Overnight Healthy Rye and Spelt Loaf

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I would love to make you believe that I spent days elaborating a new recipe for a healthy and delicious bread. That I experienced, tried and tested various formulas until one day, exhausted but elated, I triumphed…Alas, the truth about how this bread came to be is that a few weeks ago, as I was setting up to mix a loaf, I realized I only had near-empty packets or various flours! Then epiphany hit me: mix them together and hope for the best! My, was I happy with the result! A crusty, dense and flavorsome loaf, perfect for sandwiches, divine with jam!

INGREDIENTS, makes 1 loaf

300 gr of spelt flour (2-1/4 cup)

200 gr of rye flour (1- 1/4 cup)

70 gr of wholemeal spelt flour (1/3 cup +2 tablespoons)

1 teaspoon of dry yeast

1 pinch of sugar or 1 teaspoon of honey

370 ml (1-1/2 cup) of water, at room temperature

2 teaspoons of salt flakes

HOW TO

1. Start this recipe a day ahead.

2. Mix the three flours together in a large bowl, add the dry yeast and sugar (or honey) and gradually add the water, mixing with a spoon until a soft dough forms. Try not to add all the water at once. As flours always vary, it is better to start with 2/3 of the water and only then you can decide if you need the extra liquid. You are after a rather sticky dough, but not a wet one. If your dough feels too dry after you have used all the liquid, add 1-2 extra table spoons.

3. Once the dough has been mixed (you can easily do this by hand as it requires no kneading, just mixing until combined), add the salt and mix until well incorporated.

4. Cover the bowl with plastic film and leave at room temperature for 6-8 hours, then move to the fridge to rest overnight.

5. The next morning, take the dough out of the fridge and let it rest at room temperature for 2 hours.

6. Heat up your oven to 220 C (430 F)

7. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and very gently shape the dough into a loaf, being mindful not to knock out the air. Prove at room temperature for 40 minutes, then score the top with a sharp knife, sprinkle the loaf with a little water and place the tray into the oven.

8. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the top is crusty and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Cool at room temperature on a wire rack for 1 hour before slicing.

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Potato and Shallot Frittata

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Please allow me to introduce you to one of the most classic Italian staples: the humble frittata! No Italian household can be such without the fundamental ritual of frittata making. Frittata perfectly incapsulates the genuine spirit of Italian Cucina Povera (peasant cuisine), a cost effective way of cooking that relies mainly on fresh, inexpensive, seasonal ingredients, cooked simply and with love. The other undeniable marvel of frittata is that it is delicious plain, but can be enriched with most ingredients, from goat cheese, to sweet and sour capsicum (peppers), to hot chillies or flaked smoked salmon. To make it even trendier, it is completely gluten-free and, if you follow this recipe and replace potatoes for kumara and omit the milk, it can accommodate the taste of Paleo enthusiasts as well. Did I mention it’s ever-so- easy to make?

INGREDIENTS, serves 4-6

2 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced to 1/2 cm thick (1/4 inch)

2 French shallots, thinly sliced

4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

6 organic, free-range eggs (because we can’t support battery eggs any longer)

2 tablespoons of milk

salt and pepper for seasoning

mixed herbs

bread for serving

HOW TO

1. Turn on the grill function in your oven.

2. Boil the potato slices for 5 minutes in salted water. Drain carefully and set aside.

3. Heat up the oil in a medium-sized non-stick frying pan, add the shallots, herbs and potato slices, season with salt and stir fry over medium heat for 3-4 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through and the shallots are translucent and golden.

4. Turn the heat to high, beat the eggs with a fork, add seasoning and milk and drop the mixture into the potato and shallot pan.

5. Swirl the pan around to make sure most of the egg mixture is cooking. Use a wooden spoon or a spatula to lift some of the set eggs and allow the liquid mixture to move to the bottom of the pan.

6. Place the pan in the oven, leaving the door ajar. Keep an eye on it as it will only take a few minutes to set completely and develop a slight tan.

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Serve hot, warm or cold with a scattering of fresh herbs and crusty bread, if liked. Left overs make a mean stuffing in for the ultimate panino!

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Chicken, Sausage and Pumpkin Bake (Pollo al forno con salsiccia e zucca)

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Italian home-cooking can be explained in a simple equation: a few fresh ingredients + a bit of love = happy diners! This is always the case at my house, where we celebrate the abundance of the exquisite produce we get … Continue reading

Ravioli di Zucca, Cannella and Amaretti (Pumpkin, Cinnamon and Amaretti Ravioli)

DSC_2737A large platter of home-made filled pasta, such as ravioli, tortelli and cannelloni, is always on offer at the Italian Christmas table. Any pasta that is home-made requires that extra amount of labour in the kitchen, and Christmas is the perfect occasion to show your love for friends and family by treating them with the fruits of your work. Or, you can share the load and create a beeline of helpers to roll, fill and shape these delectable nuggets.  If the idea of making your own pasta still scares you, you can use store bough egg wanton wrappers. I won’t judge! You will need about 60 squares. Tortelli with roasted pumpkin and cinnamon, topped with crushed amaretti cookies have been on my family Christmas eve table for as long as I can remember. Yes, this is a laborious dish to prepare, so make sure you are armed with plenty of love, dedication and, most importantly, Christmas spirit!

Love,

Silvia

INGREDIENTS

For the dough (serves 4-6)

4 eggs

400 gr (3- 1/2 cups) of 00 flour

a pinch of salt

For the filling

500 gr (1 pound) of pumpkin (skin on), cut up into chunks

4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar

2 cloves of garlic, skin on

1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

salt and pepper for seasoning

3-4 sage leaves

100 gr (1 cup) of breadcrumbs

50 gr (1/2 cup) of grated parmesan

For the sauce

120 gr (1/2 cup) of butter

8-10 sage leaves

a pinch of salt

freshly ground black pepper

8-10 crunchy amaretti cookies (from Italian delis)

(You can make the filling up to 1-2 days as head and keep it in the fridge)

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HOW TO 

1. Preheat the oven to 200 C, 390 F

2. Place the cut up pumpkin in an oven tray lined with baking paper, season with oil, cinnamon, salt and pepper, scatter the garlic and the sage leaves and bake for 45-50 minutes or until soft

3. Scoop out the pumpkin flesh, squeeze the garlic out of its skin and pulse in a food processor until smooth. Add the breadcrumbs, the parmesan, taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. At this point I always like to add a little extra cinnamon, but it it entirely up to you to do so or not.

4. Rest the filling in the fridge for up to 48 hours.

To make the dough:

1. Place eggs, flour and salt in a food processor fitted with blades and pulse for 10-12 times or until the mixture resemble wet sand.

2. Tip the mixture onto a floured surface, press it together with your hands and knead it for a few minutes or until smooth

3. Cover the dough with plastic film and rest for 30 minutes to relax the gluten

4. Cut the rested dough into quarters. Work with one piece at a time and keep the rest wrapped in plastic film to prevent it from drying out. Flatten the piece of dough with the palm of your hand, then pass it through the machine’s widest setting three or four times, folding the dough into three each time. Continue passing the dough, each time through a thinner setting, until you get to the second-last setting or the sheet is roughly 2.5 mm thick

5. Dust your working bench with semolina, lay the long sheets of pasta onto it then dot them half way through with one teaspoon of the filling. Make sure to leave about 3 cm between each dollop.

6. Brush around filling with water to moisten. Fold sheet over; press down to seal.

7. Press around each mound to get rid of air bubbles (or the tortelli may burst when you cook them)

8. Cut into 4×4 cm squares with a pastry wheel. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

9. Lay the tortelli onto a platter dusted with semolina and try not to over lap them

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10. You can cook the Tortelli straight away or freeze them for up  to two weeks.

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To assemble the dish

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil

2. In the meantime, brown the butter with sage and a pinch of salt in a large heavy-based pan until the butter is a pale caramel color and the sage is crispy

3. Cook the Tortelli for 2-3 minutes or until ready and still nicely al dente

4. Using  a slotted spoon, lift them from the water and drop them onto the brown butter pan and sautee for 2-3 minutes or until all the torelli are nicely coated and slightly caramelized. Season them with freshly ground black pepper

5. Arrange the tortelli onto a large serving platter and top them with the fried sage and the crushed amaretti cookies. Serve hot!

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Cannellini Beans Stew, my Italian Baked Beans

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Say hallo to the perfect winter warmer, and quite the healthy fix too, if you are watching your diet. Pulses and winter are a wonderful marriage. When you need that extra nourishment that will keep you warm and energetic without impacting on your digestive system and your waist line,  you can safely turn to beans. I love all varieties, but I confess a weakness for the pearly and silky Cannellini. You can buy great tinned ones these days and you shouldn’t be made feel guilty if you’d rather quickly open a tin a of goodness now instead of soaking your beans yesterday…This is fast food at its best. In a matter of minutes you’ll feel warm and cosy again.

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

2 tins of cannellini beans, well drained (or 1- 1/2 pounds of dried beans soaked over night and simmered for 2 hours or until cooked through)

2 French shallots, thinly sliced

1 celery stick, thinly sliced, 1 garlic clove, bashed with the back of a knife

1/4 cup of diced smoked pancetta, or speck, or chorizo (omit for a vegetarian option)

1/2 chillie, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

2 tins of tomatoes, chopped (or home-made passata)

1-2 sprigs of rosemary

a pinch of sugar

a drizzle of balsamic vinegar

celery leaves

salt to taste

bread or soft polenta for serving

HOW TO

1. Heat up the oil in a large, heavy based frying pan. Add the sliced shallot, garlic, chillie and celery and stir-fry over medium heat for 2-3 minutes or until fragrant and soft.

2. Add the pancetta or chorizo and cook together with the vegetables for a further 2-3 minutes.

3. Add the drained beans, combine the ingredients well with a wooden spoon, the add the tinned tomatoes (or passata), a pinch a sugar and the rosemary sprig. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the sauce has reduced. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly.

4. Turn off the heat, drizzle a little balsamic vinegar on top, scatter a few celery leaves and serve with grilled ciabatta  or soft polenta.

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Vin Cotto Roasted Rainbow Carrots

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I have an undeniable weakness for heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables. My heartbeat accelerates at the glorious sight of gnarly shaped heritage tomatoes, miniature beets specked with gold and rippled in pink patterns, or baby carrots painted in vivid yellow and purple hues. I could not resist grabbing a few bunches of these gifts of the heart during my last trip at the farmers market. A splash of oil, a gentle coating of apulian vincotto and a scattering of fresh herbs is all that’s needed to complement their natural sweetness.

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

2 bunches of baby rainbow carrots (or orange dutch carrots)

3 tablespoons of Extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons of Vin Cotto * (replace with balsamic vinegar if needed)

salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

freshly picked thyme and marjoram leaves (or oregano)

1 garlic clove, bashed with back of a knife

HOW TO

1. Preheat your oven to 200 C (390 F)

2. Wash and scrub the carrots, remove the stalks and the leaves. Place carrots in a large bowl and season with oil, vin cot to, salt, pepper, garlic and herbs

3. Place the seasoned carrots onto an oven tray lined with baking paper and roast in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until nicely golden and slightly blistered.

4. Serve warm or cold as a side or as a salad mixed with peppery arugula leaves.

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*From Wikipedia:

Vincotto (translated as “cooked wine”) is a dark, sweet dense condiment produced artisanally in the Apulia region of southeastern Italy. It is made by the slow cooking and reduction over many hours of non-fermented grape must until it has been reduced to about one fifth of its original volume and the sugars present have caramelized. It can be made from a number of varieties of local red wine grapes includingPrimitivoNegroamaro and Malvasia Nera, collected after being allowed to wither naturally on the vine for about 30 days.

Vincotto has a sweet flavor, and is not a form of vinegar, though a sweet vinegar version can be produced using a vincotto as a base. This additional product is called a Vinegar of Vincotto, Vincotto Vinegar, or Vincotto balsamic and can be used in the same way as a good mellow Balsamic vinegar.”

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Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Cannellini Beans Salad

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Have you been looking for a super healthy recipe that combines nutritional virtues with great flavor? Look no further! In the one bowl you have the antioxidant powers of tomatoes, the good, necessary fats of extra-virgin olive oil, the antibacterial boost of garlic and the mood-elevating kick of rosemary. Add to this blissful mix the low-in-fat-high-in-iron, gluten-free, vegan-friendly and utterly delicious cannellini beans and you have granted yourself a beauty treatment for the insides that is sure to show its mighty benefits on the outside too. Whomever said that Italian food is not healthy ought to think again….

INGREDIENTS, serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a main meal accompanied with bread

600 gr (1.3 lb) of cherry tomatoes (I used mixed heirloom)

4 tablespoon of EVOO

2 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar (regular balsamic vinegar or verjuice are good substitutes)

A generous handful of mixed fresh herbs (thyme, oregano, rosemary)

Salt, to taste

freshly ground white or black pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon of sugar

1  tin of Cannellini beans, well drained and rinsed (if using dried-and-soaked beans, 450 gr (1 lb) will be more than enough)

HOW TO

1. If using dried beans, start this recipe a day ahead. Soak the beans in cold water overnight. The next day, rinse the beans, place them in a pot well covered in water, throw in some herbs and simmer for 1 hour or until tender. Cool the beans in the cooking liquid, taste for salt and adjust accordingly. Set aside until ready to use.

2. Preheat your oven to 160 C (320 F).

3. Put the washed tomatoes in a large bowl, leave some whole and cut the rest in half. Season with oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, sugar and herbs. Mix well.

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4. Pour the tomato mix onto a large roasting tray lined with baking paper. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until blistered, but still intact. Add the well-drained beans to the tomatoes while that are still warm, taste for seasoning and fix as required.

5. Serve warm as a side dish or accompanied by toasted sourdough for a more substantial meal.

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Mezzi Rigatoni with Smoked Salmon and cherry tomatoes (or, what happens when your husband returns from a fishing trip with 70 tins of smoked salmon…)

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Yes, I actually do happen to have 70 (70!) tins of privately caught, hot smoked Canadian salmon: bear with me this year, I can anticipate this is the first of very many  -let’s say…70!- posts on what to do with smoked salmon… This is what happens when my lovely husband Richard goes on a fishing trip to Canada with his older brothers, catches a salmon the size of a small whale and decides to have it smoked, canned and sent back to Australia. Lucky for me, it tastes divine. The flesh is succulent and pink and its subtle smoky flavour easily turns it into a delectable ingredient that can shine on its own, accompanied by a peppery rocket, cress and lemon salad, or can be used in innumerable dishes, from scrambled eggs, to potato salad or a main meal of mezzi rigatoni (or any short pasta you prefer) with stewed red onion, zucchini and cherry tomatoes. If you don’t happen to be married to an eccentric man who will forage his main ingredient in the Alaskan waters, don’t despair: most supermarkets and delis stock beautiful fillets of smoked Atlantic salmon or ocean trout and all it’s left for you to do it open up the package and flake away!

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INGREDIENTS

1 red onion, sliced

2 small zucchini, cut into rounds

2 garlic cloves, skin on, bashed with the back of a knife

EVOO

2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes, halved

1/4 cup of dry white wine

2×170 g (around 5 oz) tin of smoked salmon in brine or 1×320 gr (around 10 oz) of smoked salmon fillet

salt to taste

fresh oregano leaves for serving

320 gr (10 oz) of mezzi rigatoni or any short pasta you like

HOW TO

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.

2. In the meantime, stir fry the vegetables in 2-3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil for 2-3 minutes on medium-high heat. De-glaze the pan with white wine and allow to bubble away for 1-2 minutes or until the alcohol has evaporated.

3. Add the flaked, smoked salmon and the cherry tomatoes to the pan, toss and stir gently , then turn the heat off.

4. When the water comes to a rolling boil, drop in your pasta and cook for 6-7 minutes or until it’s just before a perfect Al Dente.

5. Turn the heat back on under the salmon and vegetable pan, add the strained pasta along with 3-4 tablespoons of pasta cooking water and cook together with the sauce for 1-2 minutes or until well coated. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly, keeping in mind that the smoked salmon is indeed quite sapid.

6. Serve hot with a drizzle of EVOO and fresh oregano leaves.

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Ricotta and Basil Gnocchi with Fresh Tomato Sauce (Gnocchi di Ricotta e Basilico al Pomodoro Fresco)

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My final days in Italy are, sadly, fast approaching. I have spent 6 weeks back home with my family in the company of my Italian folks, I’ve eaten more than I should, drank way too much Italian red wine, bundled myself and my boys in multiple layers of thermal clothing, scarves, hats and coats, played snow ball fights and I even skiied in the Dolomites for the first time in my life… And after such an intense winter time, I now feel an anchoring for summer, for peeling off a few layers of clothing, for walking barefoot and, more to the point, for vine-ripened tomatoes! The kind you ought to handle with care otherwise they burst in your hands, oozing out  their ruby, sweet liquor, their sticky seeds landing inexorably on the front of your freshly laundered white singlet… In 10 days, back in the Northern beaches of Sydney, I will be able to hit the farmers market and select, pick and eventually turn these summer jewels into Italian’s most loved pasta dressing: Passata di Pomodoro, fresh Tomato Sauce. And as I do that, I’m sure I will be missing my Italian family and the coziness of winter…Such is life!

INGREDIENTS (serves 4)

For the Ricotta Gnocchi (not to be confused with Potato Gnocchi)

450 g (2 1/2 cups) full-cream ricotta (using low-fat ricotta won’t work…Live a little!)

2 egg yolks

1/2 teaspoon salt flakes

1 pinch freshly ground white pepper

100–120 (2/3 cups) g plain flour, plus extra for dusting

2/3 cup (50 g) freshly grated parmigiano

5-6 leaves of basil, finely shredded

For the sauce

850 gr (2 lb) of fresh tomatoes (or 1 tin of good quality tinned tomatoes or your own Passata)

1-2 shallots (or 1 medium brown onion), finely chopped

4 tablespoons of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

1 garlic clove, skin on, bashed with back of a knife

1 small celery stick, finely chopped

salt flakes, to taste

a few yellow celery leaves

a handful of basil leaves

HOW TO

1. Start by making the sauce. Wash the tomatoes, score the top gently with a knife and blanch them in boiling water for 1 minutes. Plunge them  into cold water to allow the skin to come off easily. Peel the tomatoes, chop them roughly and set aside.

2. Heat up the oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan. Stir fry the shallots, celery and the garlic on medium heat for 1-2 minutes or until the shallots turn translucent and slightly golden and the garlic smells fragrant. Drop in the chopped tomatoes (or tinned tomatoes, if using. Or, if you’ve been amazingly good, your own Passata…), season with salt and cook on medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the celery and basil leaves. Cover with a lid and set aside.

3. In the meantime, make the gnocchi. Discard any excess liquid from the ricotta, then put it in a large mixing bowl with the egg yolks, cheese, salt and pepper. Add the flour and work with floured hands or a wooden spoon until you have a smooth, soft dough – it should be pliable, a little sticky but not too wet. Don’t be tempted to add lots of flour to make it easier to work the dough as the resulting gnocchi will almost certainly be dense and doughy. The secret to soft and pillowy gnocchi is to go easy with flour, use just enough to make the dough come together.

4. Flour your hands and cooking bench generously and divide the dough into 6 pieces. Take 1 piece, sprinkle it with flour and roll it with your hands to form a log. Cut the log into small rectangles and set them aside on a floured wooden board. Repeat with the remaining dough.

5. Turn the heat back on under the tomato sauce frying pan (on low). Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Drop the gnocchi, in two or three batches, into the pan of boiling water and stir gently.   Cook for 1–2 minutes or until they come up to the surface, then fish them out with a slotted spoon and drop them straight into the pan with the tomato sauce. Repeat until all the gnocchi are cooked.

6. Turn off the heat. Serve as it is or with freshly torn basil leaves and a good grating of Parmigiano.

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Roasted Carrot and Kale Chips Salad

If you have not heard yet of ‘kale chips’, then, quite frankly, where have you been? The ‘blogsphere’ has gone bonkers over this new healthy fad, and if it weren’t for the fact that I love -LOVE-  kale, I probably would have never had a go at making kale chips just to prove to myself I don’t follow the latest food trends…But the temptation was too high and, here I am, tail between my legs and sticky fingers in my mouth ready to be licked clean, as I gulp down another crunchy mouthful of this new foodie delight. The benefits of kale consumption are beyond good. Not only you will boost your immune system, give your blood a good clean and your insides a beauty treatments, your skin will get a rosy glow, your hair will shine and your DNA will be encouraged to repair damaged cells and  block the growth of cancer cells. So, add this little magic green to your shopping list, please! As much as kale chips have become one of my favorite nibbles to simply serve with a drink before dinner, I have also learnt that they marry happily with roasted root vegetables. Choose you favorite, although I will admit I can’t go past the beauty of the Dutch carrot; its block orange tone and mellow sweetness combined with the dark green and savoury robustness of kale turns this salad into a joy for the eyes, as well as the palate.

Ingredients for 4 people

10-12 medium carrots or 20 baby carrots

6-8 kale leaves, stalk removed, chopped

4-5 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar (if unavailable, use white wine vinegar mixed with 1 teaspoon of sugar)

1-2 good pinches of salt

freshly gourd white pepper (to taste)

How to

1. Pre-heat your oven to 180 C, 390 F

2. Scrub the carrots clean with a pairing knife or a vegetable peeler. Cut them in half lengthways, place them in a large mixing bowl and season them with the vinegar.

3. Add the chopped kale to the bowl and season with oil, salt and pepper.

4. Put the vegetables onto an oven tray lined with baking paper and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the carrots are soft and slightly sunburnt and the kale is crispy.

Serve as a side dish, with cheese  or however you prefer.

 

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