Last weekend I had an urge. An urge to cook something completely new to me, and that something new was bread. I made an on the spot decision to plan a dinner party solely around a delicious loaf of fresh foccacia, so the obvious theme for the night was Italian!
After poring over my collection of recipe books looking for the perfect main course, (which of course needed a suitable amount of sauce to mop up with our bread), I decided against pasta, and went with a menu of a hearty Italian chicken bake, beautiful olive and rosemary foccacia and a light salad of rocket and parmesan cheese on the side. Dessert was a slight deviation from the theme, but hey, when is a rich chocolate cake ever a bad thing?
Making the foccacia was so much fun, I have already planned my next dinner party with a French theme, just so i can make a baguette!
Olive Rosemary Foccacia
1 1/4 cups luke-warm water
7g (1 sachet) dried yeast
2 tsp caster sugar
3 1/2 tbsp olive oil
3 cups plain flour
2 tsp sea salt flakes
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
20 pitted kalamata olives
Combine the water, yeast, sugar and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small mixing bowl. Set aside covered with a tea towel in a warm place for 5 minutes or until the mix becomes frothy.
Sift the flour into a bowl and add half the sea salt. Make a well in the centre and pour in yeast mixture, use a wooden spoon to combine, then use your hands to bring the dough together in the bowl.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Brush a clean bowl with a little oil to grease, then place the dough in the bowl and cover a damp tea towel. Set aside in the warm place again for 45 minutes or until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 200°C and brush a 20cm x 30cm slice tin with a olive oil.
Punch down the centre of the dough with your fist and turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 2 minutes or until dough is elastic and has returned to original size, then press it into the prepared pan. Cover with a damp tea towel and set aside in the warm place once more to prove for 20 minutes or until doubled in height. Use your fingers to press dimples into the dough, brush with the remaining oil, press the olives and rosemary leaves into the dough and finish with a sprinkle of sea salt flakes.
Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped on the base.
Italian Chicken Bake
4 chicken marylands
1 red capsicum, cut into 2cm pieces
100g pancetta, chopped
2 400g tins whole peeled tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 onion, diced
1 chicken stock cube
1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves
1/4 cup water
1 lemon, cut into wedges
3/4 cup kalamata olives
1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
Sea salt & cracked black pepper
Preheat oven to 200°C.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large saucepan and fry off the onion, garlic, pancetta and capsicum until the pancetta crisps slightly. Add the tomatoes and crush with a wooden spoon, then add the water, chicken stock cube, oregano leaves and season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then immediately reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 30 minutes or until thickened.
Heat a large frypan and add a little oil. Fry the chicken pieces to produce a crispy skin, then remove from the heat and transfer to a baking dish. Pour over the hot tomato sauce, press the lemon wedges and olives into the sauce and sprinkle with parsley.
Bake uncovered for approximately 40 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Serve each piece of chicken with a generous spoon of sauce over the top.
(A little tip.... toss any leftover sauce with pasta for a quick dinner the following night).
Rocket & Parmesan Salad
1 bag pre-washed rocket leaves
50g parmesan cheese
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
Sea salt & cracked black pepper
1 lemon, cut into wedges
Pile rocket onto a serving platter, then make a simple dressing by whisking the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, and drizzle over the leaves. Toss gently to coat, then use a vegetable peeler to shave ribbons of parmesan over the top. Finish with a quick squeeze of lemon and add a few extra lemon wedges on the side. (Dress just prior to serving for best results).
And finally, it's time for dessert! I very rarely bake or make anything sweet, but I was on a roll last week and figured a cake was in order. So glad I did, this cake was heaven! Rich and moist and the perfect way too finish off an excellent dinner - with a good scoop of vanilla ice-cream of course.
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
2 tbsp cocoa
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
150g cold butter, chopped
1/2 tsp bicarb soda
50g butter, chopped
3/4 cup icing sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3 tbsp hot water
Slivered almonds (optional)
Preheat oven to 180°C and grease a 25cm cake tin with butter. Line the base with baking paper.
Combine the sugar, butter, bicarb soda, cocoa and 1 cup cold water in a saucepan over low heat, and cook, stirring, for 5 -10 minutes until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes or until the mixture doubles. Transfer to a large bowl to cool.
Once the mix has cooled sift in the flour and add the eggs. Use an electric mixer to beat the mix until smooth, then pour into the prepared cake tin.
Bake for 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted in centre comes out clean. Allow to stand in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.
To make the icing, sift the icing sugar and cocoa into a bowl. Add the butter and hot water, then mix vigorously with a wooden spoon until smooth. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until slightly firm, then beat with a wooden spoon until spreadable. Spread the cooled cake with icing and (optional) top with slivered almonds.