Four essential Italian dishes anyone can cook from Silvia Colloca's new cookbook

Make the most of leftover sourdough with this baked chicken dinner.
Make the most of leftover sourdough with this baked chicken dinner. Photo: Rob Palmer/Plum

In her day-to-day life, Silvia Colloca often meets people who are convinced they don't have the ability to cook. 

"Maybe they tried once or twice and it didn't work so they lost confidence and quit," the Italian-Australian actress, author and TV presenter says in her new cookbook Simple Italian.

Silvia Colloca's new book.
Silvia Colloca's new book. Photo: Rob Palmer/Plum

"Or maybe they grew up in a household where meal preparation was seen as a necessity, and never a joy."

But in Colloca's experience, no one is too young or too old to learn a few uncomplicated recipes: simple, nourishing pastas, delicious oven-baked chicken or a perhaps traditional Roman tomato dish. 

"Italian home cooking is the perfect gateway to this sensory universe, as its frugal nature – what Italians call 'cucina povera' (peasant-style cooking) – is nourishing, accessible and cost effective, not to mention incredibly delicious."

Here are four recipes from Colloca's new collection to try and enjoy at home.

Baked chicken with bread, cherry tomatoes, olives and capers

If you have never tried wedging chunks of stale bread in your roast chicken tray I hope this recipe will convince you to start, either with a whole chicken or pieces, as I have done here. The stale bread acts as a sponge, soaking up the tomato juices and chicken dripping as well as the beautiful olive oil and wine. In the process, the crumb becomes lusciously soft, while the edges become charred and crunchy, quickly turning the stale bread into the undisputed star of the dish.

INGREDIENTS

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  • 250g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 60g (½ cup) pitted black olives
  • 3 tablespoons capers (or to taste), rinsed and drained
  • 125ml (½ cup) dry white wine
  • 100ml extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 thick slices of stale sourdough, cut into chunks
  • thyme sprigs, for sprinkling, plus extra to serve
  • salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 chicken thigh fillets, skin on

METHOD

  1. Preheat your oven to 160C fan-forced (180C conventional).
  2. Oil a roasting tin, then add the cherry tomatoes and their juices, olives, capers, wine and half the olive oil. Mix well, then scatter over the bread chunks and a little thyme and season with salt. Place the chicken on top, season with salt and pepper and spoon over some of the liquid in the base of the tin.
  3. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the skin is crisp and golden. The cooking time will depend on the size of your chicken pieces, so keep an eye on them.
  4. Take the tin out of the oven. Spoon some of the delicious sauce over the chicken, scatter more thyme sprigs on top and serve.

Serves: 4

Simple Italian by Silvia Colloca, published by Plum, RRP $39.99. Photography by Rob Palmer.
Casarecce with Tuna, Capers and Breadcrumbs (pg. 65) 
Baked Rice-stuffed Tomatoes (pg. 124) 
Roasted Tiger Prawns with Olives, Tomatoes and Crispy Crumbs (pg. 174) 
Baked Chicken with Bread, Cherry Tomatoes, Olives and Capers (pg. 251) 
Single use, only use with book extract

Never eat takeaway again with this pasta dish. Photo: Rob Palmer/Plum

Casarecce with tuna, capers and breadcrumbs

This is an essential recipe that every Italian has up their sleeve. It's one of those dishes aptly named "salva cena" (dinner saviour) as it can be made quickly using bits and pieces from your pantry – provided you have stocked it with Italian essentials. Even my Australian husband, after years of living with this hardcore Italian, knows better than to suggest takeaway on hump days, saying "surely we (meaning me!) can whip up a pasta col tonno".

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • a few chillies (according to taste), sliced
  • 300g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 150ml dry white wine
  • 350-400g dried casarecce
  • 185g can tuna in brine, well drained
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
  • 3-4 tablespoons pitted black olives
  • salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper

Breadcrumb topping

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 60g (¾ cup) fresh breadcrumbs
  • salt flakes
  • handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves

METHOD

  1. Put the kettle on, as you will need to add boiling water to the pan when you add the pasta.
  2. To make the topping, heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring, for 3-4 minutes until nicely golden and crunchy. Tip the crumbs onto a plate, season with a little salt and stir through the parsley. Set aside.
  3. Wipe out the pan, add the olive oil and heat over medium-high heat.
  4. Add the spring onion, garlic, chilli and cherry tomatoes and cook for 1 minute. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping up any bits caught on the base, and cook out the alcohol for 1-2 minutes.
  5. Add the casarecce, tuna, capers and olives and stir, then pour in enough boiling water to cover the pasta by 3-4 cm. Season with salt and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes or until the pasta is al dente. By now most of the liquid will have evaporated, creating a thick and luscious sauce. If it doesn't seem thick enough, turn up the heat during the last minute of cooking.
  6. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then sprinkle over the breadcrumb topping and serve hot.

Serves: 4

Simple Italian by Silvia Colloca, published by Plum, RRP $39.99. Photography by Rob Palmer.
Casarecce with Tuna, Capers and Breadcrumbs (pg. 65) 
Baked Rice-stuffed Tomatoes (pg. 124) 
Roasted Tiger Prawns with Olives, Tomatoes and Crispy Crumbs (pg. 174) 
Baked Chicken with Bread, Cherry Tomatoes, Olives and Capers (pg. 251) 
Single use, only use with book extract

This dish will transport you to the Amalfi coast. Photo: Rob Palmer/Plum

Roasted tiger prawns, with olives, tomatoes and crispy crumbs

Nothing says Mediterranean summer more than salty seafood, sun-ripened tomatoes and juicy olives. Add a touch of chilli and crunchy breadcrumbs, and you will be day-dreaming about sipping pinot grigio on the Amalfi coast. Luckily, food is a beautiful way to travel from the comfort of your kitchen. Just get yourself the freshest prawns you can find and you'll have your own taste of la dolce vita.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4-5 tablespoons Ligurian olives (available at delis)
  • 600g cherry or heirloom tomatoes, halved
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley stalks
  • 1-2 long red chillies, halved lengthways
  • 80ml (⅓ cup) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • salt flakes
  • 12 tiger prawns
  • 2 slices of stale sourdough
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf
  • parsley leaves, plus extra to serve (optional)

METHOD

  1. Preheat your oven to 160C fan-forced (180C conventional) and grease a large roasting tin with olive oil.
  2. Remove the pits from the olives by pressing them on a board, either with the palm of your hand or using a glass or a cup. Place the olives in a bowl, add the tomato, parsley stalk, chilli and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Take one garlic clove (skin on) and bash it with the back of a knife. Add to the bowl, then season with salt and toss everything together. Tip the mixture into the prepared tin, spread it out in a single layer and roast for 25 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare the prawns. Remove the heads and freeze for later use (they make great fish stock). Peel and devein the prawns, but keep the tails attached. Brush them with a little of the remaining olive oil.
  4. Take the tin out of the oven, place the prawns on the tomato mixture and season them with salt. Roast for another 6-8 minutes or until the prawns are just cooked through.
  5. In the meantime, place the stale bread in a food processor. Peel the remaining garlic clove and add to the processor, along with the parsley leaves and a good pinch of salt. Blitz to form coarse breadcrumbs with some bigger chunks of bread remaining.
  6. Heat the remaining olive oil in a frying pan over high heat and fry the breadcrumb mixture, stirring often, until golden and fragrant. Scatter the breadcrumbs over the roasted prawns and tomatoes, top with some extra parsley, if you like, and serve.

Serves: 4

Simple Italian by Silvia Colloca, published by Plum, RRP $39.99. Photography by Rob Palmer.
Casarecce with Tuna, Capers and Breadcrumbs (pg. 65) 
Baked Rice-stuffed Tomatoes (pg. 124) 
Roasted Tiger Prawns with Olives, Tomatoes and Crispy Crumbs (pg. 174) 
Baked Chicken with Bread, Cherry Tomatoes, Olives and Capers (pg. 251) 
Single use, only use with book extract

A simple, Roman classic. Photo: Rob Palmer/Plum

Baked rice-stuffed tomatoes

This Roman classic speaks volumes about Italian home cooking: just a couple of simple ingredients that bring out the best in each other.

The tomato juices, olive oil and rice bake together to create textures that are both soft and crispy, while the precious juices coat the potato wedges, which instantly steal the spotlight. (Make more than you think you'll need. I'm serious.)

You may find the quantity of rice in the recipe is slightly odd, but it reflects the Italian approach to home cooking, which generally means not measuring with scales. The idea is to fill each tomato with 2 tablespoons of rice and, to be honest, this is the most accurate an Italian nonna is ever going to be! This dish is also incredibly forgiving so if you are heavy-handed with your rice or pecorino, you're not going to upset anybody.

INGREDIENTS

  • 6-7 large truss tomatoes
  • salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3-4 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino, plus extra for sprinkling
  • thyme leaves, to taste
  • 100ml extra-virgin olive oil
  • 12-14 tablespoons carnaroli or arborio rice
  • 4 potatoes, peeled and each potato cut into eight wedges
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • a few thyme or rosemary sprigs
  • chilli oil, to serve (optional)

METHOD

  1. Preheat your oven to 180C fan-forced (200C conventional) and line a baking tray with baking paper (or grease with olive oil).
  2. Cut the top off each tomato and set aside. Scoop out the pulp and place in a bowl, then season the hollow tomatoes with salt. Using your hands, squeeze out as much liquid as possible from the pulp and break it down with a fork. Season the tomato pulp and juice with salt and pepper and stir in the pecorino, thyme leaves and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the rice and combine.
  3. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the rice mixture into each tomato and place in the prepared tray. Add 1-2 tablespoons of water to each tomato to help the rice cook evenly, then put the tomato lids on top. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over the tomatoes and season with an extra pinch of salt.
  4. Place the potato wedges in a bowl, add the garlic and remaining olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Toss together, then arrange the potato in the tray around the tomatoes and top with some thyme or rosemary sprigs.
  5. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the tomatoes are scorched, the rice is cooked through and the potato wedges are golden. Take the lids off the tomatoes and sprinkle a little pecorino over the rice filling. Return to the oven for another 5-10 minutes to create a crust.
  6. Take the tray out of the oven and put the tomato lids back on. You can enjoy this hot, or cover with foil and rest for 20 minutes, then serve warm with a splash of chilli oil, if you like.

Serves: 4-6

This is an edited extract from Simple Italian by Silvia Colloca, published by Plum, RRP $39.99. Photography by Rob Palmer. Buy now