Roasted Olives with Lemon and Chillie (Olive al Forno)

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It is a known fact that Italians take their foodstuff rather seriously. We have a traditional meal structure that we observe like our lives depend on it. We have frugal breakfasts, proper lunches and nutritious dinners. But in a country where supper takes place in between 8 and 10 pm, we need that extra fuel to power through. And so we invented the Aperitivo, literally drinks with nibbles. Now, the choice of food to be served with your drinks is not to be taken lightly. Aperitivo is not as substantial as Antipasto (starter) it is merely a palate tantalizer to get you salivating and in the mood for the bigger event, dinner. Roasted olives with chillie and lemon is ever present when I’m hosting Aperitivo, for two fundamental reasons: 1. The flavor of olives preserved in brine can take a little enhancing and the combination of garlic, lemon, chillies and white wine is, frankly, infallible. 2. It takes 10 minutes to make… small effort, big gain!

INGREDIENTS, serves 8

2 cups of large green olives (I used Sicilian olives)

1/4 cup of white wine

2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

1-2 red chillies, roughly chopped

1 peeled garlic clove, sliced

1 lemon cut into wedges

rosemary springs for decoration

HOW TO

1. Turn on the grill function in your oven

2. Place olives and all ingredients in a large bowl and toss well.

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3. Tip everything onto an oven proof serving dish and place under the grill. Be sure to stir the olives a few times whilst under the grill to prevent burning them or the garlic and chillie. Leave under the grill until the olives look scorched and the lemon wedges have slightly caramelized (it takes about 5-10 minutes in my oven). Take the dish out of the oven using mitts and decorate with rosemary sprigs. The residual heat of the the olives will release the warm aroma of the woody herbs.

4. Serve hot or warm with drinks, being mindful not to touch the oven dish (warn your guests!)

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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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