Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

An American friend once explained to me that nobody ever locks their car in her small town… except when it’s zucchini season. Leave your door unlocked then, and you risk coming back to find a crate of zucchini left on your passenger seat.

You see, zucchini plants grow with supernatural vigor, and when harvest season comes around, gardeners are overloaded with their crop, so they’re desperately seeking ways to use it productively.

Chocolate & Zucchini Cake To The Rescue!

And one of the popular uses of a zucchini glut — aside from abandoning it on the steps of the church — is baking quick breads and cakes, including chocolate and zucchini cake, because everything tastes better with chocolate, even zucchini.

I myself did not pick the name of my blog in reference to this cake: I chose it to illustrate the two sides of my culinary personality, my love of fresh, seasonal produce as well as my appreciation for desserts. But knowing about this zucchini baking tradition, I couldn’t not have a Chocolate & Zucchini Cake in my repertoire.

I am not a gardener myself, so I just get my zucchini from the greenmarket, and over the years and the batches, I have tweaked my Chocolate & Zucchini Cake recipe to get it just right for my taste.

It produces a delightfully fluffy cake with a crisp outer crust. The advantage of using grated zucchini in the batter is that it provides extra moisture, allowing you to reduce the overall amount of butter — not that there’s anything wrong with butter, but this cake feels less heavy than most. And there is no way anyone can taste the zucchini in there, as the strands meld with the batter and disappear.

In addition to being a deep and beautiful shade of brown, this chocolate zucchini cake has a voluptuous chocolate flavor. We can thank the cocoa powder and chocolate chunks for that, and also the dash of coffee. This is a trick that my grandmother taught me, and it’s a good one to keep in mind for any chocolate cake; you can’t identify the coffee as such, but it makes the flavor of the chocolate that much more vivid.

Got zucchini? Here are more ideas to use it:
Zucchini Tarte Fine,
Oven-Roasted Ratatouille,
Zucchini Noodle Salad.

Continue reading »

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

Every summer when the good local tomatoes arrive, I think I will never ever get enough of them. I picture myself diving into a ball pit filled with tomatoes and paddling about for hours like kids do at IKEA.

But then after a few weeks of tomato frenzy, I am suddenly faced with what seemed utterly impossible before: we have too many tomatoes to eat them all.

Tomatoes

And that’s when I start making batches of slow-roasted tomatoestomates confites in French — which are a fine way to eat them, in salads, sandwiches, and pasta dishes, and also freeze really well.

Contrary to what some recipes have you do, I don’t skin the tomatoes before roasting because I don’t mind the skin and who wants to skin plum tomatoes in the summer heat?

Tomatoes

It usually take two and a half hours in my oven to get the tomatoes to the consistency I’m looking for, the edges wilted and curled, but still the memory of plump flesh. This is quite different from sun-dried tomatoes, which tend to be a bit leathery for my taste.

Slow-roasting concentrates the tomato flavor in subtle and beautiful ways, and accentuates their sweetness.

I typically choose to season my slow-roasted tomatoes with salt and pepper, and sometimes ground chili pepper or dried herbs. It depends if I want to make “plain” tomates confites, and add my choice of herb when using them in a dish, or want them pre-seasoned.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

Continue reading »

Shakshuka

These days our produce guy is all about tomatoes — big and small, ribbed, smooth, or pointy, red, yellow, green, or pearl — and at the rate I’m going, I am bound to turn into one very soon. I’ve been making tomato salads and sandwiches like they’re going out of style, I’ve been making tomato tarts and tomato tarragon bread soup, and I’ve been mixing batches of gazpacho.

(My two stand-by tomato tarts are the tomato tart tatin and the tomato mustard tart respectively featured in my first and second cookbooks. Get yourself a copy of Chocolate & Zucchini and of The French Market Cookbook today!)

Another one of my top uses for this tomato bounty is shakshuka, a preparation that can be found in slightly different incarnations across North Africa and the Middle East. My first encounter with it was in Janna Gur’s excellent Book of New Israeli Food, which I told you about here and here, and I have since become acquainted with the Tunisian version as well.

A not-so-distant cousin of Provence’s ratatouille, Corsica’s pebronata, and the Basque piperade, shakshuka is most commonly a dish of tomatoes stewed with onions, bell peppers, and chili peppers. This forms a thickish sauce, in which eggs are cooked — either scrambled or (my preference) undisturbed so they’re halfway between poached and sunny side up.

It is a simple, family-style dish that is quickly assembled, and highly flexible.

You can:
– add other vegetables, especially zucchini or eggplant that you’ll cook in the sauce; artichoke hearts, drained from a jar; and diced potatoes, which you should boil beforehand,
– substitute quality canned tuna or merguez (spicy beef sausages) for the eggs,
– garnish the dish with black olives and parsley or cilantro, as I like to do, or serve it plain,
– serve the sauce with lamb skewers or other grilled meats (just not pork, for cultural consistency),
– freeze the sauce for later use: think how thrilling it will be to eat shakshuka in November!

Some recipes call for roasting the bell peppers first, which is good if you find them hard to digest, but I don’t think anyone wants to fire up the oven more than strictly necessary when it’s hot out. Others suggest you peel the tomatoes, but it seems unnecessarily fussy to me.

If your spice rack boasts a Moroccan spice mix, such as ras el hanout, now would be a good time to use it, in place of the separate spices (cumin, caraway, paprika, turmeric, and cinnamon) I’ve included. And if you don’t have a mix, and you don’t have all the spices listed either, don’t worry about it too much and just use what you have.

About the cinnamon I use

I am in love with the fresh cinnamon I order from Cinnamon Hill, a small company that specializes in sourcing and selling the highest-quality, freshest cinnamon from Sri Lanka and Vietnam (ordinary cinnamon usually comes from China or Indonesia). I get whole sticks, and grate them with the beautifully crafted (and highly giftable!) cinnamon grater that Cinnamon Hill has designed. Truly, you don’t know what cinnamon tastes like until you’ve tried freshly harvested, freshly grated, top-grade cinnamon, and it makes an amazing difference in this recipe.

Get your FREE seasonal produce calendar!

If you're excited about greenmarkets, in Paris and beyond, you need my seasonal produce calendar; it's FREE to download! I've drawn up this handy guide to tell you what's in season when, and how long things will stay fresh, so you can cook healthy, colorful meals and not waste a single lettuce leaf, like, ever.

Shakshouka

Continue reading »

Raspberry Yogurt Cake

Raspberry Yogurt Cake

Yogurt Cake is a staple of French home baking: it is very easy to make and I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t like it.

What’s notable about the method is that it calls for two (half-cup) tubs of yogurt, and you then use the empty tubs to measure out the rest of the ingredients. This no-scale recipe is a rare exception to the French usage, in which quantities are measured by weight rather than volume.

Raspberry Yogurt Cake

It is very popular with kids, who love a simple, moist and fluffy cake. But what they particularly enjoy is that they can make it almost entirely on their own, perched on a kitchen stool. There is no complicated step, no scale to fiddle with, and with the intensive sandbox training they have, they are usually experts at the emptying and filling of small-sized containers.

Mini Cookbook of French Tarts

The basic gâteau au yaourt recipe lends itself to a lot of great variations. You can add citrus juice, zest, or peel for a delicious lemon or orange cake, you can add chocolate chips or nuts to the batter, you can slice the baked cake in two and spread a layer of jam in the middle, you can frost the cake with a chocolate frosting… Whatever strikes your fancy.

Raspberry Yogurt Cake

I especially like this variation, in which I fold raspberries (fresh or frozen) into the batter, and substitute almond flour for part of the flour. The berries bring delightful tart notes, and the almond flour make the cake even moister.

We typically have this as an afternoon treat, but it is such a subtly sweet cake, it would be perfect for breakfast or brunch as well.

Raspberry Yogurt Cake

Continue reading »

Sparkling Honey Ginger Lemonade

Sparkling Honey Ginger Lemonade

I am coming to you today with the beverage that will keep you cool and hydrated and energized throughout the summer.

It is a sparkling honey ginger lemonade that I make with fresh ginger — infused in hot water for a few minutes — and fresh lemon juice, sweetened lightly with artisanal honey, and top up with sparkling water.

It is immensely refreshing on sweltering days, such as we’ve had in Paris lately. It is also a heathy summer drink, bringing you the immunity-boosting benefits of ginger, lemon juice, and honey to ward off those weird summer colds one catches sometimes.

Sparkling Honey Ginger Lemonade

This honey ginger lemonade is, naturally, very easy to prepare — if making lemonade becomes a project, you’re doing it wrong. I am only offering a recipe because I fiddled with the details of the preparation before I landed on the just-right ratio of ingredients, and how long to infuse the ginger for, so I’m saving you a little bit of experimentation. That said, you may prefer your lemonade a little sweeter — I like it pretty tart — so feel free to adjust accordingly.

If you like sparkling water as much as I do, but don’t like to lug home and then have to recycle all those plastic bottles, consider getting a sodastream machine, which carbonates regular water with the push of a button. We’ve have ours for years now — a fabulous gift from my sister and brother-in-law — and it still brings me the same joy and delight every time I use it. (Actually, I don’t get to use it much these days as my sons fight over the privilege.)

And if you or one of your friends don’t drink alcohol, this is a wonderful cocktail hour option, too.

Sparkling Honey Ginger Lemonade

More refreshing beverages for you:

Continue reading »

Get the newsletter

Receive FREE email updates with all the latest recipes, plus exclusive inspiration and Paris tips. You can also choose to be notified when a new post is published.

View the latest edition of the newsletter.