Craving Italian Tomatoes…(Oven roasted Tomatoes with Evoo and Balsamic)

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Italian cooking is always associated with the abundant use of tomatoes, may they be fresh, placed on a chunck of crunchy bread smeared with extra-virgin olive oil and garlic, or used in a sauce. The reason behind it is that in Italy we are blessed with the sweetest and most flavorsome  varieties. It has to do with a combination of great soil and holy water, and maybe a miracle by the Madonna thrown in for good measure, but what is certain is that it poses quite a challenge for me to find a red fruit that can stand the comparison with Italian Pomodori. So, when I am away from my Bella Italia, and I crave the Campania sun-ripened jewels of the vine, I make do with what I can find and use a few tricks to enhance it and turn it mighty good. This is my secret revealed…

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

3 cups of cherry tomatoes (or heirloom tomatoes), halved

3 tablespoons of Extra-virgin olive oil (evoo)

2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar

a small pinch of sugar

salt and pepper to season

fresh herbs (oregano, basil, parsley…)

2 garlic cloves, bashed with the back of a knife

1 small chillie (optional)

HOW TO

1. Turn your oven onto 160 C (330 F)

2. Line an oven tray with baking paper

3. Mix the tomatoes with the rest of the ingredients and tip onto the oven trayOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

4. Roast for 1 hour or so or until the tomatoes look sun-brunt and wrinkly and are oozing out their delectable nectar… that’s when you know they are ready to meet their match, a large chunk of home-made sourdough bread…This classifies as the best lunch ever. Especially if you pair it with a glass (or two) of  chilled rose’ …

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You can also use them  as a dressing for pasta,  as the ultimate bruschetta topping, served with Italian savory donuts or as a side dish to accompany meat or fish

Buon appetito!

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

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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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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Author-Bio1-Silvia

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

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