The Chic Chick – Pollo alla Cacciatora

You may have noticed that one type of ingredient has been absent from my first ten posts in this blog, i.e. carne. The simple reason for this is that I haven’t eaten any red meat for 15 years. It has actually been so long that I no longer remember why I stopped. However, as I haven’t really missed it since, this chicken cooked in a sauce of red wine and tomatoes is still the reddest as far as my meat eating goes.

At least in Finland, one of the current food buzzes is about meat cooked slowly, and I think this dish is on that trend. Although you do not need an entire night to prepare it, its slow simmering phase ensures that the chicken absorbs the maximum amount of the fabulous flavours of the sauce whilst obtaining a fantastically soft consistency. It also seems that even Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson have developed their own versions of this. However, obviously I wouldn’t resort to any English trendy interpretations of this dish even if they are Jamie’s or Nigella’s, as I have the opportunity to learn these things straight from the Italian horse’s mouth!

On the other hand, according to my Google research, pollo alla cacciatora is actually a very traditional stew with dozens and dozens of variations from different parts of Italy. The recipe I tried is apparently of Tuscan origin. I also prepared some simple polenta to accompany this stew as recommended but I am sure e.g. mashed potatoes, rice and pasta should work well too!

Hunter-Style Chicken

Serves 4

1 chicken (or 2-3 chicken breast fillets and 2-3 chicken legs)

1 onion, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

3 celery stalks, chopped

1 garlic clove

½ glass of olive oil

1 glass of red wine

400 g peeled tomatoes

1 sprig of rosemary

1 bunch of fresh parsley, chopped

salt, pepper

Clean the chicken and chop it into large chunks. Leave the skin on as it will give more flavour to the sauce. Heat the oil on a frying pan/ casserole and add the chicken. Cook the chicken pieces for about 10 minutes until their both sides are golden. Add the onion, the garlic, the carrots, the celery, a pinch of salt, some pepper and the rosemary. Continue frying for at least 5 minutes until the veggies have a “good colour”. Pour the red wine into the sauce and let it evaporate. Add the tomatoes and cover the pan with a lid. Let the chicken cook at a medium heat for at least 30 minutes. If the stew seems to get too dry during this phase, you can add some hot water or broth. Finally, add the parsley and serve with the accompaniment of your choice.

A Happy Reunion – Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

Apart from the obsession with the perfect pizza, during my journey of discovering the secrets of the authentic Italian kitchen, I have mainly been trying to cook dishes previously unfamliar to me. However, today I yearned for a reunion with an old friend of mine: spaghetti alla puttanesca.

I had some new Marks & Spencer’s linguine in my cupboard to be tested. Although Misters Marks & Spencer do not sound exactly like the most authentic pasta makers, their linguine really was quite delicious (and in fact produced by some Signor/ Signora named Felicetti). One of the great mysteries in life for me though is how there can be so vast differences between different brands of pasta. It is really just flour and water after all. Baffling.

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In addition to these important philosophical questions, for me another challenge with spaghetti alla puttanesca is capers. As they are something that I do use but less frequently, I am never 100% certain whether I have them available at home when shopping for the ingredients. As a result, I may soon have to dedicate an entire shelf in my kitchen cupboard for jars of capers. (I hope that none of my more organised friends who wouldn’t dream of hitting their local supermarket without a carefully prepared Excel spread sheet -based shopping list will read this.)

Anyway, with my improving Italian skills, I now investigated whether the authentic Italian way of making this dish (e.g. this, this and this) differs from the ones that I have earlier used. It seems that there are no big new secrets to unveil on this one. There are only some slight differences between the recipes which I guess are matters of taste when it comes to the amount of e.g. chilli, capers, anchovy and olives. But when the basics of this dish are fab to begin with, big new secrets are really not that necessary – or as they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

Serves 4

400 g spaghetti

400 g chopped tomatoes

2-3 tablespoons tomato purée/ passata di pomodoro

3-4 anchovy fillets

100 g black olives, sliced

a pinch of dried chilli/ 1 fresh chilli

1-2 teaspoons capers

4-5 tablespoons olive oil

bunch of fresh parsley, chopped

salt and pepper

Pour a sufficient amount of water for your pasta into a kettle and bring it to a boil. Add some salt and the spaghetti.

While the pasta is cooking, prepare the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the garlic, anchovies and chilli and stir until the anchovy fillets have dissolved in the oil. Stir in the tomatoes and the purée and let the sauce cook for five minutes. Mix in the olives and continue cooking the sauce for another 5 minutes. In the meantime, drain your spaghetti al dente. Add the capers into the sauce, followed by the spaghetti and a couple of tablespoons of its cooking water. Stir well and let the dish simmer and rest for 1-2 minutes. Add the parsley and season with salt and pepper to your taste.

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:

Italian Fast Food – Baguette Facile e Veloce

Sorry about the misleading headline. To be honest, this recipe is neither fast nor really Italian (it is an Italian blogger’s version of a French baguette). What I find amusing the Italian definition of “fast bread”. It takes about 3.5 hours in total to make. Yet trust me, I know from my limited baking experience that 3.5 hours really is quite little in the Italian world of baking!

One of the challenges of embracing your inner Italian baker in Finland is the climate. It is quite different for a focaccia to rise basking in the warm Ligurian sun under the loving eye of an Italian nonna than in a cold flat under the panicky eye of a Finnish blogger. Fortunately there is a handy substitute for the Ligurian sun: underfloor heating in the bathroom. However, as – despite the aid of the modern building technology – my attempts at focaccia alla genovese still bear more resemblance to cream crackers than bread, I chose to share this baguette instead.

This recipe certainly is “mediocre baker proof” as apart from time and a sufficiently warm place for the dough to rise, it doesn’t really require too much skill and effort to perfect. The end result is quite lovely: a soft and airy loaf with a crispy and thin crust. I have used different combinations of flour (00, Finnish wheat, whole-wheat…) at equal success.  As all bread loaves like this, it is very much at its best on the day of baking.

Easy and Quick(ish) Baguette

Ingredients for 3 baguettes

500 g flour

400 ml lukewarm water

salt to your taste

1 tsp honey

12.5 g fresh baker’s yeast

(Durum) wheat flour for baking

Mix 1/3 of the water, the yeast and honey in a bowl. Put the flour in a larger bowl. Add the water mixture of yeast and honey, the remaining quantity of the water and the salt. Stir fast with a cooking fork. The ready dough should be sticky. Let the dough rise covered in a warm place for at least 2 hours (it is ready when it has doubled its volume).

Transfer the dough to a baking board sprinkled with the flour. Divide the dough into three parts and gently roll them in the flour while shaping them into loaves (at this phase, the added flour should remain on the surface of the loaves, not kneaded into them). Transfer the loaves onto a baking tray. Separate the loaves by adding parchment paper between them. Cover the loaves and let them rise for another 30 minutes. Bake the loaves in the oven at 200 Centigrades for 25-30 (until golden).

Shapeless Soufflé – Sformato di Funghi Misti

This time I had to resort to my favourite on-line dictionary to understand what this dish is in fact supposed to be. The results were “shapeless” and “a type of soufflé”. Right. Well, although the name “shapeless soufflé” is not exactly the most appetizing of the Italian kitchen, it is yet certainly worth a try! The good news is that unlike a shapely (French) soufflé, it is not supposed to be very airy. Therefore, there is no need for those nerve-wracking moments of watching your soufflé rise whilst holding your breath and hoping your upstairs neighbour won’t be strolling around in his flat.

My first ever sformato experience was given by this recipe. I think my Finnish herbs were slightly milder than the Italian ones (especially the marjoram) so next time I will probably double or triple their quantity. Whilst finding this dish quite tasty, I am still slightly baffled about its purpose. Apparently its uses are so versatile that the only proper classification for a sformato is “food”. For me, it anyway served as a light dinner.

Mushroom Sformato

Serves 6

700 g potatoes

600 g mushrooms (of any type)

50 g parmesan cheese, grated

200 g Provolone cheese, diced

1 sprig of marjoram, chopped

1 small bunch of parsley, chopped

1 garlic clove

2 eggs

salt to your taste

olive oil

Clean the potatoes and cook them in boiling water until tender (about 20 minutes). Let the cooked potatoes cool down. After that peel and mash them.

Clean the mushrooms and chop them into not-too-small slices. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the garlic clove and mushrooms. Cook the mushrooms for a few minutes unti browned.

Slice the Provolone cheese into small cubes. Add the cheese cubes, parmesan, herbs, eggs and mushrooms to the mashed potatoes. Stir well and add salt to your taste.

Take a rectangular narrow baking pan (used for e.g. making bread loaves). Alternatively you can use ramekins to create individual portions. Line the pan with a parchment paper, a pour the mixture into it. Bake in the oven at 180 Centigrades for 45 minutes until the sformato has turned a golden colour.

Toast to Success – Orecchiette al Limone

This pasta dish was recommended to me by a colleague of mine. He is a fellow Italy enthusiast and lent me the book “Oggi cucino io 4” which also included this recipe. It is a dish that can probably be categorised as the ultimate nightmare for many of today’s carb conscious people. Hence, if you happen to be one of them, please accept my apologies and skip this one. For the rest of you, I recommend you read on.

The secret of this recipe is in fact bread. Yes, combining bread with pasta isn’t exactly the most obvious thing to do but it works wonderfully. The toasted bread absorbs all the lovely flavours of lemon, garlic, chilli and fennel in a way that would probably be harder to achieve by sticking to just one carb (the pasta). However, the lemon I had was fairly small. I think, if you are into citrus flavours like I am, you can consider slightly increasing the amount of lemon in the recipe.

Finally, there is another apology to make (which also applies to my previous pasta post): I know that the pasta in the picture is not exactly orecchiette. Unfortunately the right type of pasta wasn’t available in my supermarket and this is the best substitute I could find. Mi scusate!

Orecchiette Pasta with Lemons

Serves 4

400 g orecchiette pasta (or similar…)

Juice of ½ lemon

Zest of ½ lemon

60 ml extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 fennel, sliced

60 g bread, diced

1 pinch of dried chilli flakes

60 g pecorino cheese, grated

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan at medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the fennel slices and let them soften for 5 minutes. Season with salt and lemon juice and transfer the mixture from the pan to a plate.

Toast the bread cubes in the same frying pan for 3-4 minutes until they are golden and crunchy. Return the fennel mixture into the pan and add the lemon zest and chilli flakes. Stir well and move the pan away from the hot stove. Cook the pasta in a sufficient amount of water with salt. Once al dente, drain the pasta and pour it into the frying pan. Transfer the pan back to the stove and cook for 1 minute at high heat by continuously stirring. Serve with the grated pecorino cheese.