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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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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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

Leek, Potato and Cannellini Beans Soup (Zuppa di Porri, Patate e Cannellini)

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As the winter season approaches here in Sydney, I feel a fervent yearning for heart-warming food, the kind that will nourish you body and will comfort your soul as you perfume the house with scented candles, dim the lights and snuggle under a blanket to catch your favourite show or, in my case, read a cookery book. I am more of a summer person, and yet I find myself happily surrendering to the inevitable winter chills and shorter days as I head to the stove to make scalding hot soups, ready to be enriched with seasonal goods.

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

1 leek, white part only, thinly sliced and well washed

2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 celery stick, sliced

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

1 small handful of smoked speck or pancetta (or chorizo), cut into cubes, omit for a vegetarian/vegan option

1 tin of cannellini beans, well drained and rinsed

3/4 cup of baby pasta (ditalini, orzo, risoni…)

salt and pepper to taste

chillies and celery leaves to serve, optional

HOW TO

1. Heat up the oil in a medium saucepan, drop in the leeks and cook over medium-low heat for 8-10 minutes or until soft.

2. Add the potatoes and celery along with the garlic  and pancetta and cook over medium heat for 3-5 minutes.

3. Add the beans and cover with water. Simmer for 20-25 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.

4. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly.

5. Puree 1/3 of the soup in a food processor or blender then add it back to the pot. Add the baby pasta and cook in the soup until al dente (you may need to add a little water to the pot, just enough to make sure the pasta is well covered)

6. Serve drizzled with evoo, back pepper and celery leaves and some freshly chopped chillies for a little extra kick.

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Ricotta and Basil Gnocchi with Fresh Tomato Sauce (Gnocchi di Ricotta e Basilico al Pomodoro Fresco)

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My final days in Italy are, sadly, fast approaching. I have spent 6 weeks back home with my family in the company of my Italian folks, I’ve eaten more than I should, drank way too much Italian red wine, bundled myself and my boys in multiple layers of thermal clothing, scarves, hats and coats, played snow ball fights and I even skiied in the Dolomites for the first time in my life… And after such an intense winter time, I now feel an anchoring for summer, for peeling off a few layers of clothing, for walking barefoot and, more to the point, for vine-ripened tomatoes! The kind you ought to handle with care otherwise they burst in your hands, oozing out  their ruby, sweet liquor, their sticky seeds landing inexorably on the front of your freshly laundered white singlet… In 10 days, back in the Northern beaches of Sydney, I will be able to hit the farmers market and select, pick and eventually turn these summer jewels into Italian’s most loved pasta dressing: Passata di Pomodoro, fresh Tomato Sauce. And as I do that, I’m sure I will be missing my Italian family and the coziness of winter…Such is life!

INGREDIENTS (serves 4)

For the Ricotta Gnocchi (not to be confused with Potato Gnocchi)

450 g (2 1/2 cups) full-cream ricotta (using low-fat ricotta won’t work…Live a little!)

2 egg yolks

1/2 teaspoon salt flakes

1 pinch freshly ground white pepper

100–120 (2/3 cups) g plain flour, plus extra for dusting

2/3 cup (50 g) freshly grated parmigiano

5-6 leaves of basil, finely shredded

For the sauce

850 gr (2 lb) of fresh tomatoes (or 1 tin of good quality tinned tomatoes or your own Passata)

1-2 shallots (or 1 medium brown onion), finely chopped

4 tablespoons of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

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

1 small celery stick, finely chopped

salt flakes, to taste

a few yellow celery leaves

a handful of basil leaves

HOW TO

1. Start by making the sauce. Wash the tomatoes, score the top gently with a knife and blanch them in boiling water for 1 minutes. Plunge them  into cold water to allow the skin to come off easily. Peel the tomatoes, chop them roughly and set aside.

2. Heat up the oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan. Stir fry the shallots, celery and the garlic on medium heat for 1-2 minutes or until the shallots turn translucent and slightly golden and the garlic smells fragrant. Drop in the chopped tomatoes (or tinned tomatoes, if using. Or, if you’ve been amazingly good, your own Passata…), season with salt and cook on medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the celery and basil leaves. Cover with a lid and set aside.

3. In the meantime, make the gnocchi. Discard any excess liquid from the ricotta, then put it in a large mixing bowl with the egg yolks, cheese, salt and pepper. Add the flour and work with floured hands or a wooden spoon until you have a smooth, soft dough – it should be pliable, a little sticky but not too wet. Don’t be tempted to add lots of flour to make it easier to work the dough as the resulting gnocchi will almost certainly be dense and doughy. The secret to soft and pillowy gnocchi is to go easy with flour, use just enough to make the dough come together.

4. Flour your hands and cooking bench generously and divide the dough into 6 pieces. Take 1 piece, sprinkle it with flour and roll it with your hands to form a log. Cut the log into small rectangles and set them aside on a floured wooden board. Repeat with the remaining dough.

5. Turn the heat back on under the tomato sauce frying pan (on low). Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Drop the gnocchi, in two or three batches, into the pan of boiling water and stir gently.   Cook for 1–2 minutes or until they come up to the surface, then fish them out with a slotted spoon and drop them straight into the pan with the tomato sauce. Repeat until all the gnocchi are cooked.

6. Turn off the heat. Serve as it is or with freshly torn basil leaves and a good grating of Parmigiano.

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Potato Croquettes (Crocchette di Patate)

 

I was driving around Sydney a few weeks ago, distractedly listening to the local Italian radio station, when a very animated conversation caught my attention. The radio host and an elderly Southern Italian lady on the phone were engaged in a feisty discussion about one of everybody’s favorite Italian side dish, crocchette di palate, potato croquettes. The dear lady truly sounded in despair over the failure of the recipe given to her by her neighbor’s sister-in-law: the croquettes broke down in the frying pan and so did her spirit. After a detailed sequence of questions, the host, a self-proclaimed food expert, gave his verdict: the neighbor’s sister-in-law never mentioned resting the uncooked, shaped croquettes in the fridge before frying them. That apparently, is the secret to a perfectly crunchy morsel that holds its shape in the hot oil. The lady’s spirit was quickly resorted and new confidence was instilled into her heart. And into mine, for that matter. I had never attempted to make croquettes, but now that, yet another secret of Italian home-cooking had been bestowed upon me, I could not give it a miss.

Ingredients, makes 12-16 croquettes

2 large red potatoes

4-5 tablespoons of plain flour

1 tablespoon or potato starch (or corn flour)

2 eggs (one for potato mix, one for the batter)

salt, to taste

1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg

a little freshly ground black pepper

2 spring onions , finely chopped

1 handful of flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

1 small handful of chives, finely chopped

2 cups of breadcrumbs (home-made or  store-bought panko crumbs)

How to

Wash the potatoes, place them in a  pot of cold water, skin on and simmer for 30 minutes or until cooked through.

Drain the water, allow for the potatoes to cool for 5 minutes then peel them.

Mash the potatoes with a masher or using a potato ricer.

Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, add the egg and the herbs.

Add the flour and potato starch (or corn flour) and mix it through to obtain a firm yet pliable dough. Depending on the size of your potatoes you may need less flour or add a little more if the dough is too sticky.

Place the crumbs onto a plate.

Crack the egg into a bowl and whisk it with a fork.

Using wet hands, shape the dough into little sausages the size of your thumb (or bigger if you so prefer), dip them into the egg and the coat them with the crumbs. Set aside onto a plate and refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Heat up the oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan. Test the oil by dropping in a cube of bread. If it sizzles at the sides and turns golden in 15 seconds, the oil is ready to go.

Drop in the croquettes, 4 0r 5 at a time and deep fry on both sides for 2-3 minutes or until golden.

Drain on kitchen paper, sprinkle with salt flakes and eat while still hot.

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