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

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)

 

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

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

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INGREDIENTS

1 red onion, sliced

2 small zucchini, cut into rounds

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

EVOO

2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes, halved

1/4 cup of dry white wine

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

salt to taste

fresh oregano leaves for serving

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

HOW TO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Home-made Agave and Cinnamon Granola with EVOO

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Breakfast is where the Italian Diet fails to impress nutritionists…It is true, in Italy we have a sweet tooth and most people favour a quick, sugar-loaded cookie or pastry dunked into their morning cappuccino to some healthier, more nourishing options. Although I don’t like to think I particularly subscribe to a health-fanatic movement, I have myself ditched the morning cornetto and I have learned to like savory combinations such as poached eggs with wilted spinach, smoked salmon and baby capers or avocados and roasted tomatoes on toast. Sometimes though, when only something sweet will do to wake you and get the day started, a light sprinkle of home-made, agave and juice-sweetened crunchy granola, over a soft dollop of Greek Yogurt and a scattering of ripe and succulent berries will do the job, without impacting of my waistline!

Ingredients

400 gr (6 cups) of rolled oats

1 cup of mixed seeds and nuts, such as pepitas, linseed, almonds, pine nuts and sunflower seeds (or any you prefer)

125 ml (1/2 cup) of apple juice

4 tablespoons of  agave syrup (or honey)

6 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil (use a lighter scented oil such, if you prefer)

1 teaspoon of ground ginger

generous dusting of  ground cinnamon

3/4 cup of chopped dried fruit such as figs, apricots or whatever suits you best

1/2 cup of goji berries

How to

1. In a large bowl mix together oats and the nuts and seeds.

2. Coat the oat and nut mix with apple juice, EVOO, ginger  and a generous dusting of ground cinnamon. You can really afford to be heavy-handed with this most delightful spice as some of its warm aroma will dissipate in your oven.

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3. Line an oven tray with baking paper, spread the mix onto it and flatten it with the back of a spoon of with a spatula.

4. Cover with another sheet of baking paper and bake in a moderate oven (170 Celsius, 335 Farenheit) for around 25-30 minutes, the remove the top sheet of paper, mix  and allow to finish toasting and crunching up ( around 15-20 minutes, according to your oven). Take the tray out of the oven, add the dried fruit and a little more cinnamon. Cool down in the tray to allow the moisture to evaporate. Store in an air-tight container and enjoy for breakfast with thick Greek yoghurt and fresh fruit or sprinkled over ice-cream, or simply as it is. It’s a protein-packed, low-carb snack that will satisfy your craving for sweet treats in a heathy and nutritious way.

Win-Win!

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Note

To liven up an old batch of granola that has lost its crispness after  a few weeks in the cupboard, simply lay it onto an oven tray lined with baking paper and toast in a medium oven for 15 minutes. dust liberally with cinnamon and allow to cool before storing it again.

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Roasted Carrot and Kale Chips Salad

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

Ingredients for 4 people

10-12 medium carrots or 20 baby carrots

6-8 kale leaves, stalk removed, chopped

4-5 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

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

1-2 good pinches of salt

freshly gourd white pepper (to taste)

How to

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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Easy Home-Made Tomato Passata


Have you ever been tempted to make your own tomato pasta sauce, but got put off by the daunting thought that this is a complicated job, best left to the expert, wrinkled  hands of a good-old  Italian Nonna? Think again! Home-made passata is within everybody’s reach. All you need is a food miller, some empty glass jars and, naturally, the ripest, juiciest tomatoes you can fetch. For those of you frolicking in the heat of high summer, this is a reasonably easy feat. We, antipodean dwellers must be patient and wait a few more months before we can get our hands on the ruby-red jewels!

As a child growing up in Italy, I was exposed from a very early age to the delicate sweetness of my Mamma and Nonna’s passata. Every August, we children were assigned the task of washing tons of plump tomatoes, so ripe they almost burst in our tiny and clumsy hands. Mamma and Nonna would then put them all in a cauldron accompanied by other essentials herbs to stew gently, the sweet fumes impregnating the kitchen wall, our clothes, our hair. They would then mill them vigorously to obtain a thick and peel-free, crimson nectar, read to be bottled. The prospect of winter seemed to be more endurable, all of a sudden!

Ingredients (makes 3×450 gr jar)

2 kg (4 pounds) of ripe tomatoes, cut into quarters

1 stick of celery

2 spring onions, cut into chunks

1 chillie (chilli pepper),  leave out if you don’t like the heat

2-3 handfuls of fresh basil

a few sprigs of fresh oregano

salt to taste

1. Put the prepared vegetables in a large saucepan over medium heat, bring to a gentle simmer, turn the heat to low and cook for 35-40 minutes or until the vegetables have softened and the scent of Italy has invaded your home. Taste for salt and adjust to your liking,

2. Allow to cool in the spot for 10 minutes, then, working in batches, pass the vegetables through a food miller. You can choose to also pass the nectar through a sieve to get rid of seeds, but I personally like it rustic and a bit chunky.

3. Now all is left for you to do it is to put the passata back in the saucepan to heat up for a few minutes, ready to be poured hot into freshly sterilized glass jars and lids.

If you are not familiar with the process, this is how I do it:

- Always use new lids. Old lids will fail to seal the jar safely.

- To sterilize jars and lids, simply put them in the dish water and run a hot temperature cycle. Allow to dry in the machine, then fill the hot jars with hot liquid until 3/4 full. Seal with the lid securely. Turn the jars upside down to facilitate the creation of the vacuum, and allow to cool at room temperature.

- You can also sterilize them in a pot of boiling water for 20 minutes. LIft them out with tongs, allow them to dry, upside down, on a clean tea towel, then proceed as above.

Keep the jars in a dark cupboard and consume within 6 months.

Summer in a bottle!

Chillie Mussles in White Wine Broth (Cozze in bianco alla Marinara)

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

How to

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.

Pour the stewing liquid on top of the mussles, serve with toasted bread (crusty loaf, ciabatta or baguette) and consume while still hot.

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