossom.)
- Break the eggs one by one and add to the wet mix and whisk until well combined and pale. Add the olive oil.
- In another bowl, sift the flours (remember to add the bran that remains in the sifter), add the ground almonds, salt, baking powder and mix well.
- Gradually fold the flour mixture into the ricotta cream and combine well but don't be too rough. We want some air to stay in the batter.
- Pour the batter in a previously greased baking pan and bake for 20-30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
- While the cake is baking prepare the frosting.
- In a bowl, cream the lasting 250g of ricotta with a wooden spoon until smooth. Add gradually 3 tbsp of maple syrup. Taste to see if you like how sweet it is.** Add the orange blossom water. Let it sit in the fridge until the cake is baked and cooled down.
- Wait for the cake to cool on a wire rack before placing it on a plate.
- Place a dollop of the cream on the center and in circular movements, spread it evenly to the sides with a spatula.
- Sprinkle (toasted) crushed pistachios for extra flavor and texture.
- *If you don't have access to whole grain spelt flour use whole-wheat flour.
- **If you like a less sweet cake, use 120g of sugar. I don't recommend using honey in this recipe, either in the cake or the cream since its strong smell & flavor could cover the orange blossom aroma. Use less or more maple syrup in the cream depending on how sweet you would prefer it. If you use a dry sweetener such as icing sugar remember to add a splash of milk to cream the ricotta cheese.
- ***If you have access to natural orange blossom water these amounts might change. I used little phials for pastry and it was very strong.
Coming from Iran, she mostly develops her recipes by combining the aromas of the middle east with the flavors of the Mediterranean, specially Italy, where she has found her second home.