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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No-knead Spelt Focaccia with Potato and Zucchini

Move over, white flour! The more recent diets trends have cast the spotilght on an ancient grain that has been enjoying a new-found popularity amongst home-bakers and those with a knack for healthy eating. Spelt, or dinkel wheat, contains a … Continue reading

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Cannellini Beans Salad

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Have you been looking for a super healthy recipe that combines nutritional virtues with great flavor? Look no further! In the one bowl you have the antioxidant powers of tomatoes, the good, necessary fats of extra-virgin olive oil, the antibacterial boost of garlic and the mood-elevating kick of rosemary. Add to this blissful mix the low-in-fat-high-in-iron, gluten-free, vegan-friendly and utterly delicious cannellini beans and you have granted yourself a beauty treatment for the insides that is sure to show its mighty benefits on the outside too. Whomever said that Italian food is not healthy ought to think again….

INGREDIENTS, serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a main meal accompanied with bread

600 gr (1.3 lb) of cherry tomatoes (I used mixed heirloom)

4 tablespoon of EVOO

2 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar (regular balsamic vinegar or verjuice are good substitutes)

A generous handful of mixed fresh herbs (thyme, oregano, rosemary)

Salt, to taste

freshly ground white or black pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon of sugar

1  tin of Cannellini beans, well drained and rinsed (if using dried-and-soaked beans, 450 gr (1 lb) will be more than enough)

HOW TO

1. If using dried beans, start this recipe a day ahead. Soak the beans in cold water overnight. The next day, rinse the beans, place them in a pot well covered in water, throw in some herbs and simmer for 1 hour or until tender. Cool the beans in the cooking liquid, taste for salt and adjust accordingly. Set aside until ready to use.

2. Preheat your oven to 160 C (320 F).

3. Put the washed tomatoes in a large bowl, leave some whole and cut the rest in half. Season with oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, sugar and herbs. Mix well.

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4. Pour the tomato mix onto a large roasting tray lined with baking paper. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until blistered, but still intact. Add the well-drained beans to the tomatoes while that are still warm, taste for seasoning and fix as required.

5. Serve warm as a side dish or accompanied by toasted sourdough for a more substantial meal.

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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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Beer and Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Flat Bread (Pizza Scima alla Birra)

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It has become a tradition now to kick off the new year with a bread-dedicated post. After all, I am a self-confessed avid baker (read “bread-baking addict”) and very little else elevates my culinary spirit to blissful excitement more than kneading, beating and shaping a starchy good. I have spent the last couple of weeks back home, visiting family and gorging on love, food and wine and I have been  inspired to fight the seasonal sense of laziness and get back into the kitchen (my mum’s, to be precise, as I am still in Milan), after trying a truly wonderful flat bread at Agriturismo Troilo, in Colle Zingaro, in the Abruzzo region (pictured at the bottom of the page), a few miles away from when my mum is from. Antonina, the talented home-cook who runs the place with grace and a true respect to the authenticity of regional food, didn’t shy away from giving me her recipe, which required 4 ingredients only: oil (good, local EVOO), OO flour, water and salt. The right ratio of those humble ingredients, provides a flaky, pastry-like dough, that crumbles in your mouth as you blissfully stuff it with morsels of home-made salami all happily washed down with a drop of Moltepulciano. It is similar to the recipe Signora Matilde once gave me (which I posted here), and just as good. Those Abruzzese women are a treasure trove of home-cooking secrets and it is vital to pass them on to make sure they are available to the generations to follow.

I have adapted Antonina’s recipes, using beer instead of water, for a slightly more robust flavor and to allow the natural yeast in beer to rise the bread slightly in the oven. Also, I have used a locally produced EVOO, so rich and intense its color is a vibrant hue of emerald green.

Ingredients (serves 4)

2-1/2 cups of OO flour (or plain flour)+ some for heading the dough

3/4 cup of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (I know, it’s a little extravagant, but it will impart the bread the most beautiful flavor. I wouldn’t advise replacing it for vegetable oil)

a little less than 3/4 cup of beer

1-1/2 teaspoons of salt

How To

Combine flour, oil, beer and salt in a bowl, and mix with a spoon until a dough forms. Knead the dough onto  floured surface for 3-4 minutes until soft nd smooth.

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It should be pliable and a little softer than egg-pasta dough. If it feels too sticky add a little extra flour. If too dry, add a little extra beer.

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Oil a baking dish and flatten the dough onto it. Score the dough with a pastry cutter to create a criss-cross pattern.

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Once the bread is baked and slightly cooled, the scoring will make it easier to cut in chunks. Bake at 200 C (395 F), conventional oven, for 30-35 minutes or until the top is bronzed and crunchy.

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Cool at room temperature for 10-15 minutes, then carefully lift out of the baking dish, break up into chunks and serve with cold cuts of meat and cheese for the ultimate antipasto.

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Frittelle, Italian savoury donuts

No matter how loudly nutritionists will speak against deep-fried food, I do allow myself and my children the occasional indulgence. I fiercely stand by my credo that “once in a while” will do you no harm, and, quite frankly, if it makes you happy when you eat it, than it’s got to be good for you! In moderation, that is…

When we were children, my mamma used to apply pretty much the same rule, and her home-cooking was predominantly healthy and very nutritious. So, on special occasions, if we’d been really, really good, she would set off in the kitchen to fry off these delicious, golden nuggets, while we, children and Papà, would patiently wait, slowly inebriated by the savory and warm smell of what was to be our Sunday dinner.

The memory alone is worth the occasional intake of deep-fried food…

These savoury donuts, frittelle, are made using a slowly fermented pizza dough. You can make them using a larger amount of yeast and less rising time, but I have to warn you that they won’t be as light, crispy and easy to digest.

To make the dough, simply follow the same steps as if you were making pizza dough.

Ingredients for the dough

3 1/2 cups  00 type flour (or plain)

1/2 cup  wholemeal flour

1 teaspoon of dry yeast

1-1/4 cup  lukewarm water

1/2 teaspoon of sugar

2 teaspoons of salt flakes

Extra-virgin olive oil, to grease the bowl and to drizzle on top.

How to

Dissolve yeast and sugar in water. Stand for 5 minutes or until frothy.

Place flour in a large mixing  bowl, add the yeasted water and mix for 1-2 minutes, then tip the dough onto a floured surface, add the salt and knead vigorously for 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Shape it into a ball.

As all flours tend to differ slightly, you may have to add a little more water of a little more flour in order to have the perfect dough. You want a soft, pliable dough, but not too sticky.

Rest the dough in an oiled bowl, covered with a tea-towel for 30 minutes, then lift it out, place it back onto a floured surface, stretch it with your hands and fold it into three and then back into a ball. Put the dough back in the bowl to rest for another 30 minutes, then stretch and fold again.

As tedious as this process sounds, this is paramount for obtaining a light, crispy and easy to digest base.

After the second stretch-and-fold, place the dough in a large oiled container fitted with  lid (like a Tupperware one). Place in the fridge (with the lid on) and slow-prove for a minimum of 6 hours, up to 36 hours.

When you are ready to make you pizza, take the dough out of the fridge and place it in an oiled bowl and cover it with a tea-towel. Rest at room temperature for 30-45 minutes.

Roll the dough onto a floured surface to 1/2 cm  (0,2 inches) thick.

Cut the dough into rectangles and score each in the middle to allow even rising when fried.

Fill a deep-fryer or a frying own with vegetable oil and. To test of the oil temperature is ready, drop in a cube of bread: if it sizzles straight away and turns golden in 30 seconds, the oil is ready. Fry the cut dough in 3-4 batches,  2-3 minutes on both sides.

Drain on kitchen paper, sprinkle with salt flakes and serve hot with cold cuts of meat, torn mozzarella balls, cherry tomatoes or whatever takes your fancy.

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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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