Paccheri with Cherry tomatoes, Zucchini flowers and Baby Squid

One of the many things I love about being back home is going to the local supermarket for the grocery.

There you will find a mind-blowingly vast array of all those Italian goods that we expats dream of when we are away from our home land.

Everything is there on offer, and nothing is extravagant or fashionable.

They are the everyday Italian staples that we pay a fortune for in Sydney when we buy then at selected and trendy delis in town.

Yesterday I bought 4 Ciabatta loaves for 1.77 Euros! It would have set me back 10/15 dollars back in Sydney, to say the least.

I also bought a large tray of zucchini flowers for 1.65 Euros and a large amount of fresh, delectable and already cleaned baby squid, for around 4 Euros. Why don’t I live here anymore?…

Oh, The Berlusconi Factor, of course…Anyway, back to lovelier thoughts…

Chop up two large spring onions, 1 small garlic clove, the tender bits of a small handful of parsley stalks and pan fry them in a few tablespoons of EVOO. After a few minutes, add two handfuls of chopped up cherry tomatoes and 5 sliced up zucchini flowers and your baby squid. Cook together for two to three minutes, then add half a glass of dry white wine and keep on high flame until the alcohol has evaporated. Turn the heat off, taste for salt and adjust accordingly.

You want to make sure you don’t overcook your squid or it will turn rubbery and horrible. A few minutes should do the trick.

In the meantime, drop 500 gr of Paccheri in a large pot of salted boiling water and cook for about 8 to 9 minutes. Then drop them in the tomato and squid sauce along with some acqua di cottura (pasta cooking water) and cook together for a few minutes. Sprinkle with coarsely chopped parsley leaves and serve immediately.

Silvia’s Cucina is on Facebook

Sausage and Peas Risotto

DSC_0295

Combine the creaminess of Carnaroli short grain rice with the perfume of red wine and the savoury deliciuosness of pork and fennel sausages, with stewed sweet leeks and a generous amount of butter and Parmigiano and you have got yourself joy on a plate. Risotto is the ultimate comfort food and it is really quite straight forward to make. Having said that, I have to be pedantic and fastidious and insist you only make it if you have a great stock to cook in with. Cubes won’t cut it, I’m afraid…

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

2 sausages, sliced

2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

2 leeks

1 tablespoon of butter +1 extra at the end

2 cups of Carnaroli or Arborio rice

half a glass of red wine

4 cups of good stock

2/3 cup of frozen peas

salt and pepper to taste

freshly grated parmigiano

HOW TO

1. Pan fry  the sausage with oil until browned and almost cooked through. Remove and set aside.

2. Slice two leeks and wash throughly to remove any grit. Stew over a low flame in the same pan with the sausage juices adding a tablespoon and butter a Cover with a lid and stir occasionally. They should turn soft and creamy in about 20 minutes.

3. Add the rice and toast in the pan with the leaks until the grains turn translucent, pour in the wine and allow for the alcohol to evaporate. Stir a little to make sure no grains are sticking to the pan, being mindful not to distress the rice too much. You want to make sure the grains keep their shape and texture.

4. As the wine dries out, turn the flame down and start adding the stock, a few ladles at a time, stirring gently. Repeat for about 16/17 minutes,until the rice is almost cooked. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust accordingly. Add a cup of frozen peas and your slices of sausage.

DSC_0238

5. Turn off the flame , add a ladleful of stock, a generous grating of Parmigiano and 1 tablespoon of butter. Stir vigorously to release the starch. Cover with a lid and rest for 3 minutes. This process is called mantecatura and it is essential in order to obtain a creamy risotto with its characteristic all’onda* texture .

DSC_0269

DSC_0274 (1)

DSC_0242

Serve with lots of Barbera and enjoy!

* The way of the waves.

Silvia’s Cucina is on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest

Chicken Diavola (Devil’s Chicken)

The Devil’s Chicken. Why, you may wonder? Because it is seriously spicy and devilishly irresistible. Judge for yourselves…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

INGREDIENTS serves 8

2 organic chickens, spatchcocked (ask your butcher to do so, or follow instructions below)

1/2 cup extra-vrigin olive oil

1/2 cup of dry white wine

5-6 red hot chillies (chilly peppers), cut into chunks

Fresh herbs (like marjoran, rosemary and oregano)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to season

2 small onions, peeled and cut in half

3-4 garlic cloves, skin on, bruised with the back of a knife

1 lemon, cut into slices

HOW TO

1.  Place the chicken breast-side down and, using sturdy scissors, remove the back bone. Discard the back bone or keep in the freezer to use for a stock. Repeat with the other bird. Turn the birds breast-side up and, with the palms of your hands, flatten the the chickens, until you hear slightly gross cracking noises… This job isn’t for the faint-hearted… Place the chickens onto a large roasting tray and season well with salt and pepper. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water straight after.

2. Mix oil, white wine, chopped chillies and herbs in a jug and pour onto the chickens. Scatter the garlic, onion halves and lemon slices over the tray. Rest it the fridge for 30 minutes to allow all the flavours to infuse onto the chicken.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

3. In the meantime bring your oven to 200 C (4oo F). Roast for 60/70 minutes or until cooked through and golden brown on top,  and allow to rest at room temperature for 10/15 minutes before carving. Serve with your favorite side dish and plenty of Sangiovese wine…

DSCN9947 (1)

Silvia’s Cucina is on Facebook Twitter and Pinterest

Buttermilk Sandwich Bread (Pan Carre’)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Silvia’s Cucina is on Facebook Twitter and Instagram

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

9781921383373

 

Rigatoni all’ Amatriciana (Pasta Amatriciana)

DSCN0175

This post is long over-due…I made Amatriciana for my family about a month ago and the photos had been sitting on my computer since then. It was only after I watched an episode of Australian Masterchef, during which one of the contestants had to replicate Cesare Casella’s Amatriciana, that I felt urged to stand up for the authenticity of this traditional Italian pasta dish. Even the lovely and talented Lidia Bastianich, who served as a guest judge on the show, could not refrain her..ehm..surpirse, when she tasted an array of extraneous ingredients in the sauce. It was undoubtably tasty, but Amatriciana it was not. This is one of those dishes that causes animated and feisty conversations at an Italian dinner table. Does it have onion? Is it made with pancetta or guanciale? Is the tomato supposed to be there? It doesn’t really concern me who’s wrong or right, what tastes better or worse. All I care about, in my quest for the authenticity of this dish, now part of Lazio Prodotto Agroalimentare Tradizionaleis to preserve its culinary heritage. Amatriciana is told to be the direct offspring of Pasta alla Gricia, which used to be made with guanciale (pork cheek) and pecorino only and to this day it is still a popular dish, in its simplicity, in Central Italy. Sometime in the 18th century, some innovative cook from Amatrice, must have decided tomatoes would be a valuable addition to the Gricia recipe, turning this peasant meal into one of Italy’s most loved exports. Even the choice of pasta is dictated by tradition. Originally it was Spaghetti, but these days Bucatini and Rigatoni are well tolerated. A friend of mine from Amatrice, Massimo , will tell you that any other pasta such as penne or tagliatelle is not simply to avoid, it is to be forbidden!

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

200 gr (1/3 cup) of chopped guanciale (cured pork cheek)

extra virgin olive oil

chopped dry chillie

a tablespoon of white wine vinegar

1/4 cup of dry white wine

450 gr (1 lb) of pasta

500 gr (2 cups) of peeled tomatoes (tinned tomatoes) or passata

Salt and pepper to taste

Freshly grated Pecorino cheese to serve

HOW TO

1. Fry the guanciale or pancetta in EVOO . Keep the flame low to allow the fat to render and the pork to develop a sweet flavour. When it’s starting to get a nice sun-burnt colour, add a sprinkle of chopped dry chillie and glaze the pan withwhite wine vinegar and  dry white wine. The acidity will balance the richness of the caramelized cured pork.

2. In the meantime, drop 450 gr (1 lb) of pasta into salted boiling water.

3. Return to your sauce. When the alcohol has evaporated, add the tinned tomatoes (or passata) and allow to cook for 20-25 minutes over low heat. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly.

4. When the pasta is al dente, drop it into your sauce, with a couple of tablespoons of acqua di cottura (pasta cooking water). This will help to bind the sauce and achieve a creamy consistency. Turn the heat off and mix through a very generous amount of pecorino and freshly ground black pepper, if liked . Let it rest for a few minutes before serving, to allow the pepperiness of the cheese to impregnate the pasta.

DSCN0178

Open a bottle of Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, and you are already in Italy.

Silvia’s Cucina is on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest

Pasta Bake

This pasta dish tastes as good as it looks.

A generous amount of al dente pasta, layered with melting mozzarella, oven-baked sweet tomatoes, oregano, Parmigiano and crispy breadcrumbs.

What’s not to love about it?

It’s a family favourite and you will find most of you at the table will be fighting over the crunchy pasta bits of top!
It is the ideal meal to prepare if you have left-over pasta or left-over sugo, or both.

The other day I cooked a pork stew and I intentionally cut off the bones of the ribs to add to a garlic and tomato slow-cooked sauce to have the following day.

We Italians don’t waste anything when it comes to cooking!

All I had to do yesterday was boil up some pasta until just before al dente, as it will keep cooking in the oven, mix the sauce through, throw in a good amount of bocconcini (any melting cheese you have in the fridge will do), Parmigiano, dried oregano, black pepper.

Ingredients for 4 people

500 ml (2 cups) of tin tomatoes

250 ml (1 cup) water

2 garlic cloves, bashed

3 pork rib bones

1 bay leaf

2 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

400 gr (3/4 packet) of Fusilli or Rigatoni

1 cup of breadcrumbs

1 cup of mozzarella cheese

1 cup of halved cherry tomatoes

1/2 cup of parmesan, grated

1/4 cup of dried origano

salt and pepper to taste

How to

Sautee’ the garlic in oil, add the bones, the tomatoes and the water and bring to the boil. Turn th wheat down, add 2 teaspoons of salt a 1 bay leaf and slow cook for 1 hour.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.

Drop in you pasta and cooked until 3/4 done.

Pour the pasta onto an oven dish generously smeared with sugo (tomato sauce) and dusted with bread crumbs. Cover with tomato sauce.

Top it with halved tomatoes, more Parmigiano, mozzarella, dried oregano and more coarsely chopped bread crumbs.

I covered it in foil and baked it for 20 minutes at 200 Celsius (392 degrees Fahrenheit), then uncovered for a further 15 minutes to create a crunchy crust.

My teenager niece and nephew polished off their plates so well I needn’t have put them in the dish washer…

Silvia’s Cucina is on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest

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…

Silvia’s Cucina is on FacebookTwitterPinterest and Instagram

Authentic Italian Focaccia

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I feel the need to specify authentic because I am afraid l there is an overall misconception about what focaccia is and should be.

Focaccia should not be thick or doughy. I have encountered so many of this kind, such disappointing, heavy-as lead thick breads so wrongly called Focaccia, that I am now compelled to speak for its true identity and get rid of this misapprehension once and for all. Focaccia is its own thing and it’s one of the most recognized marvels of Liguria, a God-blessed region in north-west Italy. It is light, airy, bouncy and ever-so-satisfying. Each little (or big!) bite, so well seasoned with salt and ligurian extra-virgin olive oil is a joy for the palate. Focaccia is said to have been created by the masterful Genovese artisan bakers and to this day all Italians young and old know that it is in Genova and the nearby villages that you will find the best Focaccia. In Italy we love it so much we mostly eat it plain, fresh from the oven, warm and inviting. I have finally managed to snatch the recipe from my brother, a professional Chef who made Focaccia daily when he worked at “Il Genovese” , in Milan in the late 90’s. This recipe is so great I have been baking trays for two days straight…

Can you blame me though?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

INGREDIENTS, makes 1 large focaccia

1 tablespoon of dried yeast

3/4 cup lukewarm water

1 teaspoon of barley malt syrup or honey

320 gr (2-2/3 cups) 00 or plain flour

2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons of salt

For the glaze : 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon of water.

HOW TO

1. In a large bowl dissolve  yeast with water, add  flour, oil and  barley malt syrup or honey. Knead for 5 minutes, then add the salt.

2. Knead vigorously until it looks smooth and elastic (feel free to use an electric mixer with a dough hook).

3. Shape into a ball and rest for 20 minutes in a bowl, covered with a tea towel.

4. Stretch it with your hand to form a rectangle and fold into 3 or 4. This step will give strength and texture to your dough and is essential in order to obtain a soft,  airy and chewy focaccia.

5. Place the folded dough in an oiled oven tray, cover it with a tea-towel and let it prove for around 90 minutes or until it doubles in size.

6. Once the dough has risen, stretch it out to cover the tray and sprinkle the surface with seasalt.

7. Let it rest for another 30 minutes, then, using your fingertips, press the dough down onto the tray to create lots of little holes.

8. Drizzle the holes with the glaze and sprinkle with some more salt. You can top it with caramelized onion or cherry tomatoes if you wish, but , believe me, this is already amazing as it is.

9. Let it rest for another 20 minutes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

10. Bring your oven to 200 C (390 F), then bake for 20-25 minutes  until it looks slighly golden and utterly irresistible…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASilvia’s Cucina is on Facebook Twitter and Instagram

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

9781921383373

Nonna’s sauteed potatoes

One of the best things about having started a food blog, is the chance to connect with food lovers world-wide and exchange recipes and culinary traditions and adventures.

I recently posted on my Italian blog an article about roast potatoes and one of my readers, Sandro, shared his Nonna’s recipe and I felt compelled to try it.

Nothing could taste or look as good as his gran’s dish, but I was very pleased with the result and he seemed happy too.

Sandro’s Nonna used to put potato chunks in a metal frying pan (I used a non-stick scanpan…I hate doing the dishes…)with some water, salt and a 4-5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Then she’d put the lid on to allow the steam to cook the potatoes through and make them fluffy. After about 20 minutes, she’d take the lid off to let the oil and the heat create the crunchy, irresistible crust.

This is what they looked like when I made them.

My Nonna Irene used to make them in a very similar way, they were so delicious and my siblings, my cousins and I used to fight over that last bit of slightly burnt potato, stuck to the pan and drenched in oil…

This post is dedicated to her and all the beautiful Nonnas in our lives.

I miss you…

Silvia’s Cucina is on Facebook, twitter and Pinterest

Lemon and Almond Cake with Vanilla frosting

It seems like every cake or cookie I make these days has to have lemon in it. This new-found obsession may be directly linked to my incredibly generous lemon tree.
This year it’s going crazy and there are only so many Gin&Tonics a breast-feeding mother can have…what to do with the rest of the lemons? Boil a few for two hours and blend them togther with eggs, sugar and almond meal and make yourself a deliciously moist lemon cake. And, yes, it goes well with Gin&Tonic, if you were wondering…

INGREDIENTS, serves 8

For the cake

2 large lemons, whole

250 gr of sugar

250 gr of almond meal (almond flour)

5 egg yolks

1 teaspoon of baking powder

5 egg whites, whipped to soft peaks

HOW TO

1. Boil two large lemons for two hours then blend them, whole, in a food processor with 250 gr of sugar, 250 gr of almond meal and 5 egg yolks.

2. Add a teaspoon of baking powder. Whisk 5 egg whites until they form soft peaks. Gently fold in the lemon mixture.

3. Pour onto a greased and floured cake tin and bake at 170 degrees Celsius (338 degrees Fahrenheit) for 40/45 minutes.

Cool down in the tin, then reverse onto a cake stand and ice with vanilla frosting.
For the vanilla frosting

75 gr soft butter
375 gr icing sugar ( I know, it’s a lot. Keep your kids away or they’ll be bouncing off the walls within seconds!)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 tbsp. milk

HOW TO

1. Blend butter and sugar until creamy then add vanilla and milk. Beat for a couple of minutes on medium speed, until frosting is smooth.

2. Spread frosting onto your cooled cake and decorate with toasted pistacchio nuts and lemon zest.

Silvia’s Cucina is on FacebookTwitterPinterest and Instagram