A Runner’s Delight – Pasta con Pesto di Zucchine Arrostite

As this is an Italian food blog, I have so far shared very little about my other passions in life. Well, at least, apart from hating the Finnish winter with a passion I suppose.

However, this time I can reveal that one of them is running. I love the endorfin rush, doses of fresh air and the feeling of just simply everything making more sense (and of being less grumpy about the most disastrous baking attempts) that you get by simply putting one shoe in front of the other.

I also participate in some half-marathon events every now and then, and even once went to a “running school” to prepare for them. In the school, I learned about this brilliant concept of “carb loading”: in the day or days before your running event, you try to stock up on carbohydrates to increase your body’s reserves for the long endurance work-out. It really is an Italian food lover’s dream, isn’t it? An order to eat as much pasta as you like. Ingenious. Well, ok, I do know that carb loading is a lot more relevant when getting ready for a full marathon. Yet I choose not to let that minor detail get in the way between me and my big bowl of pasta. And I still refuse to believe that pasta is bad for you. Just look at the nation full of happy Italians.

I completed one half-marathon just yesterday and hence dutifully did some serious carb loading the day before. I chose a recipe from a cook book called “Le ricette della prova del cuoco“. It turned out be at least as brilliant as the carb loading concept. You make a supertasty simple pesto sauce of roasted zucchini, pistachio, fresh mint and olive oil, and combine it with the pasta and parmesan. And naturalmente, you don’t have to be a runner to enjoy it – just look at the nation full of happy Italians!

Pasta with Roasted Zucchini

Serves 6

480 g (farfalle) pasta

500 g zucchini

40 g parmesan

60 g pistachios

fresh mint (to your taste)

1 bayleaf

olive oil

salt, pepper

Clean and peel the zucchini, and then cut them in half (lengthways). Place the halves on an oven tray covered with a parchment paper, and season them with salt, pepper and some olive oil. Bake them in the oven at 175C for at least 30 minutes and cool down.

Grate the parmesan. Boil the pistachios in hot water for three minutes (I skipped this step as I was using roasted and saltes pistachios), and once cooled down, peel them. In a blender, mix the pistachios and 50 ml olive oil. Add the roasted zucchini and continue blending. Finally add the fresh mint and again continue blending until you have achieved a nice pesto paste. Put the pesto sauce into a bowl and season it with the grated parmesan and salt (if needed).

Cook the pasta in salted water with the bayleaf. Combine the ready pasta with the pesto sauce and serve.

A Classic Twist – Banana Bread

There is one pastry that I remember having at almost every family gathering of my father’s side throughout my childhood: a banana cake. Apparently the recipe originated from a Canadian exchange student who visited my Dad’s family in the 1960s, and my relatives were hooked from the very first bite (or something like that – I wasn’t born yet)! It certainly is a nice cake although it is a bit hard to objectively rate a dessert that epitomizes your family coffee breaks of several decades, isn’t it?

I have never dared to try that recipe myself yet which – considering my very varying degrees of success when it comes to baking – may be a good idea. However, instead I found a neat, easy and baking-foolproof recipe with a nice Italian twist (i.e. ricotta) from Benedetta Parodi’s book Mettiamoci a cucinare. In this recipe, the softness and sweetness of the bananas is very nicely balanced with the freshness of the accompanying ricotta sauce and crunchiness of the walnuts. I have made this cake a few times now and even if it is yet to become a true family classic, it has also already won over fans of several generations!

Banana Bread

Serves 4-6

For the cake:

3 bananas

250 g flour

150 g sugar

100 g walnuts

80 g butter

75 g ricotta

2 eggs

1 small cup of coffee

½ tsp bicarbonate (of soda)

½ tsp cinnamon

a pinch of nutmeg

salt

For the sauce:

250 g ricotta

50 ml maple leaf syrup

Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl: The flour, sugar, bicarbonate, chopped walnuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a pinch of salt. In another bowl, squash the bananas and add and mix in the ricotta, eggs, butter and coffee. Combine the ingredients of the two bowls and stir moderately (the dough should be lumpy). Pour the dough into a narrow rectangular cake tin (buttered or lined with a parchment paper), and bake it in the oven at 180C for about half an hour. Prepare the accompanying sauce by mixing together the ricotta and maple leaf syrup. Serve the cake with the sauce.