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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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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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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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

Pallotte Cacio e Ovo (Stale bread and Pecorino Dumplings)

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Pallotte Cacio e Ovo (literally, balls with pecorino and egg….Yes doesn’t sound as evocative in English!) is a traditional dish from my mother’s village in the mountains of Abruzzo. Every Mamma and Nonna in Torricella Peligna has a treasured recipe for this humble dish that features stale bread as its key ingredient, and they all vehemently claim to be the keepers of the tastiest recipe. I am no exception, having inherited my great Aunt Italina’s method, which includes a chunk of bell pepper left to stew in the tomato sauce to add a touch of peppery robustness to this magnificent peasant meal.

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

For the dumplings

200 gr (about 2 cups) day-old Italian bread (such as pane di casa or ciabatta), crust removed, cut into chunks

250 ml  (1 cup) of milk

160 gr (2 cups) of finely grated pecorino cheese

1/4 cup roughly chopped parsley and 1/4 of chopped basil leaves

1 egg , lightly beaten

Olive oil to deep fry

salt and pepper to season

For the sauce

2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

2 spring onions (scallions) roughly chopped

1/4 green capsicum (pepper) in 1 piece

1 garlic clove, finely chopped + 1 whole, bashed with the back of a knife

1 small celery stick, finely chopped

2 tins of tomatoes or 3 cups of  home-made passata

Basil leaves

salt and pepper to season

HOW TO

1. Soak the bread in milk for 20 minutes or until soft, then squeeze out any excess. Using your hands, break down the bread to a pulp

2. Combine bread with cheese, egg, herbs to form a sticky batter. Add salt and pepper to season. Rest in the fridge for 20 minutes

3. Meanwhile, for the tomato sauce, heat the oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat

4. Cook, spring onion, garlic, celery and pepper, stirring for 3-4 minutes or until fragrant. Add tin tomatoes or passata, season with salt and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and cook gently for 20 minutes or until slightly reduced

5. Half fill a saucepan with olive oil and heat over medium high heat

6. Take the dumpling mixture out of the fridge, and, with wet hands, shape it into balls the size of a small mandarin

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7. Deep fry the dumplings in batches until golden and cooked through. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with kitchen paper

8. Add the cooked dumplings to the tomato sauce, cover with the lid and stand , off the heat, for at least 1 hour before serving to allow for the flavours to mingle and for the dumplings to soak up the sauce

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9. When ready to serve, gently reheat the dumplings in the sauce, top with basil leaves and serve hot or warm

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Le Maddalene (Orange and Vanilla Madeleines)

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Strictly speaking Madeleines are not an Italian sweet treat. So what are they doing in my Authentic Italian food blog, you may rightfully ask? It’s one of the best known, most loved French buttery delight, but  the geographical vicinity with France, the French influence in Val D’Aosta and Piedmont, both in language and cuisine and the fact that Italy and France have been calling one another “cousins” for centuries makes me feel entitled to love and share this recipe with you. Also, the batter itself is a Génoise cake batter …Génoise means “from Genoa”, the main city of Liguria, in Italy, another reason why Italians claim this sweet as, partially, theirs…

The recipe is fairly simple. It’s a combination of the usual suspects: self-raising flour, eggs, sugar, butter, orange and vanilla. The secret to a perfectly moist and soft Madeleine though, is in the time you allow for the batter to rest. I have had a few failures with these lovely, shell-shaped nuggets and it was only after reading the Roux bothers cook-book, the bible of French dessert, that I realized that even cakes need their beauty sleep! And I’m not talking about a power-nap. The batter needs to rest for a minimum of 6 hours, up to 24. So, if you have an instant craving for Madeleines, think again. But if you are prepared to make this batter today and bake your sweets in the morning, by the time you’ve had a shower, you’ll be able to dunk a few warm ones into your morning coffee.

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INGREDIENTS, makes 24 small cakes

3 whole eggs at room temperature

100 gr sugar (half a cup)

2 tbsp honey

120 gr of butter (3/4 of a cup)

175 gr (1 1/2 cups) of sieved self-raising flour

Grated rind of one large orange, or two small ones

Vanilla paste or essence (or seeds, if you have them)

HOW TO

1. Melt the butter over low heat and add the grated orange zest. Turn off the heat and set aside.

2.Whisk the eggs with the sugar and the honey until pale and creamy. Sift over the sieved flour and fold gently. Don’t over work the flour or the gluten with make the batter too dense. Fold in the orange butter and a teaspoon of vanilla paste.

3. Cover with cling wrap and rest for up to 24 hours in the fridge.

4. The next day, bring your oven to 180 Celsius (390 Farenheit). Spoon the batter onto a greased and floured madeleine mould. The cakes will rise in the oven, so only fill the mould to 3/4 full.

5. Bake 5-10 minutes or until golden and cooked-thourgh.

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Dunk in your coffee and have a très magnifique day!

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Note

This is a reblog of my original post on Madeleines from 2011. I have since altered the recipe slightly, hence the need to update it and provide better quality images.

Craving Italian Tomatoes…(Oven roasted Tomatoes with Evoo and Balsamic)

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Italian cooking is always associated with the abundant use of tomatoes, may they be fresh, placed on a chunck of crunchy bread smeared with extra-virgin olive oil and garlic, or used in a sauce. The reason behind it is that in Italy we are blessed with the sweetest and most flavorsome  varieties. It has to do with a combination of great soil and holy water, and maybe a miracle by the Madonna thrown in for good measure, but what is certain is that it poses quite a challenge for me to find a red fruit that can stand the comparison with Italian Pomodori. So, when I am away from my Bella Italia, and I crave the Campania sun-ripened jewels of the vine, I make do with what I can find and use a few tricks to enhance it and turn it mighty good. This is my secret revealed…

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

3 cups of cherry tomatoes (or heirloom tomatoes), halved

3 tablespoons of Extra-virgin olive oil (evoo)

2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar

a small pinch of sugar

salt and pepper to season

fresh herbs (oregano, basil, parsley…)

2 garlic cloves, bashed with the back of a knife

1 small chillie (optional)

HOW TO

1. Turn your oven onto 160 C (330 F)

2. Line an oven tray with baking paper

3. Mix the tomatoes with the rest of the ingredients and tip onto the oven tray

4. Roast for 1 hour or so or until the tomatoes look sun-brunt and wrinkly and are oozing out their delectable nectar… that’s when you know they are ready to meet their match, a large chunck of home-made sourdough bread…This classifies as the best lunch ever. Especially if you pair it with a glass (or two) of  chilled rose’ …

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You can also use them  as a dressing for pasta,  as the ultimate bruschetta topping, served with Italian savory donuts or as a side dish to accompany meat or fish

Buon appetito!

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Vin Cotto Roasted Rainbow Carrots

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I have an undeniable weakness for heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables. My heartbeat accelerates at the glorious sight of gnarly shaped heritage tomatoes, miniature beets specked with gold and rippled in pink patterns, or baby carrots painted in vivid yellow and purple hues. I could not resist grabbing a few bunches of these gifts of the heart during my last trip at the farmers market. A splash of oil, a gentle coating of apulian vincotto and a scattering of fresh herbs is all that’s needed to complement their natural sweetness.

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

2 bunches of baby rainbow carrots (or orange dutch carrots)

3 tablespoons of Extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons of Vin Cotto * (replace with balsamic vinegar if needed)

salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

freshly picked thyme and marjoram leaves (or oregano)

1 garlic clove, bashed with back of a knife

HOW TO

1. Preheat your oven to 200 C (390 F)

2. Wash and scrub the carrots, remove the stalks and the leaves. Place carrots in a large bowl and season with oil, vin cot to, salt, pepper, garlic and herbs

3. Place the seasoned carrots onto an oven tray lined with baking paper and roast in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until nicely golden and slightly blistered.

4. Serve warm or cold as a side or as a salad mixed with peppery arugula leaves.

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*From Wikipedia:

Vincotto (translated as “cooked wine”) is a dark, sweet dense condiment produced artisanally in the Apulia region of southeastern Italy. It is made by the slow cooking and reduction over many hours of non-fermented grape must until it has been reduced to about one fifth of its original volume and the sugars present have caramelized. It can be made from a number of varieties of local red wine grapes includingPrimitivoNegroamaro and Malvasia Nera, collected after being allowed to wither naturally on the vine for about 30 days.

Vincotto has a sweet flavor, and is not a form of vinegar, though a sweet vinegar version can be produced using a vincotto as a base. This additional product is called a Vinegar of Vincotto, Vincotto Vinegar, or Vincotto balsamic and can be used in the same way as a good mellow Balsamic vinegar.”

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Easter Dolls (Pupe di Pasqua)

My fondest Easter morning memory takes me back to Italy, to being a child, to being with Nonna Irene. Every Easter she used to make Pupe di Pasqua (traditional Abruzzese Easter Dolls) out of pastry, for us children to dunk in our bowl of milk on Easter morning. Me, my sister Ale and my cousin Elena would be the lucky recipients of lovely peasant girl-like dolls while my brother Giammarco and my cousin Giorgio would devour their horse-shaped dolls in no more than a few bites. As if part of some gruesome tribal ritual, the heads would be the first to go, leaving our dolls bearing a vivid resemblance to Anne Boleyn! And so, it is now my pleasure to pass on such precious legacy and make dolls for my children. Following the family tradition, the doll received the Henry the VIII treatment…

INGREDIENTS

3 eggs

3 tablespoons of olive oil (or EVOO)

4 tablespoons of sugar

75 gr (2/3 cups) almond flour

finely grated lemon zest

150 gr (1-1/3 cups)  flour, well sifted

100 gr (3/4 cup)  of self-raising flour, well sifted

1 teaspoon of vanilla paste or extract

1 egg+2 tablespoons of milk for the glaze

HOW TO

1. Whisk the eggs with sugar until pale and fluffy. Pour in the oil, add the zest and mix well with a wooden spoon.

2. Slowly add the almond flour and the self-raising flour to obtain a dough that is just slightly softer than short pastry. Wrap it in plastic film and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

3. Turn the oven on to 170 C (340 F)

4. Line an oven tray with baking paper. Craft the doll according to your esthetics straight onto the tray. Glaze it with the egg and milk wash and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden and cooked through.

Happy Easter! Buona Pasqua!

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Fig and Pistachio Frangipane Tart

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I am a summer person. I was born in summer. My true self seems to come to life at the early signs of the warmer months approaching. I hardly ever feel the heat, in spite of being feisty and hot-blooded, I don’t tend to perspire in excess either. Alas, summer is gradually fading here in Australia, the days getting shorter and cooler and, as I prepare for the months to come with stacks of home-made tomato passata and chillie oil in the pantry, I relish the bounty of seasonal fruit this time of the year brings, saluting the summer that has been and heralding a new autumn, in the way only figs can do. Sweet consolation!

INGREDIENTS, serves 8

For the pastry

250 gr/8 oz of  flour

110 gr/ 3,6 oz butter, cold and cut into small cubes

1 egg

1/4 teaspoon of vanilla paste or extract

For the Frangipane Filling

100 gr/ 1 cup of pistachio

100 gr/ 1 cup sugar

100 gr/ 3.5 oz butter, soft

2 egg whites

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons flour

6 figs cut into thin slices

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HOW TO
1. To make the pastry, put all the ingredients in a food processor fitted with blades and pulse until you have moist crumbs. If the dough is too dry add 1 or 2 tablespoons of cold water and pulse again until moist. Tip the crumbs onto a floured surface, press them together with your hands to shape a ball, wrap it in plastic film and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
2. In the meantime, prepare the frangipane filling. Put the pistachio in a food processor and process until they resemble coarse flour (like almond flour). Add the rest of the ingredients, process for about 20- second or until nicely combined. Put the paste onto a bowl, cover with plastic film and rest in the fridge for 1 hour.
3. Bring your oven to 170 C (340 F). Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll it thinly between tow sheets of baking paper. Put the rolled pastry onto a tart dish (well greased and floured), cover with a sheet of baking paper, top with baking beans of rice and blind bake for 15 minutes. Take the tart shell out of the oven. Remove the paper with the beans (or rice) and put the tart shell back in the oven for 5 minutes until pale golden. Rest at room temperature until cold.
4. Fill with the pistachio frangipane filling, top with the sliced figs and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the frangipane has set and the sides are slightly crusty.
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Serve as it is or with a generous helping of vanilla ice-cream.
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