Mascarpone Scones with Strawberries

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When I was a little girl, in Milan, I would always look forward to the first signs of spring. I’d eagerly pick garden daisies for my mum, who would accommodate them in a glass half full of water and sit them on the kitchen counter, to better capture the April light. Dad was always the first to be up on Saturday morning to take a trip to the local fruit and vegetable market. He’d invariably come home with trays of seasonal goods, but everybody eyes and hands reached quickly for those ruby red jewels, bursting with the promise of spring in each and every bite. My brother, my sister and I were allowed to gulp down a few strawberries on the spot, those with a few bruises and oozing crimson juice. The rest were reserved for later, to be paired with dollops of mascarpone cheese and mum’s home-made biscotti.

Although these days I may serve them with fluffy, crumbly scones, my childhood memory has remained untouched and still ever-so vivid.

INGREDIENTS

320g (2-1/2 cups) self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting

pinch of salt

1 tablespoon of sugar (optional)

150 gr (just over 1/2 cup) mascarpone cheese, plus extra for serving

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract or paste2 tbsp of sugar + an extra pinch for glazing

75 ml (1/3 cup) of cold milk + a few tablespoons for glazing

1 egg lightly beaten, for glazing

HOW TO

1. Preheat your oven to 200 C, 390 F

2. Put the flour, salt, mascarpone and sugar (if using)  in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  Add the milk, then pulse again for 3-5 seconds. Don’t add all the milk at once and you may only need 3/4 of it, depending on the type of flour you use

3. Tip the mixture onto an oven try lined with a sheet of floured baking paper and use you hands to bring it together into a dough. Do not over manipulate to avoid stimulating the gluten in the flour. Only knead lightly for a few seconds just to make the dough smooth and then roll out quickly with floured hands to  about 2cm thick.

4. Use a pastry cutter or a glass to cut the dough into disks. Place them close together onto the baking paper.

5. Make the glaze by mixing a few tablespoons of milk with a little sugar and brush the top of the biscuits with it.

6. Transfer the tray to the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes or until nicely golden. Cool at room temperature for 15 minutes, then serve with fresh berries and mascarpone.

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9781921383373

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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Silvia’s Cucina the cookbook is now available in stores and online!

9781921383373

Home-made Dried Chili Oil

DSCN9699Home-growing is an occupation that I leave entirely to my green-thumbed husband. It’s not that I don’t see the appeal of gardening and I’m not attracted to such rewarding labour, but I must admit I was born with a black thumb. I don’t seem to have inherited my mum’s natural flare for all things green and I am, alas, responsible for the atrocious death of many innocent flower beds, herbs in pots and the occasional tomato plant, that I have had to surrender my resignation. I limit myself to the occasional watering, the picking and, naturally,  the cooking with the bounty that my garden produces under Richard’s watchful eyes. his year he propagated a fecund and lush chili plant from seeds he dried and preserved last year (see what I’m dealing with?), and now our autumnal veggie patch is specked with hundreds of green and red fruits, hiding their potent heat within their plump, shiny flesh.

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Ingredients

1 green-thumbed husband

Alternatively

800 gr (1.7) of mixed chilies

4 cups of extra-virgin olive oil (or enough to fill up the jar you wish to use)

How to

1. Wash the chilies and spread them on an oven tray big enough to accommodate them in one layer. Make sure to line the tray with baking paper.

You have two options here: the one that suits the patient and gracious people, and the one made to please the not-so-patient ones!

If you belong in the first category (my respects):

2. place the tray in the sun everyday for 20-30 days, until the chilies are dry.

2/a. For those, like me, you cannot be asked… every time after  you  use the oven, place the tray inside while its cooling. The residual heat will quickly dry the chilies.

If you do this over a weekend during which you plan to bake a roast, some cookies and perhaps even some bread, that should give you enough residual heat to dry your chilies completely. You know they are ready when they feel dry, hollow and feather-light. My 800 gr (1.7 lb) reduced to a mere 150 gr (0.3 lb)!

3. Roughly chop them with a knife or with scissors.

4. Put them in sterilized  glass jars and submerge them in extra-virgin olive oil.

5. Leave them in a cupboard, away from direct light, for a minimum of 3 weeks before consuming.

You will notice that the heat will increase and concentrate over time. You can use chili oil to add a bit of zest to any food you love, but I particularly like to add it to soups and some pasta sauces.

Note

If you have an abundance of basil in your garden, here’s my basil-infused oil.

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