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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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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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)

 

Ravioli di Zucca, Cannella and Amaretti (Pumpkin, Cinnamon and Amaretti Ravioli)

DSC_2737A large platter of home-made filled pasta, such as ravioli, tortelli and cannelloni, is always on offer at the Italian Christmas table. Any pasta that is home-made requires that extra amount of labour in the kitchen, and Christmas is the perfect occasion to show your love for friends and family by treating them with the fruits of your work. Or, you can share the load and create a beeline of helpers to roll, fill and shape these delectable nuggets.  If the idea of making your own pasta still scares you, you can use store bough egg wanton wrappers. I won’t judge! You will need about 60 squares. Tortelli with roasted pumpkin and cinnamon, topped with crushed amaretti cookies have been on my family Christmas eve table for as long as I can remember. Yes, this is a laborious dish to prepare, so make sure you are armed with plenty of love, dedication and, most importantly, Christmas spirit!

Love,

Silvia

INGREDIENTS

For the dough (serves 4-6)

4 eggs

400 gr (3- 1/2 cups) of 00 flour

a pinch of salt

For the filling

500 gr (1 pound) of pumpkin (skin on), cut up into chunks

4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar

2 cloves of garlic, skin on

1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

salt and pepper for seasoning

3-4 sage leaves

100 gr (1 cup) of breadcrumbs

50 gr (1/2 cup) of grated parmesan

For the sauce

120 gr (1/2 cup) of butter

8-10 sage leaves

a pinch of salt

freshly ground black pepper

8-10 crunchy amaretti cookies (from Italian delis)

(You can make the filling up to 1-2 days as head and keep it in the fridge)

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HOW TO 

1. Preheat the oven to 200 C, 390 F

2. Place the cut up pumpkin in an oven tray lined with baking paper, season with oil, cinnamon, salt and pepper, scatter the garlic and the sage leaves and bake for 45-50 minutes or until soft

3. Scoop out the pumpkin flesh, squeeze the garlic out of its skin and pulse in a food processor until smooth. Add the breadcrumbs, the parmesan, taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. At this point I always like to add a little extra cinnamon, but it it entirely up to you to do so or not.

4. Rest the filling in the fridge for up to 48 hours.

To make the dough:

1. Place eggs, flour and salt in a food processor fitted with blades and pulse for 10-12 times or until the mixture resemble wet sand.

2. Tip the mixture onto a floured surface, press it together with your hands and knead it for a few minutes or until smooth

3. Cover the dough with plastic film and rest for 30 minutes to relax the gluten

4. Cut the rested dough into quarters. Work with one piece at a time and keep the rest wrapped in plastic film to prevent it from drying out. Flatten the piece of dough with the palm of your hand, then pass it through the machine’s widest setting three or four times, folding the dough into three each time. Continue passing the dough, each time through a thinner setting, until you get to the second-last setting or the sheet is roughly 2.5 mm thick

5. Dust your working bench with semolina, lay the long sheets of pasta onto it then dot them half way through with one teaspoon of the filling. Make sure to leave about 3 cm between each dollop.

6. Brush around filling with water to moisten. Fold sheet over; press down to seal.

7. Press around each mound to get rid of air bubbles (or the tortelli may burst when you cook them)

8. Cut into 4×4 cm squares with a pastry wheel. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

9. Lay the tortelli onto a platter dusted with semolina and try not to over lap them

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10. You can cook the Tortelli straight away or freeze them for up  to two weeks.

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To assemble the dish

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

2. In the meantime, brown the butter with sage and a pinch of salt in a large heavy-based pan until the butter is a pale caramel color and the sage is crispy

3. Cook the Tortelli for 2-3 minutes or until ready and still nicely al dente

4. Using  a slotted spoon, lift them from the water and drop them onto the brown butter pan and sautee for 2-3 minutes or until all the torelli are nicely coated and slightly caramelized. Season them with freshly ground black pepper

5. Arrange the tortelli onto a large serving platter and top them with the fried sage and the crushed amaretti cookies. Serve hot!

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Paste di Mandorle (X’mas Almond Pastries)

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And so, the long-awaited jolly season officially begins at my house, with a tray full of these colourful, soft almond cookies, heralding the impending gluttonous days that this time of the year invariably brings. And although it only feels it’s been a couple of months since my last Christmas, which I spent back home in Milan with my folks, I cannot help feeling comforted by the glorious festive spirit that my children and I exude as we set off to the kitchen to shape these traditional Italian cookies. Some call them Paste di Mandorle, others call them Amaretti, but Raffi and Miro have duly renamed them Rudolph’s nose cookies!

INGREDIENTS, makes 18-20 cookies

275 gr (1 – 1/3 cup)of caster sugar

300 gr (2- 1/2 cups) of almond meal

2 egg whites

1 teaspoon of vanilla essence

1/4 teaspoon of almond extract

glaceè cherries

 HOW TO

1. Place sugar, almond meal, egg whites, vanilla and almond extract in a standing mixer and beat together for 2-3 minutes or until a sticky dough is formed.

2. Roll bits of dough the size of a large walnut and place them onto an oven tray lined with baking paper.

3. Make an indent in each ball of dough with your index finger, then sit a cherry onto each dimple. Shape the rest of the dough into small rectangles (this is the typical Ricciarelli shape), cover them liberally in icing sugar and place them onto the oven tray with the rest of the cookies.

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4. Bake at 180 C, 350 F for 18-20 minutes of until the bottom is firm, but the cookies are still pale in colour

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5. Allow to cool and further firm up at room temperature before serving

They will keep for up to 1 week in an airtight container

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Mascarpone Scones with Strawberries

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When I was a little girl, in Milan, I would always look forward to the first signs of spring. I’d eagerly pick garden daisies for my mum, who would accommodate them in a glass half full of water and sit them on the kitchen counter, to better capture the April light. Dad was always the first to be up on Saturday morning to take a trip to the local fruit and vegetable market. He’d invariably come home with trays of seasonal goods, but everybody eyes and hands reached quickly for those ruby red jewels, bursting with the promise of spring in each and every bite. My brother, my sister and I were allowed to gulp down a few strawberries on the spot, those with a few bruises and oozing crimson juice. The rest were reserved for later, to be paired with dollops of mascarpone cheese and mum’s home-made biscotti.

Although these days I may serve them with fluffy, crumbly scones, my childhood memory has remained untouched and still ever-so vivid.

INGREDIENTS

320g (2-1/2 cups) self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting

pinch of salt

1 tablespoon of sugar (optional)

150 gr (just over 1/2 cup) mascarpone cheese, plus extra for serving

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract or paste2 tbsp of sugar + an extra pinch for glazing

75 ml (1/3 cup) of cold milk + a few tablespoons for glazing

1 egg lightly beaten, for glazing

HOW TO

1. Preheat your oven to 200 C, 390 F

2. Put the flour, salt, mascarpone and sugar (if using)  in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  Add the milk, then pulse again for 3-5 seconds. Don’t add all the milk at once and you may only need 3/4 of it, depending on the type of flour you use

3. Tip the mixture onto an oven try lined with a sheet of floured baking paper and use you hands to bring it together into a dough. Do not over manipulate to avoid stimulating the gluten in the flour. Only knead lightly for a few seconds just to make the dough smooth and then roll out quickly with floured hands to  about 2cm thick.

4. Use a pastry cutter or a glass to cut the dough into disks. Place them close together onto the baking paper.

5. Make the glaze by mixing a few tablespoons of milk with a little sugar and brush the top of the biscuits with it.

6. Transfer the tray to the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes or until nicely golden. Cool at room temperature for 15 minutes, then serve with fresh berries and mascarpone.

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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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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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