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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Blueberry, Chia and Olive Oil Cakes

When spring lures us with its sweet promise of long, sun-drenched days, but instead delivers endless weeks of gray skies and relentless rain, I find myself itching to get in the kitchen, turn the oven on and whip up a quick, yet satisfactory fix to perk up my mood.

These muffins are my ideal solution to the wet and blistery day ahead of me, a perfect mixture of moist, diary free cake enhanced by precious blueberries and chia seeds, my go-to health boosters. You can use gluten free flour if you are so inclined and reduce the, already low, quantity of sugar of swap it altogether with honey or other natural sweeteners, although I wouldn’t recommend stevia or natvia as they can leave a strange aftertaste. Over to you and your need to lift up your mood!

INGREDIENTS, makes 12 regular sized muffins of 6 Jumbo ones

3 eggs

1/2 cup of brown sugar

1/2 cup olive oil

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, paste or the seeds of 1 vanilla bean

1/2 cup almond milk

2-1/4 cup of  self-raising flour

1/2 cup of blueberries

chia seeds to sprinkle on top

HOW TO

1. Preheat your oven to 180 C (350 F)

2. Line a medium sized muffin tin with wrappers

3. Beat the eggs with sugar for 5 minutes or until pale and fluffy and the sugar crystals have dissolved

4. Add oil, vanilla, and lemon zest and mix well.

5. Add the almond milk and gradually incorporate the flour, beating gently, until a wet batter is formed. Add the blueberries and fold them in gently

6. Pour the batter into the muffin tin making sure not to fill to the rim as the cakes with grow a lot whilst baking. Top each cake with chia seeds

7. Bake for 20 minutes or until cooked through if tested with a skewer

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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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Almond, Pear and Olive Oil Cake

The seasonal change has hit our southern shores, swapping the warm breeze for a crisp chill. I have packed away my summer dresses and sandals to wrap myself in wooly layers, scarves and boots. To accompany the cooler weather, the stalls now abound with glorious winter produce, whose main purpose is to nourish and comfort. As I type this I’m embracing this sunny yet cool day, sipping tea and indulging in my second slice of this incredibly moist pear and almond cake, lightly scented by cinnamon and mandarine. Cold months to come, I fear you not! INGREDIENTS, makes1

3 small pears

3 eggs

1 cup of brown sugar (plus 2 tablespoons to sprinkle over the pears)

Cinnamon

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup of buttermilk

juice of 1 mandarine

1 cup of almond flour (almond meal)

1-1/2 cup of self-raising flour (gluten free flour will also work)

METHOD

1. Preheat your oven to 180 C (350 F)

2. Line a round cake tin with baking paper. Sprinkle the base with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and a little cinnamon

3. Cut the pears into two, scoop out the core, then cut each half into two, lenghtways. Line the base of the cake tin with the pears.

4. Beat the eggs with sugar until fluffy, add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, oil, buttermilk and mandarine juice and whisk well. Add the almond flour and the sifted self-raising flour and gently incorporate them into the batter without over mixing. Pour the batter over the pears and bake for 40-45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cake.

5. Turn up side down and leave to cool on a rack for 30-45 minutes before serving. Enjoy as it is or with vanilla gelato, cream or thick Greek yoghurt.

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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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Watch Made in Italy with Silvia Collocaon DVD Silvia’s Cucina the cookbook is available in stores and online!

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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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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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Cannellini Beans Stew, my Italian Baked Beans

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Say hallo to the perfect winter warmer, and quite the healthy fix too, if you are watching your diet. Pulses and winter are a wonderful marriage. When you need that extra nourishment that will keep you warm and energetic without impacting on your digestive system and your waist line,  you can safely turn to beans. I love all varieties, but I confess a weakness for the pearly and silky Cannellini. You can buy great tinned ones these days and you shouldn’t be made feel guilty if you’d rather quickly open a tin a of goodness now instead of soaking your beans yesterday…This is fast food at its best. In a matter of minutes you’ll feel warm and cosy again.

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

2 tins of cannellini beans, well drained (or 1- 1/2 pounds of dried beans soaked over night and simmered for 2 hours or until cooked through)

2 French shallots, thinly sliced

1 celery stick, thinly sliced, 1 garlic clove, bashed with the back of a knife

1/4 cup of diced smoked pancetta, or speck, or chorizo (omit for a vegetarian option)

1/2 chillie, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

2 tins of tomatoes, chopped (or home-made passata)

1-2 sprigs of rosemary

a pinch of sugar

a drizzle of balsamic vinegar

celery leaves

salt to taste

bread or soft polenta for serving

HOW TO

1. Heat up the oil in a large, heavy based frying pan. Add the sliced shallot, garlic, chillie and celery and stir-fry over medium heat for 2-3 minutes or until fragrant and soft.

2. Add the pancetta or chorizo and cook together with the vegetables for a further 2-3 minutes.

3. Add the drained beans, combine the ingredients well with a wooden spoon, the add the tinned tomatoes (or passata), a pinch a sugar and the rosemary sprig. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the sauce has reduced. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly.

4. Turn off the heat, drizzle a little balsamic vinegar on top, scatter a few celery leaves and serve with grilled ciabatta  or soft polenta.

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Boost your immune system! Shredded Radicchio, Brussel Sprouts and soft boiled egg Salad

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Here are some interesting facts I researched for you.

Brussel Sprouts: source of sulforaphane, and indole-3-carbinol, chemicals believed to promote DNA repair and block the growth of cancer cells. Radicchio: excellent source of vitamin K, potassium zinc and iron. Mung beans: high in protein, phosphorus, folate and vitamin C. Pepitas (sunflower seeds): rich in amino acids, unsaturated fatty acids, calcium, potassium, and phosphorous as well as loaded with most of the B vitamins, and vitamins C, D, E, and K. Add to these ancient and potent ingredients the proteins of eggs and the anti-inflammatory effects of extra-virgin olive oil and you have gifted yourself and your family with the tastiest immune system booster you can dream of. Great health is just a mouthful away!

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

1 radicchio or chioggia

1 cup of brussle sprouts, raw, outer leaves removed

4 tablespoons of pepitas (sunflower seeds)

4 tablespoons of mung beans

4 soft boiled eggs, peeled and cut in half

3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

2 tabespoons of vincotto (use balsamic vinegar if vincotto is not available)

salt for seasoning

HOW TO

1.Using a mandoline or a sharp knife (or a food processor fitted with the shredding blade) cut the radicchio into fine strips and the brussel sprouts into thin slices.

2. Add the mung beans and pepitas, season with oil and vincotto, add salt and mix well.

3. Top with soft boiled or poached eggs and enjoy as it is or with a slice of sourdough

Enjoy the benefits of healthy eating!

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Salad Double Bill! Cucumber, Mint and Radish/Roasted Greens and Chickpeas

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Italian feasts are well known for the opulent abundance of festive food, ranging from delightful and varied antipasto spreads, to falvoursome pasta dishes and robust and delectable meat of fish courses. No matter what the occasion, vegetables always make a notable appearance at the table, may they be part of a main dish or served as sides. It is a lesser known fact that Italians consume greens and pulses more than they eat meat and this is probably why we can choose from a nearly endless treasure trove of recipes when it comes to those nutritious goods. The following two are some of my personal favorites, especially served together as a side for roast chicken or lamb. The peppery and refreshing bite of cucumber and radish complements the richer and more complex texture and flavour of chickpeas, gently roasted with with zucchini and capsicum. Open yourself a Pinot and you can’t go wrong!

Cucumber, mint and radish salad

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

5-6 medium pickling cucumber

1 bunch of radishes

1 generous handful of mint leaves

3 tablespoons of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

juice of 1/2 lemon

salt  for seasoning

HOW TO

1. Slice the cucumber and radishes as thinly as you can lengthways. I use a mandoline (or V slicer) to get the job done neatly and fast.

2. Season with salt, oil and lemon just before serving, or the cucumber will get too soft.

3. Add the mint and enjoy!

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Roasted greens and chickpea salad

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INGREDIENTS, serves 4

3 zucchini cut into small chunks

1 green pepper (capsicum), cut into strips

1 onion, sliced

1 tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar or verjuice

salt for seasoning

a pinch of sugar

HOW TO

1. Bring your oven to 180 C (340 F)

2. Arrange the prepared vegetables onto a roasting tin lined with baking paper

3. Season with oil, vinegar, salt and sugar

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4. Bake for 20 minutes, then add the chickpeas and bake for a further 15-20 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked through

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