Almond, Pear and Olive Oil Cake

The seasonal change has hit our southern shores, swapping the warm breeze for a crisp chill. I have packed away my summer dresses and sandals to wrap myself in wooly layers, scarves and boots. To accompany the cooler weather, the stalls now abound with glorious winter produce, whose main purpose is to nourish and comfort. As I type this I’m embracing this sunny yet cool day, sipping tea and indulging in my second slice of this incredibly moist pear and almond cake, lightly scented by cinnamon and mandarine. Cold months to come, I fear you not! INGREDIENTS, makes1

3 small pears

3 eggs

1 cup of brown sugar (plus 2 tablespoons to sprinkle over the pears)

Cinnamon

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup of buttermilk

juice of 1 mandarine

1 cup of almond flour (almond meal)

1-1/2 cup of self-raising flour (gluten free flour will also work)

METHOD

1. Preheat your oven to 180 C (350 F)

2. Line a round cake tin with baking paper. Sprinkle the base with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and a little cinnamon

3. Cut the pears into two, scoop out the core, then cut each half into two, lenghtways. Line the base of the cake tin with the pears.

4. Beat the eggs with sugar until fluffy, add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, oil, buttermilk and mandarine juice and whisk well. Add the almond flour and the sifted self-raising flour and gently incorporate them into the batter without over mixing. Pour the batter over the pears and bake for 40-45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cake.

5. Turn up side down and leave to cool on a rack for 30-45 minutes before serving. Enjoy as it is or with vanilla gelato, cream or thick Greek yoghurt.

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Overnight Healthy Rye and Spelt Loaf

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I would love to make you believe that I spent days elaborating a new recipe for a healthy and delicious bread. That I experienced, tried and tested various formulas until one day, exhausted but elated, I triumphed…Alas, the truth about how this bread came to be is that a few weeks ago, as I was setting up to mix a loaf, I realized I only had near-empty packets or various flours! Then epiphany hit me: mix them together and hope for the best! My, was I happy with the result! A crusty, dense and flavorsome loaf, perfect for sandwiches, divine with jam!

INGREDIENTS, makes 1 loaf

300 gr of spelt flour (2-1/4 cup)

200 gr of rye flour (1- 1/4 cup)

70 gr of wholemeal spelt flour (1/3 cup +2 tablespoons)

1 teaspoon of dry yeast

1 pinch of sugar or 1 teaspoon of honey

370 ml (1-1/2 cup) of water, at room temperature

2 teaspoons of salt flakes

HOW TO

1. Start this recipe a day ahead.

2. Mix the three flours together in a large bowl, add the dry yeast and sugar (or honey) and gradually add the water, mixing with a spoon until a soft dough forms. Try not to add all the water at once. As flours always vary, it is better to start with 2/3 of the water and only then you can decide if you need the extra liquid. You are after a rather sticky dough, but not a wet one. If your dough feels too dry after you have used all the liquid, add 1-2 extra table spoons.

3. Once the dough has been mixed (you can easily do this by hand as it requires no kneading, just mixing until combined), add the salt and mix until well incorporated.

4. Cover the bowl with plastic film and leave at room temperature for 6-8 hours, then move to the fridge to rest overnight.

5. The next morning, take the dough out of the fridge and let it rest at room temperature for 2 hours.

6. Heat up your oven to 220 C (430 F)

7. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and very gently shape the dough into a loaf, being mindful not to knock out the air. Prove at room temperature for 40 minutes, then score the top with a sharp knife, sprinkle the loaf with a little water and place the tray into the oven.

8. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the top is crusty and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Cool at room temperature on a wire rack for 1 hour before slicing.

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Easy Spelt and Rye Onion Focaccia

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Many friends of mine seem to be under the impression that I spend my days covered in flours, hands stuck in sticky doughs ready to be shaped into extravagant breads and pizzas. Oh, how I have deceived you with my Instagram posts! The bare truth is that I make a large batch of dough once or twice a week, I let it slow prove in the fridge and only pinch some out when I need to bake starchy goods. I find this method to be very efficient. Basically, I make a mess in the kitchen only sporadically, but I can enjoy the benefits of home-baked goods daily. And so it happened that I had this left over batch of healthy dough fermenting at cold temperature, ready for me to roll, top with sweet onion and enjoy for lunch with a tomato salad and a cold beer. Heaven!

INGREDIENTS , makes 1 large Focaccia

200 gr (1-1/3 cup) of baker’s flour (strong white flour)

200 gr (1-1/3 cup)of spelt flour

100 gr (2/3 cup) of rye flour

1/2 teaspoon of yeast

340 (1-1/3 cup) ml of water

2 teaspoons of salt

(double the quantity of the above ingredients if you wish to make a double batch)

3-4 French shallots, thinly sliced

3-4 tablespoons of extra-vigin olive oil for drizzling on top

Rosemary sprigs

HOW TO

1. Mix flour, water and yeast together with a wooden spoon until combined. Add salt and mix well. Your mixture will look and feel quite sticky. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and let it prove for 10/14 hours at room temperature. The dough will look bubbly, wet and it will have grown in size considerably.  At this point, you can use the dough as your focaccia base or you can rest the bowl in the fridge, well covered with plastic film for up to 5 days. The flavour and structure of the dough will improve the longer you slow prove it. The dough used for the focaccia pictured here had been in the fridge for 2 days after the long fermentation at room temperature.

2. Preheat you oven to 220 C (430 F).

3. Line an oven tray lined with baking paper. Tip the dough onto the tray, spread the dough with wet hands to the deisred shape. Using a rolling pin won’t work as the dough is very wet. Be mindful when manipulating the dough not to burst the air bubbles that will have formed during the slow fermentation. Those coveted air pockets hold the secret to a light-as-a-feather crust.

4. Top the base with the sliced shallots, a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and salt

5.  Rest the focaccia at room temperature for 30 minutes.

6. Bake for 15 minutes then add the rosemary (adding in at the beginning will make it burn in the oven). Bake for another 10-15  minutes, or until the crust is caramel brown and the bottom is crisp. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Potato and Shallot Frittata

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Please allow me to introduce you to one of the most classic Italian staples: the humble frittata! No Italian household can be such without the fundamental ritual of frittata making. Frittata perfectly incapsulates the genuine spirit of Italian Cucina Povera (peasant cuisine), a cost effective way of cooking that relies mainly on fresh, inexpensive, seasonal ingredients, cooked simply and with love. The other undeniable marvel of frittata is that it is delicious plain, but can be enriched with most ingredients, from goat cheese, to sweet and sour capsicum (peppers), to hot chillies or flaked smoked salmon. To make it even trendier, it is completely gluten-free and, if you follow this recipe and replace potatoes for kumara and omit the milk, it can accommodate the taste of Paleo enthusiasts as well. Did I mention it’s ever-so- easy to make?

INGREDIENTS, serves 4-6

2 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced to 1/2 cm thick (1/4 inch)

2 French shallots, thinly sliced

4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

6 organic, free-range eggs (because we can’t support battery eggs any longer)

2 tablespoons of milk

salt and pepper for seasoning

mixed herbs

bread for serving

HOW TO

1. Turn on the grill function in your oven.

2. Boil the potato slices for 5 minutes in salted water. Drain carefully and set aside.

3. Heat up the oil in a medium-sized non-stick frying pan, add the shallots, herbs and potato slices, season with salt and stir fry over medium heat for 3-4 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through and the shallots are translucent and golden.

4. Turn the heat to high, beat the eggs with a fork, add seasoning and milk and drop the mixture into the potato and shallot pan.

5. Swirl the pan around to make sure most of the egg mixture is cooking. Use a wooden spoon or a spatula to lift some of the set eggs and allow the liquid mixture to move to the bottom of the pan.

6. Place the pan in the oven, leaving the door ajar. Keep an eye on it as it will only take a few minutes to set completely and develop a slight tan.

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Serve hot, warm or cold with a scattering of fresh herbs and crusty bread, if liked. Left overs make a mean stuffing in for the ultimate panino!

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Chia seeds Bread Rolls

One undeniable truth about being a food writer is the obsessive motivation to constantly think about recipes, ingredients and how to combine them to create something worth sharing. Testing and experiment is second nature to us, and although we all have more kitchen disasters than we care to admit, those moments when a new recipe works and we come up trumps are undoubtably worth the effort and frustration. When I test new bread recipes I get giddy with anticipation. I spend days conjuring up images of what I’d love the finished product to look like and I work backwards to create a formula to make the magic happen. For those of you familiar with my blog, it is no surprise to see me at work with doughs, I am a self-confessed bread addict. If you are new to this space…well I hope you love your carbs too! These are good carbs, by the way. The dough, which requires no kneading as such,  is fermented for a very long time and risen overnight, creating an easy to digest bread. The addition of super healthy chia seeds turns these delicious rolls into a palatable proposition to even my most resolute “I don’t eat carbs” friends. More importantly, my young children devour them with such gusto, I can barely contain my grin!

INGREDIENTS, makes 12-14

400 gr (3-3/4 cups) all purpose flour

50 gr (3 tablespoons) of rye flour

350 ml (1-1/4 cup) water at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon of dry yeast

2 teaspoons of salt

a few tablespoons of white chia seeds (you can replace with sesame seeds)

HOW TO

1. Mix flours, water and yeast together with a wooden spoon until combined.

2. Add salt and mix again. Your mixture will look and feel quite sticky. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and let it prove for 10/14 hours, or until it’s grown three times bigger and looks bubbly. The dough should feel quite wet, almost like a thick batter.

3. Line a muffin tin with baking paper to fit each hole. Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of mixture onto each hole. Top with chia seeds and allow to rise for 1 hour.

4. Turn the oven to 220 C (430 F).

5. Place the tin in the oven, bake for 10 minutes then reduce the temperature to 200 C (395 F) and bake for a further 10-15 minutes or until the rolls are golden and well risen. Remove the baking paper and allow to cool on a wire rack. They are best eaten 1 hour after baking.

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Spelt and Oats No-knead Bread (pane con avena e farro)

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The benefits of oats and spelt have been glorified by the health conscious and seem to be living a new renaissance these days. How lovely to think that these have been staple ingredients in the Italian diet since time immemorial, proving once more that our traditional cuisine boasts health recipes to suit most dietary requirements. Naturally such perks are complemented by one other fundamental asset: the both impart a warm, nutty flavour to bread, making them you best allay in the kitchen. So, if you are trying to stay away from refined white bread, this recipe might be just what the doctor ordered.

INGREDIENTS, makes 1 loaf

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

200 gr (1- 2/3 cups) of unbleached baker’s flour or all purpose flour

380 ml (1- 2/3 cups) of lukewarm water

1 teaspoon of dry yeast

1 teaspoon of honey

2 teaspoons of salt

1-2 handfuls of rolled oats for dusting on top

HOW TO

1. Mix the flours in a large bowl, add the yeast, honey and water and mix until combined.

2. Add the salt and mix through using a wooden spoon or a spatula. The mixture will be rather sticky and will not require kneading as such. Just mix until all the ingredients are amalgamated. If you think the dough is a little dry, add 1-2 tablespoons of water.

3. Leave the dough to prove in a bowl covered with a damp tea towel for 8-12 hours or until it has more than doubled in size.

4. Dust a working bench with flour, tip the risen dough onto it and fold it into three. Roll it back into a ball using floured hands (the dough will be very sticky, don’t be alarmed!) and place in on top of an oven tray lined with baking paper to prove for 1-2 hours at room temperature, covered with a tea towel.

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5. Heat up your oven to 220 C/430 F. Place an empty metal bowl or skillet on the bottom tray to heat up.

6. When the dough has risen for the second time, dust it with oats and slide the tray in the oven. Fill the hot bowl or skillet with cold water to create steam and close the oven door to block the heat from escaping. After 10 minutes, turn the heat down to 200 C/390 F. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.

7. Cool at room temperature on a wire rack. Allow to cool down to 1 hour before slicing.

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Cannellini Beans Stew, my Italian Baked Beans

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Say hallo to the perfect winter warmer, and quite the healthy fix too, if you are watching your diet. Pulses and winter are a wonderful marriage. When you need that extra nourishment that will keep you warm and energetic without impacting on your digestive system and your waist line,  you can safely turn to beans. I love all varieties, but I confess a weakness for the pearly and silky Cannellini. You can buy great tinned ones these days and you shouldn’t be made feel guilty if you’d rather quickly open a tin a of goodness now instead of soaking your beans yesterday…This is fast food at its best. In a matter of minutes you’ll feel warm and cosy again.

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

2 tins of cannellini beans, well drained (or 1- 1/2 pounds of dried beans soaked over night and simmered for 2 hours or until cooked through)

2 French shallots, thinly sliced

1 celery stick, thinly sliced, 1 garlic clove, bashed with the back of a knife

1/4 cup of diced smoked pancetta, or speck, or chorizo (omit for a vegetarian option)

1/2 chillie, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

2 tins of tomatoes, chopped (or home-made passata)

1-2 sprigs of rosemary

a pinch of sugar

a drizzle of balsamic vinegar

celery leaves

salt to taste

bread or soft polenta for serving

HOW TO

1. Heat up the oil in a large, heavy based frying pan. Add the sliced shallot, garlic, chillie and celery and stir-fry over medium heat for 2-3 minutes or until fragrant and soft.

2. Add the pancetta or chorizo and cook together with the vegetables for a further 2-3 minutes.

3. Add the drained beans, combine the ingredients well with a wooden spoon, the add the tinned tomatoes (or passata), a pinch a sugar and the rosemary sprig. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the sauce has reduced. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly.

4. Turn off the heat, drizzle a little balsamic vinegar on top, scatter a few celery leaves and serve with grilled ciabatta  or soft polenta.

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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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The Real Italian Bruschetta

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Bruschetta (pronouced brus’ketta) is to an Italian as vital as a peanut butter sandwich is to an American. We may have it most days during summer, as a way to celebrate the most awaited season of tomatoes at their ripest and to use up stale bread that simply cannot be thrown out and wasted. It is a combination of simple and humble ingredients and for that it perfectly encapsulate Italian cooking at its best. In Italy we hardly ever stray from the classic combination of bread rubbed with garlic and seasoned with EVOO and salt, grilled on both sides and topped with the juiciest tomatoes you can get your hands on: San Marzano, Pachino, heirloom cherry tomatoes or the glorious oxheart variety. With their ruby-red flesh and the shape of a love heart, they turn my breakfast table into an instant feast for the eyes and the palate. Sweet consolation to the idea that the end of summer in nigh…DSCN0145

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

4 slices of 1 day-old sourdough

1 garlic clove, cut in half

2-3 oxheart tomatoes (depending on the size)

4 tablespoons of EVOO (or home-made basil oil)

salt to taste

basil leaves to serve

HOW TO

1. Place a griddle pan on the stove over high heat. You can also grill your bread on a BBQ or using the grill function in your oven.

2. Rub the bread with the cut size of the garlic.

3. Place the tomatoes on their side and slice them to your desired thickness. Season them with salt and EVOO.

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4. Dip the bread slices, on both sides, in the tomato dish to soak up some of the juices. This will turn your stale slice of bread in a delightful, savory morsel once grilled.

5. Grill the bread on both sides, top with the tomatoes and basil leaves and serve as a healthy breakfast or a light lunch.

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Focaccia Pugliese (home-made focaccia Apulian style)

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When it comes to the delicate matter of Focaccia the authentic, 100% born-and bred Italian proudly turns into a -very- opinionated baking expert. Be it as it may that most Italian would rather buy their focaccia at the local bakery instead of baking at home, they all seem to reach a common agreement when it comes to  texture, flavor and, most-importantly, the lightness of the crumb. Don’t try to sell an Italian a dense, doughy, thick bread, whose resemblance to authentic focaccia is a mere matter of those glistening holes dimpled on top. No, no, to the authentic Italian Focaccia connoisseur, that will not do. Focaccia, is not a bread. It is it’s very own creation and you will know you have sunken your teeth into the real thing, when you bite into a feather-light crumb, that comes apart with the slightest involvement of your jaws, leaving you wondering how on earth it is possible to pack so much flavor and such a delightful texture into one humble mouthful.

The secret is now unveiled!

Ingredients, adapted from my Focaccia Genovese recipe

1 tablespoon of dried yeast

3/4 cup lukewarm water

1 teaspoon of barley malt syrup or honey

320 gr (2 3/4 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 dried oregano, 1 cup of halved cherry tomatoes, salt flakes to taste.

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 sea salt.

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.

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8. Drizzle the holes with the glaze and sprinkle with some more salt.

Bring your oven to 200 C (390 F) and bake for 20-25 minutes or  until it looks slightly golden and utterly irresistible…

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