Overnight oats with Chia, Berries and Seeds

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Have you made your resolutions for the new year yet? To be honest, I haven’t even attempted to this year… Why? I guess the simple answer is that life has taught me that whichever plan I make or may wish to stick to, I have no control over it and losing such control would then send me into a spiral of anxiety (which I have an on-going struggle with) that would cripple my day to day life greatly. So, instead of setting myself up for failure with unrealistic expectations on how I should be, what I should achieve, how much I should earn, how hard I should train, I let all of it go and think more simply. And more kindly. And some days I will indulge in cakes, and some others I won’t. Some days I will manage to fold the laundry and put it away, some others it will stay there and pile up. And that is perfectly ok too. Because in the end I am only trying to do my best and be a good person, and some days I will succeed and some others I won’t. And that’s ok! It’s ok not to be ok all the time! The one tool I always turn to when I need to regroup and relax is playing with food. Even when the recipes are as easy (hardly a recipe at all!) as this overnight oats I love to have for breakfast (and some lazy nights for dinner too!!), cooking never fails to put a smile on my face.

Happy New Year and be kind to yourselves, my friends, you are all doing great!

INGREDIENTS, serves 4-6

2 cups of rolled oats

1/4 cup of chia seeds

1 grated apple

Juice of 1 lemon

water to soak the oats

small pinch of salt

4-5 tablespoons of unsweetened thick Greek Yogurt (you can use coconut yogurt for a vegan option)

Berries and seeds to serve

Honey or maple syrup to drizzle on top, if liked

METHOD

1. Place oats, salt and chia seeds in a large bowl, cover with enough water to just submerge them. Add the apple, lemon juice and yogurt and mix well. Cover with plastic film and set in the fridge  overnight.

2. The next day, loosen the mix with a spoon and stir. If need be, add a little more yogurt.

3. Serve in bowls with lots of berries, pumpkin or sunflower seeds (or nuts) and drizzle a little honey or syrup, if liked.

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Santa’s Cinnamon Cookie

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Christmas eve is finally here! How many of us have been longing for this day to arrive, each passing hour accented by the scent of vanilla cookies baking, the surprise in opening a new window of our advent calendar, and that manic joy of wrapping a bottomless pit of presents whilst humming carols? My advise, from a Christmas celebration enthusiast to you, is to shameless enjoy this magical time, indulge, give, share and receive with glee, it is only once a year after all. And, of course, make sure you leave a good supply of home-made cookies for the Old Fella himself! Word has it that he is an avid consumer of cinnamon cookies, and so these russet, spiced beauties await his arrival…

And so do I.

Merry Christmas to all! xxx

INGREDIENTS, makes 12-16

100 gr (3/4 cups) icing sugar, plus more for dusting

150 gr (2/3 cups) of soft butter

150 gr (1 cup and 1/3) of self raising flour, 100 gr (3/4 cup) of plain flour

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or paste

1 tablespoons of ground cinnamon

1-2 tablespoon of milk (optional)

cinnamon sugar for dusting on top

HOW TO

1. Work the icing sugar and butter together until creamy and smooth (you can do it by hand or using a standing mixer)

2. When the mixture is creamy, add the flour, 1 table-spoon of corn starch, a teaspoon of vanilla paste and the cinnamon. If the dough is too dry, add 1-2 tablespoon of milk.

3. The cookie dough will look and feel sticky. Use a spatula to scrape it onto a sheet of baking paper. Roll it up in the shape of a sausage and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight.

4. Once it’s rested and feels firm, slice it up into  1/2 cm rounds and  put them back in the fridge for 10 minutes.

5. Bake at 170 C, 340 F,  for about 15 minutes, or until the edges start to color. Cool at room temperature. Dust with cinnamon sugar and and serve with a tall glass of milk and a note to Santa…

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Panettone

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Panettone is the ultimate Italian Christmas enriched bread. It’s more than a cake or a brioche, it is a piece of our culinary history and no Italian would dream of not slicing into this delectable treat at Christmas time. However it has to be sad, most Italians buy Panettone from reputable bakeries or pasticceria, the reason being that is it mind-blowingly laborious to make. But, you know me, the baking addict, no challenge is too scary for this fearless baker!

I don’t mean to write this to discourage you from trying, but I do feel it is important to issue a warning with the release of this recipe: it is for advanced bakers only, those who understand gluten, how the bonds develop and how butter, eggs and sugar work together to create a rich dough. Also, for those who own a sturdy standing mixer!

For this reason, I have not translated my measurements in cups or oz, as I only ever work in grams and ml when it comes to this creation, and I would hate for things to get lost in translation.

Christmas is 4 sleeps away… are you ready for the challenge?

Step 1 – making the ferment

1 x 7 g sachet dried yeast

3 tablespoons lukewarm water

4 tablespoons plain flour

grated zest of 1 mandarin

Dissolve the yeast in the water and stand for 5 minutes. Add the flour and mandarin zest and mix well. Rest the soft dough at room temperature, well covered with a tea towel, for 11/2– 2 hours or until it looks bubbly and it has doubled in size.

Step 2 – Building the dough

the ferment from step 1

150 ml water, at room temperature

100 g plain flour

Work the ferment with the water, then mix in the flour with your hands or a wooden spoon until combined. Cover with a tea towel and rest at room temperature for 1 hour.

Step 3 – Building the dough

the dough from step 2

2 tablespoons caster sugar

90 g plain flour

80 g softened unsalted butter

If you have a stand mixer, you might want to get it out now. The next two stages require a lot of strong kneading and I would never attempt this by hand. Mix the dough from step 2 with the sugar, then add the flour and knead on low speed for 5 minutes. Add the butter and knead for a further 2 minutes. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and rest at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours or until it has doubled in size.

Step 4 – Building the dough with the addition of flavourings

the dough from step 3

100 g mixed sultanas, currants and raisins

1/2 cup (125 ml) water

3 tablespoons rum

290/320 g plain flour (according to the size of your eggs. Start with 290 gr, then add more if needed)

100 g sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 tablespoons honey

60 g softened butter, cut into cubes

3 eggs

grated zest of 1 orange

grated zest of 1 mandarin

80 g mixed candied peel, mixed with 1 tablespoon plain flour (to stop them dropping to the bottom of the cake)

Soak the sultanas, currants and raisins in the water and rum for 1 hour. Drain, discarding the soaking liquid.

Add 290 g flour to the rested dough and knead on low speed for 1 minute, then add the sugar, vanilla and honey and knead for a further 3–4 minutes. Add the butter, a little at a time, until well incorporated, then add the eggs, one at a time, kneading all the while. Don’t panic if the dough looks really wet at this stage – the constant kneading will make it come together. Knead in the mixer for a further 15–20 minutes (see why you’d never this by hand?) or until it looks transparent if stretched. If it struggles to come together as it is too wet, add the remaining flour, a little a time, until the dough is smooth and soft, but not sticky.

Add the grated zest, mixed peel and soaked sultanas, currants and raisins, and gently mix to incorporate them into the dough.

Tip the dough onto your cooking bench, then fold it into three and onto itself to shape a ball. Put it in an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and rest for 1 hour.

Place the dough on a floured surface and stretch it gently with floured hands to form a rectangle and fold it into three. Shape it back into a ball and rest it in the oiled bowl, covered, until it has doubled in size, approximately 2–3 hours.

Stretch and fold the dough one last time, then put it into the mould or tin you wish to bake it in. I order my supply of panettone moulds online, but you can also use a round cake tin. Grease it and flour the tin and line the sides with a 10–12 cm tall collar of baking paper. Place the mould or tin in the fridge, well tucked under a tea towel. Alternatively, put the tin in a plastic bag and put the whole bag in the fridge to prove. I often do this with bread too – it’s like a homemade proving cell!

Step 5 – Scoring and baking (finally!)
The dough, well risen in its mould
20 g softened unsalted butter

Confidence! You are nearly there …

Preheat your oven to 200°C (180°C fan-forced).

Take the panettone out of the fridge. Using a sharp knife or a razor blade, gently score the top in an X-shaped pattern. Be very careful not to score too deeply or you will risk deflating the dough! With the aid of your blade, lift up four flaps and place a teaspoon of butter under each. Close the flaps.

If this method scares you, simply slash a large X on the top and place a large knob of butter in the middle. The outcome will be just as good.

Step 6 – Cooling

Gently transfer the panettone to your oven and bake for 45–55 minutes or until evenly risen and the colour of dark caramel. A wooden skewer inserted in the centre should come out moist, but not doughy. If it looks like it’s browning too fast, cover it with baking paper, but keep in mind that the crust is supposed to be quite dark.

Take the panettone out of the oven. If using a metal tin, let the bread cool completely in the pan before slicing and serving.

If using a panettone mould, pierce two long metal skewers or knitting needles all the way through the panettone and through the paper. Hang the panettone upside-down over a large stockpot or between two objects of equal height.  Cool it for a minimum of 6 hours.

Although a bit finicky, drying and cooling your panettone this way will ensure it keeps its dome-shaped beauty and the roof will not collapse. You have come this far, you might as well go the full distance!

Panettone will keep fresh for 1-2 days and will still be delicious toasted and dusted with icing sugar after 4–5 days. It also freezes well and can be used as a base for bread and butter pudding, tiramisu and trifle.

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Merry Christmas!

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Christmas Marbled Ciambella

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5 more sleeps… If the Christmas spirit is abundant in your house as it is in mine, you are probably busy in the kitchen baking cookies, getting high on ginger and nutmeg and humming carols on repeat.

It is no mystery that this is a time of the year I cherish and hold dear. I believe in the magic of Christmas, in the mystical power of the nativity story and I am known to spot Santa’s elves in every corner, helping the old fella compiling his “naughty or nice list”.

I do know for a fact that a sure way to fast track a prime spot in the “nice” list is by baking Christmas treats, so if you need inspiration, this cake is for you. It’s a rich Italian ciambella (bundt cake) infused with the classic spices that characterize baked good this time of the year, and is sure to be a hit amongst humans and elves alike…

INGREDIENTS

5 eggs

1+1/4 cup of brown sugar

3 tablespoons of thick Greek Yogurt

70 ml of olive oil or grape seed oil

1+1/2 cup of self raising flour (or all purpose flour mixed with 1 tablespoon of baking powder)

3/4 almond meal (ground almonds)

1/4 cup of milk

1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon of allspice

1 teaspoon of mace

1-1/2 tablespoons of Dutch cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg

2 tablespoons of Frangelico or Marsala Wine

METHOD

Preheat your oven to 170 C/340 F and grease a flour a bundt tin.

Beat the eggs with sugar until pale and fluffy. Add oil and yogurt and mix well. Add flour, almond meal, spices and milk and mix to combine. Divide the batter into two bowls. Mix one with the cocoa and Frangelico (or Marsala).

Pour the pale batter in the tin, then pour in the cocoa one and use a chopstick to swirl it though. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until  skewer comes out clean if inserted into the centre of the cake. Cool in the tin completely before turning out.

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Merry Christmas!

SILVIA’S CUCINA is available in stores and online!

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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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Farfalle with Walnut and Zucchini Pesto and Beans

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADo you have a vegan friend come over for lunch? Look no further! This pasta dish epitomizes Italian home-cooking at its best and it so happens that is it ticks all the boxes when it comes to catering for particular dietary needs. This dish is a perfect balance of protein, fibre, vitamins and carbohydrates, combined together to create a tasty and highly nutritious meal. A generous topping of lemon zest and freshly ground black pepper will give these vegan-friendly bow ties a burst of flavour that will obliterate the memory of meat or dairy!

INGREDIENTS Serves 4

1 cup of shelled walnuts

1/4 clove of garlic

1 cup of basil

1/3 cup of mint

1 medium zucchini

1/3 cup of extra-virgin olive oil

1 tin of cannellini beans, well drained

380 gr of farfalle pasta (or any short pasta you like)

basil and mint leaves

lemon zest and freshly ground black pepper

HOW TO

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil

2. Boil the zucchini for 2 minutes then remove with a slotted spoon. Drop in the pasta and stir well

3. While the pasta is cooking, make your pesto by blitzing the zucchini, garlic, walnuts, herbs and olive oil in a food processor. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly

4. Combine the pesto and the beans in a large bowl and mix well. When the pasta is ready, drain it, but reserve a few tablespoons of pasta cooking water. Mix the pasta with the sauce and beans. If too dry, add the pasta cooking water. Dust with pepper and thinly grated lemon zest, top with a few leaves and serve hot

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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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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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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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