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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Roasted Cauliflower Salad

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Is the humble cauliflower enjoying a new renaissance? Whether you work in food or simply enjoy your home-cooking time, it appears that this pearly white cluster of florets is now proudly sitting at the forefront of the pantry. We have devised creative ways to turn it into cous cous and have compounded it into pizza bases (although the jury is still out on that one…), we are using it as a potato substitute in thick, wintery soups and enjoy it raw, thinly sliced like a carpaccio. Is there anything cauliflower can’t do? It turns out, you can also roast it until deliciously caramelized and crunchy, but still tender to the bite. With the added nutritional boost provided by vitamin C, K, B6 and folate, I am pretty much convinced that cauliflower wears the crown as the healthiest cruciferous!

INGREDIENTS, SERVES 4

1 cauliflower heard, cut into florets

4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons of baby capers, roughly chopped

2 anchovy fillets, thinly chopped

1-2 French shallots, finely chopped

1 small chillie, finely chopped

2 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar

2 more tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

salt and pepper for seasoning

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METHOD

1. Pre-heat you oven to 200 C (395 F)

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil  and cook the cauliflower florets for 5-8 minutes, or until soft but still retaining some firmness. Drain well then tumble onto an oven tray lined with baking paper. Season with oil, salt and pepper and roast for 30 minutes or until golden.

3. Make the dressing by mixing together baby capers, anchovies, chillies, vinegar and oil. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly.

4. Pour the dressing over the roasted cauliflower florets and scatter fresh herbs on top. Enjoy warm or at room temperature as a light lunch or a side dish.

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Crispy Potato Skins

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, you have peeled a gargantuan amount of potatoes to make your creamy Paris mash/chips/champs you name it…now what to do with the skins? The frugal Italian in me cannot bear the idea of wastage and I’m always eager to conjure up a way to give new life to left-overs and food scraps. A little research shows me that most of the nutritional virtues of potatoes (and there are very many, starch bashers out there….) are trapped in the skin. I am talking about super power boosters such as potassium and calcium, optimal for bone mineral density and protection against strokes. Match that with the everlasting benefits of every Italian’s best friend, extra-virgin olive oil, and you have got yourself a perfect, healthier alternative to potato chips that celebrates resourcefulness and flavor in one nimble move!

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INGREDIENTS, serves 6

The skin of 1 Kg (4-1/2 Lb) of potatoes

4-5 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

Salt, herbs and freshly ground pepper to taste

HOW TO

1. Place the skin in a large bowl, cover them with warm water and set aside for 20 minutes. In the meantime, heat up your oven to 200 C or 400 F.

2. Drain the skins and pat dry with a tea towel. Toss them with enough oil to cover them evenly (use your hands if helpful), season with salt and herbs and arrange them onto an oven tray lined with baking paper in one layer (bake them in batches, if need be)

3. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until crispy and golden brown. Cool at room temperature for 5-10 minutes to crisp them up further and serve topped with freshly ground black pepper and a few rosemary springs, if liked.

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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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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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Healthy brown Quinoa, grilled Chicken and Walnut Salad

DSC_1250Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pride and excitement that I present to you a spectacular bowl of HEALTH! The mega properties of quinoa have been unveiled by fervent nutritionists all over the globe, but for those you have missed out on the latest food craze, here is a little insight on why this seed is soon to become you new best friend: quinoa is incredibly high in protein, is rich is dietary fiber and phosphorous, and is an excellent source of iron and magnesium, as well as calcium. Good news is that it is gluten-free and suitable for vegans and those who need to keep away from wheat. But, best of all, it tastes beautiful when paired with a few fresh ingredients and gently coated with luscious extra-virgin olive oil.

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

1 cup of uncooked brown quinoa

4 skinless chicken thighs

1 cup of green beans, topped and tailed

1/2 cup of shelled walnuts

salt and pepper to taste

fresh parsley, chopped

3-4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

a squeeze of lemon

HOW TO

1. Rinse the quinoa under cold water, place in a pot covered with water by 2 cm (1 1/2 inch). Bring to a simmer, cover with the lid and cook over low heat for 12-14 minutes or according to packet instructions. Turn off the heat and allow to cook a bit more with the residual heat from the pot. I like quinoa to have  a bit of a bite, shall we say and Al Dente personality, but feel free to cook it longer if you favour a softer texture.

2. While the quinoa is cooking, steam or blanch the green beans. I like to cook them for 3-4 minutes and then rinse them under cold water to preserve their vibrant green hue.

3. Grill the chicken thighs on the BBQ or on a griddle pan, over medium high heat, until nicely caramelized and cooked through. Rest on a plate for 5 minutes to allow the flesh to relax. For a meat-free option, you can replace the chicken with poached eggs or grilled tofu.

4. Toast the walnuts in a dry pan until they smell fragrant. Set aside.

5. To serve, mix quinoa, beans, parsley, walnuts in a bowl and season with 3-4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, salt and pepper. Arrange on a platter, top with grilled chicken (or eggs, or tofu) and enjoy!

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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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Silvia’s Cucina, the cookbook!

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My dear friends, it is with great trepidation and excitement that I can finally announce to you all that my first cookbook, Silvia’s Cucina will be released  in stores and online on September 25! This is just a day after the wonderful Matt Moran will host my book launch at his restaurant, Chiswick. Have I won the lottery, I wonder?                                                                              I have had the honour of being hand-picked by the delightful Julie Gibbs at Penguin Australia amongst a multitude of food bloggers. To this day I can’t quite fathom why she chose my blog and my story over so many on offer to her, but, here I am, exuding pride and joy as I share with you such exciting news. One thing is for sure, I would not be writing this post hadn’t I been so lucky to gather such a generous and loyal readership, so keen to explore my recipes, try them and share them with friends and family. To you all, GRAZIE MILLE! The process of writing this book has been exceptionally creative and fulfilling and it took about 18 months to go from first day of writing, to print. But there it is, my legacy in 220 pages!                         Take a look at a few images (photos by Chris Chen) and let me know what you think!

Love,

Silvia

My Mum’s Roasted Capsicum Salad

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Il Peposo, A Feisty Tuscan Stew

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Torta Gianduja, flourless dark chocolate and hazelnut cake

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