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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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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Easy Home-Made Tomato Passata


Have you ever been tempted to make your own tomato pasta sauce, but got put off by the daunting thought that this is a complicated job, best left to the expert, wrinkled  hands of a good-old  Italian Nonna? Think again! Home-made passata is within everybody’s reach. All you need is a food miller, some empty glass jars and, naturally, the ripest, juiciest tomatoes you can fetch. For those of you frolicking in the heat of high summer, this is a reasonably easy feat. We, antipodean dwellers must be patient and wait a few more months before we can get our hands on the ruby-red jewels!

As a child growing up in Italy, I was exposed from a very early age to the delicate sweetness of my Mamma and Nonna’s passata. Every August, we children were assigned the task of washing tons of plump tomatoes, so ripe they almost burst in our tiny and clumsy hands. Mamma and Nonna would then put them all in a cauldron accompanied by other essentials herbs to stew gently, the sweet fumes impregnating the kitchen wall, our clothes, our hair. They would then mill them vigorously to obtain a thick and peel-free, crimson nectar, read to be bottled. The prospect of winter seemed to be more endurable, all of a sudden!

Ingredients (makes 3×450 gr jar)

2 kg (4 pounds) of ripe tomatoes, cut into quarters

1 stick of celery

2 spring onions, cut into chunks

1 chillie (chilli pepper),  leave out if you don’t like the heat

2-3 handfuls of fresh basil

a few sprigs of fresh oregano

salt to taste

1. Put the prepared vegetables in a large saucepan over medium heat, bring to a gentle simmer, turn the heat to low and cook for 35-40 minutes or until the vegetables have softened and the scent of Italy has invaded your home. Taste for salt and adjust to your liking,

2. Allow to cool in the spot for 10 minutes, then, working in batches, pass the vegetables through a food miller. You can choose to also pass the nectar through a sieve to get rid of seeds, but I personally like it rustic and a bit chunky.

3. Now all is left for you to do it is to put the passata back in the saucepan to heat up for a few minutes, ready to be poured hot into freshly sterilized glass jars and lids.

If you are not familiar with the process, this is how I do it:

- Always use new lids. Old lids will fail to seal the jar safely.

- To sterilize jars and lids, simply put them in the dish water and run a hot temperature cycle. Allow to dry in the machine, then fill the hot jars with hot liquid until 3/4 full. Seal with the lid securely. Turn the jars upside down to facilitate the creation of the vacuum, and allow to cool at room temperature.

- You can also sterilize them in a pot of boiling water for 20 minutes. LIft them out with tongs, allow them to dry, upside down, on a clean tea towel, then proceed as above.

Keep the jars in a dark cupboard and consume within 6 months.

Summer in a bottle!

Chillie Mussles in White Wine Broth (Cozze in bianco alla Marinara)

Finding myself going through the chills of winter in Melbourne, knowing that the northern hemisphere  is now enjoying a hot, steamy summer, doesn’t always come easy.

For a European girl like me the months of June, July and August are instantly associated with hot weather, drinks by the beach, seafood eaten with bare, sandy hands.

So, as I share this recipe for one of my summertime favorite dishes, please spare a thought for me, bundled up in coat, hat and scarf, sipping hot soup and secretly longing for a glass of chilled white wine, a bowl of chillie mussles and summer on a sardinian beach.

Ingredients, serves 4 as a starter, 2 as a main

4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

200 ml of white wine

2 garlic cloves, 1 whole, 1 finely chopped

4 spring onions (shallots), roughly chopped

two handfuls of parsley, leaves roughly chopped, stalks finely chopped

1 red chillie, finely chopped (de-seed if you don’t like it too hot)

1 kg of Mussles

Toasted sourdough for serving

How to

Clean the mussles by pulling out the beards and by scrubbing the shells to get rid of any grit. Place them in a bowl and set aside.

Discard any mussles that are already open or that have a broken shell.

Heat up the oil in a large heavy-sided frying pan. Fry the spring onion, whole garlic clove, parsley stalks and chillie for 1 minute, than add the chopped garlic and cook together for a further minute or until the garlic turns blond and smells fragrant. Pour in the wine and continue sizzling over high heat for 1-2 minutes or until the alcohol has evaporated.

Drop the shells in and cover with a fitted lid.

The steam will start opening the mussles in 2-3 minutes.

Lift them out with a slotted spoon and set them aside in a bowl as they open, to avoid overcooking. Discard any that refuse to open. Taste for salt and add some if you feel so inclined. I hardly ever do as the muscles and the liquor they release when cooking are pure sea-water nectar.

Pour the stewing liquid on top of the mussles, serve with toasted bread (crusty loaf, ciabatta or baguette) and consume while still hot.

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Home-made Dried Chili Oil

DSCN9699Home-growing is an occupation that I leave entirely to my green-thumbed husband. It’s not that I don’t see the appeal of gardening and I’m not attracted to such rewarding labour, but I must admit I was born with a black thumb. I don’t seem to have inherited my mum’s natural flare for all things green and I am, alas, responsible for the atrocious death of many innocent flower beds, herbs in pots and the occasional tomato plant, that I have had to surrender my resignation. I limit myself to the occasional watering, the picking and, naturally,  the cooking with the bounty that my garden produces under Richard’s watchful eyes. his year he propagated a fecund and lush chili plant from seeds he dried and preserved last year (see what I’m dealing with?), and now our autumnal veggie patch is specked with hundreds of green and red fruits, hiding their potent heat within their plump, shiny flesh.

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Ingredients

1 green-thumbed husband

Alternatively

800 gr (1.7) of mixed chilies

4 cups of extra-virgin olive oil (or enough to fill up the jar you wish to use)

How to

1. Wash the chilies and spread them on an oven tray big enough to accommodate them in one layer. Make sure to line the tray with baking paper.

You have two options here: the one that suits the patient and gracious people, and the one made to please the not-so-patient ones!

If you belong in the first category (my respects):

2. place the tray in the sun everyday for 20-30 days, until the chilies are dry.

2/a. For those, like me, you cannot be asked… every time after  you  use the oven, place the tray inside while its cooling. The residual heat will quickly dry the chilies.

If you do this over a weekend during which you plan to bake a roast, some cookies and perhaps even some bread, that should give you enough residual heat to dry your chilies completely. You know they are ready when they feel dry, hollow and feather-light. My 800 gr (1.7 lb) reduced to a mere 150 gr (0.3 lb)!

3. Roughly chop them with a knife or with scissors.

4. Put them in sterilized  glass jars and submerge them in extra-virgin olive oil.

5. Leave them in a cupboard, away from direct light, for a minimum of 3 weeks before consuming.

You will notice that the heat will increase and concentrate over time. You can use chili oil to add a bit of zest to any food you love, but I particularly like to add it to soups and some pasta sauces.

Note

If you have an abundance of basil in your garden, here’s my basil-infused oil.

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Cannelloni with Ricotta and Spinach

Home-made pasta is the ultimate Sunday Lunch treat in Italy.

Forget about a roast beast with all the trimmings, we need our share of starchy goodness, home-made, of course.

From scratch, goes without saying!

Naturally you can use store-bough dried cannelloni, but the flavor and texture won’t be as luxurious.

And, after all, this is Sunday lunch we are talking about, it’s your declaration of love to your family and those lucky friends invited to your table.

It’s well worth a bit of effort.

Just make them do the dishes…

Ingredients and  method, serves 4

16 dried cannelloni shells or 1 quantity of fresh egg pasta dough

For the pasta dough

3 eggs

300 gr (2 -3/4 cups) of all-purpose flour

semolina for dusting

Put eggs and flour in the bowl of a food processor fitted with blades. Pulse 8/10 times or until the mixture resembles wet sand.

Take it out the bowl, press it together with your hands and knead it for 1 or 2 minutes to release the gluten and make it come together in a smooth ball. Add 1 tablespoon of water if the dough feels too dry.

Cover in cling wrap and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Using a pasta machine or a rolling-pin -and your biceps- roll the pasta as thinly as you can.

Cut the pasta sheet into 16 4×10 cm (1.5×4 inches) rectangles, dust them with semolina flour and set aside

For the filling

4 cups of spinach

1 garlic clove

1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil

300 gr (1- 1/2 cups) of whole milk ricotta

2 eggs

3/4 cups of pecorino cheese (or parmigiano)

1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1/4 cup of chopped parsley

salt and pepper to taste

Sautee’ the spinach with garlic and oil, cover with a lid and cook until just wilted. Set aside to cool.

Mix the ricotta with eggs, pecorino cheese, nutmeg, lemon zest, parsley  and seasoning.

Add the cooled spinach and mix to combine.

Rest in the fridge to firm up for 30 minutes.

For the sauce

500 gr (2 cups) of tinned tomatoes

200 ml (3/4 cup) of hot water

1 brown onion, chopped

3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

salt to taste

fresh oregano leaves

For the topping

1 cup Parmigiano or pecorino and  1 cup shredded mozzarella

Sautee’ the onion in oil until soft and translucent, add the tomatoes and the water and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat down, and cook gently for 15 minutes. Season with salt  and fresh oregano leaves.

Assembling the dish

Line an oven tray with baking paper. Smear a few tablespoons of tomato sauce to create a moist bed for the cannelloni to lay on.

Fill each cannelloni or pasta rectangle with 2-3 tablespoons of filling. Roll the pasta sheet to enclose it and place it, seam side down onto the tray. Repeat with remaining ingredients until you have 1 layer of cannelloni. If you have left-over pasta and filling, proceed to fill up another tray.

Cover the layer of cannelloni with the tomato sauce so that each pasta roll is nicely drowned in it. Add some water if you think you don’t have enough sauce.

Dust the top with pecorino or parmigiano,  shredded mozzarella cheese, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and bake at 200 C (390 F) for 30 minutes or until nicely browned on top.

Rest at room temperature for 20 minutes covered in foil, then serve.

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Colomba: an Italian Easter Bread, with Prosecco and Chocolate chips

Colomba is a classic Italian Easter enriched bread, similar to the more illustrious Panettone, traditionally baked in a  dove-shaped mould, hence its name (colomba in Italian means dove).

The dough is built in various stages and the thought alone may be enough to put off many people with busy lives, but , don’t despair! The stages themselves are quite straight-forward and the actual labour involved is negligible, if you are using a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.I have to admit you probably need to have quite a large amount of nuttiness to make this from scratch, since you can buy the ready-made stuff in well-stocked Italian delis, but the ego boost you get by creating this yourself is definitely worth the effort.I wish to thank a few fellow bloggers for inspiring me to have a go. Without their knowledge and advise I doubt I’d be posting anything tonight…

My heart-felt Grazie to Adriano of  Profumo di Lievito,  Vittorio of Viva la Focaccia and the vivacious Paoletta of Anice e Cannella.

Step 1 , making the ferment

50 ml (1/4 cup) of lukewarm milk

2 tablespoons of dry yeast

40 gr  (1/3 cup)of all purpose flour

Dissolve the yeast in the milk and stand for 5 minutes. Add the flour and mix well. Rest the ferment at room temperature, well covered with a tea towel, for 1 hour.

Step 2 -Building the dough-

the ferment from step 1

150 ml ( a little less than 2/3 cups) of Prosecco (Italian sparkling dry white wine)

100 gr all-purpose flour

Work the ferment with Prosecco, then mix the flour in. Rest at room temperature, well covered, for 1 hour.

Step 3 – Building the dough-

the dough from step 2

2 tablespoons of sugar

90 gr (3/4 cup) of all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons of soft butter

If you have a stand mixer, you might need to get it out now. The next two stages require a lot of strong kneading and if you mean to do this by hand you are a saint.

Mix the dough from step 2 with sugar, then add the flour and knead on low speed for 5 minutes. Add the butter and knead for a further 2 minutes. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and rest at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours.

Step 4 – Building the dough with the addition of fats, proteins and flavourings

The dough from step 3

280/320 gr (2-1/2/2-3/4 cups) of all-purpose flour

100 gr (1/2 cup) of sugar

2 tablespoons of honey

60 gr (1/4 cup)of soft butter, cubed

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

3 eggs

zest of 1 orange

100 gr (1/2 cup) of mixed candied peel, mixed with 1 table-spoon of flour (to stop them drop to the bottom of the cake)

100 gr (3/4 cup)of dark chocolate chips

Add the flour to the rested dough, knead on low speed for 1 minute, then add the sugar , vanilla and honey keep kneading for 3-4 minutes. Add the butter, a little at a time and, when well incorporated, the eggs, one at a time. Don’t panic if the dough looks really wet at this stage, the constant kneading will make it come together in around 15/20 minutes or until it looks transparent if stretched. Add a bit more flour if needed. The dough should be soft and manageable, not sticky and wet.

After this time, add the peel, zest and chocolate chips and amalgamate.

Tip the dough onto an oiled container, cover with a tea towel and rest for 1 hour.

Place the dough onto a floured surface, stretch it with floured hands to shape a rectangle and fold it into three, then shape it back into a ball and rest it in the oiled bowl until it has doubled in size, approximately 2-3 hours.

Stretch and fold the dough one last time, than put it into the mould you wish to use. I couldn’t find a dove-shaped one, so I resorted to a pretty star. Still festive!

Cover well with a tea towel and rest overnight in the fridge.

Step 5 -Glazing and Baking (finally!)-

The dough, well risen in its mould

30 gr (1/4 cup) of ground almonds

70 gr (1/3 cup) of sugar

2 egg whites

2 handfuls of almonds

Bring your oven to  180 C (350 F).

Make a glaze by mixing together the ground almond with the icing sugar and the egg whites.

Take the Colomba out of the fridge and gently glaze it. Scatter the almond on top and bake for 35-40 minutes or until cooked through.

Cool at room temperature, in its mould.

This laborious Easter bread will keep fresh for 2 days and will still be delicious tosted and dusted with using sugar after 4 or 5 days.

Happy Easter!

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Crushed Peas, Mint and Pecorino Bruschetta

This post is dedicated to all of you in the northern hemisphere, you lucky duckies about to savour and immerse yourselves in the long-awaited spring season.

And the vast array of green goodness it brings.

Think sweet baby broad beans, prickly but juicy artichokes, pointy and proud asparagus and the vivid green of plump, fresh garden peas, slightly crushed and married to a fruity Ligurian extra-virgin olive oil.

Ingredients:

2 slices of sourdough (if you are as insane as I am, you can bake your own…)

1 garlic clove cut in half

5 table spoons of extra-virgin olive oil (you can use basil-infused oil, if you have made some)

2 cups of fresh or frozen peas

a small handful of mint leaves

1 tablespoon of lemon juice +zest of half a lemon

4 tablespoons of pecorino shavings

Salt and black pepper to taste

Rub the bread with the cut garlic and brush 1 tablespoon of oil on each slice.

Grill on both sides until golden.

In the meantime, bring a small pot of salted water to the boil.

Drop the shelled peas in and cook for 2 minutes.

Drain and rinse under cold water to keep the peas vibrant green hue.

Place the peas in a bowl, crush them with the back of a fork and season them with 1 tablespoon of oil, a few shredded mint leaves, the lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Arrange the grilled bread on a chopping board or a serving platter, top with the peas and the pecorino shavings, a few mint leaves and the lemon zest.

Drizzle each slice with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin and eat while still warm.

A celebration of spring! (and only another 6 months before it hits Australia…sigh…)

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Risotto with Porcini Mushroom

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Richard and I spent the best part of yesterday afternoon perched up on a builders plank, unsafely plonked onto our window sill and the top of the staircase, in the attempt to hang seven, beautiful, paintings made by Richard himself over the course of the last two weeks. A gargantuan task, if you add the demands of a 4 year-old on a sunny Saturday afternoon and those of a 12 month-old, desperately wanting adult attention! After we hung the seventh frame, we had just about 3 minutes to contemplate and admire the fruits of such hard labour and marvel at the fact that no one got injured in the process, when the paintings started to drop from the wall one after the other…I could think of only one solution to the problem: comfort food! And a glass of wine…Risotto sprang to mind, as I had just made a rich and flavorful vegetable stock. If you have read my other posts on risotto you know by now that the only ingredient that will determine the taste of your finished dish is the quality of your stock. Home-made always wins. Your risotto will only taste as good as your stock. You do the maths!

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

2 handfuls of dried porcini , soaked in warm water for 30 minutes. (They need to be soft and rehydrated before you can use them)

1 leek, well washed and sliced thinly

1-2 springs of thyme

3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon of butter+ 1 more just before serving

350 gr (2 cups) of Carnaroli or Arborio rice

1/2 cup of dry white wine

2 lt of stock, brought up to a gentle simmer

1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmigiano

Parsley leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

HOW TO

1. Stir fry  the leek gently with oil and butter, add the thyme springs, 1 couple of tablespoons of water and  pinch of salt. Cover with a lid and stew for 5 minutes over low heat to soften the leeks.

2. Add therice and toast with the leeks until translucent. Be mindful to stir your rice well.

3. Add the white wine and allow for the alcohol to evaporate, stirring gently. Pour yourself some wine, while you are at it…

4. Turn the heat down, add your softened mushroom and start adding the stock a ladleful at a time, while stirring gently. For added mushroom flavor, add the porcini soaking liquid to your stock. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly. Keep adding stock until the rice is cooked, this will take around 18 minutes.

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

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Serve it with freshly ground black pepper and parsley leaves.

* The way of the waves

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Buttermilk Sandwich Bread (Pan Carre’)

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Another bread post… I know, I have developed a slight obsession for bread-making, but the truth is there are so many ways to make beautiful breads, and now that I have embarked upon the journey of home-baking, I owe it to myself to search and experiment like there’s no tomorrow. So many breads, so little time! Pan Carre’ is a very famous Italian bread, especially among the little ones, as it keeps a soft crust and moist and brioche-like crumb. It makes the perfect sandwich bread for your kids lunch box. And if you have it in the morning with a generous amount of butter and jam, your day will be better and brighter.

INGREDIENTS, makes 1 loaf

1 tablespoon dry yeast

120 ml (1/2 cup) luke warm water.

150 ml buttermilk (3/4 cup)

450 g (3 1/2 cups)r of all-purpose flour

50 gr (1/2 cup) of rye flour (you can substitute with spelt or wholemeal)

1 tablespoon of honey or barely mat syrup

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

HOW TO

1. Dissolve the yeast in the water. Leave to rest for 10 minutes, until it appears frothy.

2. In a large bowl mix the flours with the of honey or barley malt syrup, the buttermilk and the yeasted water. Knead well for about 5 minutes, then add the salt. If you the dough is too dry, add a few tablespoons of water. It it’s too wet, sprinkle a little flour and keep kneading until the dough is smooth and silky. As all flours vary slightly, don’t be alarmed if you need to make adjustments to achieve the right texture. Let your instinct guide you and you will not go wrong.

3. Leave the dough to rest onto a floured sheet of grease-proof paper for 30 minutes.

4. After its rested, the dough will appear smoother and very elastic. Gently stretch it in the shape of a rectangle and fold it onto itself three times. Put the dough in an oiled loaf tin, cover with oiled cling wrap and bulk-prove until doubled in size. This will take 1 1/2 to 2 hours, according to the temperature in your house. The cooler it is, the longer it will take.

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5. Preheat you oven to 200 C (390 F).

6. Glaze the top with  egg wash made with 1 beaten egg mixed with 2 tablespoons of milk,  and bake for 25/30 minutes. Allow to cool in the tin for 30 minutes before lifting the bread out (or it may tear!), then rest on a wire rack until completely cool.

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Silvia’s Cucina the cookbook is now available in stores and online!

9781921383373