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

No-knead Spelt Focaccia with Potato and Zucchini

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Move over, white flour! The more recent diets trends have cast the spotilght on an ancient grain that has been enjoying a new-found popularity amongst home-bakers and those with a knack for healthy eating. Spelt, or dinkel wheat, contains a … Continue reading

Pumpkin Seed Wholemeal Bread Rolls

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I was overjoyed when my friend Alessandra, the talented woman behind Dinner in Venice, asked me if I could write a guest post on her blog. I had been inspired by her writing, her photography and her honest quest for the authenticity of Italian food since I started my own blog back in 2011. Like Ale, I am an italian-born woman, recently migrated in an English speaking country (Australia) and, just like Ale, I have been fascinated and enamoured with the bounty of local produce and diverse cuisine my new home-land had to offer. But, after migrating, I could not help missing my Bella Italia, the very scent of it, it’s flavor. My most unsatisfied carving was bread, real bread,  Il pane. Fragrant, crunchy and bronzed, with its inviting crackly crust and a moist and airy crumb. I have learnt to make it at home, from slow-prooving sourdoughs to yeast-risen ones, for more immediate gratification. And everytime a loaf is baking in my oven, I can simply close my eyes and smell my beloved Italy from my sunny Sydney kitchen.

INGREDIENTS, makes 6-8 rolls

2 cups of wholemeal (wholewheat) flour

1 cup of strong baker’s flour (or plain, or 00 flour)

300 ml (1-1/4 cup) of lukewarm water mixed with 1-1/2  tablespoons of dried yeast

1 teaspoon of honey or barley malt syrup

2 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil

1-1/2 teaspoons of salt

milk for brushing

2-3 handfuls of pepitas or any seeds you prefer

HOW TO

1. Place the flour in a large bowl, add the water and yeast, honey (or barley malt syrup) and oil.

2. Knead onto a floured bench for 3-4 minutes, then add the salt and keep keading for 3-5 minutes or until the dough is smooth and soft.

3. Rest the dough into a floured bowl and cover with a tea-towel.

4. After 30 minutes, stretch the dough to shape a rectangle, then fold it into three and onto itself. Place the dough back in the bowl. Repeat a second time after 30 minutes. Folding the dough will ensure the softest, moistest crumb.

5. Prove the dough in a warm spot until it has doubled in size.

6. Shape he dough into 6-8 rolls and place them closed together onto an oven tray lined with baking paper. Brush the top with milk, or buttermilk and top them with pepita seeds. Rest the rolls covered with a tea-towel for 30-45 minutes. In the meantime bring your oven to 200 C (390 F)

7. Bake the rolls for 30-35 minutes or until crusty and bronzed and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Allow to cool at room temperature before eating.

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The Real Italian Bruschetta

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Bruschetta (pronouced brus’ketta) is to an Italian as vital as a peanut butter sandwich is to an American. We may have it most days during summer, as a way to celebrate the most awaited season of tomatoes at their ripest and to use up stale bread that simply cannot be thrown out and wasted. It is a combination of simple and humble ingredients and for that it perfectly encapsulate Italian cooking at its best. In Italy we hardly ever stray from the classic combination of bread rubbed with garlic and seasoned with EVOO and salt, grilled on both sides and topped with the juiciest tomatoes you can get your hands on: San Marzano, Pachino, heirloom cherry tomatoes or the glorious oxheart variety. With their ruby-red flesh and the shape of a love heart, they turn my breakfast table into an instant feast for the eyes and the palate. Sweet consolation to the idea that the end of summer in nigh…DSCN0145

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

4 slices of 1 day-old sourdough

1 garlic clove, cut in half

2-3 oxheart tomatoes (depending on the size)

4 tablespoons of EVOO (or home-made basil oil)

salt to taste

basil leaves to serve

HOW TO

1. Place a griddle pan on the stove over high heat. You can also grill your bread on a BBQ or using the grill function in your oven.

2. Rub the bread with the cut size of the garlic.

3. Place the tomatoes on their side and slice them to your desired thickness. Season them with salt and EVOO.

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4. Dip the bread slices, on both sides, in the tomato dish to soak up some of the juices. This will turn your stale slice of bread in a delightful, savory morsel once grilled.

5. Grill the bread on both sides, top with the tomatoes and basil leaves and serve as a healthy breakfast or a light lunch.

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Focaccia Pugliese (home-made focaccia Apulian style)

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When it comes to the delicate matter of Focaccia the authentic, 100% born-and bred Italian proudly turns into a -very- opinionated baking expert. Be it as it may that most Italian would rather buy their focaccia at the local bakery instead of baking at home, they all seem to reach a common agreement when it comes to  texture, flavor and, most-importantly, the lightness of the crumb. Don’t try to sell an Italian a dense, doughy, thick bread, whose resemblance to authentic focaccia is a mere matter of those glistening holes dimpled on top. No, no, to the authentic Italian Focaccia connoisseur, that will not do. Focaccia, is not a bread. It is it’s very own creation and you will know you have sunken your teeth into the real thing, when you bite into a feather-light crumb, that comes apart with the slightest involvement of your jaws, leaving you wondering how on earth it is possible to pack so much flavor and such a delightful texture into one humble mouthful.

The secret is now unveiled!

Ingredients, adapted from my Focaccia Genovese recipe

1 tablespoon of dried yeast

3/4 cup lukewarm water

1 teaspoon of barley malt syrup or honey

320 gr (2 3/4 cups) 00 or plain flour

2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons of salt

For the glaze : 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil , 1 tablespoon of dried oregano, 1 cup of halved cherry tomatoes, salt flakes to taste.

How to

1. In a large bowl dissolve  yeast with water, add  flour, oil and  barley malt syrup or honey. Knead for 5 minutes, then add the salt.

2. Knead vigorously until it looks smooth and elastic (feel free to use an electric mixer with a dough hook).

3. Shape into a ball and rest for 20 minutes in a bowl, covered with a tea towel.

4. Stretch it with your hand to form a rectangle and fold into 3 or 4. This step will give strength and texture to your dough and is essential in order to obtain a soft, airy and chewy focaccia.

5. Place the folded dough in an oiled oven tray, cover it with a tea-towel and let it prove for around 90 minutes or until it doubles in size.

6. Once the dough has risen, stretch it out to cover the tray and sprinkle the surface with sea salt.

7. Let it rest for another 30 minutes, than, using your fingertips, press the dough down onto the tray to create lots of little holes.

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8. Drizzle the holes with the glaze and sprinkle with some more salt.

Bring your oven to 200 C (390 F) and bake for 20-25 minutes or  until it looks slightly golden and utterly irresistible…

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Beer and Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Flat Bread (Pizza Scima alla Birra)

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It has become a tradition now to kick off the new year with a bread-dedicated post. After all, I am a self-confessed avid baker (read “bread-baking addict”) and very little else elevates my culinary spirit to blissful excitement more than kneading, beating and shaping a starchy good. I have spent the last couple of weeks back home, visiting family and gorging on love, food and wine and I have been  inspired to fight the seasonal sense of laziness and get back into the kitchen (my mum’s, to be precise, as I am still in Milan), after trying a truly wonderful flat bread at Agriturismo Troilo, in Colle Zingaro, in the Abruzzo region (pictured at the bottom of the page), a few miles away from when my mum is from. Antonina, the talented home-cook who runs the place with grace and a true respect to the authenticity of regional food, didn’t shy away from giving me her recipe, which required 4 ingredients only: oil (good, local EVOO), OO flour, water and salt. The right ratio of those humble ingredients, provides a flaky, pastry-like dough, that crumbles in your mouth as you blissfully stuff it with morsels of home-made salami all happily washed down with a drop of Moltepulciano. It is similar to the recipe Signora Matilde once gave me (which I posted here), and just as good. Those Abruzzese women are a treasure trove of home-cooking secrets and it is vital to pass them on to make sure they are available to the generations to follow.

I have adapted Antonina’s recipes, using beer instead of water, for a slightly more robust flavor and to allow the natural yeast in beer to rise the bread slightly in the oven. Also, I have used a locally produced EVOO, so rich and intense its color is a vibrant hue of emerald green.

Ingredients (serves 4)

2-1/2 cups of OO flour (or plain flour)+ some for heading the dough

3/4 cup of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (I know, it’s a little extravagant, but it will impart the bread the most beautiful flavor. I wouldn’t advise replacing it for vegetable oil)

a little less than 3/4 cup of beer

1-1/2 teaspoons of salt

How To

Combine flour, oil, beer and salt in a bowl, and mix with a spoon until a dough forms. Knead the dough onto  floured surface for 3-4 minutes until soft nd smooth.

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It should be pliable and a little softer than egg-pasta dough. If it feels too sticky add a little extra flour. If too dry, add a little extra beer.

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Oil a baking dish and flatten the dough onto it. Score the dough with a pastry cutter to create a criss-cross pattern.

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Once the bread is baked and slightly cooled, the scoring will make it easier to cut in chunks. Bake at 200 C (395 F), conventional oven, for 30-35 minutes or until the top is bronzed and crunchy.

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Cool at room temperature for 10-15 minutes, then carefully lift out of the baking dish, break up into chunks and serve with cold cuts of meat and cheese for the ultimate antipasto.

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Home-made Panettone with Figs and White Wine

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For us Italians, very little speaks of Christmas as loudly as this dome-shaped famous bread. In fairness, to call it “bread” is a little far-fetched… May this be because of the generous presence of butter, eggs, sugar and dried fruits….yes, let’s be frank here, it’s a cake, and a very rich one! At Christmas though, I refuse to deprive myself of the joys and frivolities this season brings, even if it means accommodating a little extra cellulite along with merry spirit. I don’t know many people who would go through the trouble of baking Panettone at home. I won’t lie to you, this recipe is not for first-time bakers or for those who need instant gratification. It is not difficult, but it requires one thing that we all seem to lack a little these days: patience! My strongest advise is not to go near this unless to have some to spare. But if you are willing, and following detailed instructions is your strong suit, please, don your festive apron, play some merry carols and get ready!

 step 1

350 gr (2-1/4 cups) of sultanas, 100 gr (1 cup) of raisins, 250 (2 cups) gr of semi dried figs, soaked in a bowl with 200 ml (3/4 cup) of rum and enough water to cover them.

Soak for a minimum of 3 hours, preferably overnight

 step 2

Making the ferment (biga)

100 ml ( a little less than 1/2 cup)of milk

100 gr (3/4 cup) of flour

1 sachet of dry yeast

1 teaspoon of sugar or barley malt syrup.

Mix the ingredients in a bowl with a wooden spoon until combined. Cover with a tea towel and leave to prove for 1-1 1/2 hours, or until bubbly and doubled in size.

Step 3

Risen dough from step 2

200 ml (3/4 cup) of white wine or Prosecco

300 gr (2-1/2 cups) of 00 flour (or plain)

3 tablespoons of sugar

2 tablespoon of soft butter

Work the risen ferment with a spoon, then the wine (or prosecco, if you feel extra festive),  flour, sugar and the soft butter. Knead until all the ingredients are well incorporated and the dough is soft and smooth. Place back in the bowl, cover and leave to rest for 1 hour.

Step 4

Risen dough from step 3

290-320 gr (2- 3/4 cups) of 00 or Manitoba (or plain) flour

100 gr (1/2 cup) of sugar

3 tablespoons of honey

3 eggs

75 gr (1/3 cup) of soft butter, cubed

1 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract or paste

finely grated zest of 1 orange

dried fruit from step 1, drained

110 gr (1 cup) of candied peel dusted in a little flour.

Work the risen dough onto a floured board or use a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook (better option, if at all possible, because at this point the dough will be hard to handle), add 290 gr (2 cups) of 00 or Manitoba flour (or plain flour, if specialty flours are hard to come by),  sugar, honey and the eggs, one at a time. The dough will be sticky and difficult to work, but don’t despair, it will come together in the end! Add the butter and knead well to incorporate, adding 30-50 gr of extra flour if needed. Mix in the vanilla and zest. Knead for 20 minutes by hand or 7-10 minutes using a standing mixer, or until the dough is transparent and shiny when stretched with your fingers. Drain the fruit that has been soaking. Stretch the kneaded dough to shape a rectangle, cover with fruit and candied peel (if using), fold onto itself, then shape into a ball and leave to rest in an oiled bowl covered with a tea towel for 30 minutes.

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Step 5

Stretch the dough with your hands to shape a rectangle, fold into three and then onto itself to form a ball. Put the dough back in the oiled container and rest for 30 minutes. Then repeat the stretching and folding one more time. Place the dough to rest in the bowl covered with a tea towel for 2-3 hours or until doubled in size. Folding the dough will ensure you an even and soft texture, with a moist, creamy crumb. Worth the pain!

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Step 6

Prepare the moulds. This quantity will be enough for 2 large Panettone, 4 medium ones or 12 mini ones (perfect for edible gifts). Only fill the mould until it’s 3/4 full as the dough will rise in the oven when baking.

If not using a special panettone mould, you can use a round tin, lined with baking paper. Make sure to create a ring of paper tall enough to accommodate room for rising.

Prove the Panettone in its mould or tin for 2 hours at room temperature, uncovered, to encourage  the formation of a slightly crusty top. Make sure to sit the mould or tin on a tray, to easily transport it to the oven when ready to bake.

In the meantime, bring your oven temperature to 180 C (380 F). Place an empty metal bowl or a skillet in the lower rack of the oven to heat up.

Slash a large X on the top of the panettone and place a large knob of butter in the middle.

Place the tray in the oven, fill the empty metal bowl or skillet with iced water to create steam and close the door. The steam will encourage even rising and moisture.

Bake for 45–55 minutes or until evenly risen and the colour of dark caramel. A wooden skewer inserted in the centre should come out moist, but not doughy. If it looks like it’s browning too fast, cover it with baking paper, but keep in mind that the crust is supposed to be quite dark.

As a general rule, a large panettone will take 45-50 minutes, a medium one 35-40 and mini ones 25-30.

 Take the panettone out of the oven. If using a metal tin, let the bread cool completely in the pan before slicing and serving.

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If using a panettone mould, pierce two long metal skewers or knitting needles all the way through the bottom half of the panettone and through the paper. Hang the panettone upside-down over a large stockpot or between two objects of equal height.  Cool it for a minimum of 6 hours.

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Love,

Silvia

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Frittelle, Italian savoury donuts

No matter how loudly nutritionists will speak against deep-fried food, I do allow myself and my children the occasional indulgence. I fiercely stand by my credo that “once in a while” will do you no harm, and, quite frankly, if it makes you happy when you eat it, than it’s got to be good for you! In moderation, that is…

When we were children, my mamma used to apply pretty much the same rule, and her home-cooking was predominantly healthy and very nutritious. So, on special occasions, if we’d been really, really good, she would set off in the kitchen to fry off these delicious, golden nuggets, while we, children and Papà, would patiently wait, slowly inebriated by the savory and warm smell of what was to be our Sunday dinner.

The memory alone is worth the occasional intake of deep-fried food…

These savoury donuts, frittelle, are made using a slowly fermented pizza dough. You can make them using a larger amount of yeast and less rising time, but I have to warn you that they won’t be as light, crispy and easy to digest.

To make the dough, simply follow the same steps as if you were making pizza dough.

Ingredients for the dough

3 1/2 cups  00 type flour (or plain)

1/2 cup  wholemeal flour

1 teaspoon of dry yeast

1-1/4 cup  lukewarm water

1/2 teaspoon of sugar

2 teaspoons of salt flakes

Extra-virgin olive oil, to grease the bowl and to drizzle on top.

How to

Dissolve yeast and sugar in water. Stand for 5 minutes or until frothy.

Place flour in a large mixing  bowl, add the yeasted water and mix for 1-2 minutes, then tip the dough onto a floured surface, add the salt and knead vigorously for 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Shape it into a ball.

As all flours tend to differ slightly, you may have to add a little more water of a little more flour in order to have the perfect dough. You want a soft, pliable dough, but not too sticky.

Rest the dough in an oiled bowl, covered with a tea-towel for 30 minutes, then lift it out, place it back onto a floured surface, stretch it with your hands and fold it into three and then back into a ball. Put the dough back in the bowl to rest for another 30 minutes, then stretch and fold again.

As tedious as this process sounds, this is paramount for obtaining a light, crispy and easy to digest base.

After the second stretch-and-fold, place the dough in a large oiled container fitted with  lid (like a Tupperware one). Place in the fridge (with the lid on) and slow-prove for a minimum of 6 hours, up to 36 hours.

When you are ready to make you pizza, take the dough out of the fridge and place it in an oiled bowl and cover it with a tea-towel. Rest at room temperature for 30-45 minutes.

Roll the dough onto a floured surface to 1/2 cm  (0,2 inches) thick.

Cut the dough into rectangles and score each in the middle to allow even rising when fried.

Fill a deep-fryer or a frying own with vegetable oil and. To test of the oil temperature is ready, drop in a cube of bread: if it sizzles straight away and turns golden in 30 seconds, the oil is ready. Fry the cut dough in 3-4 batches,  2-3 minutes on both sides.

Drain on kitchen paper, sprinkle with salt flakes and serve hot with cold cuts of meat, torn mozzarella balls, cherry tomatoes or whatever takes your fancy.

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Ciabatta Bread

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As much as it is true that one should not judge a book by its cover, you can safely go about life judging a good Ciabatta by the holes in its crumb! And this is one particular instance when size does matter: the bigger the holes, the better the loaf…The secret to a perfect Ciabatta is in the percentage of water in the dough, a dough that is sticky, wet and fun to manipulate. This is not your classic “knead for ten minutes” dough. In fact, you hardly have to knead it at all. So, where’s the catch? No, catch. Ciabatta, it turns out, is a home-baker’s new best friend.

INGREDIENTS , if using  dry yeast

450 gr (3 3/4 cups) of flour

350 ml (1 1/4 cup) water at room temperature

a tablespoon of olive oil

1-1/2  tablespoon of dry yeast

2 teaspoons of salt

HOW TO

1. In a large bowl, mix together flour, water oil and yeast. When the yeast is well incorporated, add the salt.

2. Mix with you hands for a few minutes or until the dough is amalgamated and slightly elastic. It will be sticky and wet. Put in an oiled bowl to prove for 30 minutes, then stretch it with wet hands and fold it onto itself and leave to rest. At this stage you have two options: place the covered bowl in the fridge to slow prove overnight , or for a minimum of 10 hours, or prove at room temperature, in a warm spot, for a further 1 1/2-2 hours or until doubled in size. Slow proving will add flavour and will ensure you a moist soft crumb, but you will still have a worthy ciabatta if you skip that stage. Up to you and your own time management, really! Once the dough has proven, you will notice that lovely air bubbles will have formed. Don’t burst them, they hold the secret to the formation of those coveted holes.

3. Place a metal bowl or a small skillet in the oven and bring the oven temperature to to 200 C (395 F)

4. Gently and with caution, tip the risen, bubbly dough onto an oven tray lined with baking paper. Roughly give it an oval shape and dust it with a little flour. Insert the tray into the hot oven, pour a glass of cold water into the skillet to create steam, close the oven door and bake for 30-35 minutes or until risen, golden and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. You may need to flip the bread upside down to ensure even baking according to your oven.  Cool at room temperature over a wire rack for at least 1 hour before slicing away to reveal that holey, moist crumb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can also make Ciabatta using an active sourdough starter. The flavour and longevity of your bread will be incomparably better.

Follow this link if you wish to make your sourdough starter

Sourdough ciabatta 

In a large non-metal bowl mix 230 gr (1 cup) of sourdough, 380 (3 cups) gr of plain flour and 260 ml (1 cup) of filtered water at room temperature and a tablespoon of olive oil. When the ingredients are well amalgamated, add 2 teaspoonsof salt and mix well with a wooden spoon. Cover your bowl with either a lid or oiled cling wrap and let it rest overnight. Be mindful not to leave your dough to prove in a drafty spot. In the morning your dough will have more than doubled its volume. Using a spatula, scrape it onto an oven tray lined with grease-proof paper, dust the top with a little flour and let it prove for an hour or two. The proceed as step 4. You will find that your ciabatta will not puff up much in the oven, it will stay quite flat, like a slipper, hence its name (ciabatta means slipper in Italian)

As hard as it will be, allow to cool down before you attempt to slice it…

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Pane all’Olio (Italian Olive Oil Bread)

Silvia is back in her Cucina! After two and a half months away in Melbourne threading the boards at the Malthouse theatre, playing the role of a dilemma-stricken bride who runs off with her ex-boyfriend on her wedding day, I feel an utter sense of well-being walking around in my kitchen, re-familiarizing with my tools, pots and pans, as I watch my little boys play in the front verandah…Ah the bliss of domestic life! To say that I have missed my kitchen is an understatement. My urge to be dusted in flour is not merely physical. I need that sense of inner peace that the knowledge that a dough of some sort is proving in my house will bring. Acting is a wonderful way to express creativity, but it can at times take a toll on your soul, especially when the role you play every night is so tormented. My therapy is baking. Bread, needles to say.                                                                                        I came across this wonderful recipe in one of my favorite bread books and I am so happy to be sharing this with you. I hope, no matter what you are going through in your lives, the act of baking bread may bring serenity and balance. And a house that smells like an Italian bakery.

Love,

Silvia

Recipe adapted from Jan Hedh’s Artisan Breads

Makes 2 medium loaves or 3 smaller ones

For the Ferment (biga)

1/2 teaspoon of dry yeast

2 cups of lukewarm water

1 cup of durum wheat flour

3 cups of stone ground wheat flour (baker’s flour)

Dissolve the yeast in the water, add the flour and work it with a wooden spoon until you have  thick batter. Cover it with plastic film and rest in the fridge overnight or at room temperature for 2 1/2 -3 hours, or until bubbly and risen.

For the Dough

The risen ferment, at room temperature (take out of the fridge 1 hour before kneading if you rested it overnight)

2 teaspoons of dry yeast

2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

1 egg

2-3/4 cups of strong stone gourd flour (baker’s flour) plus 3 or 4 tablespoons more if the enough is too sticky.

2 teaspoons of salt

Method

1. Put the risen ferment in a large bowl, add the yeast and mix it in with a wooden spoon until combined.

2. Add the oil, egg and the flour and combine with a wooden spoon.

3. Tip the dough onto a floured surface and knead well for 5 minutes. If the dough feels to sticky , add a little flour. Bare in mid that this is supposed to be a soft dough, but should come away easily from your fingers.

4. Stretch the dough into a rectangle, add the salt and knead well for another 5 minutes or until shiny and smooth. Roll into a ball, place in a large , oiled container. Cover with a damp tea-towel and leave it to prove at room temperature for 1 hour. take the dough out of the container, knock it back, stretch it tint a rectangle, fold it into three and then shape back tint a ball. Place the dough back into the oiled container and leave to prove for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until it has doubled in size.

Shaping

1. Place the dough onto a floured surface. Divide into 2 or 3 portions , according to the size of loves you are after. You can even divide into 6/8 and make individual dinner rolls.

2. Flatten each portion of dough with your hands or a rolling pin. Roll the dough onto itself to shape a crescent or a cigar.

3. Leave the dough to prove for 45/60 minutes onto an oven tray lined with baking paper. Bring your oven to 210 C, 410 F. Place an empty metal bowl in the oven to heat up.

4. Just before baking, score the breads to your liking.

5. Carefully slide the tray in the oven, fill the heated metal bowl with cold water to create steam, close the oven door and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped with your finger.

6. Cool on a rack at room temperature. Enjoy as it is or fill with your favorite cold meat and cheese for the ultimate Panino experience!

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