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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Roasted Carrot and Kale Chips Salad

If you have not heard yet of ‘kale chips’, then, quite frankly, where have you been? The ‘blogsphere’ has gone bonkers over this new healthy fad, and if it weren’t for the fact that I love -LOVE-  kale, I probably would have never had a go at making kale chips just to prove to myself I don’t follow the latest food trends…But the temptation was too high and, here I am, tail between my legs and sticky fingers in my mouth ready to be licked clean, as I gulp down another crunchy mouthful of this new foodie delight. The benefits of kale consumption are beyond good. Not only you will boost your immune system, give your blood a good clean and your insides a beauty treatments, your skin will get a rosy glow, your hair will shine and your DNA will be encouraged to repair damaged cells and  block the growth of cancer cells. So, add this little magic green to your shopping list, please! As much as kale chips have become one of my favorite nibbles to simply serve with a drink before dinner, I have also learnt that they marry happily with roasted root vegetables. Choose you favorite, although I will admit I can’t go past the beauty of the Dutch carrot; its block orange tone and mellow sweetness combined with the dark green and savoury robustness of kale turns this salad into a joy for the eyes, as well as the palate.

Ingredients for 4 people

10-12 medium carrots or 20 baby carrots

6-8 kale leaves, stalk removed, chopped

4-5 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar (if unavailable, use white wine vinegar mixed with 1 teaspoon of sugar)

1-2 good pinches of salt

freshly gourd white pepper (to taste)

How to

1. Pre-heat your oven to 180 C, 390 F

2. Scrub the carrots clean with a pairing knife or a vegetable peeler. Cut them in half lengthways, place them in a large mixing bowl and season them with the vinegar.

3. Add the chopped kale to the bowl and season with oil, salt and pepper.

4. Put the vegetables onto an oven tray lined with baking paper and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the carrots are soft and slightly sunburnt and the kale is crispy.

Serve as a side dish, with cheese  or however you prefer.

 

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Basil-Infused EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil)

This may well be the easiest recipe ever.

Grab some good quality EVOO, a generous handful of fresh basil, and there’s your green-hued bottle of goodness ready for you.

To be  just a tad more specific:

In a large pot, bring 500 ml (1 pint, 2 cups) of EVOO and 1 cup of loosely packed basil leaves to a simmer. Immediately turn the heat off and allow to cool in the pot for 30 minutes.

Process the oil and leaves in a blender then strain the precious and viscous liquid through a sieve.

Using a funnel, pour the strained, basil-infused oil into a glass bottle you have previously washed and dried.

I chose to use an old American whiskey bottle with a cork lid we had saved.

A bottle with an attitude, some would say!

This powerfully scented concoction will be very useful as a salad dressing mixed with lemon juice and salt, or simply drizzled on top of your favorite pasta or bruschetta.

Ode to Simplicity!

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An Italian Roast Dinner!

Here’s the ingredients: Fine meat, great wine, fun friends! To be just a little more specific, here is the core ingredient:

* WARNING*: the following image is rated EXMO (Extreme Meat-lovers Only) and it’s not suitable for Vegans and Vegetarians alike…

When it comes to roast dinners, Italians favor simplicity. What could be better than grilled-to-perfection T-bone (what we call Fiorentina) or Rib-eye, crunchy roast potatoes, a green salad and some Barossa Valley shiraz?

My Top Tips on steak:

1. Forget about lean meat for once. Indulge and enjoy the marbling of fat throughout your rib-eye or T-bone knowing that as it roasts, the fat will render out thus basting the meat, keeping it succulent and juicy, and also  creating that irresistible, savory ,charcoaley crust.

2. Take the meat out of the fridge 20 minutes before cooking.

3. Broil on a white-hot griddle pan or bbq

4. Don’t keep turning it. Only flip once. (Sorry Heston!)

5. Allow to rest for half its cooking time before you carve.

In our house, we like to rub the meat with freshly ground white peppercorns and salt flakes, but you can be even more adventurous and make a rub with ground fennel seeds and black pepper, or cayenne pepper and cumin, the combinations are endless and almost always great.

We like our steak on the rare side of medium-rare (well, in fact I like it extremely rare, but Richard is a little more conservative and I’m happy to compromise!). To achieve our desired result, we tend to grill a 2 cm (1 inch) thick steak for approximately 4 minutes on one side and 3 minutes on the other and we rest it for about 4 minutes.

If you like it on the medium side of medium-rare, grill for 5 and 5 and rest for, 4 to 5 minutes.

If you like it medium, 6 and 4,  plus 5 minutes resting time should do the trick.

If you like it well-done, well…I don’t know what to say to you… I don’t think I have ever cooked a well-done steak in my life!

In my world, a succulent steak’s best buddy has to be crunchy potatoes. And plenty, please! This is my favorite way to pan fry  them to a crisp crust and a soft inside. A green salad to freshen up the palate is in order too. The other day I picked some rocket (arugula) leaves and peas out of my garden, added some store-bought asparagus, and coated the glistening green goodies with EVOO, lemon juice and shredded mint.

Lunch is ready! Who’s bringing the wine?

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Roasted Pumpkin, Spinach and Pecorino Salad

October is that time of the year when northern and southern hemisphere seem to share seasonal similarities. The temperature is still quite cool and crisp in Sydney, and although the fruit and vegetable stalls are starting to show the first crops of  spring peas, fava beans and mangoes, the wintry sturdiness of spinach and pumpkin is still abundant and inviting. These ingredients, together with shavings of pecorino cheese, a light lemon and EVOO dressing and a slice of sourdough, constitute the ideal transitional-season salad.

Ingredients for 4 people:

800 gr (1.7 lb) of Japanese pumpkin, cut in slices (skin on)

A few sprigs of rosemary

A handful of sage leaves

3 garlic cloves, skin on

3 or 4 tablespoons of EVOO

200 gr (1/3 cup)  of Pecorino cheese shavings

a handful of fresh pumpkin seeds (optional)

a packet of baby spinach

salt and pepper to taste

How to

1. Line an oven tray with baking paper, arrange the pumpkin slices in one layer, the pumpkin seeds, and season with the herbs, oil, garlic and salt. Bake at 200 Celsius (395 Farenheit) for 45 minutes.

2. Wash and dry your baby spinach, dress it with two tablespoons of EVOO, 1 table-spoon of lemon juice and coarse salt.

3. Arrange the leaves onto a platter, scatter your toasted pumpkin seeds, your pumpkin slices and the pecorino shavings and grind some fresh black peppercorn on top.

Enjoy with toasted Ciabatta for added pleasure…

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Panzanella (A Tuscan Bread Salad)

Panzanella is another great example of how well Italians do it the kitchen when fridge and pantry look desolate and empty.

This has so much value in the Italian culinary tradition of Cucina Povera.

It is very easy to create a good meal out of sophisticated and extravagant ingredients. It requires a lot more skill and creativity to make a delicious and nutritious meal out of stale bread and a few bits and pieces.

Lucky for me, having spent the first 27 years of my life in Italy observing Mum and Nonna making do with what they had to feed big families, I can safely say I have acquired that skill!

Panzanella, is a salad composed of pieces of stale bread previously soaked in water and a teeny bit of white wine vinegar, mixed together with tomatoes, celery leaves and a small handful of chopped celery stalks, torn basil leaves, finely chopped red onion or shallot,  and baby capers all merrily dressed with EVOO and salt.

These are ingredients that, even in the bleakest of situations, are always present in an Italian kitchen and that is how this dish came about.

Let the salad sit and develop texture and flavour for at least two hours. You can even make this a day ahead and then add fresh basil and a drizzle of EVOO just  before you serve it.

I urge you not to be tempted to add many more extraneous ingredients. Feel free to substitute the celery with a small amount of diced baby green pepper (capsicum), if you must, but don’t go berserk and start adding things like raw garlic or meat of any kind.

Sorry to be pedantic and fastidious, that is, I am afraid, another quality I have acquired in my first 27 years of living in Italy!

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