Cookbook 175: Simple Italian – The Essentials of Italian Home Cooking

When I heard that Silvia Colloca’s Simple Italian – The Essentials of Italian Home Cooking was available, and I had a credit on my Booktopia account, I bought this immediately. I absolutely adored her Made in Italy and I wanted to have more of that magic and discovery. Goodness I was disappointed. And those are words that I don’t want to have to write. I think that Silvia Colloca is a fantastic cook, she’s great at communicating her love of cooking food, she has great rapport with people that she works with on screen, and the way she talks about Italy and her family is lovely.

This book isn’t good though. I cooked 4 dishes from it, over two months, because I thought that the first time that maybe I’d selected poor recipes, or that I had made a mistake, and then the second two were also not great, and I did make a mistake for one, but the other I followed the instructions carefully and it was still a disaster. Notes will follow after each of the recipes as normal, so you can see what went wrong/wasn’t good about the dish. Overall, 1 out of 5 stars, don’t recommend.

Ziti timballo (serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds, toasted and crushed
  • 250g pork and veal mince
  • 3 x 400g tins chopped tomato
  • 400g dried ziti pasta
  • 50g freshly grated parmigiano, plus extra to serve
  • 150g frozen peas
  • 3 – 4 tbsp dried breadcrumbs
  • basil leaves, to serve (optional)

Method:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook for 3 – 4 minutes, until softened, then add the garlic and fennel seeds and cook for a further 1 minutes until fragrant.
  2. Add the mince and cook, breaking up any lumps with a wooden spoon, for 8 – 10 minutes until well browned. Add the tomatoes and 250ml water and stir to combine, then cook for 45 minutes or until the liquid has reduced. Reserve 250ml of the sauce and set aside to cool.
  3. Preheat your oven to 180C
  4. Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil over a high heat, add the ziti and cook for 5 – 6 minutes. You want to stop before it is al dente. Drain and rinse in cold water, then leave to cool. Set aside one-third of the ziti and cut the rest into thirds.
  5. Combine the cut ziti, cooled mince mixture, parmigiano and peas in a bowl. Grease a 30dm x 10cm loaf tin with the olive oil, then coat with the breadcrumbs. Line the intact ziti around the base and sides of the tin, then fill with the remaining pasta and mince mixture, compressing it down as much as possible.
  6. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Carefully remove the timballo from the tin and serve with extra parmigiano, basil leaves (if using) and the reserved sauce.

Notes on this recipe:

  • This is what it looked like after transporting it from the kitchen to the table. As we applied a sharp object to it, to attempt to cut it into quarters, the whole things just squidged apart to mountain of pasta and filling
  • It tasted great – which is the biggest point in it’s favour
  • Cooking ziti is a massive pain in the arse, because unlike spaghetti, it doesn’t start going soft so you can bend it to fit into the pot. You need a huge pot to start with.
  • Also, as it is hollow, it cools down REALLY QUICKLY. This dish, although straight out of the oven went cold SO quickly.
  • Silvia suggests that you could use bechamel to hold the whole thing together (in the foreword to the recipe), and points to a bechamel recipe in the book. You need to use something to hold it together, whether it’s bechamel, egg or any other binding agent.
  • Won’t cook again ever – will also avoid ziti like the plague that it is

Baked potato gnocchi (serves 4)

Ingredients:

Gnocchi

  • 850g starchy potatoes (russet or desiree), unpeeled
  • salt flakes
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 110 – 150g plain flour or type ’00’ flour

Sugo

  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 golden shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 400g can peeled tomatoes
  • salt flakes

Everything else:

  • 220g tub bocconcini
  • 3 tbsp freshly grated parmigiano
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • basil leaves, to serve

Gnocchi Method:

  1. Place the whole potatoes snugly in a large saucepan. Fill with cold water, add two fistfuls of salt and bring to the boil over high heat. Cook for 35 – 40 minutes or until tender. Drain well, then set aside to 10 minutes until cool enough to handle.
  2. Press the potatoes through a potato ricer (or mash them really well) and allow to cool for about 5 – 10 minutes. Stir in the egg yolk and a small pinch of salt.
  3. Start adding the flour, a little at a time. Depending on your potatoes and the type of flour you use, you may need to use a little more or less than indicated. You want a soft dough that is pliable and not tacky.
  4. Cut the dough into four or five pieces, then place on a floured surface and roll them into 2cm thick logs. Cut each log into 2 – 3 cm pieces.
  5. You can leave them like that if you like. Alternatively, roll them over a wooden gnocchi board or press them against the tines of a fork to form ridges. The indentations help trap the sauce.
  6. Once you have rolled all the gnocchi, dust them with flour and set aside.

Sugo Method:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and season with salt, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes or until slightly reduced. If it looks too dry, add a little water.

Assembly:

  1. Preheat your oven to 180C
  2. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil and cook your gnocchi in batches. As soon as they float to the surface fish them out with a slotted spoon and drop them straight into the sugo. Toss to coat and encourage the flavours to mingle.
  3. Transfer the gnocchi and sugo to a baking dish. Top with the bocconcini and parmigiano and bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until the cheese has melted and the sauce is bubbling. Finish with a grinding of pepper and a few basil leaves and serve.

Notes on this recipe:

  • The gnocchi dissolved in the sugo while in the oven, so it became like a mashed potato with tomato and cheese dish. This may have been my fault, perhaps I should have put more flour in the gnocchi, but it wasn’t a good thing overall.
  • It was tasty, but not worth the effort.

Vegetable Tiella (serves 6)

Ingredients:

  • 2 -3 Japanese eggplants, cut into 1cm thick rounds
  • 3 – 4 zucchini, cut into 1cm thick rounds
  • 2 golden shallots, cut into 5mm thick slices
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 – 4 garlic cloves, skin on, smashed with the back of a knife
  • 40g fresh breadcrumbs

Method:

  1. Preheat your oven to 200C
  2. Place the eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and shallot into a bowl, ad the olive oil and some salt and pepper and toss to combine.
  3. Oil a 30cm round baking dish. Arrange alternate slices of eggplant, zucchini, tomato and shallot in the dish, standing them upright. Scatter the garlic over the top, drizzle with a little extra olive oil and bake for 35 – 40 mins or until fragrant and lightly golden
  4. Sprinkle over the breadcrumbs, drizzle with a little extra olive oil and season with more salt. Bake for a further 15 minutes or until crispy.
  5. Serve warm or at room temperature. If you like you can squeeze the soften garlic cloves out of their skins and onto the tiella.

Notes on this recipe:

  • It was so boring and really fairly tasteless. I know Australian fruit and vegetables have a poor reputation as far as taste goes, and this was bad. To make it edible, I’d include a whole lot of passata, strong herbs like fresh oregano, basil and thyme, and mix some parmesan through with the breadcrumbs. And probably add some chilli. It’s now a whole different dish, but it would have some flavour.

Chicken Diavola (serves 8)

Ingredients:

  • 2 x 1.2 – 1.5 kg chickens, spatchcocked
  • salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
  • 100ml extra-virgin olive oil
  • 125ml dry white wine
  • 5 – 6 bird’s eye chillies, cut into chunks
  • 1 – 2 handfuls of fresh herbs (such as marjoram, rosemary and oregano)
  • 3 – 4 garlic cloves, skin on, bashed with the back of a knife
  • 2 small onions, peeled and halved
  • 1 lemon, cut into slices

Method:

  1. Preheat your oven to 220C
  2. Place the chickens in a large roasting tin and season well with salt and pepper
  3. Mix the olive oil, white wine, chilli and herbs in a jug, then pour evenly over the chickens. Scatter the garlic, onion halves and lemon slices into the tin, then roast for 45 – 50 minutes until the chickens are cooked through and golden brown on top. Remove and rest at room temperature for 10 – 15 minutes before carving.
  4. Serve with your favourite side dish and plenty of Sangiovese wine

Notes on this recipe:

  • It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. A fairly standard roast chicken, and the herbs, chilli and wine flavours just disappeared into the oven
  • Having a roasting pan big enough to fit 2 chickens into was a challenge, also just halve this recipe to make it easier on yourself, unless you have a ginormous oven and are actually feeding 8 people.

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