Chickpea and Aubergine Warm Salad

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Silvia’s Chickpea and Aubergine’s salad

And so, without fail, we have bid our adieu to yet another year and welcomed the new one with expectant hearts. We have duly complied a list of resolutions for 2016 and on day 5 we are still sticking to it. Marvelous! Drink less, exercise more, work less, laugh more, play lego with boys, don’t yell at them, kiss husband more, eat healthy food… As I type this I have a big smile on my face knowing that however short-lived all these aspirations are, I still believe in writing them down and implementing those changes in my life, for however long they last! The two things I am sure I won’t fail at, are kissing hubby (he’s rather irresistible) and prepare healthy meals for my family to enjoy. All year round.

Ingredients, serves 4 as a side (vegan, gluten free)

1 large aubergine (eggplant), cut into 2cm cubes

1 garlic clove, skin on and bashed with the back of a knife

4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon of paprika

1 tin of chickpeas, well drained

salt and pepper for seasoning

parsley leaves and nasturtium to scatter on top

Method

1. Heat up the oil in a large, non-stick frying pan, add the garlic and cook in the oil to infuse its scent into it for 1 minute. Add the aubergine, stir well until well coated with the oil, then turn  the heat to medium-low, cover with a lid and allow the hot oil and the steam to cook the vegetables gently for 15 minutes. Stir from time to time.

2. When the aubergines look soft and slightly caramelized, add the chickpeas and paprika, stir well and cook, uncovered, over medium heat for 4-5 minutes. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly.

3. Serve warm topped with parsley and nasturtium leaves and a grounding of black pepper.

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A X’mas special! Edible Gifts, made Easy

This is indeed the season to be jolly! My mum and dad have arrived from Italy to spend Christmas with us and I truly feel like I have turned back into a little girl. My parents are not only the best Nonni (grandparents) my boys could hope to have, they allow me to be a daughter again, as they discreetly, but resolutely look after me, Richard and the little ones. There is one other reason my mum is a great presence in the house at this time of the year, she cooks like a goddess! And what could be better than spending time in the kitchen with her as we pickle vegetables, stew strawberries and shape almond cookies, that will be turned into home-made edible gifts for friends and family?

Have a great festive season, share, laugh and, most importantly, love. A lot!

(This post is the collective effort of food and interior photographer Denise Braki, food stylist and interior designer Jon Fleming and myself)

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PICKLED CARROTS, makes enough to fill 3 1 lt (8 cups) jars

INGREDIENTS

1.5 lt (6 cups) white wine vinegar

1.5 lt (6 cups) water

2 tablespoons of mixed peppercorns

2 tablespoons of fennel seeds

1 cup of sugar

2 tablespoons of salt

1 tablespoon of dried tarragon

peel of 1 orange

3 bunches of heirloom or dutch baby carrots

HOW TO

1. Sterilize the jars according to instructions

2. In the meantime, make the pickling liquid, by placing all the ingredients, but the carrots, in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer then boil gently for 4-5 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved.

3. Clean and peel the carrots. Place them in the (still hot) sterilized jars and cover them with the hot pickling liquid. Close firmly with the lid, turn the jars upside down to create the vacuum, until the jars are cool. Keep in the fridge.

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MACERATED STRAWBERRY AND VANILLA JAM makes enough for 4 x 250 gr (1 cup) jars. Recipe adapted from here.

INGREDIENTS

1.3 Kg of hulled strawberries

800 gr of sugar

juice of 2 lemons

2 vanilla beans

HOW TO

1. Place the strawberries (whole), sugar, lemon zest in a large ceramic of plastic bowl. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pods and add them to the strawberries. Cut the pods into smaller pieces and drop them in the bowl too, to further the vanilla flavour.

2. Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight. The maceration will intensify the strawberry flavour to its maximum.

3. The next day, tip the content of the bowl into a saucepan, bring to a simmer, then turn the heat down and cook gently for 35-40 minutes or until the jam has thickened slightly. You can skim off the foam that appears on the surface with a slotted spoon as the jam cooks. To make sure the jam is cooked, place a small plate in the freezer for 10 minutes. Take it out and spoon a little jam onto it. If it thickens, the jam is ready. Pour the hot jam into the hot sterilized jars, close firmly and tip the jars upside down to create a vacuum. Allow to cool down, then refrigerate.

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COFFEE AND ALMOND AMARETTI COOKIES, makes 20-24 large ones

INGREDIENTS

500 gr (2- 1/2cup)of caster sugar

600 gr (1 lb 5 oz) of almond meal

4 egg whites

1 teaspoon of vanilla essence

1/4 teaspoon of almond extract

1 tablespoon of ground coffee beans

1 cup of flaked almonds

Icing sugar for dusting

HOW TO

1. Place sugar, almond meal, egg whites, vanilla, coffee and almond extract in a standing mixer and beat together for 1-2 minutes or until a sticky dough is formed.

2. With wet hands, roll bits of dough the size of a crescent, coat them with flaked almonds and place them onto an oven tray lined with baking paper.

3. Bake at 180 C, 350 F for 18-20 minutes or until the bottom is firm, but the cookies are still pale in colour

4. Allow to cool on a rack and firm up further at room temperature before serving. Dust with icing sugar, if liked.

5. They will keep for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container

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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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Almond and Pomegranate swirl Meringues

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My undeniable attraction for whipped egg whites has struck again! Yes, I am not new to posts dedicated to the ineffable and weightless world of meringues. The truth is that I can barely contain my excitement when recipes call for egg yolks only because I know I can turn the leftover whites into whimsical, frothy creations, so irresistible in their snow white perfection, or eager to be enriched by a vibrant touch of pink. And if you don’t feel confident whipping a batch of these, here are my top tips on meringue making:

1. Make sure your egg whites are at room temperature

2. Mix them in a clean and dry bowl

3. Add a pinch of salt to encourage the frothing action

4. Don’t over whip

5. Weigh the egg whites (I know, a little bit of a pain in the neck, but well worth it)

6. Be patient, bake them in a really slow oven to keep their pristine white shells

7. Store your cooked meringues in an airtight container for up to 3 days (less in very hot and humid weather)

Off you go!

INGREDIENTS, makes 10-12 medium sized meringues

100 g (just over 1/3 cup) egg whites, at room temperature

pinch of salt flakes

75 g icing sugar (1/3 cup), sifted (icing sugar is the same as confectioner sugar or powdered sugar)

75 g (1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon) caster sugar

1/4 teaspoon lemon juice or cream of tartar

2 tablespoons of flaked almonds + more for sprinkling on top

3 tablespoons pomegranate juice (you can either squeeze it yourself or buy it in conveniently packaged bottles!)

HOW TO

1. Preheat your oven to 100°C (212 F). Line a large baking tray with baking paper.

2. In a large, clean, dry bowl, whisk the egg whites with the salt until frothy and very soft peaks start to form. I always do this do with hand-held electric beaters on low speed as it gets the job done in 90 seconds, with no sore wrist. But feel free to do it by hand if you missed a day at the gym and need to burn off some calories. Gradually increase the speed of your beaters (or your biceps) to medium and start adding the icing sugar then, slowly, the caster sugar. Keep beating for 1–2 minutes (or 5–6 minutes by hand) or until the egg whites are shiny, smooth and stiff.

3. Add the lemon juice or cream of tartar and gently fold it in with a metal spoon, taking care not to beat the air out of the meringue mixture. These few drops of acid will neutralise the eggy flavour that meringue can have, and will also keep them stable and preserve their crisp whiteness.

4. Add the almonds and mix gently. Swirl the juice in. Don’t over mix!

5. Dollop teaspoons (or tablespoons, if you like them larger) of the mixture onto the baking tray, about 2 cm apart to allow for spreading. You can use a piping bag if you prefer, but I love a more whimsical, free-form meringue.

6. Gently place the tray in the oven and bake for 11/2–2 hours. If they start to colour, turn the heat down to 80°C (175 F). You know the meringues are cooked through when the base is touch-dry.

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Cool at room temperature and enjoy as they are or accompanied by whipped cream, sweetened mascarpone, gelato…I could go on and on…

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Root Vegetable Oven Chips (vegan, vegetarian, paleo, gluten and dairy free)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo this is what happens when you throw a dinner party and you ask to advise if there are any food allergies or requirements to cater for! At first it seems rather daunting…so, no dairy and animal product and no wheat, eggs, legumes and refined starch…lucky for all, the Mediterranean Diet is so wholesome and complete that it can happily and easily accommodate all preferences, you just need to use your imagination and experiment a bit. I always like to kick-start parties with a the cork of a Prosecco bottle popping and what goes better with its bubbly nature than salty oven baked potato chips? I did’t have to think too hard to come up with the idea of replacing the good old potato with nutritious root vegetables. Jerusalem artichokes, celeriac and sweet potatoes, lightly coated in luscious extra-virgin olive oil turn out to be the ultimate accompaniment for pre-dinner drinks, with their subtle salty and peppery flavour and delightful crunch, they will tickle your appetite, regardless of your dietary restrictions!

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

1 medium sweet potato, scrubbed and thinly sliced

4-5 Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed and thinly sliced

1/3 celeriac, peeled and cut into thin half moons

4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

a few thyme sprigs

salt and black pepper for seasoning

HOW TO

1. Heat up your oven to 200 C (390 F)

2. Line and oven tray with baking paper

3. Place all the prepared vegetables in a large bowl. Add seasoning and herbs and toss well with your hands to coat all the pieces with the oil. 

4. Place the vegetables in the tray in one layer and bake for 20-25 minutes or until crunchy and golden.

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Gluten-free Lemonade Cakes (Tortine alla limonata senza glutine)

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A lot of my friends have suddenly gone gluten-free. None of them are allergic to gluten… All of them keep telling me gluten is bad for you… I think you can safely assume that I slightly disagree with their views! Without going into the specific science of why gluten is or is not good for you, I like to think I can be grown-up enough to set aside my fervent “i love gluten credo” and accommodate the requests of my beloved. Jokes aside,  serious gluten-free allergies affect so many people these days that the need for creating options that cater for them is necessary and, quite frankly, a challenge I am ready to embark upon. Whether you are celiac or just not a fan of wheat and its derivates, I have high hopes you will enjoy biting into these bubbly, moist cakes, perfumed with tangy lemonade and a hint of vanilla. By the way, they are also dairy free, just saying’….

INGREDIENTS, makes 8-10 mini cakes using a muffin tin

3 eggs

3/4 cup of brown sugar

1/2 cup olive oil

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, paste or the seeds of 1 vanilla bean

3/4 cup fizzy lemonade

2-1/4 cup of  gluten free self-raising flour

1 cup of icing sugar (confectioner sugar) mixed with a few teaspoons of lemon juice to make the lemon icing

HOW TO

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

2. Line a medium sized muffin tin with wrappers (I used an 8 hole jumbo muffin tin)

3. Beat the eggs with sugar until pale and fluffy and the sugar crystals have dissolved

4. Add oil, vanilla, and lemon zest and mix well.

5. Add the lemonade and gradually incorporate the flour, beating gently, until a wet batter is formed

6. Pour the batter into the muffin tin making sure not to fill to the rim as the cakes with grow a lot whilst baking

7. Bake for 20 minutes or until cooked through if tested with a skewer

8. Cool at room temperature. When cooled, drizzle the lemon icing on top and allow 10-15 minutes to set before serving out

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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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Cocoa Swirled Meringues (Meringhe variegate)

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I often find myself planning recipes that only require the use of yolks so that I can have some egg whites to play with. As I type this I will concede that this may sound odd to many, but I cannot renounce who I am, a food nerd, really! How many times have you separated eggs, promising yourselves you will give the unused whites a new, worthy life, only to find them weeks later in the back of your fridge, a scary, ectoplasmic entity begging you to be put out of its misery! Here is my favourite thing to do with the protein-packed goodness: whip it, whip it and then whip it a bit more! With sugar, that is, and a little dusting of cocoa powder to turn them into a delectable treat to accompany your coffee or afternoon tea.

INGREDIENTS, makes 12

100 g (just over 1/3 cup) egg whites, at room temperature

pinch of salt flakes

75 g icing sugar (1/3 cup), sifted (icing sugar is the same as confectioner sugar or powdered sugar)

75 g (1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon) caster sugar

1/4 teaspoon lemon juice or cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla paste or the seeds of half vanilla bean

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

HOW TO

1. Preheat your oven to 100°C (212 F). Line a large baking tray with baking paper.

2. In a large, clean, dry bowl, whisk the egg whites with the salt until frothy and very soft peaks start to form. I always do this do with hand-held electric beaters on low speed as it gets the job done in 90 seconds, with no sore wrist. But feel free to do it by hand if you missed a day at the gym and need to burn off some calories. Gradually increase the speed of your beaters (or your biceps) to medium and start adding the icing sugar then, slowly, the caster sugar. Keep beating for 1–2 minutes (or 5–6 minutes by hand) or until the egg whites are shiny, smooth and stiff.

3. Add the lemon juice or cream of tartar and gently fold it in with a metal spoon, taking care not to beat the air out of the meringue mixture. These few drops of acid will neutralise the eggy flavour that meringue can sometimes have, and will also keep them stable and preserve their crisp whiteness.

4. Add the vanilla and mix gently. Swirl the cocoa in.

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5. Dollop teaspoons (or tablespoons, if you like them larger) of the mixture onto the baking tray, about 2 cm apart to allow for spreading. You can use a piping bag if you prefer, but I love a more whimsical, free-form meringue.

6. Gently place the tray in the oven and bake for 11/2–2 hours. If they start to colour, turn the heat down to 80°C (175 F). You know the meringues are cooked through when the base is touch-dry.

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Cool at room temperature and enjoy as they are with coffee, gelato or, as my dad favours, a big dollop of sweetened whipped cream. The man is known for his sweet tooth …

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Related recipes

Home-Made Marshmallows (http://www.theclevercarrot.com/2013/12/homemade-fluffy-marshmallows-corn-syrup-free/)

Raspberry cake with meringues (http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/05/02/raspberry-cake-with-whipped-cream-and-pink-meringues-2/)

Sicilian Amaretti (http://sundayatthegiacomettis.blogspot.com/2011/11/sicilian-amaretti-cookies-almond.html)

 

X’mas Hazelnut Cookies (Dolcetti alle Nocciole)

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The Christmas season is heralded in my house with the inebriating smell of sweet treats baking in the oven, may they be my almond pastries, favoured by my boys for their resemblance with Rudolph’s red, shiny nose, or my dad’s morsel of choice, soft hazelnut cookies. These rustic looking nuggets are simply irresistible and they can happily carry you throughout your busy festive day: perfectly dunked in your morning coffee, afternoon tea or after dinner digestivo, they are sure to become your new best friend. The fact that they are rolled and baked in under 30 minutes will make them highly addictive…You are warned!

INGREDIENTS, makes 20

2 egg whites

1 cup of hazelnut meal (ground hazelnuts)

1-1/2 cup of icing sugar, plus more for rolling the cookies in

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, or the seeds from half vanilla bean

HOW TO

1. Heat up your oven to 180 C (350 F)

2. Mix egg whites, gournd hazelnut, vanilla and sugar in a large bowl until a thick paste forms.

3. Pinch off small bits of paste to shape balls the size of a large walnut.

4. Generously roll the balls in plenty of icing sugar.

5. Place the cookies, well distanced apart, onto an oven tray lined with baking paper.

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6. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until cracked and beautifully puffed up.

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Cool at room temperature and merrily consume with glee.

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Paste di Mandorle (X’mas Almond Pastries)

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And so, the long-awaited jolly season officially begins at my house, with a tray full of these colourful, soft almond cookies, heralding the impending gluttonous days that this time of the year invariably brings. And although it only feels it’s been a couple of months since my last Christmas, which I spent back home in Milan with my folks, I cannot help feeling comforted by the glorious festive spirit that my children and I exude as we set off to the kitchen to shape these traditional Italian cookies. Some call them Paste di Mandorle, others call them Amaretti, but Raffi and Miro have duly renamed them Rudolph’s nose cookies!

INGREDIENTS, makes 18-20 cookies

275 gr (1 – 1/3 cup)of caster sugar

300 gr (2- 1/2 cups) of almond meal

2 egg whites

1 teaspoon of vanilla essence

1/4 teaspoon of almond extract

glaceè cherries

 HOW TO

1. Place sugar, almond meal, egg whites, vanilla and almond extract in a standing mixer and beat together for 2-3 minutes or until a sticky dough is formed.

2. Roll bits of dough the size of a large walnut and place them onto an oven tray lined with baking paper.

3. Make an indent in each ball of dough with your index finger, then sit a cherry onto each dimple. Shape the rest of the dough into small rectangles (this is the typical Ricciarelli shape), cover them liberally in icing sugar and place them onto the oven tray with the rest of the cookies.

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4. Bake at 180 C, 350 F for 18-20 minutes of until the bottom is firm, but the cookies are still pale in colour

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5. Allow to cool and further firm up at room temperature before serving

They will keep for up to 1 week in an airtight container

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

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