Savory almond cake with toasted beets, beet greens, goat cheese and asparagus

Savory almond cake with beets and asparagus

Savory almond cake with beets and asparagus

Last night we went to Isaac’s poetry cafe. I’ve got to start wearing dark glasses and a veil to these things, because I find them so moving that by the end I’m a puddle, despite my cynical and cantankerous nature. The kids are adorable, obviously, but it’s not this that gets me. It’s the raw, pure emotion–they’re all so animated and nervous and happy it just kills me. They’re not used to reading at all, let alone reading aloud. They stand at the front of the room, glance at their teacher, take a deep breath, and then they dive into the river of words–their words! They paddle through, head down, voice low and hushed, in a barely audible muddle, and then they’re done, they reached the other side, they’re elated, they nailed it. And it’s all so beautiful! Even when you can’t distinguish the words, the poems are full of rhythm and emotion. They’re about what they love and who they are, and these things are so clear and certain when you’re little–constantly changing and evolving, but not yet muddied and confused. They’re seven years old, so the poems are sincere in the best sense of the word. These kids aren’t trying to sell anything, or prove anything, at this age they’re not even worried about getting a good grade. They’re just telling you how they feel, and it’s so joyful and funny and even disarmingly profound in spots that you want to laugh and cry at the same time. Or at least I do. How long before the boys forbid me to attend events at their school? The whole class read a song about keeping a poem in your heart and a picture in your head, so you won’t be lonely, and this is such a perfectly Ordinary idea–this is what it’s all about! Not that you memorize a poem and walk around reciting it to yourself, but that everything is a poem or a picture, if you take the time to notice and collect it in your head in a way that you’ll remember it–with words or images or memories. My beloved OED defines a poem as “A piece of writing or an oral composition, … in which the expression of feelings, ideas, etc., is typically given intensity or flavour by distinctive diction, rhythm, imagery.” This is it exactly! Everything in your life can be given intensity and flavor, if you wake up and live. It sometimes seems that “they” are trying to make us slow and dull and stupid, so we’ll buy more that we don’t need. So I say, don’t watch the dumb shows, don’t eat the fast food, make your own meals, think your own thoughts, with passion and creativity! Nobody can take this away from you. In my visit to the OED, I also discovered the word “poeming,” as in composing or reciting poems, and I will tell you that the children in Isaac’s class were engaged in “Loud Tawkings and Poemings.” Yes they were. And so should we all be.

Savory almond cake with beets and asparagus

Savory almond cake with beets and asparagus

Yesterday at the flea market we met a French couple selling baking pans. I liked them so much, in an instant. They seemed so kind and friendly. We bought a half dozen pans of surprising proportions, and I’m excited to use them all. One was very large with straight sides about 1 1/2 inches high. I knew right away that I wanted to make a big savory cake in it. I’m fascinated by the idea of savory cakes, because I don’t think I’ve seen it anywhere, and I wonder why. We have savory pies and savory pancakes, but not savory cakes. I’ve experimented a bit, with a cake with chard and chickpea flour, and one with cornmeal and beets. This particular cake had ground almonds, and I made it like a savory version of a gateau basque, so it had two layers, combined on the edges, and containing a filling of toasted beets, mozzarella, goat cheese, beet greens and asparagus. And the asparagus tips are on top for decoration. I thought it was really delicious. Unexpected, with nice flavors and textures. Not too soft, not too dry. I was happy with the way it turned out! If you don’t happen to have a big French cake pan, you can use a regular cake pan or a small roasting pan.

Here’s Bob Marley with Wake Up and Live

THE BATTER

1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds
2 cups flour
1 t salt
2 t baking powder
lots of freshly ground pepper
1 stick butter, softened
4 eggs
1 cup milk soured with 1 t balsamic vinegar

In a food processor, process the almonds till ground. Add the flour, salt, pepper and baking powder and process till mixed. Cut in the butter in small pieces, and process till mixed and crumbly. Add the eggs and process till smooth, add the milk and process till smooth.

THE VEG

1 large beet, peeled and grated
1 t balsamic vinegar
1 T olive oil
1 large bunch beet greens, or combination of beet greens and chard, or just chard, washed and de-stemmed (about 4 or 5 cups)
small bunch asparagus, woody ends cut off
1 T olive oil
1 t red pepper flakes
1 clove garlic, minced
1 t dried sage or 1 T fresh
1 t dried rosemary or 2 t fresh, chopped
1 t dried thyme or 2 t fresh

Preheat the oven to 425, or use your toaster oven. Combine the beets, olive oil and balsamic and toast or roast until dark and fragrant. It will be crispy on the edges but soft in the middle. SHould be about 15 – 20 minutes.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and drop in the greens. Boil for about 10 minutes (slightly less if you’re only using chard). Put the asparagus in a strainer over the boiling water, cover, and boil for a few minutes until bright green and tender. Drain. Run cool water over the greens and drain, ringing in your hands until as dry as you can get them. Chop them quite finely.

Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, pepper and herbs. Cut the tips of the asparagus to be 2 or 3 inches long and set aside. Chop the rest of the asparagus into small pieces. Put these in the skillet along with the greens, stir to combine and cook for a minute or two. Season with salt and pepper.

TO ASSEMBLE

1/3 cup goat cheese
1/2 cup thinly sliced mozzarella
olive oil for the pan

Preheat the oven to 425, and put a generous coating of olive oil in a large cake pan or small roasting pan.

Pour half the batter into the pan in an even layer. Top with the greens, leaving about 1 1/2 inch margin all around. Layer the mozzarella over the greens. Combine the toasted beet with the goat cheese, and stir just to combine. Layer this over the mozzarella. Pour the remaining batter over the top, spreading with the back of a spoon to fill in any holes and make a smooth layer. Arrange the asparagus spears prettily on top.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the top is puffed and golden. Let cool slightly, slice, and serve.

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6 thoughts on “Savory almond cake with toasted beets, beet greens, goat cheese and asparagus

  1. I love the poetry café. I must tell the staff at Ivan’s school! I’ve noticed something that’s a big ol’ shame – that when parents go to parents’ evenings at their children’s school, they’re only interested in looking at their own child’s work. Why? Why wouldn’t they want to look at the work of other children in the class – not to compare them with their own child’s, but just to see the breadth and variety. (And why is it always parents’ evening? What’s wrong with grandparents?)

    • It was a really nice evening. And everybody was welcome! I saw a few grandparents there. The teacher made books of everybody’s poetry to send home, so you could read a few from each child. It’s so sweet to see the ways they’re similar, and then the ways each child is like nobody else. They’re ALL so bright and funny and full of life.

  2. Made a very successful (if I say so myself!) version of this last night. Lazier, as it was just pan fried mushrooms &goats cheese instead of beets(with spring greens instead of beet tops) so it lacked some of the presentational panache, but such satisfying flavours!
    Thank you!

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