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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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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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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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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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

X’mas Hazelnut Cookies (Dolcetti alle Nocciole)

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The Christmas season is heralded in my house with the inebriating smell of sweet treats baking in the oven, may they be my almond pastries, favoured by my boys for their resemblance with Rudolph’s red, shiny nose, or my dad’s morsel of choice, soft hazelnut cookies. These rustic looking nuggets are simply irresistible and they can happily carry you throughout your busy festive day: perfectly dunked in your morning coffee, afternoon tea or after dinner digestivo, they are sure to become your new best friend. The fact that they are rolled and baked in under 30 minutes will make them highly addictive…You are warned!

INGREDIENTS, makes 20

2 egg whites

1 cup of hazelnut meal (ground hazelnuts)

1-1/2 cup of icing sugar, plus more for rolling the cookies in

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, or the seeds from half vanilla bean

HOW TO

1. Heat up your oven to 180 C (350 F)

2. Mix egg whites, gournd hazelnut, vanilla and sugar in a large bowl until a thick paste forms.

3. Pinch off small bits of paste to shape balls the size of a large walnut.

4. Generously roll the balls in plenty of icing sugar.

5. Place the cookies, well distanced apart, onto an oven tray lined with baking paper.

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6. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until cracked and beautifully puffed up.

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Cool at room temperature and merrily consume with glee.

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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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9781921383373