Gluten-free Lemonade Cakes (Tortine alla limonata senza glutine)

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A lot of my friends have suddenly gone gluten-free. None of them are allergic to gluten… All of them keep telling me gluten is bad for you… I think you can safely assume that I slightly disagree with their views! Without going into the specific science of why gluten is or is not good for you, I like to think I can be grown-up enough to set aside my fervent “i love gluten credo” and accommodate the requests of my beloved. Jokes aside,  serious gluten-free allergies affect so many people these days that the need for creating options that cater for them is necessary and, quite frankly, a challenge I am ready to embark upon. Whether you are celiac or just not a fan of wheat and its derivates, I have high hopes you will enjoy biting into these bubbly, moist cakes, perfumed with tangy lemonade and a hint of vanilla. By the way, they are also dairy free, just saying’….

INGREDIENTS, makes 8-10 mini cakes using a muffin tin

3 eggs

3/4 cup of brown sugar

1/2 cup olive oil

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, paste or the seeds of 1 vanilla bean

3/4 cup fizzy lemonade

2-1/4 cup of  gluten free self-raising flour

1 cup of icing sugar (confectioner sugar) mixed with a few teaspoons of lemon juice to make the lemon icing

HOW TO

1. Preheat your oven to 180 C (350 F)

2. Line a medium sized muffin tin with wrappers (I used an 8 hole jumbo muffin tin)

3. Beat the eggs with sugar until pale and fluffy and the sugar crystals have dissolved

4. Add oil, vanilla, and lemon zest and mix well.

5. Add the lemonade and gradually incorporate the flour, beating gently, until a wet batter is formed

6. Pour the batter into the muffin tin making sure not to fill to the rim as the cakes with grow a lot whilst baking

7. Bake for 20 minutes or until cooked through if tested with a skewer

8. Cool at room temperature. When cooled, drizzle the lemon icing on top and allow 10-15 minutes to set before serving out

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Wholemeal Focaccia with Olives and Chillie (Focaccia integrale con olive e peperoncino)

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It’s the weekend and this wondrous realization springs a few things to mind: sleeping in (we have trained the boys to entertain themselves for an hour or so, until we are ready to get out of our cave! So far so good, they are both still intact…), leisurely breakfast and baking! These three simple joys of mine incapsulate the intrinsic beauty of spending time at home with the ones I love and I cherish them dearly. Sleeping in is something I have always been terrific at, it’s embedded in my DNA, I’m Italian, as much as I try to disguise it, I am lazy! The long, indulgent breakfast is possibly not so Italian, we are famous for our quickies at the counter of a café as we rapidly ingest a short black and devour pastries. I suppose when I became an Australian citizen I acquired this new, lovely habit, along with excellent swear words and slang! Then there’s the baking… if you are familiar with my recipes, you know by now I’m a self-confessed baking addict, especially when it comes to yeasted goods. And so I can’t think of anything more perfect than kneading a silky dough, watch it grow and top it with some Italian favourites. This wholemeal focaccia with olives and chillie is just what I need.

INGREDIENTS, serves 8-10

1 tablespoon of dried yeast

1 cup lukewarm water

1 teaspoon of barley malt syrup or honey

1-2/3 cup of wholemeal (wholewheat) flour +1 cup of 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 water

salt for sprinkling on top

1/2 cup of mixd pitted olives

1 chillie, sliced

HOW TO

1. In a large bowl dissolve  yeast with 3/4 water, add  flour, oil and  barley malt syrup or honey. Mix for for a few minutes, then add the salt. If you think the dough is too dry, add the remaining water. Wholemeal flour can require a little extra moisture than regular flour.

2. Knead vigorously until it looks smooth and elastic, this will take about 10 minutes if doing by hand or 5 if enlisting the help of an electric mixer fitted 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. This step will give strength and texture to your dough and is essential in order to obtain a soft,  airy and chewy focaccia. Repeat one last time after 30 minutes.

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 seasalt.

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

8. Drizzle the holes with the glaze and sprinkle with some more salt. Top with pitted olives and roughly sliced chillies.

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9. Let your focaccia rest for another 20 minutes, while your oven heats up to 200 C (390 F).

10. Bake for 20-25 minutes  until it looks slighly golden and delicious. Allow to cool at room temperature in the tray for 10-15 minutes, then serve cut into pieces.

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Linguine risottate con Vongole e Zucchine (Linguine with clams and zucchini cooked risotto style)

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Well, that’s some title! Don’t be alarmed by the lengthy description though, this lip-smackingly luscious bowl of perfectly al dente linguine will be yours in no time at all. Your sauce with be ready by the time the water has … Continue reading

Healthy brown Quinoa, grilled Chicken and Walnut Salad

DSC_1250Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pride and excitement that I present to you a spectacular bowl of HEALTH! The mega properties of quinoa have been unveiled by fervent nutritionists all over the globe, but for those you have missed out on the latest food craze, here is a little insight on why this seed is soon to become you new best friend: quinoa is incredibly high in protein, is rich is dietary fiber and phosphorous, and is an excellent source of iron and magnesium, as well as calcium. Good news is that it is gluten-free and suitable for vegans and those who need to keep away from wheat. But, best of all, it tastes beautiful when paired with a few fresh ingredients and gently coated with luscious extra-virgin olive oil.

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

1 cup of uncooked brown quinoa

4 skinless chicken thighs

1 cup of green beans, topped and tailed

1/2 cup of shelled walnuts

salt and pepper to taste

fresh parsley, chopped

3-4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

a squeeze of lemon

HOW TO

1. Rinse the quinoa under cold water, place in a pot covered with water by 2 cm (1 1/2 inch). Bring to a simmer, cover with the lid and cook over low heat for 12-14 minutes or according to packet instructions. Turn off the heat and allow to cook a bit more with the residual heat from the pot. I like quinoa to have  a bit of a bite, shall we say and Al Dente personality, but feel free to cook it longer if you favour a softer texture.

2. While the quinoa is cooking, steam or blanch the green beans. I like to cook them for 3-4 minutes and then rinse them under cold water to preserve their vibrant green hue.

3. Grill the chicken thighs on the BBQ or on a griddle pan, over medium high heat, until nicely caramelized and cooked through. Rest on a plate for 5 minutes to allow the flesh to relax. For a meat-free option, you can replace the chicken with poached eggs or grilled tofu.

4. Toast the walnuts in a dry pan until they smell fragrant. Set aside.

5. To serve, mix quinoa, beans, parsley, walnuts in a bowl and season with 3-4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, salt and pepper. Arrange on a platter, top with grilled chicken (or eggs, or tofu) and enjoy!

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Boost your immune system! Shredded Radicchio, Brussel Sprouts and soft boiled egg Salad

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Here are some interesting facts I researched for you.

Brussel Sprouts: source of sulforaphane, and indole-3-carbinol, chemicals believed to promote DNA repair and block the growth of cancer cells. Radicchio: excellent source of vitamin K, potassium zinc and iron. Mung beans: high in protein, phosphorus, folate and vitamin C. Pepitas (sunflower seeds): rich in amino acids, unsaturated fatty acids, calcium, potassium, and phosphorous as well as loaded with most of the B vitamins, and vitamins C, D, E, and K. Add to these ancient and potent ingredients the proteins of eggs and the anti-inflammatory effects of extra-virgin olive oil and you have gifted yourself and your family with the tastiest immune system booster you can dream of. Great health is just a mouthful away!

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

1 radicchio or chioggia

1 cup of brussle sprouts, raw, outer leaves removed

4 tablespoons of pepitas (sunflower seeds)

4 tablespoons of mung beans

4 soft boiled eggs, peeled and cut in half

3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

2 tabespoons of vincotto (use balsamic vinegar if vincotto is not available)

salt for seasoning

HOW TO

1.Using a mandoline or a sharp knife (or a food processor fitted with the shredding blade) cut the radicchio into fine strips and the brussel sprouts into thin slices.

2. Add the mung beans and pepitas, season with oil and vincotto, add salt and mix well.

3. Top with soft boiled or poached eggs and enjoy as it is or with a slice of sourdough

Enjoy the benefits of healthy eating!

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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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Home-made Calzone with Ricotta, Cherry Tomatoes and other lovelies!

Just when you think Italians could not possibly top their most famous export, pizza, enters a magnificent parcel of folded, slow risen dough, filled with oozy ricotta, oven-roasted cherry tomatoes and freshly picked basil leaves, coated with a shiny drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

As you cut the bronzed crust open, watch the filling slowly and inexorably spill out onto the cutting board, as you salivate yourself into oblivion…

My very personal tip to successfully reproduce this very humble joy of the palate is to use the freshest ingredients, never be tempted to stuff it with low-fat ricotta and allow for the dough to prove slowly, in the fridge for a minimum of 24 hours.

It is the slow rising of the dough that will provide that essential light and crispy crust. Not to mention easy to digest.

Even the fiercest ‘I don’t eat wheat’ person will have to reconsider….

The recipe for the dough is the same as the one I use for Pizza

Ingredients for the dough (makes 2 large calzone of 4 smaller ones)

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 slat 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 th enough 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.

Your dough is now ready to be stretched, topped, folded and baked.

For the filling

2 cups of cherry tomatoes, halved

3 tablespoons of extra-virgin oil + some for drizzling

2 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar (or regular)

1 scant tablespoon of sugar

1 teaspoon of salt flakes

1 garlic clove, cut into half

a little freshly ground white pepper

1 spring onion, chopped up

1 cups of full cream ricotta

1 cup of bocconcini

freshly picked basil leaves

How to

Place the tomatoes, oil, vinegar, garlic, spring onion, pepper, salt and sugar in an oven tray lined with baking paper. Roast on a medium oven for 45 minutes or until the tomatoes are slightly blistered and juicy.

Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

Increase the oven temperature to high. If baking using a baking stone, put in the oven to heat up now.

Roll the dough to the desired thickness ( I always prefer a thin base, but over to you and  your personal taste) and shape into two large (or 4 smaller) disks.

Fill one half of each disk with the roasted cherry tomatoes, 3-4 table spoons of ricotta, a few bocconcini and and basil leaves. Top with the other half of the disk and seal the edges by pinching them with your fingers. Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil, a tablespoon of the cherry tomato juices and a pinch of salt.

Place the calzones on baking paper. Dust the baking stone with corn flour and place the calzones with the baking paper on top of the stone. Bake for 15 minutes, then slide off the paper to allow the base to crisp up.

In not using a baking stone, simply line an oven tray with baking paper, place the calzones on top and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the top is bronzed and nicely puffed and the bottom is crispy.

Serve hot, with cold beer and a green salad.

Home-made Dried Chili Oil

DSCN9699Home-growing is an occupation that I leave entirely to my green-thumbed husband. It’s not that I don’t see the appeal of gardening and I’m not attracted to such rewarding labour, but I must admit I was born with a black thumb. I don’t seem to have inherited my mum’s natural flare for all things green and I am, alas, responsible for the atrocious death of many innocent flower beds, herbs in pots and the occasional tomato plant, that I have had to surrender my resignation. I limit myself to the occasional watering, the picking and, naturally,  the cooking with the bounty that my garden produces under Richard’s watchful eyes. his year he propagated a fecund and lush chili plant from seeds he dried and preserved last year (see what I’m dealing with?), and now our autumnal veggie patch is specked with hundreds of green and red fruits, hiding their potent heat within their plump, shiny flesh.

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Ingredients

1 green-thumbed husband

Alternatively

800 gr (1.7) of mixed chilies

4 cups of extra-virgin olive oil (or enough to fill up the jar you wish to use)

How to

1. Wash the chilies and spread them on an oven tray big enough to accommodate them in one layer. Make sure to line the tray with baking paper.

You have two options here: the one that suits the patient and gracious people, and the one made to please the not-so-patient ones!

If you belong in the first category (my respects):

2. place the tray in the sun everyday for 20-30 days, until the chilies are dry.

2/a. For those, like me, you cannot be asked… every time after  you  use the oven, place the tray inside while its cooling. The residual heat will quickly dry the chilies.

If you do this over a weekend during which you plan to bake a roast, some cookies and perhaps even some bread, that should give you enough residual heat to dry your chilies completely. You know they are ready when they feel dry, hollow and feather-light. My 800 gr (1.7 lb) reduced to a mere 150 gr (0.3 lb)!

3. Roughly chop them with a knife or with scissors.

4. Put them in sterilized  glass jars and submerge them in extra-virgin olive oil.

5. Leave them in a cupboard, away from direct light, for a minimum of 3 weeks before consuming.

You will notice that the heat will increase and concentrate over time. You can use chili oil to add a bit of zest to any food you love, but I particularly like to add it to soups and some pasta sauces.

Note

If you have an abundance of basil in your garden, here’s my basil-infused oil.

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Roasted Snapper with white wine, parsley and other beauties…

This is a rather peculiar way of roasting a fish.

The idea is that if you make the fish stand up in the oven, it will roast more evenly and the skin will become uniformly crisp. Ingenius.

I must say it got me totally baffled when I watched an Italian Chef on TV baking his snapper like this.

He assured this was the Italian way and that goes to show how beautifully varied Italian cuisine is.

An Italian born-and-bred gal like me had never come across this before!

Sure enough, I had to try it for myself and, as I often do, added my personal touches here and there….The addition of chillie is definitely my idea of “personal touches”…


To make the fish stand, stuff the cavity of a scaled and gutted snapper with a ball of aluminium covered with baking paper (to prevent the flesh from sticking to the foil).

Than it’s just a matter of scoring or criss-crossing the fish and smother it with a marinade of 2 garlic cloves, 2 small dried chillies, a small handful of chopped up baby capers, two anchovie fillets , a pinch of salt, a splash of white wine, extra-virgin olive oil and fresh parsley.

(I made it an a pestle and mortar, but feel free to use a blender , if easier).

Roast it in a hot oven for about 25/30 minutes, according to how big your fish is (ours was enough for two hungry people)

Richard and I both ate a good portion of fish and potatoes in a civilized manner, but ended up standing by the kitchen bench , forks in hand, scraping the bits of flesh still attached to the bones…

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Buttermilk Sandwich Bread (Pan Carre’)

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Another bread post… I know, I have developed a slight obsession for bread-making, but the truth is there are so many ways to make beautiful breads, and now that I have embarked upon the journey of home-baking, I owe it to myself to search and experiment like there’s no tomorrow. So many breads, so little time! Pan Carre’ is a very famous Italian bread, especially among the little ones, as it keeps a soft crust and moist and brioche-like crumb. It makes the perfect sandwich bread for your kids lunch box. And if you have it in the morning with a generous amount of butter and jam, your day will be better and brighter.

INGREDIENTS, makes 1 loaf

1 tablespoon dry yeast

120 ml (1/2 cup) luke warm water.

150 ml buttermilk (3/4 cup)

450 g (3 1/2 cups)r of all-purpose flour

50 gr (1/2 cup) of rye flour (you can substitute with spelt or wholemeal)

1 tablespoon of honey or barely mat syrup

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

HOW TO

1. Dissolve the yeast in the water. Leave to rest for 10 minutes, until it appears frothy.

2. In a large bowl mix the flours with the of honey or barley malt syrup, the buttermilk and the yeasted water. Knead well for about 5 minutes, then add the salt. If you the dough is too dry, add a few tablespoons of water. It it’s too wet, sprinkle a little flour and keep kneading until the dough is smooth and silky. As all flours vary slightly, don’t be alarmed if you need to make adjustments to achieve the right texture. Let your instinct guide you and you will not go wrong.

3. Leave the dough to rest onto a floured sheet of grease-proof paper for 30 minutes.

4. After its rested, the dough will appear smoother and very elastic. Gently stretch it in the shape of a rectangle and fold it onto itself three times. Put the dough in an oiled loaf tin, cover with oiled cling wrap and bulk-prove until doubled in size. This will take 1 1/2 to 2 hours, according to the temperature in your house. The cooler it is, the longer it will take.

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5. Preheat you oven to 200 C (390 F).

6. Glaze the top with  egg wash made with 1 beaten egg mixed with 2 tablespoons of milk,  and bake for 25/30 minutes. Allow to cool in the tin for 30 minutes before lifting the bread out (or it may tear!), then rest on a wire rack until completely cool.

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9781921383373