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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Overnight Healthy Rye and Spelt Loaf

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I would love to make you believe that I spent days elaborating a new recipe for a healthy and delicious bread. That I experienced, tried and tested various formulas until one day, exhausted but elated, I triumphed…Alas, the truth about how this bread came to be is that a few weeks ago, as I was setting up to mix a loaf, I realized I only had near-empty packets or various flours! Then epiphany hit me: mix them together and hope for the best! My, was I happy with the result! A crusty, dense and flavorsome loaf, perfect for sandwiches, divine with jam!

INGREDIENTS, makes 1 loaf

300 gr of spelt flour (2-1/4 cup)

200 gr of rye flour (1- 1/4 cup)

70 gr of wholemeal spelt flour (1/3 cup +2 tablespoons)

1 teaspoon of dry yeast

1 pinch of sugar or 1 teaspoon of honey

370 ml (1-1/2 cup) of water, at room temperature

2 teaspoons of salt flakes

HOW TO

1. Start this recipe a day ahead.

2. Mix the three flours together in a large bowl, add the dry yeast and sugar (or honey) and gradually add the water, mixing with a spoon until a soft dough forms. Try not to add all the water at once. As flours always vary, it is better to start with 2/3 of the water and only then you can decide if you need the extra liquid. You are after a rather sticky dough, but not a wet one. If your dough feels too dry after you have used all the liquid, add 1-2 extra table spoons.

3. Once the dough has been mixed (you can easily do this by hand as it requires no kneading, just mixing until combined), add the salt and mix until well incorporated.

4. Cover the bowl with plastic film and leave at room temperature for 6-8 hours, then move to the fridge to rest overnight.

5. The next morning, take the dough out of the fridge and let it rest at room temperature for 2 hours.

6. Heat up your oven to 220 C (430 F)

7. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and very gently shape the dough into a loaf, being mindful not to knock out the air. Prove at room temperature for 40 minutes, then score the top with a sharp knife, sprinkle the loaf with a little water and place the tray into the oven.

8. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the top is crusty and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Cool at room temperature on a wire rack for 1 hour before slicing.

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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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Ciabatta Bread

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs much as it is true that one should not judge a book by its cover, you can safely go about life judging a good Ciabatta by the holes in its crumb! And this is one particular instance when size does matter: the bigger the holes, the better the loaf…The secret to a perfect Ciabatta is in the percentage of water in the dough, a dough that is sticky, wet and fun to manipulate. This is not your classic “knead for ten minutes” dough. In fact, you hardly have to knead it at all. So, where’s the catch? No, catch. Ciabatta, it turns out, is a home-baker’s new best friend.

INGREDIENTS , if using  dry yeast

450 gr (3 3/4 cups) of flour

350 ml (1 1/4 cup) water at room temperature

a tablespoon of olive oil

1 scant tablespoon of dry yeast

2 teaspoons of salt

HOW TO

1. In a large bowl, mix together flour, water oil and yeast. When the yeast is well incorporated, add the salt.

2. Mix vigorously with a spatula or with a standing mixer fitter with a paddle attachment for 5-10 minutes or until the dough is shiny and slightly elastic. It will be sticky and wet. Put in an oiled bowl to prove for 30 minutes, then stretch it with wet hands and fold it onto itself and leave to rest. At this stage you have two options: place the covered bowl in the fridge to slow prove overnight , or for a minimum of 10 hours, or prove at room temperature, in a warm spot, for a further 1 1/2-2 hours or until doubled in size. Slow proving will add flavour and will ensure you a moist soft crumb, but you will still have a worthy ciabatta if you skip that stage. Up to you and your own time management, really! Once the dough has proven, you will notice that lovely air bubbles will have formed. Don’t burst them, they hold the secret to the formation of those coveted holes. Tip the dough onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper, stretch it gently with floured hands and dimple the top lightly.

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3. Place a metal bowl or a small skillet in the oven and bring the oven temperature to to 200 C (395 F)

4.  Insert the bread tray into the hot oven, pour a glass of cold water into the skillet to create steam, close the oven door and bake for 30-35 minutes or until risen, golden and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. You may need to flip the bread upside down to ensure even baking according to your oven.  Cool at room temperature over a wire rack for at least 1 hour before slicing away to reveal that holey, moist crumb.

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You can also make Ciabatta using an active sourdough starter. The flavour and longevity of your bread will be incomparably better.

Follow this link if you wish to make your sourdough starter

Sourdough ciabatta 

In a large non-metal bowl mix 230 gr (1 cup) of sourdough, 380 (3 cups) gr of plain flour and 260 ml (1 cup) of filtered water at room temperature and a tablespoon of olive oil. When the ingredients are well amalgamated, add 2 teaspoonsof salt and mix well with a wooden spoon. Cover your bowl with either a lid or oiled cling wrap and let it rest overnight. Be mindful not to leave your dough to prove in a drafty spot. In the morning your dough will have more than doubled its volume. Using a spatula, scrape it onto an oven tray lined with grease-proof paper, dust the top with a little flour and let it prove for an hour or two. The proceed as step 4. You will find that your ciabatta will not puff up much in the oven, it will stay quite flat, like a slipper, hence its name (ciabatta means slipper in Italian)

As hard as it will be, allow to cool down before you attempt to slice it…

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Pane all’Olio (Italian Olive Oil Bread)

Silvia is back in her Cucina! After two and a half months away in Melbourne threading the boards at the Malthouse theatre, playing the role of a dilemma-stricken bride who runs off with her ex-boyfriend on her wedding day, I feel an utter sense of well-being walking around in my kitchen, re-familiarizing with my tools, pots and pans, as I watch my little boys play in the front verandah…Ah the bliss of domestic life! To say that I have missed my kitchen is an understatement. My urge to be dusted in flour is not merely physical. I need that sense of inner peace that the knowledge that a dough of some sort is proving in my house will bring. Acting is a wonderful way to express creativity, but it can at times take a toll on your soul, especially when the role you play every night is so tormented. My therapy is baking. Bread, needles to say.                                                                                        I came across this wonderful recipe in one of my favorite bread books and I am so happy to be sharing this with you. I hope, no matter what you are going through in your lives, the act of baking bread may bring serenity and balance. And a house that smells like an Italian bakery.

Love,

Silvia

Recipe adapted from Jan Hedh’s Artisan Breads

Makes 2 medium loaves or 3 smaller ones

For the Ferment (biga)

1/2 teaspoon of dry yeast

2 cups of lukewarm water

1 cup of durum wheat flour

3 cups of stone ground wheat flour (baker’s flour)

Dissolve the yeast in the water, add the flour and work it with a wooden spoon until you have  thick batter. Cover it with plastic film and rest in the fridge overnight or at room temperature for 2 1/2 -3 hours, or until bubbly and risen.

For the Dough

The risen ferment, at room temperature (take out of the fridge 1 hour before kneading if you rested it overnight)

2 teaspoons of dry yeast

2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

1 egg

2-3/4 cups of strong stone gourd flour (baker’s flour) plus 3 or 4 tablespoons more if the enough is too sticky.

2 teaspoons of salt

Method

1. Put the risen ferment in a large bowl, add the yeast and mix it in with a wooden spoon until combined.

2. Add the oil, egg and the flour and combine with a wooden spoon.

3. Tip the dough onto a floured surface and knead well for 5 minutes. If the dough feels to sticky , add a little flour. Bare in mid that this is supposed to be a soft dough, but should come away easily from your fingers.

4. Stretch the dough into a rectangle, add the salt and knead well for another 5 minutes or until shiny and smooth. Roll into a ball, place in a large , oiled container. Cover with a damp tea-towel and leave it to prove at room temperature for 1 hour. take the dough out of the container, knock it back, stretch it tint a rectangle, fold it into three and then shape back tint a ball. Place the dough back into the oiled container and leave to prove for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until it has doubled in size.

Shaping

1. Place the dough onto a floured surface. Divide into 2 or 3 portions , according to the size of loves you are after. You can even divide into 6/8 and make individual dinner rolls.

2. Flatten each portion of dough with your hands or a rolling pin. Roll the dough onto itself to shape a crescent or a cigar.

3. Leave the dough to prove for 45/60 minutes onto an oven tray lined with baking paper. Bring your oven to 210 C, 410 F. Place an empty metal bowl in the oven to heat up.

4. Just before baking, score the breads to your liking.

5. Carefully slide the tray in the oven, fill the heated metal bowl with cold water to create steam, close the oven door and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped with your finger.

6. Cool on a rack at room temperature. Enjoy as it is or fill with your favorite cold meat and cheese for the ultimate Panino experience!

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Colomba: an Italian Easter Bread, with Prosecco and Chocolate chips

Colomba is a classic Italian Easter enriched bread, similar to the more illustrious Panettone, traditionally baked in a  dove-shaped mould, hence its name (colomba in Italian means dove).

The dough is built in various stages and the thought alone may be enough to put off many people with busy lives, but , don’t despair! The stages themselves are quite straight-forward and the actual labour involved is negligible, if you are using a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.I have to admit you probably need to have quite a large amount of nuttiness to make this from scratch, since you can buy the ready-made stuff in well-stocked Italian delis, but the ego boost you get by creating this yourself is definitely worth the effort.I wish to thank a few fellow bloggers for inspiring me to have a go. Without their knowledge and advise I doubt I’d be posting anything tonight…

My heart-felt Grazie to Adriano of  Profumo di Lievito,  Vittorio of Viva la Focaccia and the vivacious Paoletta of Anice e Cannella.

Step 1 , making the ferment

50 ml (1/4 cup) of lukewarm milk

2 tablespoons of dry yeast

40 gr  (1/3 cup)of all purpose flour

Dissolve the yeast in the milk and stand for 5 minutes. Add the flour and mix well. Rest the ferment at room temperature, well covered with a tea towel, for 1 hour.

Step 2 -Building the dough-

the ferment from step 1

150 ml ( a little less than 2/3 cups) of Prosecco (Italian sparkling dry white wine)

100 gr all-purpose flour

Work the ferment with Prosecco, then mix the flour in. Rest at room temperature, well covered, for 1 hour.

Step 3 – Building the dough-

the dough from step 2

2 tablespoons of sugar

90 gr (3/4 cup) of all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons of soft butter

If you have a stand mixer, you might need to get it out now. The next two stages require a lot of strong kneading and if you mean to do this by hand you are a saint.

Mix the dough from step 2 with 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.

Step 4 – Building the dough with the addition of fats, proteins and flavourings

The dough from step 3

280/320 gr (2-1/2/2-3/4 cups) of all-purpose flour

100 gr (1/2 cup) of sugar

2 tablespoons of honey

60 gr (1/4 cup)of soft butter, cubed

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

3 eggs

zest of 1 orange

100 gr (1/2 cup) of mixed candied peel, mixed with 1 table-spoon of flour (to stop them drop to the bottom of the cake)

100 gr (3/4 cup)of dark chocolate chips

Add the flour to the rested dough, knead on low speed for 1 minute, then add the sugar , vanilla and honey keep kneading for 3-4 minutes. Add the butter, a little at a time and, when well incorporated, the eggs, one at a time. Don’t panic if the dough looks really wet at this stage, the constant kneading will make it come together in around 15/20 minutes or until it looks transparent if stretched. Add a bit more flour if needed. The dough should be soft and manageable, not sticky and wet.

After this time, add the peel, zest and chocolate chips and amalgamate.

Tip the dough onto an oiled container, cover with a tea towel and rest for 1 hour.

Place the dough onto a floured surface, stretch it with floured hands to shape a rectangle and fold it into three, then shape it back into a ball and rest it in the oiled bowl until it has doubled in size, approximately 2-3 hours.

Stretch and fold the dough one last time, than put it into the mould you wish to use. I couldn’t find a dove-shaped one, so I resorted to a pretty star. Still festive!

Cover well with a tea towel and rest overnight in the fridge.

Step 5 -Glazing and Baking (finally!)-

The dough, well risen in its mould

30 gr (1/4 cup) of ground almonds

70 gr (1/3 cup) of sugar

2 egg whites

2 handfuls of almonds

Bring your oven to  180 C (350 F).

Make a glaze by mixing together the ground almond with the icing sugar and the egg whites.

Take the Colomba out of the fridge and gently glaze it. Scatter the almond on top and bake for 35-40 minutes or until cooked through.

Cool at room temperature, in its mould.

This laborious Easter bread will keep fresh for 2 days and will still be delicious tosted and dusted with using sugar after 4 or 5 days.

Happy Easter!

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My favourite Baguettes (French bread stick)

Baguettes are, quite possibly, the western world’s most-loved bread. The reason being that this starchy good, with its morish texture and savoury crumb is simply and utterly divine…It’s the ideal accompaniment to any cheese and cold cut of meat, it’s best friend with terrines and  pâtés and it doesn’t fail to impress when married with jams or chocolate spreads. It’s practically perfect in every way…Apart from the fact that, unless you are in France or you own an industrial strength oven and proving cell, it is very difficult to re-create at home. Lucky for you, I am a bread-obsessed woman, and I have spent the last few weeks attempting to adjust various baguette recipes to suit my very normal oven and kitchen appliances. I have had many disappointments, and then eventually, last Sunday..Eureka! I cracked it. I cannot wait to share this with you, bread-lovers worldwide. For those of you as obsessed (read “insane”) as I am, I have worked out a recipe that uses natural sourdough yeast. But I have not forgotten the rest of you, probably a much saner percentage of readers, who will never go through the trouble of cultivating natural yeast for weeks and would rather use the readily available dried one. It’s good news all round: the bread will turn out incredibly good, no matter which  rising agent you decide to use.

Where’s the catch?… You have to be patient and let the dough prove for, at least 8 hours. Mix it at night before you go to bed, forget about it, than shape your sticks in the morning, prove them for another couple of hours, and for your Sunday lunch you will have your much deserved reward.

Ingredients

220 gr (1 cup) of sourdough starter or 1/2 teaspoon of dry yeast

410 gr (3 1/2 cups) flour (baker’s or 00)

210 ml (3/4 cup) of filtered water, at room temperature

1 teaspoon of diastatic malt powder (or barley malt syrup, or honey)

2 teaspoons of salt

1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil

semolina flour for dusting

How to

1. In a large non-metallic bowl, mix the sourdough starter or the dried yeast with flour, a teaspoon of diastatic malt (or barley malt syrup -or honey-) and water.

2.When the starter/yeast is well incorporated add  salt and  oil.

3. Mix it with a wooden spoon just so the ingredients are amalgamated. The dough shouldn’t be too smooth, nor elastic. In fact, it should feel a little rough and slightly damp.

4. Cover the bowl with a lid or with cling wrap. Prove at room temperature for 8 to 14 hours. You will observe that in very warm climate, and if using dried yeast, the dough will bulk prove quicker than in colder climate.

5. When the dough has tripled in size and looks bubbly, gently tip it onto a floured surface. It will feel quite sticky. Do not panic! Grab a small handful of flour and delicately work the dough to turn it a bit more pliable, being mindful never to actually knead it. It is important not to over work the gluten in the flour otherwise your bread will turn out too dense. Also, you don’t want to knock  out  those precious air bubbles as they hold the secret to a light-as-a-feather crumb and crunchy crust. Gently flatten the dough with the palm of your hand then roll it onto itself, lenghtways,  and form a long sausage shape, seam side down and slightly narrower at the extremities. At this stage, you can sprinkle them poppy or sesame seeds, if that takes your fancy.

6. Prove for two hours at room temperature, on a tea towel dusted with semolina flour, and well covered. Then, carefully tip the logs into a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Rest for another 20 minutes and bring your oven to  200 Celsius (390 Farenheit). Place a metal bowl in the oven to heat up.

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7. Score the sticks with a sharp knife quickly, yet gently, place the tray into the oven and pour a cup of cold water onto the metal bowl, to create steam. Close the oven door immediately after. The steam will favour the creation of a moist crumb and a crackly, bronzed crust.

Bake for 25/30 minutes or until the top looks crusty and golden and the bottom looks sunburnt and slightly rusty in colour.

Your home will smell like like a French bakery…

Bon Jour!

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No-knead Bread

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“What?? Is she going mad?” You are probably wondering. No, I haven’t lost my mind, my friends. In my recent bread-making frenzy, I have come across an ancient, wondrous recipe that will turn each one of you into an Artisanal Baker. In Italy this bread used to go by the name of Pane Cafone, boorish bread, but it was only in 2006 , when Jim Lahey shared his formula for this miraculous breadmaking technique, that something like 8 million food bloggers world wide have gone mad about it and have baked  it , and blogged about it incessantly. Honestly, this is so easy that I had my 4 year-old Raffi mix a loaf a few days ago. The end product looked like this:

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Now that I have your attention…

The principle behind this recipe is that if you mix your ingredients just so they are amalgamated and you let the mixture prove for a very, and I mean very, long time, it will turn into a bubbly, light-as-a feather dough. Because you won’t knock the air out by kneading, those same bubbles will stay trapped in the dough resulting in a crusty loaf with a moist, soft and airy crumb. Genius, if you ask me. Because of the long proving required, I would suggest you make the mixture at night before you go to bed and bake the next day. I have adapted Jim Lahey’s recipe to suit my oven and my personal taste, and I proudly confess I have not bought a single loaf of bread for over a year now.

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Ingredients (if using dry yeast)

450 g (3-3/4 cups) All purpose flour
350 ml (1 -1/4 cups) filtered water, at room temperature
1/2 scant teaspoon dry yeast
2 teaspoons  of salt

If using your own sourdough starter home-made-sourdough

400 gr (3 1/4 cups) All purpose flour
280 ml (3/4 cups) filtered water at room temperature
200 gr (7 oz)starter
2 teaspoons of salt

Semolina for dusting

How to 
1. Mix flour, 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.

3. Dust your cooking bench and your hands with flour and try to shape the sticky mix into a ball. Let it rest for 1 1/2 hours, wrapped in a kitchen towel generously dusted with semolina flour.

4. Turn the oven to 220 C (430 F).

5. Put in a cast iron pot or a dutch oven, without the lid, to heat up  for about 40 minutes

6. Gently tip the risen dough in the pre-heated pot, cover with the lid and bake for 25 minutes. Please, use oven mitts!

7. Take the lid off and bake for another 10/15 minutes or until it looks crusty and browned. Take the pot out of the oven and let the bread come to room temperature before you slice it.

ECCO!

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Home-made Sourdough

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Before you venture into the exciting world of sourdough baking, let me give you a word of warning: this method is not meant to be approached if you need instant gratification. Sourdough-making is a labour of love and it requires dedication, constance and patience. The mature and robust flavour of sourdough can only be obtained by proving the dough for a a very long time, and by that I mean something around 12 to 18 hours. And this is only after you have manage to create a living wild yeast…Why would anybody even attempt to make it at home then? The answer is that sourdough making is an addictive pleasure, one you may never get rid of…  These days I am committed to travel 40 km to source the finest ground milled baker’s flour, I plan my outings according to my starter’s feeding schedule and I have managed to initiate several friends to this ancient ritual, so that, in the event of a cataclysm and my starter cases to live, its offering still lives in someone else’s kitchen.. You do believe me now when I said I was addicted!

First off, let’s talk about the yeast, which is the rising agent of your bread. Making your own is relatively easy, but it requires daily care and attention. The principle is that if you mix flour and water in a bowl, the bacteria in the air and in the flour will react together creating a living organism that will then be fed by those same bacteria to become strong and lively. Like all living things yeast requires regular feeds and care in order to grow healthy and vigorous. You can create a sourdough starter, which is Italian is called Pasta Madre (mother dough) in about 10 days and , if kept well, it can last forever. And I mean forever. I know of some bakeries in Italy that have been using the same Pasta Madre for centuries. Talk about legacy! Once you succeed in creating the wild yeast, you have to sustain it to help it stay alive and strong. The flavour of your bread will be determined by the strength and fermentation of your starter. The older and the stronger your starter, the better tasting you bread will be. There are many methods you can try to follow in order to create you Pasta Madre. I have read countless books and spoken to many bread-making folks and I have had many more failures than I wish to recall. This is because each yeast will be slightly different from the next, therefore you have to take all tips and advise with a grain of salt and learn to trust your instinct. The method below is relatively quick and easy and it is tried and tested by me, and produces a lovely, crusty bread. I noticed that the more mature it gets, the better loaf it produces. I am looking forward to tasting my bread in the years to come, if I don’t kill my starter, that is!

HOW TO MAKE YOUR PASTA MADRE or STARTER or SOURDOUGH YEAST (they are all the same thing…)

 Day 1
In a large plastic bowl mix together 120 gr (1 cup) plain or baker’s flour with 95 ml (1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons) of filtered water at room temperature and 1 teaspoon of honey or barley malt. The sugars will kick-start the fermentation process. Cover with a lid and leave at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day 2

You will notice your dough will have risen slightly and may have already formed small bubbles. Get rid of half of the dough and add 50 gr of flour  (1/2 cup) and 40 ml (1/4 cup) of filtered water.
Repeat for 8 days. Every day you will notice the starter will grow bigger and develop more bubbles. It will smell a little like a cross between lemon juice and alcohol.

Day 10 – it’s alive!

This is the day your yeast will officially be born and may be used to mix your first loaf. You need to ‘refresh’ it and give it strength and vigor for your bread to rise. In simple terms, you need to feed it.

First feed

As soon as you wake up in the morning, discard 100 g of the ferment then add 2/3 cup (100 g) plain flour and 90 ml water. Cover with a lid and rest for 3 hours.

Second feed

Feed your ferment 2/3 cup (100 g) plain flour and 90 ml water. Cover with a lid and rest for 3 hours.

Last feed

Feed your ferment 2/3 cup (100 g) plain  flour and 90 ml water. Cover with a lid and rest for 3 hours.

After it has rested, your yeast will look healthy, airy and full of bubbles (in colder climate this may take longer than 3 hours). It will have a slightly sour, yet pleasant smell. Congratulations! You have succeeded in making a living wild yeast. You can now use it to mix your first loaf.

How to maintain your lievito madre

The wild yeast you have created will happily live in your fridge, stored in an airtight plastic container. You will have to feed it at least once a week to keep it healthy and alive. If you don’t have time to mix a loaf, but only need to give your starter some dinner, rest it at room temperature for 30 minutes, then discard one third. Add 1/3 cup (50 g)/4 tablespoons plain flour and 40 ml (or 2 tablespoons) of filtered water (at room temperature) for every 100 g of yeast you have left (aim to always have at least 100 g yeast in your container). Mix with a wooden spoon or a chopstick, cover the container with its lid and stick it back in the fridge until next time. A well-kept yeast will live a long, prolific life. Some Italian bakeries are known to be using centuries-old lievito madre. As a rule of thumb, the older your yeast, the more flavoursome your bread will be. No wonder sourdough bread is so good!

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SOURDOUGH LOAF RECIPE (Pane di casa):

240 gr (1 cup) starter
500 gr (4 cups) organic flour
300 ml (1 cup 1/4) filtered water
6 gr (2 teaspoons) of salt
A teaspoon of honey or barley malt (optional)

1. Mix flour and water in a large ceramic or plastic bowl with a wooden spoon, and let it rest for about 1 hour. This process is called Autolayse and it allows for flavour and texture to develop. It is not a mandatory step, but I recommend it.

2. Add your starter and knead for about 5 minutes, then add salt and honey , if using any. Knead well for about 10 minutes, until your dough is smooth and silky.

Shape it into a ball and let it rest, covered, for 20 minutes, then stretch it gently with your hands to form a rectangle and fold into three. This process will give your dough strength and texture.

3. Cover with oiled cling wrap and let it prove in a warm place for 3 to 4 hours.
Kead again, gently, for a minute ,  fold into three and shape into a ball and then place it a proving basket or a colander lined with a tea towel and dusted with semolina. Rest it the fridge covered, with a moist cloth, to slowly prove for 12 hours. I normally put it in the fridge at night before dinner and forget about until the next day. You can leave it to slow prove in the fridge for a few days, if you wish so. This process is called Retardation and it will develop the fermented flavour of the crumb and the characteristic crunchiness of the crust.

4. The next morning, leave your dough at room temperature for at least 2 hours. It should grow in size by 1/3 third.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA5. Preheat you oven to 200C (390 F). Place a small metal bowl in the oven to heat up. Gently, turn the bread onto an oven tray lined with baking paper, sprinkle it with a little water and score it in a X pattern. Immediately insert the tray into the even, pour a cup of cold water into the metal bowl to create steam and close the oven door. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until crusty and bronzed, the bottom sounds hollow when tapped and the fragrance of freshly baked bread is intoxicating. Rest at room temperature for at least 1 hour before slicing.

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