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
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.
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.
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…
- From the kitchen: Roasted Garlic, Kalamata Olive and Shallot Focaccia (loveandcupcakesblog.com)
- Ricotta Gnocchi with Garlic and Rosemary Focaccia (dailygluttony.wordpress.com)
- Focaccia Loving (acupofteawithmrsb.com)
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!
1 red onion, sliced
2 small zucchini, cut into rounds
2 garlic cloves, skin on, bashed with the back of a knife
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
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.
- Lemon Salmon & Cherry Tomatos Cous Cous (andrewscookery.wordpress.com)
- Smoked Salmon on Black Pepper Potato Chips (Or, Wallie could eat a thousand of these) (citymama.com)
Ah, the joys of lazy Sunday mornings! Sleeping in, waking up rested and in a pure state of relax, indulging in a long, blissful shower, perhaps even a facial mask and a hair treatment. All followed by a generous slice of moist cake to joyfully dunk into a creamy cappuccino. Naturally, as the mother of two young boys, I can only dream of sleeping in and frolicking under the shower for more than 2 minutes. I can forget about hair and facial treatments, but one thing I am yet to surrender: the cake to dunk in my Sunday morning coffee. This batter is mixed in under 3 minutes, just perfect for the busy family life, and produces a soft, moist cake that can become the conduit for bolder flavor such as lemon and almonds, mandarin and ginger, or my children favorite, orange and chocolate chips. Happy Sunday!
INGREDIENTS (serves 8)
280 gr (2-1/2 cups) of self-raising flour, sifted
150 gr (3/4 cup) of caster sugar
finely grated rind of one orange
150 gr (3/4 cup) of dark chocolate chips
pinch of salt
200 ml (3/4 cups) of buttermilk
80 ml (1/3 cup) of olive oil
1 egg, beaten with a fork
1 teaspoon of vanilla paste or extract or the seeds from 1/2 vanilla pod
1. Preheat your over to 180 C (395 F).
2. Line a cake tin with baking paper.
3. Put flour, sugar, salt , 2/3 of the chocolate chips and the orange zest in a large mixing bowl.
4. Pour the buttermilk and the oil into a jug. Add the egg and vanilla and mix with a whisk for a few seconds.
5. Pour the wet ingredients into the large mixing bowl, mix with a wooden spoon just so the batter come together, but don’ try to make it smooth. If the batter feel a little dry, add a couple of extra tablespoons of buttermilk. If too wet, add 1-2 tablespoons of flour. As all flours vary slightly, it is always a good idea to adapt quantities according to the ingredients you are working with.
Lumpy, sticky batter=soft moist cake!
6. Pour the cake mix into the prepared tin, scatter the remaining chocolate chips on top and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the top is slightly golden and, if pierced with a wooden skewer, it comes out clean.
Cool at room temperature, cut into large slices and enjoy with a tall glass of cold milk
- Buttermilk Hot Cakes (familyrecipebooks.wordpress.com)
- Chocolate Buttermilk Cake With Chocolate Buttermilk Frosting (lovelyseasonscomeandgo.wordpress.com)
- cranberry-orange buttermilk cake with orange-vanilla bean glaze and sugared cranberries (sweetbetweens.com)
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
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.
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.
Oil a baking dish and flatten the dough onto it. Score the dough with a pastry cutter to create a criss-cross pattern.
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.
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.
Finding myself going through the chills of winter in Melbourne, knowing that the northern hemisphere is now enjoying a hot, steamy summer, doesn’t always come easy.
For a European girl like me the months of June, July and August are instantly associated with hot weather, drinks by the beach, seafood eaten with bare, sandy hands.
So, as I share this recipe for one of my summertime favorite dishes, please spare a thought for me, bundled up in coat, hat and scarf, sipping hot soup and secretly longing for a glass of chilled white wine, a bowl of chillie mussles and summer on a sardinian beach.
Ingredients, serves 4 as a starter, 2 as a main
4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
200 ml of white wine
2 garlic cloves, 1 whole, 1 finely chopped
4 spring onions (shallots), roughly chopped
two handfuls of parsley, leaves roughly chopped, stalks finely chopped
1 red chillie, finely chopped (de-seed if you don’t like it too hot)
1 kg of Mussles
Toasted sourdough for serving
Clean the mussles by pulling out the beards and by scrubbing the shells to get rid of any grit. Place them in a bowl and set aside.
Discard any mussles that are already open or that have a broken shell.
Heat up the oil in a large heavy-sided frying pan. Fry the spring onion, whole garlic clove, parsley stalks and chillie for 1 minute, than add the chopped garlic and cook together for a further minute or until the garlic turns blond and smells fragrant. Pour in the wine and continue sizzling over high heat for 1-2 minutes or until the alcohol has evaporated.
Drop the shells in and cover with a fitted lid.
The steam will start opening the mussles in 2-3 minutes.
Lift them out with a slotted spoon and set them aside in a bowl as they open, to avoid overcooking. Discard any that refuse to open. Taste for salt and add some if you feel so inclined. I hardly ever do as the muscles and the liquor they release when cooking are pure sea-water nectar.
Home-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.
1 green-thumbed husband
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)
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.
If you have an abundance of basil in your garden, here’s my basil-infused oil.
- Kitchen Crusades: The Case of Fresh Spices Versus Dried (mynewplace.com)
- How to Make a Knockout Chili Without a Recipe (esquire.com)
- Healthy and Tasty Mexican Flavors for Superbowl Yummies or Anytime (simplysophisticatedcooking.wordpress.com)
This may well be the easiest recipe ever.
Grab some good quality EVOO, a generous handful of fresh basil, and there’s your green-hued bottle of goodness ready for you.
To be just a tad more specific:
In a large pot, bring 500 ml (1 pint, 2 cups) of EVOO and 1 cup of loosely packed basil leaves to a simmer. Immediately turn the heat off and allow to cool in the pot for 30 minutes.
Process the oil and leaves in a blender then strain the precious and viscous liquid through a sieve.
Using a funnel, pour the strained, basil-infused oil into a glass bottle you have previously washed and dried.
I chose to use an old American whiskey bottle with a cork lid we had saved.
A bottle with an attitude, some would say!
This powerfully scented concoction will be very useful as a salad dressing mixed with lemon juice and salt, or simply drizzled on top of your favorite pasta or bruschetta.
Ode to Simplicity!
A few nights ago, I had dinner at my cousin Elena’s house in Milan. She is the sweetest, most gorgeous girl, but, notoriously, she can’t cook to save her life! Lucky for all the guests, she also invited her bother Giorgio along, who was born with the cooking gene. Giorgio has always been a flamboyant wine connoisseur and a passionate amateur cook and has certain savoir-faire in the kitchen, it always is a pleasure for me to watch him at work and exchange tips and recipes. That night he made Italy’s most loved summer classic, Spaghetti con Pomodorini (with fresh cherry tomatoes), with a little twist. He cooked the pasta “risotto style”: forget about boiling, draining and then dressing the pasta with your sauce! When you do it “risotto-style”, the spaghetti cooks in a rich and velvety fresh tomato liquor, slowly absorbing all the flavors, while the starch released by the gentle and constant stirring motion creates a luscious sauce.
INGREDIENTS, serves 4
4 tablespoons of EVOO
1 garlic clove, skin on, bruised with the back of a knife
2 tins of tomatoes (to 2 lb of Passata)
1 punnet of cherry tomatoes, halved
salt, to taste
1 packet of Spaghetti
Freshly grated Parmigiano to serve
1. Heat up the oil in a heavy-based frying pan or large saucepan. Stir fry the shallots and garlic over medium-low heat, for 1-2 minutes or until the onion is soft and the garlic smells fragrant. Add the tinned tomatoes or passata, season with salt, bring to a simmer, then turn the heat to low.
2. Cook the sauce for 20 minutes.
3. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Cook th spaghetti in it for 1-2 minutes or until the pasta has softened. Using kitchen tongs, lift the spaghetti straight into the tomato saucepan. Cover with enough pasta cooking water so that all the pasta is submerged with liquid. Stirring gently, continue cooking until the pasta is Al Dente and the liquid has been absorbed and you are left with thick, rich sauce. This will take 5-7 minutes, according to the size of spaghetti you use. When the pasta is al dente, add the cherry tomatoes and basil leaves. Turn the heat off. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly.
4. Serve hot, with a generous dusting of parmigiano and plenty of bread to mop up that delicious sauce.
- Pennette con Pomodori… (massiskitchen.wordpress.com)
- Adventures in pasta-making: fresh spaghetti and meatballs (sophnstuff.wordpress.com)
- Last 7 Days of Cooking #4 (bellacorea.wordpress.com)
How many of you recall that famous scene from Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp”,when, as they fall in love by the suave notes of “Bella notte” being played on the mandolin, the dogs share a strand of spaghetto and Tramp nudges the last meatball over to Lady, as his promise of love and devotion? Everytime I cook spaghetti with meatballs I can’t stop myself from feeling utterly romantic, even if the dish itself is the most humble and unpretentious and even though Richard would rather set his own hair on fire than hand over the last meatball….Many and varied are the recipes for polpette. Pretty much every Mamma and Nonna in Italy will tell you they hold the best one, and so I have to go with my Mamma’s and Nonna’s and pay tribute to their moist mixture of mince and other loveliness.
Ingredients for 4 people
2 slices of stale bread, crust removed, cut into chunks
1 cup of milk
1 lb (450 gr) of premium beef mince
1 handful of chopped up parsley leaves
1/4 teaspoon of grated nutmeg
1/3 cup of grated parmesan cheese
2 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of ground white pepper
1 brown onion, chopped up
1 garlic clove bashed with the back of a knife
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup of red wine
2 tins of tomatoes
1 cup of water
salt to taste
spaghetti or crusty bread to serve
1. Soak the bread in milk for about 10 minutes.
2. In a bowl, mix together the beef mince with 1 egg, salt and pepper, chopped parsley, the tip of a s teaspoon of grated nutmeg and grated Parmigiano (or Grana Padano) . Use a spoon if you feel squeamish about touching raw meat, but in my opinion hands are your best kitchen tools.
3. Squeeze the milk out of the bread ,add to the meat mix and amalgamate.
4. Using the palms of your hand, roll the polpette the size of small manadarins and set aside in the fridge to firm up for 15 minutes.
5. In the meantime, pan fry the chopped onion and garlic in a little olive oil until the onion is soft and translucent.
- You Don’t Have to Be Italian to Make Homemade Italian Sauce and Meatballs (thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com)
- Wednesday Meatball Love (thecheekymama.wordpress.com)
- Le Polpette Più Straordinaria (Or, “Meatballs!”) (ragstodishes.wordpress.com)