Once again the troops converge at this time of year, usually at my grandma’s house. This year was no different. To be honest, and I know I’m committing some sort of foodie blasphemy here, I don’t remember exactly what we had. Gimmie a break though – it has been over six whole months.
Well, for one, I know we had potato salad, as two of my cousins and myself went over to our grandma’s on Saturday to assemble said salad. Grandma had the potatoes boiled, we were there for the chopping, mayonnaise-adding, seasoning, and – most importantly – tasting. Truth be told, the tasting part was actually pretty important and not just for my cousins’s and my benefit. You see, our family has some very passionate views on mayonnaise. Most of us like it – at least to some degree – but there are some of us who do not – who rather loathe it quite vehemently. Our grandma happens to be one of those people, thus she was not about to taste it to see what, if anything, it needed to reach potato salad perfection. That being said, there are very strict requirements for how to make the potato salad. Green peppers, red onions, celery, hard-boiled eggs, chopped pimentos, and mayonnaise are mandatory. My grandma’s potato salad was actually the content of my very first post, except that particular potato salad was for Mother’s Day. There was probably a ham and some other sort of salad. I know, I know – total foodie blasphemy.
So to try and detract attention from my horrible culinary sin let’s talk about the food I do remember. For as many Easters as I can remember back – so for the past 3-5 years – I’ve made an almond cake. The first year I made it for our family’s Easter dessert table, the year after that I may have brought it unsolicited (I’m just that excited about it), but this year I didn’t bring it – in part because I hadn’t yet finished it. I had to leave the house and it had just come out of the oven. It had to stay home and patiently await my return. I won’t lie to you – it wasn’t one of the prettiest cakes of all, but it was no Cake Wreck either. Just a little scruffy around the edges and, thanks to my oven and lack of turning it halfway through, a little darker on one side – but only very slightly! It was then dusted with powdered sugar – usually a step I’m not fond of in recipes for whatever reason, but one I’m coming around to, especially when it covers up little blemishes. My next order of business, naturally, was to have a slice of said almond cake. And, boy, was it good! Just like always. :) Aside from the prominent almond flavor thanks to almond paste – which I’ve since fallen in love with – one of my favorite parts about the cake is the addition of cornmeal to the batter. It provides a sort of graininess and extra crunch, if you will, that is just so satisfying to chew on. It’s not too light, not too heavy, with a lovely tender crumb. I like that it is a little heft to it, but definitely won’t weight you down. Its beautiful yellow color doesn’t hurt the experience either. I guess I should mention where I got the recipe from. It’s from Giada De Laurentiis’s first book, “Everyday Italian.” She says that it is an adaptation of an Il Fornaio recipe. Coincidentally, Il Fornaio was one of my favorite restaurants as a little girl. But that’s a whole other story for a whole other time. I cut down the cornmeal by half, however, because I wasn’t sure if I wanted that much crunch the first time I made it. I added extra cake flour to compensate. I haven’t changed it since.
Now onto my Easter dinner. Sure, sure, I’d already had the holiday feast earlier in the day, but, hey, can’t a girl be a little gluttonous? It was a holiday after all, and what are holidays for if not over-eating? Given the success of my first foray into Jamie Oliver’s recipes and given that it was Easter – which means lamb or ham and we’d already done the ham earlier in the day – I planned (yes, I was planning on being gluttonous a few days ahead of time) on making his Asparagus, Mint, and Lemon Risotto. I was so intrigued by this recipe – mint in a savory dish? Hmm, I wasn’t so sure about this. But it had definitely caught my attention. Plus, mint and asparagus just scream spring and, therefore, would be very appropriate for an Easter dinner. Having made a small lamb loin to accompany my first attempt at my grandma’s lentil soup only a few days prior, I decided to go with another small lamb loin. I marinated the lamb for about thirty minutes in some garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh rosemary, salt, and pepper. Once the risotto was all but done I just cooked the lamb in a skillet, trying to make sure it got a decent color of brown and was cooked through. In the meantime, I started on the risotto. This was my first time ever attempting a true risotto. I got so much joy from making this dish. The cute cut up pieces of asparagus, the surprise of the mint, the fresh citrus zing from the lemon zest, and the final addition of the Parmigiano-Reggiano made this a dish I dreamt about and craved for days after. Truthfully, I don’t know why I haven’t yet made it again. That actually makes me kind of sad. Hopefully it will be remedied soon. But to anyone that is afraid of mint in savory dishes I highly recommend you try this. I’ll admit I was a skeptic – even after the revelation that was Cheat’s Homemade-Pappardelle with Quick Tomato Sauce – but Mr. Oliver did not disappoint. At all.
Adapted from “Everyday Italian” by Giada De Laurentiis
¼ cup fine yellow cornmeal
¾ cup cake flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup almond paste, cut into small pieces
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups confectioner’s sugar, plus more for dusting
4 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
¼ cup sour cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour an 8-inch round cake pan.
Whisk together cornmeal, cake flour, and baking powder. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and almond paste on high speed until smooth. Reduce speed to low and beat in vanilla extract. Gradually add 1 1/4 cups of confectioner’s sugar, beating until the mixture is light and fluffy. Increase speed to high and beat in egg yolks and whole eggs, one at a time. Reduce speed to medium and add sour cream and dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated.
Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake about 35 minutes, or until sides slightly come away from the pan. Transfer cake to wire rack and let cool, then dust additional confectioner’s sugar.