Chia seeds Bread Rolls

One undeniable truth about being a food writer is the obsessive motivation to constantly think about recipes, ingredients and how to combine them to create something worth sharing. Testing and experiment is second nature to us, and although we all have more kitchen disasters than we care to admit, those moments when a new recipe works and we come up trumps are undoubtably worth the effort and frustration. When I test new bread recipes I get giddy with anticipation. I spend days conjuring up images of what I’d love the finished product to look like and I work backwards to create a formula to make the magic happen. For those of you familiar with my blog, it is no surprise to see me at work with doughs, I am a self-confessed bread addict. If you are new to this space…well I hope you love your carbs too! These are good carbs, by the way. The dough, which requires no kneading as such,  is fermented for a very long time and risen overnight, creating an easy to digest bread. The addition of super healthy chia seeds turns these delicious rolls into a palatable proposition to even my most resolute “I don’t eat carbs” friends. More importantly, my young children devour them with such gusto, I can barely contain my grin!

INGREDIENTS, makes 12-14

400 gr (3-3/4 cups) all purpose flour

50 gr (3 tablespoons) of rye flour

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

1/2 teaspoon of dry yeast

2 teaspoons of salt

a few tablespoons of white chia seeds (you can replace with sesame seeds)

HOW TO

1. Mix flours, water and yeast together with a wooden spoon until combined.

2. Add salt and mix again. Your mixture will look and feel quite sticky. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and let it prove for 10/14 hours, or until it’s grown three times bigger and looks bubbly. The dough should feel quite wet, almost like a thick batter.

3. Line a muffin tin with baking paper to fit each hole. Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of mixture onto each hole. Top with chia seeds and allow to rise for 1 hour.

4. Turn the oven to 220 C (430 F).

5. Place the tin in the oven, bake for 10 minutes then reduce the temperature to 200 C (395 F) and bake for a further 10-15 minutes or until the rolls are golden and well risen. Remove the baking paper and allow to cool on a wire rack. They are best eaten 1 hour after baking.

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Lemon and Olive Oil Ciambella

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Quite simply, my personal idea of comfort food. I suppose you can trace this back to when I was a child and mum would invariably turn to this treat for a Sunday afternoon tea. There was nothing more soothing then hearing those familiar kitchen sounds from my bedroom, where I’d be pretending to do my homework. By the third egg shell being cracked, I’d turn up in the kitchen offering to lend a hand, which in my world meant lick the bowl (and all the utensils). And so these days I make this cake for my two boys. The ritual is the same, I slave, they lick, but once the cake is out of the oven, we can all rejoice!

INGREDIENTS, serves 10/12

2 whole eggs, 2 egg yolks

1 cup of caster sugar

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

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

1/2 cup of olive oil (go extra-virgin if you like a bit of extra flavour, like I do)

1/2 cup of buttermilk

1-2/3 cup of self raising flour

HOW TO

1. Preheat your oven to 180 C, 350 F. Grease and flour a bundt cake tin

2. Beat the eggs with sugar until pale and fluffy

3. Add lemon zest, vanilla and oil and whisk well

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4. Add the flour and mix gently, alternating with the buttermilk to create a smooth batter

5. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden and a cooked through. Insert a wooden skewer in the centre of the cake to make sure it’s bakes to perfection. If it comes out clean, happy times! Otherwise give it another 5 minutes in the oven

6. Cool at room temperature in its tin for at least 1 hour, before turning out onto a platter

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Chicken, Sausage and Pumpkin Bake (Pollo al forno con salsiccia e zucca)

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Italian home-cooking can be explained in a simple equation: a few fresh ingredients + a bit of love = happy diners! This is always the case at my house, where we celebrate the abundance of the exquisite produce we get … Continue reading

No-knead Spelt Focaccia with Potato and Zucchini

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

Ricotta Dumplings with Fresh Tomato Sugo (Gnudi al Sugo Fresco)

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Call them dumplings, gnudi or patties, these soft, zesty morsels will have you beam in delight at the very first bite. What could go wrong when you combine the milky richness of fresh ricotta (rigorously full cream!), with home-made breadcrumbs, zingy herbs and the warm piquancy of nutmeg? These delectable bites are delicately poached in a fresh tomato sauce ready to be devoured with a generous chunk of crusty bread or gently mixed through perfectly al dente spaghetti. Did I mention they are ridiculously easy to make?

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

For the Sugo

850 gr (2 lb) of fresh tomatoes (or 1 tin of good quality tinned tomatoes or your own Passata)

1-2 shallots (or 1 medium brown onion), finely chopped

4 tablespoons of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

1 garlic clove, skin on, bashed with back of a knife

1 small celery stick, finely chopped

salt flakes, to taste

a handful of basil leaves

For the dumplings

450 g (2 1/2 cups) full-cream ricotta (using low-fat ricotta won’t work…Live a little!)

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon salt flakes

1 pinch freshly ground white pepper

100–120gr (2/3 cups) of fresh breadcrumbs (simply place stale bread in a food processor and blitz until you have coarse breadcrumbs)

2/3 cup (50 g) freshly grated pecorino

1 good handful of chopped parsley

1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg

semolina flour for dusting

HOW TO

1. Start by making the sauce. Wash the tomatoes, score the top gently with a knife and blanch them in boiling water for 1 minutes. Plunge them  into cold water to allow the skin to come off easily. Peel the tomatoes, chop them roughly and set aside.

2. Heat up the oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan. Stir fry the shallots, celery and the garlic on medium heat for 1-2 minutes or until the shallots turn translucent and slightly golden and the garlic smells fragrant. Drop in the chopped tomatoes with half a cup of water (or tinned tomatoes, if using. Or, if you’ve been amazingly good, your own Passata…), season with salt and cook on medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover with a lid and set aside. For a smoother sauce, blitz in a food processor for 4-5 seconds. Scatter some basil leaves on top and set aside.

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3. Make the dumplings by mixing all the ingredients in a large bowl. The mixture needs to feel sticky, but workable. If too dry add a few tablespoons of milk. If too wet, add a little extra cheese or breadcrumbs.

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4. Let the mixture sit in the fridge, covered with plastic film, to firm up for 30 minutes or overnight.

5. Shape the dumplings with wet hands, the size of a golf ball. Place them on an oven tray lined with baking paper and dusted with semolina flour until ready to cook.

6. Heat up the tomato sugo in a large pot of frying pan. Add a little water if it looks dry. When the sauce comes to a simmer, gently drop in the dumplings. Cover with a lid and let the steam cook them through, for about 5-6 minutes. Take the lid off and gently, using a wooden spoon, turn them over. They are extremely delicate, so be mindful! Cook for a further minute, uncovered then turn the heat off.

7. You can serve them immediately, although I find that they are better the next day, a little firmer in texture and all the flavours harmoniously combined.

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Serve with crusty bread or freshly cooked pasta.

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Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Cannellini Beans Salad

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Have you been looking for a super healthy recipe that combines nutritional virtues with great flavor? Look no further! In the one bowl you have the antioxidant powers of tomatoes, the good, necessary fats of extra-virgin olive oil, the antibacterial boost of garlic and the mood-elevating kick of rosemary. Add to this blissful mix the low-in-fat-high-in-iron, gluten-free, vegan-friendly and utterly delicious cannellini beans and you have granted yourself a beauty treatment for the insides that is sure to show its mighty benefits on the outside too. Whomever said that Italian food is not healthy ought to think again….

INGREDIENTS, serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a main meal accompanied with bread

600 gr (1.3 lb) of cherry tomatoes (I used mixed heirloom)

4 tablespoon of EVOO

2 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar (regular balsamic vinegar or verjuice are good substitutes)

A generous handful of mixed fresh herbs (thyme, oregano, rosemary)

Salt, to taste

freshly ground white or black pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon of sugar

1  tin of Cannellini beans, well drained and rinsed (if using dried-and-soaked beans, 450 gr (1 lb) will be more than enough)

HOW TO

1. If using dried beans, start this recipe a day ahead. Soak the beans in cold water overnight. The next day, rinse the beans, place them in a pot well covered in water, throw in some herbs and simmer for 1 hour or until tender. Cool the beans in the cooking liquid, taste for salt and adjust accordingly. Set aside until ready to use.

2. Preheat your oven to 160 C (320 F).

3. Put the washed tomatoes in a large bowl, leave some whole and cut the rest in half. Season with oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, sugar and herbs. Mix well.

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4. Pour the tomato mix onto a large roasting tray lined with baking paper. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until blistered, but still intact. Add the well-drained beans to the tomatoes while that are still warm, taste for seasoning and fix as required.

5. Serve warm as a side dish or accompanied by toasted sourdough for a more substantial meal.

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Ciabatta Bread

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

INGREDIENTS , if using  dry yeast

450 gr (3 3/4 cups) of flour

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

a tablespoon of olive oil

1 scant tablespoon of dry yeast

2 teaspoons of salt

HOW TO

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

2. Mix vigorously with a spatula or with a standing mixer fitter with a paddle attachment for 5-10 minutes or until the dough is shiny and slightly elastic. It will be sticky and wet. Put in an oiled bowl to prove for 30 minutes, then stretch it with wet hands and fold it onto itself and leave to rest. At this stage you have two options: place the covered bowl in the fridge to slow prove overnight , or for a minimum of 10 hours, or prove at room temperature, in a warm spot, for a further 1 1/2-2 hours or until doubled in size. Slow proving will add flavour and will ensure you a moist soft crumb, but you will still have a worthy ciabatta if you skip that stage. Up to you and your own time management, really! Once the dough has proven, you will notice that lovely air bubbles will have formed. Don’t burst them, they hold the secret to the formation of those coveted holes. Tip the dough onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper, stretch it gently with floured hands and dimple the top lightly.

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

4.  Insert the bread tray into the hot oven, pour a glass of cold water into the skillet to create steam, close the oven door and bake for 30-35 minutes or until risen, golden and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. You may need to flip the bread upside down to ensure even baking according to your oven.  Cool at room temperature over a wire rack for at least 1 hour before slicing away to reveal that holey, moist crumb.

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

Follow this link if you wish to make your sourdough starter

Sourdough ciabatta 

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

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

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Easter Scrolls and Hot-Cross Buns!

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As the Holy Week marches on, I feel the urge to get my hands in more festive doughs! What could be better than home-made hot cross buns and scrolls? With the warm tang of cinnamon, the liveliness of orange peel and the opulence of chocolate, they are definitely going to be on offer at my Easter table this year.

Ingredients

For the ferment:

1 tablespoon of dry yeast

150 ml (2/3 cup) ml lukewarm milk

1 tablespoon honey

100 gr (3/4 cup+1 tablespoon) all-purpose flour

Finely grated zest of 1 orange

Dissolve the yeast in milk. Stand for 5 minutes then add the other ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until well incorporated.

Cover with a tea towel and rest for 1 hour or until it has doubled in size

Dough:

Risen ferment

250 gr (2 cups) of all-purpose flour

50 gr (1/4 cup) of soft butter, cubed

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground clove

100 (1/2 cup) gr of sugar

1 egg

3 tablespoons of floured, mixed peel

3 tablespoons chocolate chips

Criss-Cross dough

4 tablespoon of flour

2 tablespoon of water

Mix together of form a soft, pliable dough

Egg wash

1 egg+2 tablespoon of milk

Beat egg with milk and brush on the buns just before baking

Glaze

1/3 of a cup ml of milk, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon

Simmer of milk with 2 sugar and  cinnamon.

Stir until sugar is dissolved and the glaze is slightly reduced.

How to

1. In a large bowl, or using a stand mixer, add flour to the ferment, then the butter, a little at a time, the spices and the sugar. The dough will be a little dry at this stage.

2. Add 1 egg and knead for 15 minutes or until the dough is smooth and silky and is see-through if stretched with your fingers. Shape the dough into a ball and rest, covered with a tea towel for 20 minutes.

3. Stretch the dough with floured hands to shape a rectangle.

4. Sprinkle the surface with mixed peel and chocolate and roll the dough tightly, as if rolling up a cigar. Shape back into a ball and leave to prove in a floured bowl for 2-3 hours.

5. Stretch the dough one more time, fold it into three then shape into a log. Cut the log into 6. Shape 3 pieces into long ropes, roll them up to resemble snails and leave them to rest onto an oven try lined with baking paper. Shape the remaining 3 pieces into balls and place them next to one another on the oven tray.

6. Make the paste for the crosses. Roll it up and place on top of the balls in a criss-cross patters.

7. Leave to prove for 45 minutes.

8. Heat your oven to 180 C (340 F)

9. Glaze the buns and the scrolls with egg wash and bake for 20/25 minutes or until golden and cooked through.

10. While the oven does its job, make the milk glaze.

Take the buns and scrolls out of the oven, brush the milk glaze over them and allow to cool on a rack, at room temperature.

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Happy Easter!

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Panini alle Olive (Olive and Rosemary bread rolls, made in a food processor)

Happy 2012 to all!

Given my self-confessed obsession for yeasted baked goods, it only makes sense that the first post of the year is -yet another- bread recipe. I have been experimenting with doughs and flours and I really wanted to offer you an alternative to hand or machine kneading, and it turns out that some breads can be mixed in a food processor! No hard work+no floury mess= amazingly good bread rolls with a soft, moist crumb.

Ingredients

1x 7gr (0,2 oz) sachet of dry yeast dissolved in 1/4 cup lukewarm water

1/2 cup water

1/4 extra virgin olive oil

500 gr (3-3/4 cup) all purpose flour (or Italian 00 flour)

1-2 rosemary sprig

2 teaspoons salt

2 handfuls of pitted olives

How to

1. Stir the dry yeast in lukewarm water. Stand for 10 minutes until the liquid appears slightly creamy, than add1/2 cup of water and oil

2. Place  flour, a scant handful of rosemary springs and  salt in a food processor fitted with a sharp blade, cover with the lid and pulse a few times to combine the flour with the salt. Gradually add the yeast+olive oil liquid until it starts to combine. At this stage the dough will look quite dry. Don’t be tempted to add water or oil as the olives you are about to scatter through it will add a lot of moisture.

3. Sprinkle in the olives (I used green Sicilian and black Ligurian olives) and pulse until the dough starts to gather into a slightly sticky ball. If you think your dough it too wet, you can sprinkle a little extra flour. Likewise, if your dough isn’t moist enough, add a table-spoon of water or another couple of olives.

4. When the dough easily detaches from the sides of the bowl, take it out, dust it with a little flour, shape it into a ball and leave it to rest, well covered, until it doubles in size. In warm weather this will take 1 1/2  to 2 hours, allow a little longer if  it’s cold.

5. Cut the dough into 8 pieces, shape them into balls and place them to prove on an oven tray lined with baking paper. Be sure to allow some room for the rolls to grow. You can use this dough to bake loaves as well, as pictured below.

6. Allow to rise for a further hour. In the meantime bring your oven to 200 Celsius (390 Farenheit). Bake your rolls for about 20 minutes or until they look slightly golden and sound hollow when tapped with your fingers.

Serve with pecorino and salame or simply devour them as there are…

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My favourite Baguettes (French bread stick)

Baguettes are, quite possibly, the western world’s most-loved bread. The reason being that this starchy good, with its morish texture and savoury crumb is simply and utterly divine…It’s the ideal accompaniment to any cheese and cold cut of meat, it’s best friend with terrines and  pâtés and it doesn’t fail to impress when married with jams or chocolate spreads. It’s practically perfect in every way…Apart from the fact that, unless you are in France or you own an industrial strength oven and proving cell, it is very difficult to re-create at home. Lucky for you, I am a bread-obsessed woman, and I have spent the last few weeks attempting to adjust various baguette recipes to suit my very normal oven and kitchen appliances. I have had many disappointments, and then eventually, last Sunday..Eureka! I cracked it. I cannot wait to share this with you, bread-lovers worldwide. For those of you as obsessed (read “insane”) as I am, I have worked out a recipe that uses natural sourdough yeast. But I have not forgotten the rest of you, probably a much saner percentage of readers, who will never go through the trouble of cultivating natural yeast for weeks and would rather use the readily available dried one. It’s good news all round: the bread will turn out incredibly good, no matter which  rising agent you decide to use.

Where’s the catch?… You have to be patient and let the dough prove for, at least 8 hours. Mix it at night before you go to bed, forget about it, than shape your sticks in the morning, prove them for another couple of hours, and for your Sunday lunch you will have your much deserved reward.

Ingredients

220 gr (1 cup) of sourdough starter or 1/2 teaspoon of dry yeast

410 gr (3 1/2 cups) flour (baker’s or 00)

210 ml (3/4 cup) of filtered water, at room temperature

1 teaspoon of diastatic malt powder (or barley malt syrup, or honey)

2 teaspoons of salt

1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil

semolina flour for dusting

How to

1. In a large non-metallic bowl, mix the sourdough starter or the dried yeast with flour, a teaspoon of diastatic malt (or barley malt syrup -or honey-) and water.

2.When the starter/yeast is well incorporated add  salt and  oil.

3. Mix it with a wooden spoon just so the ingredients are amalgamated. The dough shouldn’t be too smooth, nor elastic. In fact, it should feel a little rough and slightly damp.

4. Cover the bowl with a lid or with cling wrap. Prove at room temperature for 8 to 14 hours. You will observe that in very warm climate, and if using dried yeast, the dough will bulk prove quicker than in colder climate.

5. When the dough has tripled in size and looks bubbly, gently tip it onto a floured surface. It will feel quite sticky. Do not panic! Grab a small handful of flour and delicately work the dough to turn it a bit more pliable, being mindful never to actually knead it. It is important not to over work the gluten in the flour otherwise your bread will turn out too dense. Also, you don’t want to knock  out  those precious air bubbles as they hold the secret to a light-as-a-feather crumb and crunchy crust. Gently flatten the dough with the palm of your hand then roll it onto itself, lenghtways,  and form a long sausage shape, seam side down and slightly narrower at the extremities. At this stage, you can sprinkle them poppy or sesame seeds, if that takes your fancy.

6. Prove for two hours at room temperature, on a tea towel dusted with semolina flour, and well covered. Then, carefully tip the logs into a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Rest for another 20 minutes and bring your oven to  200 Celsius (390 Farenheit). Place a metal bowl in the oven to heat up.

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7. Score the sticks with a sharp knife quickly, yet gently, place the tray into the oven and pour a cup of cold water onto the metal bowl, to create steam. Close the oven door immediately after. The steam will favour the creation of a moist crumb and a crackly, bronzed crust.

Bake for 25/30 minutes or until the top looks crusty and golden and the bottom looks sunburnt and slightly rusty in colour.

Your home will smell like like a French bakery…

Bon Jour!

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