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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Spelt Brownies with Red Wine and Olive Oil

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Winter in Sydney is an altogether acceptable proposition. Yes, mornings and nights get cold, but the average daytime temperature sits in the comfortable zone where you can showcase your cool boots, a cute leather jacket and accessories like scarves and beanies, without looking like Kenny from South Park! The other undeniable perk of cooler weather is that you have a perfect excuse to indulge in what is commonly known as comfort food. On my list you will invariably find red wine, dark chocolate and moist cakes. So it is no surprise I devised this recipes that combines my three loves beautifully. And, get this, it is sort of healthy! I use wholemeal spelt flour instead of white flour for extra fiber and nutrition and ditch the butter for olive oil, the real secret to the irresistible moistness of these brownies.

INGREDIENTS, serves 12

1 cup of dark chocolate chips

pinch of salt

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

2/3 cups of olive oil

1/4 cup red wine

4 eggs

1 scant cup of brown sugar

1 tablespoon of cocoa powder

1 3/4 cups of whole meal spelt flour mixed with 1 tablespoon of baking powder (replace with regular wholemeal/wholewheat flour if spelt is not available)

icing sugar for dusting on top

HOW TO

1. Preheat you oven to 180 C (355 F). Line a brownie tin with baking paper.

2. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave oven. Add salt, vanilla, stir to combine and set aside.

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3. Beat eggs with sugar until pale and fluffy, then add to the chocolate mix along with oil, wine and cocoa powder and stir to combine.

4. Gradually add the flour mixed with baking powder until a wet batter is created.

5. Pour the batter into the tin and bake for 30-35 minutes of until cracked on top and still slightly wobbly in the centre.

6. Cool at room temperature and serve cut into squares, dusted with icing (confectioner) sugar and your favourite coffee.

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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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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

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

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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