Carbonara (Egg and Bacon Pasta, Carbonara Style)

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Carbonara is told to have been created by the Carbonari, groups of secret revolutionary societies founded in early 19th-century who sought the creation of a liberal, unified Italy. Members of the Carbonari, and those influenced by them took part in crucial events in the Italian Risorgimento. Others say that it was first invented by some Italian charcoal burners, Carbonari. Whether you fancy attributing a romantic and heroic origin to this dish or a more rustic one, it doesn’t change the fact that Pasta alla Carbonara is one of the most delicious and morish combination of four ingredients: eggs, pork, black pepper and pecorino cheese. Because of the simplicity of the recipe, outside of Italy, home cooks and chefs alike are often tempted to add extraneous ingredients such as garlic, onion, parsley or, alas, cream. Please, resist this temptation! Carbonari knew what they were doing back in 1820.

The dish has remained unchanged in Italy since then.  The reason being that the dish is perfect as it is.

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This will feed 4 hungry people.

150 gr (1/2 cup) or diced Pancetta or Guanciale

1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

400 gr (3/4 lb) of Rigatoni or Spaghetti

4 whole eggs+ 2 yolks

1 teaspoon of salt

1 tablespoon of freshly ground black pepper

200 gr (1/2 cup) of grated Pecorino cheese

How to

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

2. In the meantime, slowly pan-fry the pancetta or guanciale in a little olive oil until it renders its fat and it turns crispy and a sun-burnt pink colour. Discard the fat for a healthier option. Once the water reaches a rolling boil, drop the pasta in and stir.

3. While the pasta cooks and the salty and sweet aroma of the pancetta starts to make you salivate, prepare your egg mix.

4. Beat eggs with a good sprinkling of salt and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Add the grated pecorino and combine together.

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5. Once the pasta is cooked to a perfect al dente, toss it in with the pancetta and allow for the flavours to combine. Reserve a few table spoons of the pasta cooking water

6. Off the heat, add your egg and cheese mix and stir though very quickly, to avoid over cooking the eggs, add a little acqua di cottura  (pasta cooking water) if it looks like it’s drying. Add a little more cheese to bring the temperature down and amalgamate. The residual heat of the pan and of the rigatoni, along with the pasta cooking liquor, will cook the eggs, but will keep it creamy in texture.

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Crack a bit more black pepper if you like and raise your glass to passionate Carbonari Giuseppe Mazzini, Silvio Pellico, Lord Byron & co.

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Infornata di pollo con origano e pomodori (Chicken, oregano and tomato bake)

This dish is quintessential Italian.

It’s a peasant, rustic assembly of fresh ingredients mixed with left-overs and brought together by the crisp dryness of white wine.

It’s a dish that appeals to children and grown-ups alike and is therefore the perfect family meal.

I normally make this when I have left-over boiled potatoes and stale bread, but you can decide to boil your potatoes especially for this dish  and to use some fresh bread. Either way, it will be delicious!

Ingredients for 4 people

a couple of handfuls of chunks of rustic bread

3 potatoes, parboiled and peeled

4 chicken marylands or 8 chicken thigh fillets, skin removed

2 garlic cloves, bashed with the back of aknife

5-6 peeled tomatoes, cut into chunks

5-6 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil

a handful of dried origano

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup of dry white wine

1 onion, cut up into chunks

1 handful of caper berries

How to

Pre-heat your oven to 200 c (390 F)

Line an oven dish tray with baking paper and scatter chunks  of stale bread and boiled potatoes, the chicken a few, bashed, garlic cloves and peeled fresh tomatoes*.

Cut up an onion and place the slices over the chicken meat to protect it from drying in the oven.

Season with salt, pepper and dried origano. Add a good splash of white wine and a drizzle of extra-virgin.

Cover with foil and place in the oven. After 25 minutes, remove the foil, add a couple of handfuls of caper berries and allow for the potatoes to crisp up.

Take the tray straight to the table and observe you dinner guests fight over the last piece of chicken and wine juice-soaked bread…

* To peel your tomatoes, score them and boil them for 1 minutes than submerge them in cold water to stop the cooking process. With your fingers pinch the cooked skin off .

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Farfalle with Tiger Prawns, oven-roasted Breadcrumbs and Parsley

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A few days ago I took a trip to Sydney fish market. On my way back to the car I passed a stall overflowing with beautiful, fresh tiger prawns and, despite holding my 4 year-old boy’s hand, carrying a large male snapper in the other, and baby Miro in a sling, I couldn’t resist the temptation to grab some of those glistening creatures of the ocean. Although a bit tricky managing the boys, the bags and the apparent disappearance of my car keys, once I was home, the fish safely tucked in the fridge, the kids chucked over to their papà, it was all worthwhile.

Ingredients for 4 people

16 King Prawns, peeled, de-veined and cut into two or three

1 cup of breadcrumbs toasted in the oven for 10 minutes with 2 tablespoons of  Extra Virgin Olive oil and a small handful of chopped parsley leaves

350 gr (3/4 packet) of  Farfalle (bow-tie pasta) or Orecchiette

4 tablespoons of Extra-Virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1/3 cup of parsley stalks, finely chopped

1 red chillie, thinly sliced

1/4 cup of dry white wine

salt flakes to taste

chillie oil to drizzle on top (optional)

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How to

1. Fill a large pot with salted water. While the water heats up, toast the breadcrumbs and set aside.  DSC_1061

2. Heat the Extra-virgin olive oil in a large, heavy-based pan, stir-fry garlic, parsley stalks and chillie over medium heat, being mindful not to burn the garlic or it will turn acrid. Pour in the wine, allow to bubble for a few minutes or until the alcohol has evaporated. Drop in the prawns and cook for 2-3 minutes or until 3-4 done. They will continue cooking once to toss them with the cooked pasta. Turn off the heat.

3. Boil the pasta until nicely Al Dente, turn the heat back on under the prawn sauce, strain the pasta straight into the prawn pan adding a little of the pasta cooking liquor (aqua di cottura) to help bind the sauce. Toss well, then turn off the heat and and serve dusted with toasted breadcrumbs, parsley leaves and a drizzle of chillie oil, if liked (a grating of lemon zest is a great alternative to the kick of chillie)

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Don’t expect to make any conversation at the dinner table. The only sound you will hear is that of jaws chomping…

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Torta di Mandorle, Ricotta e Limone (almond, ricotta and lemon cake)

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As I was walking in my garden last Sunday, I noticed that my lemon tree was suddenly looking heavy with ripe, juicy, bright yellow fruits. These home-grown lemons with a rough and gnarly peel make the best Limoncello and Gin&Tonic, but my alcohol intake being limited by the joys of breastfeeding, I resorted to pick a few and bake them in an almond and lemon torta. What a sweet consolation that was!

INGREDIENTS, serves 8

3 whole eggs

200 gr (1 cup) caster sugar

75 ml (1/3 cup) extra-virgin olive oil (or plain olive oil, or canola oil)

170 gr of full cream ricotta, well drained

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

70 gr (2/3 cups) of almond meal (almond flour)

Finely grated zest of 2 lemons, juice of 1

1 teaspoon of vanilla paste or extract (or half of a freshly scraped pod)

1 tablespoon of Amaretto liquor

HOW TO

1. In a bowl, beat  eggs with sugar until pale and creamy

2. Add oil and Ricotta and incorporate until smooth

3. Add  flour and almond meal and incorporate gently into the eggs mix then add the lemon zest and juice, vanilla and a tablespoon of Amaretto (Italian almond liqueur).

4. Pour the batter in a cake tin (buttered and floured) and bake in a pre-heated oven at 170 C (340 F) for about 35/40 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin before serving.

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Dust with icing sugar and help yourself to a large slice…

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Polpette della Nonna (the very humble meatballs)

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How many of you recall that famous scene from Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp”,when, as they fall in love by the suave notes of “Bella notte” being played on the mandolin, the dogs share a strand of spaghetto and Tramp nudges the last meatball over to Lady, as his promise of love and devotion? Everytime I cook spaghetti with meatballs I can’t stop myself from feeling utterly romantic, even if the dish itself is the most humble and unpretentious and even though Richard would rather set his own hair on fire than hand over the last meatball….Many and varied are the recipes for polpette. Pretty much every Mamma and Nonna in Italy will tell you they hold the best one, and so I have to go with my Mamma’s and Nonna’s and pay tribute to their moist mixture of mince and other loveliness.

Ingredients for 4 people

2 slices of stale bread, crust removed, cut into chunks

1 cup of milk

1 lb (450 gr) of premium beef mince

1 egg

1 handful of chopped up parsley leaves

1/4 teaspoon of grated nutmeg

1/3 cup of grated parmesan cheese

2 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of ground white pepper

1 brown onion, chopped up

1 garlic clove bashed with the back of a knife

3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup of red wine

2 tins of tomatoes

1 cup of water

salt to taste

spaghetti  or crusty bread to serve

How to

1. Soak the bread in milk for about 10 minutes.

2. In a bowl, mix together the  beef mince with 1  egg, salt and pepper, chopped parsley, the tip of a s teaspoon of grated nutmeg and  grated Parmigiano (or Grana Padano) . Use a spoon if you feel squeamish about touching raw meat, but in my opinion hands are your best kitchen tools.

3. Squeeze the milk out of the bread ,add to the meat mix and amalgamate.

4. Using the palms of your hand, roll the polpette the size of small manadarins and set aside in the fridge to firm up for 15 minutes.

5. In the meantime, pan fry the chopped onion and garlic in a little olive oil until the onion is soft and translucent.

6. Add your meatballs and brown them on both sides, then add 1/2 cup of red wine. Let the alcohol evaporate, then add 1 bay leaf, two tins of tomatoes and water. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat to low and simmer with the lid on for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Adjust with salt and pepper.
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Serve with crusty bread or mix through spaghetti, cooked to a perfect al dente!
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Ciambellone della Nonna (Nonna’s Marble cake with Oil and Yogurt)

Those of you who have travelled to Italy know how much we favour a sweet breakfast. Cafes are crowded with Italians standing by the counter dipping a pastry into their morning coffee before they set off to work. Admittedly, this is not the healthiest way to start the day and it it possibly one of very few things Italian get wrong about food. These days I have become an advocate of oatmeal  and home-made muesli, however I do like to indulge on weekends and allow myself and my family the undeniable pleasures of white starch and refined sugar! There is hardly anything I crave more on a Saturday morning than diving a freshly baked, large slice of Ciambellone into a coffee artfully prepared by Richard. I feel no guilt, it is part of my DNA, it is my legacy. I have to oblige, at least one a week. So I say, if you  truly want to be Italian, get yourself a cake and practise an infallible dunking motion.
Any tea-cake or cookie will do, but my loyalty lies with this very cake my Mamma used to make for us on Sundays.

INGREDIENTS:

3 eggs

200 gr (1 cup) of caster sugar

250 gr (2 and 1/3 cups) of self-raising flour

2 tablespoons of corn starch

60 ml (1/4 cup) of grape seed oil (or lightly scented olive oil)

125 gr (1/2 cup) of Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

How To

1. Whisk eggs and sugar until pale and creamy.

2. Add the oil , Greek youghurt and the vanilla

3. Gently fold in the flour and the corn starch, well sifted. Mix until the batter is combined.

4. Pour 2/3 of the mix into a ring-cake tin (I used a silicon one so I didn’t have to grease it.).

5. Add 3 tablespoons of bitter cocoa and a good splash of Galliano* to the remaining cake batter and mix until smooth.

6. Dollop the cocoa mix on top of the vanilla mix and , using a fork or a chopstick, swirl the two batters together.

7. Bake in a preheated 170 C (340 F) oven for about 35/45 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Let the cake cool in its tin for about one hour before serving.

Make yourself a good coffee, and get stuck in….

* Galliano is an Italian vanilla-scented liquor. You can omit or substitute with rum.

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Spaghetti Vongole (Spaghetti with Clams and White Wine)

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Spaghetti vongole is one on the most popular Italian classics. I can recall countless summers spent in the Adriatic coast, having a bowl of this wonderful pasta most days, without ever getting bored with it. This is my brother’s Gianmarco’s recipe for Spaghetti Vongole and it really sets the standard for me. The sauce will cook while the pasta is boiling and they all end up in the same pot at the end. It couldn’t be easier. Or quicker. So, as you bring the water to the boil, get chopping! This nutritious and flavousome meal can be yours in under 12 minutes.

INGREDIENTS, serves 4 

350 gr (3/4 packet) of Spaghetti or Linguine

2 Garlic cloves

1 red chilie (or half, according to what heat intensity you can handle)

Parsley (leaves and the tender bits of the stalks), about 1/3 cup

1 kg (2 lb) of Vongole *

Good quality extra Virgin Olive Oil, about 4 tablespoons

Good quality dry white wine**, about 1/3 cup

Chopped parsley to serve

HOW TO

1. Fill a large pot of salted water and bring to a fierce boil.

2. Take your spaghetti or linguine, drop it the pot, stir through so that they don’t get stuck to the bottom and let it bubble away for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. While the pasta is boiling, put a large frying pan on the stove with a little extra-virgin olive oil. Heat it up and drop in garlic, chilly and parsley mix and let sizzle for about 15 seconds, then add a good splash of white wine and let the alcohol evaporate. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly, keeping in mind that vongole will add their sapid kick to the dish.

4. Drop your clams in, cover with a lid. They will take about 2 to 3 minutes to open up and release their beautiful juices. Once opened, lift them out with a slotted spoon and set aside.

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5. Drop your 3/4 cooked pasta in the vongole and wine juice adding some of the pasta cooking water***, enough so the spaghetti can finish to cook until al dente and the sauce creamy in texture.

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Turn off the heat and add your cooked vongole, chopped up parsley leaves and extra chillie, if you like it.

Serve immediately!

Buon Appetito!

TIPS:

* Vongole are alive when you buy them and you want to make sure they are still alive before you cook them!

Soak them in cold, salted water as soon as you bring them home from the shop and keep them in the fridge. Discard any ones that come to the surface, or have broken shells at this point. They are dead. Trust me, you don’t want to cook with a dead clam!

Change the water once or twice. This way they will release the sand they have trapped inside

**Don’t skimp on the quality of your wine. As a rule, if it’s not good enough to drink, don’t use it for cooking.

***We call it “acqua di cottura”. It is full of starch and it will help bind the sauce together without having to add extra ingredients. This is a clever little secret in Italian cooking.

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