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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Wholemeal Focaccia with Olives and Chillie (Focaccia integrale con olive e peperoncino)

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It’s the weekend and this wondrous realization springs a few things to mind: sleeping in (we have trained the boys to entertain themselves for an hour or so, until we are ready to get out of our cave! So far so good, they are both still intact…), leisurely breakfast and baking! These three simple joys of mine incapsulate the intrinsic beauty of spending time at home with the ones I love and I cherish them dearly. Sleeping in is something I have always been terrific at, it’s embedded in my DNA, I’m Italian, as much as I try to disguise it, I am lazy! The long, indulgent breakfast is possibly not so Italian, we are famous for our quickies at the counter of a café as we rapidly ingest a short black and devour pastries. I suppose when I became an Australian citizen I acquired this new, lovely habit, along with excellent swear words and slang! Then there’s the baking… if you are familiar with my recipes, you know by now I’m a self-confessed baking addict, especially when it comes to yeasted goods. And so I can’t think of anything more perfect than kneading a silky dough, watch it grow and top it with some Italian favourites. This wholemeal focaccia with olives and chillie is just what I need.

INGREDIENTS, serves 8-10

1 tablespoon of dried yeast

1 cup lukewarm water

1 teaspoon of barley malt syrup or honey

1-2/3 cup of wholemeal (wholewheat) flour +1 cup of 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

salt for sprinkling on top

1/2 cup of mixd pitted olives

1 chillie, sliced

HOW TO

1. In a large bowl dissolve  yeast with 3/4 water, add  flour, oil and  barley malt syrup or honey. Mix for for a few minutes, then add the salt. If you think the dough is too dry, add the remaining water. Wholemeal flour can require a little extra moisture than regular flour.

2. Knead vigorously until it looks smooth and elastic, this will take about 10 minutes if doing by hand or 5 if enlisting the help of an electric mixer fitted 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. This step will give strength and texture to your dough and is essential in order to obtain a soft,  airy and chewy focaccia. Repeat one last time after 30 minutes.

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. Top with pitted olives and roughly sliced chillies.

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9. Let your focaccia rest for another 20 minutes, while your oven heats up to 200 C (390 F).

10. Bake for 20-25 minutes  until it looks slighly golden and delicious. Allow to cool at room temperature in the tray for 10-15 minutes, then serve cut into pieces.

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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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Chicken, Sausage and Pumpkin Bake (Pollo al forno con salsiccia e zucca)

Italian home-cooking can be explained in a simple equation: a few fresh ingredients + a bit of love = happy diners! This is always the case at my house, where we celebrate the abundance of the exquisite produce we get … Continue reading

Pallotte Cacio e Ovo (Stale bread and Pecorino Dumplings)

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Pallotte Cacio e Ovo (literally, balls with pecorino and egg….Yes doesn’t sound as evocative in English!) is a traditional dish from my mother’s village in the mountains of Abruzzo. Every Mamma and Nonna in Torricella Peligna has a treasured recipe for this humble dish that features stale bread as its key ingredient, and they all vehemently claim to be the keepers of the tastiest recipe. I am no exception, having inherited my great Aunt Italina’s method, which includes a chunk of bell pepper left to stew in the tomato sauce to add a touch of peppery robustness to this magnificent peasant meal.

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

For the dumplings

200 gr (about 2 cups) day-old Italian bread (such as pane di casa or ciabatta), crust removed, cut into chunks

250 ml  (1 cup) of milk

160 gr (2 cups) of finely grated pecorino cheese

1/4 cup roughly chopped parsley and 1/4 of chopped basil leaves

1 egg , lightly beaten

Olive oil to deep fry

salt and pepper to season

For the sauce

2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

2 spring onions (scallions) roughly chopped

1/4 green capsicum (pepper) in 1 piece

1 garlic clove, finely chopped + 1 whole, bashed with the back of a knife

1 small celery stick, finely chopped

2 tins of tomatoes or 3 cups of  home-made passata

Basil leaves

salt and pepper to season

HOW TO

1. Soak the bread in milk for 20 minutes or until soft, then squeeze out any excess. Using your hands, break down the bread to a pulp

2. Combine bread with cheese, egg, herbs to form a sticky batter. Add salt and pepper to season. Rest in the fridge for 20 minutes

3. Meanwhile, for the tomato sauce, heat the oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat

4. Cook, spring onion, garlic, celery and pepper, stirring for 3-4 minutes or until fragrant. Add tin tomatoes or passata, season with salt and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and cook gently for 20 minutes or until slightly reduced

5. Half fill a saucepan with olive oil and heat over medium high heat

6. Take the dumpling mixture out of the fridge, and, with wet hands, shape it into balls the size of a small mandarin

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7. Deep fry the dumplings in batches until golden and cooked through. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with kitchen paper

8. Add the cooked dumplings to the tomato sauce, cover with the lid and stand , off the heat, for at least 1 hour before serving to allow for the flavours to mingle and for the dumplings to soak up the sauce

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9. When ready to serve, gently reheat the dumplings in the sauce, top with basil leaves and serve hot or warm

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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

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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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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