Someone was on our roof at 5:38am on Tuesday morning. Only about 2 inches of ceiling separates our apartment and the sky. I know because we can see the bottom half of all the nails that hold our roof together. Any movement above us basically sounds like Bigfoot doing a lively jig. At first I was mad. Then I decided to get up, make coffee, and get an unpleasant gym visit out of the way. Beauty rest be damned.
I’m not an early morning person. I wish I were. But I’ve learned something that helps me. It just so happens that the physical act of smiling releases something that makes you actually feel happier. Endorphins or something. Truly. Even if you’re just fake smiling. It really works. I do it almost every morning. Despite how silly it looks, I immediately feel happier. My disturbing, no-emotion-behind-the-eyes, hideous-bite-guard smile has attitude changing power. I bet that is pretty unsettling for Gus. So on Tuesday I put on a big creepster smile and got out of bed.
As soon as I got outside I was happy to be up. The neighborhood is really pretty in the morning. No one shopping. No one brunching. It was mostly empty and plenty sunny, even green in spots. There was also a strange but familiar smell in the early morning breeze. A permeating, oily scent. Savory and rich. Definitely weird but not unpleasant. You’ll never guess.
It didn't take long to figure it out. The entire block smelled like deep-fried eggplant! Surprisingly appetizing, even before 8am. It was still there on my way back home . And it didn’t stop on the curb. Eggplant rollatini parmesan lasagna followed me right up to the door, into the vestibule, and up all 6 flights to my apartment door. I was charmed. Little Italy, you’re so Little Italyish sometimes! It makes me love you. And I never would have gotten that treat had that old sasquatch not decided to practice his two step that morning.
The smell followed me into the kitchen so it felt right to bake something with an Italian essence this week. Pistachio cake seems like something they’d make in Sicily, where those gorgeous Bronte pistachios grow. And, I happened to have some leftover pistachio paste in my fridge that needed a happy home. So here you go. A tender, green pistachio cake studded with chocolate. Baked by me for you and inspired by Little Italy.
Pistachio Cake with Chocolate
Serves 8 to 10
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup pistachio paste
1/2 cup whole milk, at room temperature
3 ounces chocolate, chopped (I used milk chocolate because that’s what I had. Use whatever you like)
1/4 cup pistachios, coarsely chopped
confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter a 9-inch springform pan (unless it’s nonstick – then you skip that step). In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then beat in the pistachio paste. Beat until smooth. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk in three additions, beating a bit between each, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Fold in the chocolate.
2. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and smooth top. Sprinkle with pistachios. Bake until golden brown around the edges and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 26 to 30 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool 10 minutes. Cut around the edges and then release the sides of the pan from the cake. Serve cake warm or at room temperature.