Pumpkin Seed Wholemeal Bread Rolls

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I was overjoyed when my friend Alessandra, the talented woman behind Dinner in Venice, asked me if I could write a guest post on her blog. I had been inspired by her writing, her photography and her honest quest for the authenticity of Italian food since I started my own blog back in 2011. Like Ale, I am an italian-born woman, recently migrated in an English speaking country (Australia) and, just like Ale, I have been fascinated and enamoured with the bounty of local produce and diverse cuisine my new home-land had to offer. But, after migrating, I could not help missing my Bella Italia, the very scent of it, it’s flavor. My most unsatisfied carving was bread, real bread,  Il pane. Fragrant, crunchy and bronzed, with its inviting crackly crust and a moist and airy crumb. I have learnt to make it at home, from slow-prooving sourdoughs to yeast-risen ones, for more immediate gratification. And everytime a loaf is baking in my oven, I can simply close my eyes and smell my beloved Italy from my sunny Sydney kitchen.

INGREDIENTS, makes 6-8 rolls

2 cups of wholemeal (wholewheat) flour

1 cup of strong baker’s flour (or plain, or 00 flour)

300 ml (1-1/4 cup) of lukewarm water mixed with 1-1/2  tablespoons of dried yeast

1 teaspoon of honey or barley malt syrup

2 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil

1-1/2 teaspoons of salt

milk for brushing

2-3 handfuls of pepitas or any seeds you prefer

HOW TO

1. Place the flour in a large bowl, add the water and yeast, honey (or barley malt syrup) and oil.

2. Knead onto a floured bench for 3-4 minutes, then add the salt and keep keading for 3-5 minutes or until the dough is smooth and soft.

3. Rest the dough into a floured bowl and cover with a tea-towel.

4. After 30 minutes, stretch the dough to shape a rectangle, then fold it into three and onto itself. Place the dough back in the bowl. Repeat a second time after 30 minutes. Folding the dough will ensure the softest, moistest crumb.

5. Prove the dough in a warm spot until it has doubled in size.

6. Shape he dough into 6-8 rolls and place them closed together onto an oven tray lined with baking paper. Brush the top with milk, or buttermilk and top them with pepita seeds. Rest the rolls covered with a tea-towel for 30-45 minutes. In the meantime bring your oven to 200 C (390 F)

7. Bake the rolls for 30-35 minutes or until crusty and bronzed and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Allow to cool at room temperature before eating.

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Almond, Orange and Blackberry Cakes

As I opened my freezer a few days ago, I noticed a couple of punnets of blackberries I had been keeping for a rainy day.

Rainy it was indeed. In fact it had been so wet in Sydney that I was starting to wonder whether we’d have any dry days at all this year!

The decision of devouring those dark, gleaming gems had been promptly made, but how to turn them into a heart-warming, scrumptious delight?

With the aid of a few usual suspects, flour, sugar, almonds and perhaps the citrusy kick provided by a splash of Cointreau, I felt sure I could give it my best shot.

INGREDIENTS

(this will yield 8 cakes baked in large muffin tins and there with some left over batter for mini cakes)

190 gr (just under 1 cup) of castor sugar

1/8 teaspoon  of salt

200 gr (just under 2 cups) of self-raising flour, sifted

50 gr (just under 1/2 cup) of almond meal

3 eggs

70 ml (1/3 cup) of grape seed oil

4 tablespoons of Greek yogurt

3/4 cup of blackberries

3 tablespoons of icing sugar

juice and zest of 1 orange

1 tablespoon of Cointreau (or any other orange flavored liquor)

HOW TO

Put the berries in bowl and dress with the juice of 1 orange, the Cointreau and the icing sugar. Macerate for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, cream the eggs with the sugar and the salt until they are pale and fluffy.

Add the yogurt and the oil and mix well with a wooden spoon.

Gently incorporate the sifted flour and the almond meal.

Add the berries and their juices, pour batter into a greased and floured 8-hole muffin tin and bake at 180 C (340 F) for 20/25 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

Take the tin out of the oven and cool for 30 minutes before taking the cakes out.

Dust with icing sugar and serve with fresh berries and a flute of Moscato, for extreme pleasure!

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Crispy Calamari with Peroni-battered Zucchini Fries

It’s the first day of Summer in the Southern hemisphere!

What better way to celebrate than a platter of golden calamari rings and crunchy zucchini fries? And Peroni, of course!

As it happens most years, it’s a cloudy, windy and slightly chilly day today, nevertheless it is summer indeed and I can see that in the abundance of berry-red hibiscus and creamy frangipani flowers, blooming and claiming their spot in the (pale!) sun.

So, slap on your sun-block, your designer shades and your bikini or budgie-smugglers*(..on second thoughts, better with board-shorts) and enjoy the long-awaited summer season!

INGREDIENTS , for the Calamari

3 medium, fresh, squids (thawed squid will yield a rubbery calamari ring, don’t go there)

1 cup of plain flour well seasoned with salt and black pepper

2 cups of sunflower oil for deep-frying.

Get your fish-monger to clean the squid for you, if you can. All you need for this recipe are the tentacles and the tubes.

If your fish-monger can’t be asked (this is the case if you live in Sydney…), follow these simple steps here to D.I.Y (do it yourself!).

Rinse your tubes and tentacles, dry them in kitchen paper and, using a very sharp knife, cut the tubes into rings. Toss the rings and the tentacles into the seasoned flour.

Heat up the oil and gently toss in the squid. Cook for about 2 minutes, then drain on kitchen paper.

Season with salt and a squeeze of lemon and serve with a caper and garlic Aioli.

INGREDIENTS for the zucchini fries

3 medium-sized zucchini

1 330ml bottle/can of beer (I used Peroni, but you can use whatever blond beer you get your hands on)

1 cup of self-raising flour

Oil for deep-frying

Cut the zucchini into strips and dry with kitchen paper.

In a large bowl mix the flour and the beer, leaving some lumps and making sure to have a “pancake batter” consistency, not too liquid, not too stiff.

Drop your zucchini strips in the batter and then in the hot oil, deep-fry until golden, drain on kitchen paper and serve while still hot.

*Term used to describe the very brief swimming brieves worn by male swimming athletes, but, alas, unfortunately, also occasionally employed by all male shapes and sizes at Australian surf beaches…

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Roasted Pumpkin, Spinach and Pecorino Salad

October is that time of the year when northern and southern hemisphere seem to share seasonal similarities. The temperature is still quite cool and crisp in Sydney, and although the fruit and vegetable stalls are starting to show the first crops of  spring peas, fava beans and mangoes, the wintry sturdiness of spinach and pumpkin is still abundant and inviting. These ingredients, together with shavings of pecorino cheese, a light lemon and EVOO dressing and a slice of sourdough, constitute the ideal transitional-season salad.

Ingredients for 4 people:

800 gr (1.7 lb) of Japanese pumpkin, cut in slices (skin on)

A few sprigs of rosemary

A handful of sage leaves

3 garlic cloves, skin on

3 or 4 tablespoons of EVOO

200 gr (1/3 cup)  of Pecorino cheese shavings

a handful of fresh pumpkin seeds (optional)

a packet of baby spinach

salt and pepper to taste

How to

1. Line an oven tray with baking paper, arrange the pumpkin slices in one layer, the pumpkin seeds, and season with the herbs, oil, garlic and salt. Bake at 200 Celsius (395 Farenheit) for 45 minutes.

2. Wash and dry your baby spinach, dress it with two tablespoons of EVOO, 1 table-spoon of lemon juice and coarse salt.

3. Arrange the leaves onto a platter, scatter your toasted pumpkin seeds, your pumpkin slices and the pecorino shavings and grind some fresh black peppercorn on top.

Enjoy with toasted Ciabatta for added pleasure…

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9781921383373

Italian Apple and Cinammon cake

My two months in Italy already seem so far away in the past. It has only been two weeks since I’ve been back, but, as it always is, all the things you put on hold and stop worrying about when you are on holiday, come back to haunt you and to kick you in the rear as soon as you return. If, on top of that, you add meetings for a new job within hours of arriving in Sydney after an excruciatingly long flight, a family reunion in Adelaide two days later (mind you, this was great fun and we could count on an endless supply of babysitters…), two -boring- visits to the Mac Genius Bar hoping to get my laptop fixed, and two children under five both sick with colds and sore throats, then you get a the pretty picture.
This morning I decided to wake up early and start the day the right way around.  Everybody  is still asleep as I type this, and I’ve already fed my baby and put him back to sleep, had a hot bath in a quiet and calm environment, with no rubber ducks or squirting toys of any sort floating around me, and, most importantly, the cake is already in the oven and I can smell the lemon and the cinnamon impregnating the house with their sweet and intoxicating aromas.

Today is going to be a great day!

INGREDIENTS:

3 eggs, separated

200 gr (1 cup) of brown sugar

130 gr (1/2 cup) of Greek yogurt

75 ml (1/3 cup)of grape seed oil (or light olive oil, non extra-virgin)

1 teaspoon of vanilla paste (or extract)

220 gr (2 cups) of sifted self-raising flour

50 gr (1/3 cup)of Almond meal

3 table spoons of sultanas soaked for 30 minutes (or 1 minute in the microwave) in Marsala wine (or Rum)

1 table-spoon of cinnamon powder

1 grated apple

zest of 1 lemon

2 apples cut in quarters, 2 table-spoons of butter, 1 table-spoon of castor sugar

How To

1. In a frying pan, caramelize the apple quarters with sugar, lemon zest and butter for 10 minutes.

2. Whisk the sugar with the yolks until pale and creamy. Pour in the yogurt, oil, the grated apple and vanilla and mix well then add your flours, cinnamon and the pre-soaked sultanas with two table spoons of the soaking liquid.

3. Whisk 3 egg whites until soft peaks form and gently fold them into the cake batter.

4. Pour cake mix into a cake tin lined with baking paper and top with the caramelized apples and almond flakes.

5. Bake at 170 Celsius (350 Farenheit) for around 35/40 minutes

As tough as it is, allow to cool before you cut yourself a large slice…


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A Mighty Good Winter Stew

Although the sun is shining, the southern cold wind keeps picking up. It’s winter here in Sydney and we should stop pretending we don’t really have a cold season. I still stumble upon guys in shorts and flip-flops as I walk down the streets of Avalon bundled up in leather coat, hat, scarf and boots and still feeling my bum will freeze off! I see none but one remedy to fight this weather, whip up a pork stew. One that looks like this

Ingredients for 4 people

6 pork sausages, 6 porks rashers, bones removed

1 onion, 1 carrot, 1 celery stalk, chopped

1 spring of thyme

1 bay leaf

half a bottle of red wine

2 cups of chicken or veal stock

Finely chopped parsley, finely grated zest of 1 lemon, and finely chopped  1/2 garlic clove to scatter on top (gremolata)

Polenta to serve

How to

1. Brown your sausages and rashers in a little olive oil, then set aside.

2. In the same pan, fry off a soffritto (Italian for stir-fry) of the usual suspects: onion, carrot and celery, then add thyme, the browned meat and 1 bay leaf and cook together for a few minutes. Pour over half a bottle of red wine (I used Sangiovese) . Once the alcohol has evaporated, add half a litre of good stock, bring to a boil and then turn the heat to low, cover with a lid and forget about it for 3 hours. Your stew will look irresistibly indulgent and intense and the meat should be soft and sweet.

3. Sprinkle a gremolata (Italian for finely cut herbs and lemon zest) of finely chopped parsley, half a garlic clove and lemon rind.

You can serve this with mash potato if you wish, but I tend to find it too rich, mainly because it is! I think soft polenta is the perfect match to this stew. And to set the record straight once for all, you needn’t add butter and parmesan to your cooked polenta. Salt will do. Polenta is the vehicle to absorb your stew sauce, if it’s already loaded with extra fat, your meal will turn into a potential heart attack…

No need to dress the plate with lashings of extra-virgin olive oil either, I guarantee there’s enough robust flavours in there. Simply open a nice bottle of red and get stuck in.

I think Richard and I will give up red meat in our next life…

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A hearty winter soup: Lentil, Sweet Potato and Cavolo Nero

Whoever said that Sydney doesn’t really have a winter is a big, fat liar! This is my fifth Sydney winter and I can safely say, it does get cold, it does get wet, it definitely does have a winter. I have made the assumption that Australians are in denial about winter because every time I meet some Aussie friends all bundled up in woollen scarves and hats, I am told “This is the first time it gets so cold, this year I have to buy a heater”. Luck for me, I am now prepared for what’s ahead of me in the months to come and , along with coats and boots I have an array of weather-appropriate recipes like stews and soups.

Ingredients for 4 people

3 French Shallots or 1 medium sized brown onion, chopped up

3 tablespoons of Extra-virgin Olive oil

1 medium sweet potato, chopped, skin on (well washed!)

1 chunk of smoked pancetta, ham hock or speck (or chorizo)

2 cups of vegetable stock

1 cup of puy lentils

2-4 leaves of cavolo nero or kale, chopped up,  stalked removed

Parsley, chillie oil or chillie, lemon zest to serve

How to

1. Stir-fry  the shallots in a medium saucepan with 3-4 tablespoon of extra-virgin little olive oil. Add the chopped up sweet potatoes (skin on, thoroughly washed) and the smoked pancetta, or smocked ham hock. Stir-fry together with the onion for a few minutes, add the lentils, the  stock  and enough water to cover the vegetables. Simmer on medium-low heat for 35-40 minutes or until the sweet potato is soft and the lentils are cooked.

2. Add a couple of shredded cavolo nero* leaves (stalk removed) and let the residual heat wilt it.

3. Serve in a bowl drizzled with chillie oil or chopped up chillies, parsley leaves and finely grated lemon zest, if you like a bit of kick.

Curl up on the couch with a blanket, your favourite book or your favourite person…

* Cavolo nero is an Italian dark-green cabbage. You can substitute it with kale.

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Roasted-Beetroot Risotto

My very first advise to you when making a risotto is to not even think about it unless you have a great stock to cook it with. Your risotto will only taste as good as your broth, so if you use those powdery mixes or even worse, those salty cubes full of chemicals, that is the flavour you will impart to your rice.
Since risotto is a bit labour intensive, it really not worth it unless you are going to show it a bit of love. Recently, I poached a chicken with garlic, tarragon onion and carrot with the intent of eating the meat with steamed potatoes and of using the stock for a risotto. It’s winter here in Australia and it had been raining for days in Sydney and last Sunday I felt like I needed to colour the day a vivid red.

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

3 beetroot bulbs

1 red onion , diced

3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

350 gr (2 cups) of Arborio or Carnaroli rice

1/2 cup of dry white wine

2 lt of good stock, brought tot a gentle simmer

1 tablespoon of butter

1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmigiano

Salt and pepper to taste

goat cheese

HOW TO

1. Cover the beetroots in foil and roasted them in a hot oven for about 1 hour. Peel them and puree them in a food processor  with a little salt and extra-virgin. Set aside.

2. Stir fry gently the diced onion in olive oil until tender. Add your Carnaroli rice and toast with the onion until translucent. Be mindful to stir your rice well.

3. Add a glass of dry white wine and allow for the alcohol to evaporate, stirring occasionally. Turn the heat down and start adding the stock a ladleful at a time, while stirring gently.

4. Keep adding stock until the rice is cooked, this will take around 18 minutes.

5. Turn off the heat and add the beetroot puree, a generous dusting of parmigiano and a little butter. Stir vigorously to release the starch and create the all’onda* texture. Cover with a lid and let it rest for a few minutes to create the perfect mantecatura, creaminess.

The vibrant red put us in a festive mood and we felt urged to open a Prosecco to go with the risotto.

And after that, a long siesta

* All’onda means ” the way of the waves”

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