Mascarpone Scones with Strawberries

DSCN8856

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.

DSCN8798

DSCN8850

DSCN8810

Silvia’s Cucina is on Facebook Twitter and Instagram

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

9781921383373

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

DSC_1583

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!

DSC_1585

Roasted greens and chickpea salad

DSC_1540

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

DSC_1538

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

DSC_1543

Silvia’s Cucina is on FacebookTwitterPinterest and Instagram

Sweet Potato Risotto with Balsamic Vinegar

DSC_0761

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.

DSC_0730

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

DSC_0753

DSC_0805

DSC_0846

Silvia’s Cucina is on FacebookTwitterPinterest and Instagram

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Cannellini Beans Salad

DSCN9868

Have you been looking for a super healthy recipe that combines nutritional virtues with great flavor? Look no further! In the one bowl you have the antioxidant powers of tomatoes, the good, necessary fats of extra-virgin olive oil, the antibacterial boost of garlic and the mood-elevating kick of rosemary. Add to this blissful mix the low-in-fat-high-in-iron, gluten-free, vegan-friendly and utterly delicious cannellini beans and you have granted yourself a beauty treatment for the insides that is sure to show its mighty benefits on the outside too. Whomever said that Italian food is not healthy ought to think again….

INGREDIENTS, serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a main meal accompanied with bread

600 gr (1.3 lb) of cherry tomatoes (I used mixed heirloom)

4 tablespoon of EVOO

2 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar (regular balsamic vinegar or verjuice are good substitutes)

A generous handful of mixed fresh herbs (thyme, oregano, rosemary)

Salt, to taste

freshly ground white or black pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon of sugar

1  tin of Cannellini beans, well drained and rinsed (if using dried-and-soaked beans, 450 gr (1 lb) will be more than enough)

HOW TO

1. If using dried beans, start this recipe a day ahead. Soak the beans in cold water overnight. The next day, rinse the beans, place them in a pot well covered in water, throw in some herbs and simmer for 1 hour or until tender. Cool the beans in the cooking liquid, taste for salt and adjust accordingly. Set aside until ready to use.

2. Preheat your oven to 160 C (320 F).

3. Put the washed tomatoes in a large bowl, leave some whole and cut the rest in half. Season with oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, sugar and herbs. Mix well.

DSCN9813

4. Pour the tomato mix onto a large roasting tray lined with baking paper. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until blistered, but still intact. Add the well-drained beans to the tomatoes while that are still warm, taste for seasoning and fix as required.

5. Serve warm as a side dish or accompanied by toasted sourdough for a more substantial meal.

DSCN9870

Silvia’s Cucina is on FacebookTwitter, Instagram and Pinterest

Focaccia Pugliese (home-made focaccia Apulian style)

                                                              DSCN9482    

When it comes to the delicate matter of Focaccia the authentic, 100% born-and bred Italian proudly turns into a -very- opinionated baking expert. Be it as it may that most Italian would rather buy their focaccia at the local bakery instead of baking at home, they all seem to reach a common agreement when it comes to  texture, flavor and, most-importantly, the lightness of the crumb. Don’t try to sell an Italian a dense, doughy, thick bread, whose resemblance to authentic focaccia is a mere matter of those glistening holes dimpled on top. No, no, to the authentic Italian Focaccia connoisseur, that will not do. Focaccia, is not a bread. It is it’s very own creation and you will know you have sunken your teeth into the real thing, when you bite into a feather-light crumb, that comes apart with the slightest involvement of your jaws, leaving you wondering how on earth it is possible to pack so much flavor and such a delightful texture into one humble mouthful.

The secret is now unveiled!

Ingredients, adapted from my Focaccia Genovese recipe

1 tablespoon of dried yeast

3/4 cup lukewarm water

1 teaspoon of barley malt syrup or honey

320 gr (2 3/4 cups) 00 or plain flour

2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons of salt

For the glaze : 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon of dried oregano, 1 cup of halved cherry tomatoes, salt flakes to taste.

How to

1. In a large bowl dissolve  yeast with water, add  flour, oil and  barley malt syrup or honey. Knead for 5 minutes, then add the salt.

2. Knead vigorously until it looks smooth and elastic (feel free to use an electric mixer with a dough hook).

3. Shape into a ball and rest for 20 minutes in a bowl, covered with a tea towel.

4. Stretch it with your hand to form a rectangle and fold into 3 or 4. This step will give strength and texture to your dough and is essential in order to obtain a soft, airy and chewy focaccia.

5. Place the folded dough in an oiled oven tray, cover it with a tea-towel and let it prove for around 90 minutes or until it doubles in size.

6. Once the dough has risen, stretch it out to cover the tray and sprinkle the surface with sea salt.

7. Let it rest for another 30 minutes, then, using your fingertips, press the dough down onto the tray to create lots of little holes.

DSCN9477

8. Drizzle the holes with the glaze and sprinkle with some more salt.

Bring your oven to 200 C (390 F) and bake for 20-25 minutes or  until it looks slightly golden and utterly irresistible…

DSCN9484

DSCN9485

Silvia’s Cucina is on Facebook Twitter and Instagram

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

9781921383373

Buttermilk, Olive Oil and Chocolate Chips Tea Cake

DSCN6054

Ah, the joys of lazy Sunday mornings! Sleeping in, waking up rested and in a pure state of relax, indulging in a long, blissful shower, perhaps even a facial mask and a hair treatment. All followed by a generous slice of moist cake to joyfully dunk into a creamy cappuccino. Naturally, as the mother of two young boys, I can only dream of sleeping in and frolicking under the shower for more than 2 minutes. I can forget about hair and facial treatments, but one thing I am yet to surrender: the cake to dunk in my Sunday morning coffee. This batter is mixed in under 3 minutes, just perfect for the busy family life, and produces a soft, moist cake that can become the conduit for bolder flavor such as lemon and almonds, mandarin and ginger, or my children favorite, orange and chocolate chips. Happy Sunday!

Buona Domenica!

INGREDIENTS (serves 8)

280 gr (2-1/2 cups) of self-raising flour, sifted

150 gr (3/4 cup) of caster sugar

finely grated rind of one orange

150 gr (3/4 cup) of dark chocolate chips

pinch of salt

200 ml (3/4 cups) of buttermilk

80 ml (1/3 cup) of olive oil

1 egg, beaten with a fork

1 teaspoon of vanilla paste or extract or the seeds from 1/2 vanilla pod

HOW TO

1. Preheat your over to 180 C (395 F).

2. Line a cake tin with baking paper.

3. Put flour, sugar, salt , 2/3 of the chocolate chips and the orange zest in a large mixing bowl.

4. Pour the buttermilk and the oil into a jug. Add the egg and vanilla and mix with a whisk for a few seconds.

5. Pour the wet ingredients into the large mixing bowl, mix with a wooden spoon just so the batter come together, but don’ try to make it smooth. If the batter feel a little dry, add a couple of extra tablespoons of buttermilk. If too wet, add 1-2 tablespoons of flour. As all flours vary slightly, it is always a good idea to adapt quantities according to the ingredients you are working with.

Lumpy, sticky batter=soft moist cake!

6. Pour the cake mix into the prepared tin, scatter the remaining chocolate chips on top and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the top is slightly golden and, if pierced with a wooden skewer, it comes out clean.

DSCN6044

Cool at room temperature, cut into large slices and enjoy with a tall glass of cold milk

DSCN6046

DSCN6057

Silvia’s Cucina is on Facebook Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

Panforte, an Italian Christmas treat

Panforte is as traditional Italian as it can get.

Legend has it, and some historical accounts may prove this too, that crusaders themselves used to carry, on the way to their quest, slabs of what was described as a durable confection made with honey and sugar syrup, spices, nuts and dried fruits: Panforte, that is.

It’s name means “Strong bread” , which refers to the generous amounts of spices such as clove and cinnamon as well as black pepper.

It is one of the most popular and loved Italian confections, that seems to be mostly consumed around Christmas, especially in Tuscany, its geographical home-land.

The recipe for Panforte is one of those controversial ones. The reason being that the Tuscan confectioners from Siena would rather set they hair on fire than share their century-old knowledge.

So, for avid home-bakers like myself the choice is to experiment in the kitchen until I get a good approximation of what they proudly produce in the Tuscan hills.

Experimenting may at times involve burnt caramel and a non-rescuable frying pan, but other than this minor set back, I think I may have come up with something worthy.

And guess what? Since I’m not Tuscan but Lombard/Abruzzese, I will happily share this with you….

INGREDIENTS

  • 50g (1/3 cup)  whole blanched almonds
  • 50g (1/3 cup)roasted hazelnuts
  • 3 table spoons coarsely chopped dessert figs
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped dried apricots
  • 2 tablespoons mixed peel
  • 55 g (1/2 cup) plain flour
  • 1 tbs cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground cloves, 1/4 teaspoon of freshly found black pepper
  • 40 g chopped dark chocolate (70%, preferably)
  • 85 (1/4 cup) ml  honey
  • 3 tablespoons  sugar

Preheat oven to 170°C/ 340 Farenheit.

In the meantime, make a syrup by dissolving the sugar with the honey and the dark chocolate in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to the boil, then reduce and keep simmering, without stirring for around 2 minutes. Do not leave the stove at this stage or you will end up with burnt caramel….don’t ask me how I know…

Place almonds, hazelnuts and dried fruit in a large bowl.  Sift over the cocoa, the flour, the ground pepper and spices and stir to combine. Add the chocolate and honey syrup and mix well. At first to will look dry, have faith and keep combining until you obtain a dark, gooey paste. If it struggles to come together , add 1 tablespoon of honey.

Line an oven dish with non-stick baking paper, pour in your panforte mix and smooth and flatten the surface with the back of a spoon or by pressing baking paper over it.

Bake for around 20 minutes or until just set. As it cools down it will firm up more.

Cut into squares, dust with icing sugar and accompany with coffee or grappa. Or both!

Silvia’s Cucina is on Facebook