Roasted Olives with Lemon and Chillie (Olive al Forno)

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It is a known fact that Italians take their foodstuff rather seriously. We have a traditional meal structure that we observe like our lives depend on it. We have frugal breakfasts, proper lunches and nutritious dinners. But in a country where supper takes place in between 8 and 10 pm, we need that extra fuel to power through. And so we invented the Aperitivo, literally drinks with nibbles. Now, the choice of food to be served with your drinks is not to be taken lightly. Aperitivo is not as substantial as Antipasto (starter) it is merely a palate tantalizer to get you salivating and in the mood for the bigger event, dinner. Roasted olives with chillie and lemon is ever present when I’m hosting Aperitivo, for two fundamental reasons: 1. The flavor of olives preserved in brine can take a little enhancing and the combination of garlic, lemon, chillies and white wine is, frankly, infallible. 2. It takes 10 minutes to make… small effort, big gain!

INGREDIENTS, serves 8

2 cups of large green olives (I used Sicilian olives)

1/4 cup of white wine

2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

1-2 red chillies, roughly chopped

1 peeled garlic clove, sliced

1 lemon cut into wedges

rosemary springs for decoration

HOW TO

1. Turn on the grill function in your oven

2. Place olives and all ingredients in a large bowl and toss well.

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3. Tip everything onto an oven proof serving dish and place under the grill. Be sure to stir the olives a few times whilst under the grill to prevent burning them or the garlic and chillie. Leave under the grill until the olives look scorched and the lemon wedges have slightly caramelized (it takes about 5-10 minutes in my oven). Take the dish out of the oven using mitts and decorate with rosemary sprigs. The residual heat of the the olives will release the warm aroma of the woody herbs.

4. Serve hot or warm with drinks, being mindful not to touch the oven dish (warn your guests!)

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Low Gluten Orange, Almond and Blueberry Cake

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It is no mystery that Italians have a special fondness for extra-virgin olive oil. And what a healthy preference that is! Not only extra-virgin olive oil is carb and cholesterol free, it is packed with antioxidants and it’s an excellent anti inflammatory. And if this wasn’t enough, it tastes like the nectar of the Gods. So it is no surprise that this luscious, emerald green elixir turns up in most mediterranean cooking preparations, even cakes. Substituting butter with oil is not only a healthier choice, it will turn your batter into a fluffy, moist, irresistible cake, ready to be enriched with all the goodies you prefer. My choice today fell on juicy oranges, nutty almonds (to lower the gluten content) and the oozy tartness of blueberries. I feel good already!

PS Ok, this cake is not entirely healthy…it does contain sugar, but, hey, we only live once!

INGREDIENTS serves 12

4 eggs

1 cup of brown sugar

1/2 cup of thick yogurt

1/2 cup of extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or paste (or the seeds of 1 vanilla bean)

juice and finely grated zest of 1 orange

100 gr (1 cup) ground almonds

1-1/2 cup self raising flour (replace with gluten-free self raising  flour if liked)

1 cup of frozen bluberries

1-2 handfuls of almond slivers

HOW TO

1. Preheat your oven to 180 C (355 F) and line a square or rectangular cake tin with baking paper

2. Beat eggs with sugar with a whisk or an electric mixer until fluffy. Add oil and yogurt and mix well. Add vanilla, cinnamon, orange zest and juice and combine.

3. Mix in the ground almonds and the flour until a sticky batter is created, then mix the blueberries through.

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4. Pour the mix into the cake tin, top with the slivered almonds and bake for 30-35 minutes or until cooked through and pale golden. To check if the cake is cooked through, insert a wooden skewer in the middle. If it comes out clean , the cake is cooked. If there is uncooked batter sticking to it, leave to cook for another 5 minutes.

5. Serve warm or at room temperature

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Easy Raspberry Tart (Crostata di Lamponi)

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The appeal of weekend baking is undeniable. What could be better than the smell of starchy goods slowly developing a golden tan in your oven as you sip coffee, tea or herbal infusions all sorts? Getting my hands floury and sticky is my ultimate Sunday pleasure, whether it’s bread, a savory quiches or a luscious, ruby red tart. And this last weekend I hit the jackpot, delivering the three! As my no-knead bread dough was safely baking, I made a batch of rich and flakey pastry, suitable for both sweet and savory dishes. I used some for a lip-smakingly delicious leek and pancetta tart and turned the rest into the perfect shell to contain a crimson concoction made with frozen raspberries, sugar and  a few other favourites. It’s Monday now…only 6 days until I can revel in this ritual again…Hang in there, Silvia!

INGREDIENTS, serves 8/10

For the flaky pastry

100 gr (3.5 oz) of butter, cut into cubes and frozen for 30 minutes

180 gr (6.5 oz) of plain (all purpose) flour

1 tablespoon of sugar

1-2 tablespoons of cold water

For the filling

2 cups of frozen raspberries

5 tablespoons of sugar (add more if you like it very sweet)

1 scant tablespoon of butter

1 scant tablespoon of corn flour

1-2 tablespoon of sugar to sprinkle on top just before baking

HOW TO

1. Start by making the filling. Place frozen berries, sugar and butter in a pot and stir over low heat until the berries have released their natural juices and the liquid has reduced by 1/3. This will take about 2-3 minutes. Add the corn flour, stir well and cook for a further 2 minutes until it starts to thicken. Turn off the heat and allow to cool at room temperature, then you can refrigerate it for up to 3 days.

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2. To make the pastry, put the frozen butter cubes, flour and sugar in the food processor and pulse until wet crumbs form. Add the water, starting with 1/2 a tablespoon, keep pulsing and continue adding more drops of water until a soft dough is created. Tip the dough onto a floured surface, press with your hands to smoothen it, then flatten it with your palms, wrap it in plastic film and rest in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes, up to 3 days.

3. Heat up your oven to 180 C (350 F). Grease and flour a 20 or 24 inch tart tin. Roll the rested dough into a disk and reserve some to cut into strips and create a lattice pattern to decorate the top with. Line the tin with the pastry disk, pour in the filling and place the strips on top in a criss cross pattern. Sprinkle the tart with some sugar and bake until golden and gorgeous. DSC_4286

4. Cool at room temperature and serve as it is or with whipped cream.

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Fusilli with Zucchini (hallo summer!)

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I am a summer girl through and through. I was born in July, at the height of estate Italiana (Italian summer) and my body and brain both crave the warm and reassuring feeling of the sun on my skin, filling me with endorphins and zest for life. Now that I have made Australia my home, I find it very convenient to flee at the first signs of winter (albeit mild, always winter it is!) and frolic in the golden light of Italy at this magical time of the year. Admittedly, I’m back here for work…but summer it is and I find that work comes easier when I’m wearing shorts, thongs and a bikini top! Naturally there is a further, fundamental reason the warmer months make me happy…the seasonal produce! My heart beats faster at the sight of fruit and vegetable stalls at the local farmers market, mainly for two reasons: everything looks so exquisitely inviting and everything is so unbelievably  cheap, at least in comparison to Australian prices. And so a kilo (about 2 pounds) of freshly picked zucchini set me back 1 single Euro…

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, skin on, bashed with the palm of your hand

1 small red onion, finely chopped

3 green zucchini, cut into cubes

1 cup of home-made tomato passata or crushed tinned tomatoes

salt to taste

3/4 packet of fusilli pasta (about 3/4 lb)

fresh basil and celery leaves

freshly ground white pepper and freshly grated pecorino for dusting on top (omit the cheese for a vegan-friendly option)

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How to

1.  Start by bringing a large pot of salted water to the boil

2. Heat the oil in a medium sized pan, add the onion and garlic and cook gently for 3-4 minutes or until the onion has softened. Add the zucchini and cook for 5-10 minutes or until slightly golden and soft. Add the tomato, season with salt and cook for 5-10 minutes over medium-low heat.

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3. When the water comes to a rolling boil, drop your pasta in. Stir well so it doesn’t stick to the bottom and cook until perfect al dente. Using a ladle, add a little pasta cooking water, acqua di cottura, to the sauce.

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4. Using a slotted fork, lift the pasta out of the pot and drop it straight into the saucepan with the zucchini. Toss over high heat for 1 minute. Add torn basil leaves and the tender leaves of celery. Serve hot with a little freshly ground white pepper and grated pecorino, if liked.

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9781921383373

Chocolate Drizzle Hazelnut Biscotti

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Some exciting work commitment has brought me back to Italy for the last couple of months, and if ever I needed to reaffirm the love I feel for my home land, this time has provided just that. And more. Since moving to England first and then to Australia, I have only ever been back to Italy for a few weeks at a time, immersed in family gatherings and trying to catch up with all my friends at once. This time it’s been different. I’ve travelled, with the heart of an Italian but with the eyes of a tourist, trying to take in the simple and utter beauty of this blessed country, avoiding doing the thing that we Italians tend to do, taking Italy for granted. I have discovered, learnt, tasted and more importantly, I have fallen in love all over with my cultural inheritance. Ah, yes, and then there’s the food. The glorious Italian offering of exquisite produce, cooked simply and eaten with gusto and love for life. Mostly healthy, sometimes indulgent, at other times just downright opulent! These chocolate and hazelnut biscotti sit in the middle…one or two dunked in your morning coffee or afternoon tea won’t do enough damage to your waistline, but will still provide that often needed sugar hit!

INGREDIENTS (makes a lot!)

450gr. (4 cups) Self raising Flour
350gr.1 3/4 cups) Sugar
2 whole eggs
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon melted butter and 1 teaspoon of vanilla paste or extract (or the seeds of 1 vanilla bean)
1 tablespoon of milk
a pinch of salt
120 gr.(3/4 cup) hazelnuts, roughly chopped

To decorate

1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips melted

How to

1. Beat the eggs with  sugar and vanilla until pale and creamy.

2. Add the sifted flour, butter,salt, milk, then the nuts.

3. Shape the dough with floured hands to form into two logs and  baked them in a medium oven for around 25 minutes.

DSC_2840 4. Cool at room temperature for 3-5 minutes, then slice them at an angle using a sharp bread knife. You will notice than the inside of the biscuits is still a little wet. This is fine. Place the sliced, semi-cooked dough back onto the tray and into the oven and toast each side for about 5 minutes.

5. Cool the biscotti at room temperature. In the meantime melt the dark chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave. Drizzle the chocolate liberally over the biscotti. Ideally, allow to set before eating!

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Spelt and Oats No-knead Bread (pane con avena e farro)

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The benefits of oats and spelt have been glorified by the health conscious and seem to be living a new renaissance these days. How lovely to think that these have been staple ingredients in the Italian diet since time immemorial, proving once more that our traditional cuisine boasts health recipes to suit most dietary requirements. Naturally such perks are complemented by one other fundamental asset: the both impart a warm, nutty flavour to bread, making them you best allay in the kitchen. So, if you are trying to stay away from refined white bread, this recipe might be just what the doctor ordered.

INGREDIENTS, makes 1 loaf

300 gr (2-3/4 cups) of spelt flour

200 gr (1- 2/3 cups) of unbleached baker’s flour or all purpose flour

380 ml (1- 2/3 cups) of lukewarm water

1 teaspoon of dry yeast

1 teaspoon of honey

2 teaspoons of salt

1-2 handfuls of rolled oats for dusting on top

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HOW TO

1. Mix the flours in a large bowl, add the yeast, honey and water and mix until combined.

2. Add the salt and mix through using a wooden spoon or a spatula. The mixture will be rather sticky and will not require kneading as such. Just mix until all the ingredients are amalgamated. If you think the dough is a little dry, add 1-2 tablespoons of water.

3. Leave the dough to prove in a bowl covered with a damp tea towel for 8-12 hours or until it has more than doubled in size.

4. Dust a working bench with flour, tip the risen dough onto it and fold it into three. Roll it back into a ball using floured hands (the dough will be very sticky, don’t be alarmed!) and place in on top of an oven tray lined with baking paper to prove for 1-2 hours at room temperature, covered with a tea towel.

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5. Heat up your oven to 220 C/430 F. Place an empty metal bowl or skillet on the bottom tray to heat up.

6. When the dough has risen for the second time, dust it with oats and slide the tray in the oven. Fill the hot bowl or skillet with cold water to create steam and close the oven door to block the heat from escaping. After 10 minutes, turn the heat down to 200 C/390 F. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.

7. Cool at room temperature on a wire rack. Allow to cool down to 1 hour before slicing.

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Cocoa Swirled Meringues (Meringhe variegate)

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I often find myself planning recipes that only require the use of yolks so that I can have some egg whites to play with. As I type this I will concede that this may sound odd to many, but I cannot renounce who I am, a food nerd, really! How many times have you separated eggs, promising yourselves you will give the unused whites a new, worthy life, only to find them weeks later in the back of your fridge, a scary, ectoplasmic entity begging you to be put out of its misery! Here is my favourite thing to do with the protein-packed goodness: whip it, whip it and then whip it a bit more! With sugar, that is, and a little dusting of cocoa powder to turn them into a delectable treat to accompany your coffee or afternoon tea.

INGREDIENTS, makes 12

100 g (just over 1/3 cup) egg whites, at room temperature

pinch of salt flakes

75 g icing sugar (1/3 cup), sifted (icing sugar is the same as confectioner sugar or powdered sugar)

75 g (1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon) caster sugar

1/4 teaspoon lemon juice or cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla paste or the seeds of half vanilla bean

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

HOW TO

1. Preheat your oven to 100°C (212 F). Line a large baking tray with baking paper.

2. In a large, clean, dry bowl, whisk the egg whites with the salt until frothy and very soft peaks start to form. I always do this do with hand-held electric beaters on low speed as it gets the job done in 90 seconds, with no sore wrist. But feel free to do it by hand if you missed a day at the gym and need to burn off some calories. Gradually increase the speed of your beaters (or your biceps) to medium and start adding the icing sugar then, slowly, the caster sugar. Keep beating for 1–2 minutes (or 5–6 minutes by hand) or until the egg whites are shiny, smooth and stiff.

3. Add the lemon juice or cream of tartar and gently fold it in with a metal spoon, taking care not to beat the air out of the meringue mixture. These few drops of acid will neutralise the eggy flavour that meringue can sometimes have, and will also keep them stable and preserve their crisp whiteness.

4. Add the vanilla and mix gently. Swirl the cocoa in.

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5. Dollop teaspoons (or tablespoons, if you like them larger) of the mixture onto the baking tray, about 2 cm apart to allow for spreading. You can use a piping bag if you prefer, but I love a more whimsical, free-form meringue.

6. Gently place the tray in the oven and bake for 11/2–2 hours. If they start to colour, turn the heat down to 80°C (175 F). You know the meringues are cooked through when the base is touch-dry.

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Cool at room temperature and enjoy as they are with coffee, gelato or, as my dad favours, a big dollop of sweetened whipped cream. The man is known for his sweet tooth …

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Related recipes

Home-Made Marshmallows (http://www.theclevercarrot.com/2013/12/homemade-fluffy-marshmallows-corn-syrup-free/)

Raspberry cake with meringues (http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/05/02/raspberry-cake-with-whipped-cream-and-pink-meringues-2/)

Sicilian Amaretti (http://sundayatthegiacomettis.blogspot.com/2011/11/sicilian-amaretti-cookies-almond.html)

 

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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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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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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