Side Ways – Cavolo Nero con le Acciughe

I think it is quite fab how in the Italian kitchen a side dish isn’t considered just your obligatory portion of veggies but taken as seriously as all the other components of your meal. This doesn’t yet necessarily mean that you should spend many hours preparing it but rather that it should be tasty too!

This Giorgione’s recipe from his book “Orto & cucina” is one fine example of a simple, flavoursome side dish. And as its main ingredient is kale, it is also (supposedly) super healthy. Hmmm, on second thought, I guess a street-credible blogger would have recommended a super healthy side dish right at the beginning of January for all new year’s resolutionists but better late than never, eh?

Kale with Anchovies

1 bunch kale

1 anchovy fillet in oil

1 chilli

1 garlic clove

olive oil

salt

white wine

vegetable broth

Gently heat some olive oil and the crushed garlic clove in a pan. Add the chilli (chopped) and the anchovy fillet and cook on a medium heat for some minutes. In the mean time, trim the kale of its tough stems and chop it. Pour a little bit of white wine into the pan and add the chopped kale. Season with salt and a scoop of vegetable broth. Cover the pan with its lid and let the dish cook for 15 minutes (the kale should soften).

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Miss Bean – Fagioli in Umido

In addition to the Italian kitchen being a wilderness of culinary adventures, it can also sometimes represent a bit of a jungle linguistically. At least for a Finn. I still haven’t forgotten the nightmares of briciole and often spend sleepless nights wondering what an earth a sformato is supposed to be (well, ok, not really – I just liked the dramatic sound of it).

The name of today’s dish made me already slightly nervous when trying to translate it with an on-line dictionary. “Damp beans” is not something that you would like to promote even by Cucina Fintastica’s somewhat less strict standards. Fortunately apparently the expression “in umido” can be translated as stew.

I have recently been participating in a 6-time cooking course in which we make Italian dishes from different regions of Italy in Italian (naturalmente) and we made this bean stew in one those lessons. It is a very common, simple and tasty way of preparing beans in Italy, and can serve as a side dish or even a vegetarian meal of its own. There seem to be dozens of versions of this dish, and some of them also include pancetta which you can add to your taste if you are not a semi-vegetarian (i.e. a non-red-meat eater) such as myself!

Bean Stew

1 can of beans

1/4 of a mid-sized onion

2 bay leaves

olive oil

tomato puree (from a tube)

chilli pepper

salt

Slice the onion into small pieces and gently fry it in a pan with some olive oil, chopped chilli and the bay leaves. Add the beans (with their water in the tin, or drain them first and add some water from tap) and some tomato puree (about 1/3 of the tube) and cook on a low heat for 10 minutes. Season with salt to your taste.

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.

The Competitive Carrots – Carote al Latte

Having used quite a bit of different herbs in my cooking recently, today I found my fridge looking like a jungle. As I do not have a beautiful garden à la Jamie O. or James Martin where to transfer them, it was time to take some serious cooking action.

The first two herbs to catch my attention were sage and tarragon. The first fresh carrots have recently hit the stores in Helsinki and I thought that it could be a nice idea to combine them with either of these herbs. For further inspiration, I started browsing the web for Italian recipes with carrots and either of the herbs.

It seemed that Italian chefs are not very inspired by carrots at all (who can really blame them though when they have such a wide range of veggies from artichokes to yummy plummy tomatoes available!). I couldn’t find as many recipes as I usually can by adding a name of vegetable and one of the most frequent hits was the good ol’ “Italian classic” called carrot cake! However, another carrot recipe that did get frequent mentions on Google was a dish called carote al latte.

I chose this recipe since it also included a herb: parsley. Unfortunately parsley was pretty much the only herb that hadn’t found its way to the green wilderness of my kitchen within the past few weeks. I wanted to substitute that with either that tarragon or sage but couldn’t really make up my mind on which to use. Hence in the true competitive sprit of World Cup 2014, I decided to split the carrots into two teams and set up an exciting race between “Team Tarragon” and “Team Sage”.

“Team Tarragon” had a slightly weak start as I couldn’t really taste the tarragon in the otherwise fabulous sauce at all. Thus, it was quickly overtaken by “Team Sage”. Yet as the race went on I started to wonder if the flavour of sage was in fact slightly too overpowering. “Team Tarragon” stepped up its game by making me gradually appreciate its more subtle seasoning. The finish line was approaching and the competition was getting fiercer and fiercer… Finally, all I can say it was really a tie between the two teams. The only thing I do know for sure is that I ate those carrots in record time!

P.S. On World Cup 2014, I’m sure it goes without saying that Cucina Fintastica naturalmente supports Gli Azzurri!

Carrots in Milk

Serves 4

8 carrots

50 g butter

½ cup water

300 ml milk

pepper

1 bunch of parsley (or sage or tarragon or whatever herb team you feel like supporting)

salt

½ cup white wine

Clean and slice the carrots. Heat the butter in a pan. Once melted, add the carrots and gently fry them for a few minutes. Add the pepper, wine and water. Let the mixture cook until the wine and water have evaporated/ been absorbed by the carrots. Pour the milk into the pan and continue cooking at a low heat until almost all of the milk has also evaporated. Season with salt and a chopped herb of your choice.

Something Not Borrowed – Insalata Improvvisata

The idea of my blog is to learn about Italian cooking by testing recipes I have found from different sources. Yet in real life, I do come up with my own little recipes from time to time too. And since for this blog I have no manager to answer to, I can really post here whatever I like (at least until Cucina Fintastica becomes a supermega success with the amount of sponsors to challenge Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson combined). Who knows, you might even like it… At least I quite enjoyed this potato salad tonight!

So today’s dish has very little to do with Italy although a quick Google search tells me that there is a broad range of Italian recipes of potato salads available too. Maybe I will give them a try later. Anyway, I got the inspiration for this dish after buying new potatoes of this season and realising I had some leftover yoghurt and asparagus readily in my fridge. Obviously lemon is the BFF of asparagus but I also liked the creamy yet fresh twist of the yoghurt with it!

Potato Salad with Asparagus and Lemon

Serves 4

800 g potatoes

1 bunch of fresh asparagus

2-3 spring onions

3 dl Greek yoghurt

1 tbsp olive oil

zest of 1 lemon, grated

lemon juice

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp honey

fresh mint

salt, pepper

Clean the potatoes and cook them in salted, boiling water until ready. In another kettle, bring a sufficient amount of water to a boil, add some salt and lemon juice and the asparagus. Cook for a few minutes.

Mix the yoghurt with the lemon zest, a bit of lemon juice, honey, salt, mustard and olive oil. Cut the cooked potatoes and asparagus into chunks and chop the spring onions. Place them into a bowl, pour the yoghurt dressing onto them and mix well. Add fresh mint, salt and pepper to your taste. Serve with e.g. fresh salmon.

The Most Unphotogenic Dish in Helsinki – Fave al Pecorino

Today I think I may have found something that is even more unphotogenic than I am: this dish. I apologise for the silly faces posing with it but I felt compelled to add something to distract from the ugliness of the peas.

Yet, if you leave aesthetic questions aside, it is in fact quite a nice side dish! Yes, my version is quite similar to what the Brits call mushy peas, since I had to modify the recipe (from another Italian cooking magazine “Cucina Moderna”) a bit and use frozen peas as broad beans were not yet available in Helsinki this spring. However, even if you have to resort to peas as I did, a hefty dose of pecorino will still guarantee that this culinaristic journey will take you to a cena italiana rather than a Sunday roast!

Broad Beans with Pecorino

Serves 4

1 kg shelled broad beans (about 3 kg with the pod)

olive oil

2 garlic cloves

fresh mint

60 g pecorino

salt

Cook the beans in a good amount of salted water for 15 minutes and drain them. Head some olive oil in a frying pan and add the crushed garlic cloves. After 1-2 minutes, add one ladle of hot water and cook for five minutes. Mix the beans, garlic water, and a handful of fresh mint in a blender. Add the pecorino and season with salt to your taste.

Cheesy Sale – Patate Taleggio e Rosmarino

A couple of months ago, I tried making a risotto that included a cheese that I was not familiar with: Taleggio. As this cheese isn’t really included in your grocery staples in Finland, I couldn’t find it in my local corner store either and used Swiss Gruyere as a substitute (well, not exactly a grocery staple in Finland either…). However, last week I managed to get my very first chunk of Taleggio and to top my happiness, it was even on sale.

The flavour of Taleggio is a bit different from any other cheese that I have tried before. I would describe it as something between brie and mozzarella. It definitely has that flavour typical of a mold cheese but it is milder and its texture is not quite as soft as brie’s. It certainly worked so well with the risotto that I went back to the great Taleggio sale and bought another piece. This time I tested it with potatoes and rosemary as suggested by this recipe. Rosemary is one of my favourite herbs which in cooperation with my new friend Tal makes this recipe quite a nice side dish to accompany chicken or red meat!

Taleggio and rosemary potatoes

800 g potatoes

250 g Taleggio

4 tbsp milk

30 g butter

1 sprig of rosemary

salt, pepper

Cook the potatoes in boiling, unsalted water for only 10 minutes. Peel them and cut them into thin slices (~0.5 cm thick). Place the potato slices in a buttered gratin dish. Add the milk and season the potatoes with salt, pepper and chopped rosemary. Bake in the oven at 200C for 20 minutes.

Slice the Taleggio and remove its crust. Cover the potatoes with the cheese and continue cooking for another 10 minutes. Allow the ready dish to cool for a few minutes before serving.

Stunning Simplicity – Insalata di Melanzane e Menta

Sometimes the best things in life and cooking are simple. This is certainly the case with this salad. With little effort, the maximum yum (well, I guess yum really isn’t a word but it kind of rhymes nicely with maximum).

It is a side dish to accompany fish or meat. I have tried this with smoked salmon and it worked wonderfully. Add your favourite Italian song to the mixture and I guarantee you will simply have a stunning Italian meal!

Aubergine and Mint Salad

Serves 4

2 aubergines

1 bunch of fresh mint

3 tbs extravirgin olive oil

1 tbs white wine vinegar

coarse ground salt

1 pomegranate

Cut the aubergines into slices (about 1 cm thick).

These steps you can skip, in case you believe that your aubergines do not hold a grudge, i.e. are not the bitter kind: Spread the slices on a tray and sprinkle the salt onto the slices. Leave them for about 40 minutes. Wipe off the liquid that has come out of the aubergines.

Grill the aubergine slices (I used the grill of my oven at 200C). After the first 5 minutes, flip them and continue grilling for another 5 minutes. Chop the fresh mint. Extract the seeds from the pomegranate.

Mix the grilled aubergine slices, chopped mint and pomegranate seeds in a bowl. Combine the olive oil and vinegar, stir and add to the bowl. If you skipped the previous steps of salting, you can add some salt as well. Mix well and serve with the meat or fish of your choice.

And finally, here is one of my favourite Italian tunes:

Fintastic Fennels – Cartoccio di Finocchi e Mandarini

Over this weekend, I discovered that there is in fact a fairly impressive range of Italian magazines available in Helsinki. Despite also being quite impressed with their prices (costing about 2-3 times as much as in Italy), I decided to invest in an Italian cooking magazine called La Cucina Italiana. It appeared to be one of the more “high end” options with beautiful pictures and some interesting articles too (and with proper paper – I hate to read magazines with sticky, thin paper!).

I am planning to try several recipes of my new magazine, and already successfully started with this fennel one. It is again one of those unlikely, yet simple combinations that sounded slightly odd to me on paper but turned out quite fabulous! I think the secret of this recipe also lies in its cooking method: the fennels and mandarins are baked in the oven in a wrapping in which the flavours mix in a delicious way.

Fennels and mandarins in parchment paper

Serves 4

2 fennels (540 g)

4 organic mandarins

corn starch

sugar

dried chilli

extra virgin olive oil

salt

Trim the root ends of the fennels. Pluck each layer of the fennels separately and clean each piece with water. Keep the fronds (the green part resembling dill) in cold water for later use.

Slice two mandarins with peels into four slices each.

Dampen 2-3 sheets of parchment paper. Place the fennel pieces and mandarin slices in the middle of each parchment paper. Mix the olive oil, salt and dried chilli and sprinkle the mixture on the fennels. Create little packets of the parchment papers by wrapping their sides over the fennels and mandarins. Place them on an oven tray and cook at 200C for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, squeeze the juice of the two remaining mandarins and pour it into a saucepan. Bring to a boil, add a pinch of salt and sugar and lightly thicken the sauce with a touch of corn starch mixed in cold water (I used about 3/4 teaspoons corn starch and 3/4 dl water).

Once cooked, open the packets, add the sauce to the fennels and garnish with the fronds.