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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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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Pallotte Cacio e Ovo (Stale bread and Pecorino Dumplings)

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Pallotte Cacio e Ovo (literally, balls with pecorino and egg….Yes doesn’t sound as evocative in English!) is a traditional dish from my mother’s village in the mountains of Abruzzo. Every Mamma and Nonna in Torricella Peligna has a treasured recipe for this humble dish that features stale bread as its key ingredient, and they all vehemently claim to be the keepers of the tastiest recipe. I am no exception, having inherited my great Aunt Italina’s method, which includes a chunk of bell pepper left to stew in the tomato sauce to add a touch of peppery robustness to this magnificent peasant meal.

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

For the dumplings

200 gr (about 2 cups) day-old Italian bread (such as pane di casa or ciabatta), crust removed, cut into chunks

250 ml  (1 cup) of milk

160 gr (2 cups) of finely grated pecorino cheese

1/4 cup roughly chopped parsley and 1/4 of chopped basil leaves

1 egg , lightly beaten

Olive oil to deep fry

salt and pepper to season

For the sauce

2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil

2 spring onions (scallions) roughly chopped

1/4 green capsicum (pepper) in 1 piece

1 garlic clove, finely chopped + 1 whole, bashed with the back of a knife

1 small celery stick, finely chopped

2 tins of tomatoes or 3 cups of  home-made passata

Basil leaves

salt and pepper to season

HOW TO

1. Soak the bread in milk for 20 minutes or until soft, then squeeze out any excess. Using your hands, break down the bread to a pulp

2. Combine bread with cheese, egg, herbs to form a sticky batter. Add salt and pepper to season. Rest in the fridge for 20 minutes

3. Meanwhile, for the tomato sauce, heat the oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat

4. Cook, spring onion, garlic, celery and pepper, stirring for 3-4 minutes or until fragrant. Add tin tomatoes or passata, season with salt and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and cook gently for 20 minutes or until slightly reduced

5. Half fill a saucepan with olive oil and heat over medium high heat

6. Take the dumpling mixture out of the fridge, and, with wet hands, shape it into balls the size of a small mandarin

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7. Deep fry the dumplings in batches until golden and cooked through. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with kitchen paper

8. Add the cooked dumplings to the tomato sauce, cover with the lid and stand , off the heat, for at least 1 hour before serving to allow for the flavours to mingle and for the dumplings to soak up the sauce

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9. When ready to serve, gently reheat the dumplings in the sauce, top with basil leaves and serve hot or warm

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Pasta with Oven Roasted Vegetables

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I often get ask the questions “why are there so many different pasta type? Isn’t pasta all the same?”. The answer is, unsurprisingly, that each pasta shape is cleverly designed to serve a specific purpose, and, no, it is not all the same. You try talk a roman into matching amatriciana sauce with farfalle? You  are likely to get cursed at! How can you not know that only bucatini and rigatoni will do? By the same token, ask a genovese to replace spaghetti or trofie with orecchiette, to be lavishly coated in emerald green pesto sauce and he will tell you he’d rather set his own hair on fire than commit such blasphemy. Indeed, we do take the matter of pasta seriously in Italy. Each shape is suited for a particular type of sauce. Shellfish love spaghetti and linguine, penne is heavenly with a simple fresh tomato sauce and fusilli, the famous spiral-shaped pasta, is a perfect vehicle for chunky and rustic sauces, such as this one: oven roasted vegetables, rendered sweet by the addition of a little vincotto and the irresistible piquancy of extra-virgin olive oil.

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

2 cups of cherry tomatoes, cut in half

2 celery sticks, chopped,

1 green pepper (capsicum) cut into small chunks

3/4 shallots cut into quarters

2 garlic cloves, skin off, bashed with the back of a knife

4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons of  vincotto (replace with balsamic vinegar if hard to find)

salt to taste

1 lb of uncooked pasta (fusilli or rigatoni work well with this sauce)

basil leaves

percorino cheese (omit for a vegan, dairy-free option)

How to

1. Place all the vegetables in a large bowl, add the oil, vicotto (or vinegar) and a little salt. Toss to combine and place the vegetables onto an oven tray lined with baking paper.

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2. Bake in a preheated 180C  (350 F) oven for 40-45 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and slightly blistered. Set aside to cool at room temperature. Refrigerate if not using straight away. The vegetables will keep well in the fridge for up to 24 hours.

3. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.  Drop in your pasta and cook al dente, according to instructions.

4. Drain the pasta, but reserve 2-3 tablespoons of pasta cooking water.

5. Toss the pasta in the tray with the vegetables until well coated, add a little pasta cooking water if too dry.  Taste for salt and adjust accordingly.

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6. Top with freshly grated pecorino cheese and a few basil leaves. Serve hot, or at room temperature as a summer pasta salad.

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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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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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