Nuturalmente Fabulous – Caserecce alle Noci

Sometimes in this world you may feel that it is difficult to know what to really believe in. But at least there is one thing that you can always trust: a chef proudly sporting a very round tummy!

My acquaintance with this Italian signor called Giorgione started when I bought his book “Giorgione – Orto e Cucina” in Italy this summer. It was his street-credible belly (in addition to a very simpatico smile) that initially caught my attention. I later discovered that the book is in fact based on a popular TV series of the same name. In his own words, Giorgione is “a nearly veterinarian who loves the nature and its products”. He lives in a small town in the province of Perugia, and has apparently been a foodie and passionate about agriculture for all his life. A few years ago he was discovered to star in this show that, in addition to cooking, includes his adventures e.g. in the vegetable garden and going mushrooming. Unfortunately there were no episodes of Giorgione available online. However, I did manage to find some short clips on YouTube where I could see him in action and uttering “yummmm” for not an insignificant number of times.

Hence my expectations were high when I opened my book to try one of his recipes – and I am happy to report that (at least based on this pasta) my faith in full-figured middle parts remained intact! A pasta dish mainly based on walnuts did initially sound a bit… (I apologise for the inevitable, unimaginative attempt at linguistic wit) … nuts. Yet the aromas of walnuts evolve when cooking adding a fabulous, distinct flavour to complement the richness of the sauce and sweetness of the red onions. So yes, I expect me and Giorgione to remain friends for quite some time to come!

Caserecce Pasta with Walnuts

200 g caserecce pasta

20 walnuts

½ red onion

butter (Giorgione recommended butter made of buffalo milk but I had to settle for the normal kind)

olive oil

salt, pepper

2 tbsp white wine

½ cup cream

parmesan, grated

pecorino romano, grated

Chop the walnut kernels into rough, small chunks (Giorgione advised to use a blender for this purpose but I was worried that my little device wouldn’t appreciate this task).

Slice the red onion into small cubes (about the same size as the walnuts). Melt a generous amount of butter in a pan and add the onions. Gently cook them for some minutes. Add some olive oil, pepper and as soon as the onions start to become golden brown, the white wine. Add the chopped walnuts and continue cooking the mixture for some additional minutes to gain flavor to the sauce. Season with salt and pour in the cream.

Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water. Once ready, combine the pasta with the walnut sauce and a small amount of the cooking water of the pasta, and the pecorino cheese. Finally, complement the dish with some grated parmesan when serving.

Baking on the Edge – Torta di Pomodoro

It was bound to be una grande catastrofe. I was really asking for trouble. And yet somehow I managed to pull it off.

It all started on a stormy late-summer evening when I made the daring promise to be responsible for a lunch of four people on the following Saturday. Without a moment of hesitation, I immediately knew what I had to do: to bake a pie.

Yes, many could have told me that this decision was ill-advised and potentially of the most disastrous consequences. But even if they had, I would have stubbornly ignored their well-meaning pleas to stop when I still could as I had a vision. A vision of the perfect tomato pie (well, at least edible) as described in the book “Le Ricette della Prova del Cuoco”.

I was on a mission. I was unstoppable. There were admittedly many obstacles on my course. I had to fight my way to the ripest cherry tomatoes. I sweet-talked my cake tin into accommodating several pieces of parchment paper. I patiently guided the cherry tomatoes to relinquish their excess liquid in a pan. I persuaded the dough to get a good grip of the parchment papers to form a crust of the right shape. I bravely shedded no tears (ok, maybe a few but not many) when realising I lacked the dry beans required to be placed on the crust for the first phase of baking it in the oven.

And yes, the crust behaved impeccably, the filling was soft, creamy and tasty, and the lunch arrived at the table on time.

Mission accomplished.

Tomato Pie

Serves 6-8

For the crust:

300 g flour

1 tbsp cream

1 glass whole milk

pinch of salt

pinch of baking soda

For the filling:

500 g cherry tomatoes

1 garlic clove

basil to your taste

1 tbsp olive oil

salt, pepper

For the sauce:

25 g flour

25 g butter

100 ml cream

150 ml whole milk

100 g parmesan, grated

salt, pepper

For the crust, quickly mix all the ingredients in a bowl to create smooth dough. Store the dough in a fridge for 30 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the filling. Cut the cherry tomatoes into four slices each. In a pan, gently fry the garlic clove until golden. Remove the pan from the heat and add the tomatoes and salt and pepper to your taste. Cook at strong heat until the most of the excess liquid of the tomatoes has evaporated (it took about 10-15 minutes for me). Season to your taste with the basil.

Prepare the sauce. Melt the butter in a pan and stir in the flour. In another pan, heat the cream and the milk. Add the butter and the flour and stir continuously until the sauce has thickened and obtained a creamy texture. Season with salt and pepper and remove the pan from the heat. Add the grated parmesan and mix well.

Roll out the dough into a round with a rolling pin (the diameter should be some centimetres longer than your cake/ pie tin). Line your cake tin with parchment paper (including the base). Place the rolled out crust into the tin. Add some dry but slightly oiled beans on top of the crust (if you have some; don’t panic if you don’t, you can manage without too..!), and bake the crust in the oven at 180C for 15-20 minutes. Remove the beans from the crust, add the tomato filling and finally pour the parmesan sauce on top. Bake in the oven at 180C for another 10-15 minutes.

Music to Tastebuds – Rosette con Pane alla Menta e Limone

One of the disadvantages of living in a city apartment is that there is a fairly limited amount of space available for your pots, kitchen utensils and gadgets. At least if you prioritise things like a dining table and living room sofa over them. I still possess items such as a wok pan that I don’t really use since due to its enormous size, you can only wash it in a bathtub. Yet in general, I try to limit my kitchenware to mainly essentials.

That being said, I have now identified a new must-have: a mandolin. Obviously I mean the slicer, not the instrument although nice music to accompany your cooking can sometimes be quite essential too! This fabulous zucchini dish alone – from the July edition of La Cucina Italiana – justifies the investment of money and space in this utensil (even if I have to ditch the wok giant, which may not be such a bad idea anyway…).

The process of this recipe is quite simple: you slice the zucchini with your mandolin, shortly precook the slices to make them soft enough for rolling, wrap and bake them with a superbly flavoursome filling and finally accompany with the perfect match of parmesan mayonnaise. The end result will be music to your tastebuds!

I came up with a neat trick for the breadcrumbs since I do not often have old white bread at home and the right kind of breadcrumbs are as essential for the success of this recipe as the mandolin: I bought one wheat roll, halved it, grilled the halves in the oven to dry them and finally blended them into crumbs.

Zucchini Rolls with Bread, Mint and Lemon

Serves 4

400 g zucchini

100 g breadcrumbs/ 1 wheat roll dried and crumbled

100 g mayonnaise

parmesan, grated

1 tbsp (strong) mint, chopped

zest of ½ lemon, grated

olive oil

salt

To make the filling, mix the breadcrumbs, lemon zest, mint, a pinch of salt and 60 g olive oil in a bowl.

For the accompanying sauce: In a separate bowl, combine the mayonnaise with 40 g of the parmesan and 10 g hot water.

Cut the zucchini lengthways into thin slices (by using the mandolin if possible). Cook them in boiling water for 1 minute, drain them and put them in cold water. After that drain and dry the slices.

Take two zucchini slices at a time and place them in an adjoining “line” (one on top of the other for a few centimeters) to obtain a “slice” of double length. Add the breadcrumb filling on top of the zucchini slices and gently wrap the zucchini slices to form a roll. Repeat until you have used all your zucchini.

Take an oven tray and cover it with a parchment paper. Place the zucchini rolls on it and sprinkle them with some grated parmesan and a trickle of olive oil. Bake in the oven at 180C for 5-8 minutes. Serve immediately with the parmesan mayonnaise.

I Found My (Baking) Skill, on Blueberry Hill – Crostata di Mirtilli

Yes, I did it! After more than six months of food blogging, I finally managed to make a pie presentable enough to share it as a recommended success story rather than as a warning example. Not sure what my secret was this time. Maybe it was the foolproof (and very simple) recipe of my new book “Voglia di Cucinare“. Or maybe the encouraging moral support of my friend who also took the flattering picture of the dish above.

I had my moments of self-doubt, desperation and slight panic this time too though – most notably when the filling didn’t seem to thicken as needed. However, my baker friend calmly advised me that actually it is normal for a pie filling to be a bit too mushy and runny when taking it out of the oven and that it will obtain its more solid form after cooling down for some hours or until the next day. Miraculously, that is also what happened in this case, and in addition, the flavour of the pie improved over night.

There are plenty of Finnish versions of blueberry pies too but the really nice twists of this Italian one originate from the ricotta cheese of the crust and almonds and hazelnuts in the filling. Yumtastic!

Blueberry Pie

150 g flour

150 g soft ricotta cheese

150 g butter

2-3 tbsp hazel nuts, chopped

750 g blueberries

pinch of salt

For the filling:

2.5 dl double cream

2 eggs

30 g sugar

30 g almond flakes

pinch of cinnamon

Combine the flour, ricotta, butter and pinch of salt and mix until you have a smooth dough. Place the dough into a refrigerator to cool for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough into a thin round with the diameter of about 4 cm longer than in your cake/ pie tin.

Grease the tin and add the rolled dough. Sprinkle with the hazelnuts. Clean the blueberries and place them onto the pie crust in the tin.

Beat the eggs in a bowl and mix in the sugar, almond flakes, cream and pinch of cinnamon. Pour the mixture onto the blueberries. Bake in the oven at 225C for 15-20 minutes.

The Fireproof Fish – Dentice, Ribes e Salsa di Cipolle

Having been writing this blog for six months now (hey, just realised that I missed its 0.5-year birthday – buon mezzoanno Cucina Fintastica!), I think the most challenging ingredients to find in Helsinki are fish and seafood of Italian recipes. Obviously you can obtain many frozen and canned but it is just not the same as in Italy. Hence I have been mainly focusing on other dishes although I love fish and seafood.

However, the July edition of “La Cucina Italiana” (one of those souvenirs from my trip to Italy) includes a very inspiring set of recipes, and this fish caught my attention. I took the bait and got hooked as it certainly is quite a nice catch (hmm, I guess professional writers might find that sentence a bit iffy…)! The fish of the recipe is sea bream – again one of those species that doesn’t live in the Finnish seas unless its Google Maps is seriously out of order. Fortunately we do have quite a nice range of local fish in Helsinki too and substituted the sea bream with European whitefish.

The fish of this recipe is cooked by first placing it in the oven for some minutes and then grilling it for some more. We even managed to get an extra smoky flavour this time since the parchment paper of the baking tray caught fire in the grilling phase… I have already burnt one set of Christmas pastries by using a similar method. However, it seems that my “magic touch” only applies to baking as miraculously the fish were left unharmed!

Sea Bream, Red Currants and Onion Sauce

Serves 4

300 g sea bream/ other whitefish

250 g red onions

100 g red currants

50 g sugar

20 g red wine vinegar

8 g (rose) salt

olive oil

salt

Bring to a boil 0.5 liter of water, the vinegar and a pinch of salt. Add the red onion cut to thin(nish) slices and cook for 1 hour. When ready, drain the onion and let them cool down. Take 60 g of the onions to a separate plate. Blend the remaining onions and 2 tablespoons of olive oil to obtain a creamy sauce.

Bring another 1 dl of water and the sugar to a boil and add the red currants. Remove the pan from the heat immediately and cover the pan with a cling film. Let the red currants cool down in the sauce.

Season the fish fillets with a trickle of olive oil and the salt. Place them on a parchment paper on a baking tray (the skin side up) and bake in the oven at 200C for 6-7 minutes and then in the grill (or grill mode of your oven) for another 5 minutes.

Serve the fish with the remaining slices of red onion, the red onion sauce and the caramelized red currants.