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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Almond and Pomegranate swirl Meringues

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My undeniable attraction for whipped egg whites has struck again! Yes, I am not new to posts dedicated to the ineffable and weightless world of meringues. The truth is that I can barely contain my excitement when recipes call for egg yolks only because I know I can turn the leftover whites into whimsical, frothy creations, so irresistible in their snow white perfection, or eager to be enriched by a vibrant touch of pink. And if you don’t feel confident whipping a batch of these, here are my top tips on meringue making:

1. Make sure your egg whites are at room temperature

2. Mix them in a clean and dry bowl

3. Add a pinch of salt to encourage the frothing action

4. Don’t over whip

5. Weigh the egg whites (I know, a little bit of a pain in the neck, but well worth it)

6. Be patient, bake them in a really slow oven to keep their pristine white shells

7. Store your cooked meringues in an airtight container for up to 3 days (less in very hot and humid weather)

Off you go!

INGREDIENTS, makes 10-12 medium sized meringues

100 g (just over 1/3 cup) egg whites, at room temperature

pinch of salt flakes

75 g icing sugar (1/3 cup), sifted (icing sugar is the same as confectioner sugar or powdered sugar)

75 g (1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon) caster sugar

1/4 teaspoon lemon juice or cream of tartar

2 tablespoons of flaked almonds + more for sprinkling on top

3 tablespoons pomegranate juice (you can either squeeze it yourself or buy it in conveniently packaged bottles!)

HOW TO

1. Preheat your oven to 100°C (212 F). Line a large baking tray with baking paper.

2. In a large, clean, dry bowl, whisk the egg whites with the salt until frothy and very soft peaks start to form. I always do this do with hand-held electric beaters on low speed as it gets the job done in 90 seconds, with no sore wrist. But feel free to do it by hand if you missed a day at the gym and need to burn off some calories. Gradually increase the speed of your beaters (or your biceps) to medium and start adding the icing sugar then, slowly, the caster sugar. Keep beating for 1–2 minutes (or 5–6 minutes by hand) or until the egg whites are shiny, smooth and stiff.

3. Add the lemon juice or cream of tartar and gently fold it in with a metal spoon, taking care not to beat the air out of the meringue mixture. These few drops of acid will neutralise the eggy flavour that meringue can have, and will also keep them stable and preserve their crisp whiteness.

4. Add the almonds and mix gently. Swirl the juice in. Don’t over mix!

5. Dollop teaspoons (or tablespoons, if you like them larger) of the mixture onto the baking tray, about 2 cm apart to allow for spreading. You can use a piping bag if you prefer, but I love a more whimsical, free-form meringue.

6. Gently place the tray in the oven and bake for 11/2–2 hours. If they start to colour, turn the heat down to 80°C (175 F). You know the meringues are cooked through when the base is touch-dry.

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Cool at room temperature and enjoy as they are or accompanied by whipped cream, sweetened mascarpone, gelato…I could go on and on…

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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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Sweet Potato Risotto with Balsamic Vinegar

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My love affair with risotto goes deeper than a simple passion for its creamy texture and irresistible savory bite, it’s embedded in my DNA. I was born and raised in the heart of Pianura Padana in the Lombardy region of Italy, where rice grows abundant and where each lombardo d.o.c (citizen of Lombardy) takes sensational pride in cooking the humble produce of our, otherwise slightly dull, flat land. Risotto is our staple dish. We may have it simply flavored with Grana Padano cheese (similar to the more notable Parmigiano, and just as delightful), or we may turn it into a more sumptuous meal with the addition of saffron strands and slow cooked ossobuco. No matter what the add-ons, and I can’t stress this vehemently enough, there will never be a worthy risotto without a great stock. This is the one time I advocate commitment in the kitchen and ditch cubes and salty powders in flavor of a wholesome home-made stock, may it be vegetable, chicken , beef or a mix of the three. Don’t skimp here, the secret to  a flavoursome risotto lies in its stock. The rest is a simple act of patience, better achieved with a glass of wine in the hand that is not busy stirring the rice…

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

For the roasted sweet potato

2-3 sweet potatoes (depending on their size), cut into chunks, skin on (well brushed)

a few springs of thyme and rosemary

1 garlic clove, skin on, bashed with the back on a knife

2 tablespoons of EVOO (Extra-virgin olive oil)

1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar

salt to season

For the risotto

1 brown onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons of EVOO

320 gr of Carnaroli or arborio rice

1/4 cup of dry white wine

4-5 cups of chicken, beef or vegetable stock (preferably home-made)

the roasted sweet potatoes

1 tablespoon of butter

1/4 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese

HOW TO

1. Mix all the ingredients for the roasted sweet potatoes in a bowl, toss well and tip onto an oven try lined with baking paper. Roast in a medium/hot oven for 35-40 minutes or until soft and slightly caramelized. Set aside to cool at room temperature

2. Bring the stock to a simmer. In the meantime, fry the onion in olive oil in a large heavy-sided frying pan. Add the rice and allow to be coated with the oil and to slightly toast over medium heat.

3. Add the white wine and allow for the alcohol to evaporate, stirring gently. Pour yourself some wine, while you are at it…

4. Turn the heat down and start adding the stock a ladleful at a time, while stirring gently. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly. Keep adding stock until the rice is cooked, this will take around 18 minutes. Add the cooked sweet potatoes.

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5. Turn off the heat and add a generous dusting of parmigiano, a tablespoon of  butter and one ladeful of stock. Season with salt and pepper and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, if needed. Stir vigorously to release the starch and create the classic all’onda* texture. Cover with a lid and let it rest for a few minutes to  create the perfect mantecatura, creaminess

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A hearty winter soup: Lentil, Sweet Potato and Cavolo Nero

Whoever said that Sydney doesn’t really have a winter is a big, fat liar! This is my fifth Sydney winter and I can safely say, it does get cold, it does get wet, it definitely does have a winter. I have made the assumption that Australians are in denial about winter because every time I meet some Aussie friends all bundled up in woollen scarves and hats, I am told “This is the first time it gets so cold, this year I have to buy a heater”. Luck for me, I am now prepared for what’s ahead of me in the months to come and , along with coats and boots I have an array of weather-appropriate recipes like stews and soups.

Ingredients for 4 people

3 French Shallots or 1 medium sized brown onion, chopped up

3 tablespoons of Extra-virgin Olive oil

1 medium sweet potato, chopped, skin on (well washed!)

1 chunk of smoked pancetta, ham hock or speck (or chorizo)

2 cups of vegetable stock

1 cup of puy lentils

2-4 leaves of cavolo nero or kale, chopped up,  stalked removed

Parsley, chillie oil or chillie, lemon zest to serve

How to

1. Stir-fry  the shallots in a medium saucepan with 3-4 tablespoon of extra-virgin little olive oil. Add the chopped up sweet potatoes (skin on, thoroughly washed) and the smoked pancetta, or smocked ham hock. Stir-fry together with the onion for a few minutes, add the lentils, the  stock  and enough water to cover the vegetables. Simmer on medium-low heat for 35-40 minutes or until the sweet potato is soft and the lentils are cooked.

2. Add a couple of shredded cavolo nero* leaves (stalk removed) and let the residual heat wilt it.

3. Serve in a bowl drizzled with chillie oil or chopped up chillies, parsley leaves and finely grated lemon zest, if you like a bit of kick.

Curl up on the couch with a blanket, your favourite book or your favourite person…

* Cavolo nero is an Italian dark-green cabbage. You can substitute it with kale.

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