Cold Chocolate – Torta al Cioccolato

Some days are perfect for cooking. Whereas some certainly not.

Today is one of the latter. I have a terrible cold and a congested nose and feel like just sitting on my couch and being grumpy. Hence I decided to skip cooking this evening and go for a Chinese take-away instead. I had never tried my local Chinese restaurant earlier and I think it is somewhat unlikely that I will do that again in the near future. The place was completely empty and almost as soon as I had placed my order, I could hear the sound of a microwave oven humming in the background. And I’m quite certain that the food I got would be considered some kind of a criminal offense at least in Italy.

So today is definitely not about culinary experiences. However, I can browse my new Italian cookbook (by an Italian celebrity chef called Bruno Barbieri), and reminisce about earlier successful baking projects (yes, I think I can use plural by now) in my kitchen.

One of them is this fantastically easy yet delizioso chocolate cake that I made a few weeks ago. I got its recipe from “Le Ricette della Prova del Cuoco“. I served the cake with some vanilla ice cream although it is quite fab also on its own. Hmmm, in fact, this cake is so nice that I am sure that it is bound to have medicinal qualities. Maybe I should consider baking today after all..?

Chocolate Cake

Serves 6

125 g dark chocolate

100 g butter

100 g sugar

4 eggs

40 g flour

salt

Melt the chocolate together with the butter, 70 g sugar and a pinch of salt in a bain marie (i.e. a water bath/ double-boiler).

Combine three egg whites with the remaining sugar and whisk them until stiff.

Remove the chocolate mixture from the heat, add three egg yolks and one entire egg and stir for a few minutes. Add the flour (sieved) and the beaten egg whites. Mix with a spoon gently until you have a uniform batter. Pour the mixture into a cake tin (greased and floured or lined with a parchment paper) and bake in the oven at 180C for about 20 minutes (when there are cracks on the surface, the cake is ready).

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The Seafoodie – Linguine con le Seppie

If I had to name my favourite dish in the entire world, an Italian seafood pasta would certainly be among the top 3 candidates. Our love affair dates back to the 90s when I visited Lake Garda and had the most perfect plate of spaghetti ai frutti di mare.

I have tried to imitate the experience in my kitchen over the years. During the pre-Italian skills but post Lake Garda period, I fine-tuned my own version of spaghetti ai frutti di mare to a fairly pleasant one. Now that I am able to read the authentic recipes, I think I can safely say that Italians should not be deeply insulted by my interpretation either! Obviously I would need my own aquarium for an equally fantastic dish as in Italy since the amount of fresh seafood available in Finland is as limited as my baking skills at best. However, the frozen substitutes do serve as decent(ish) first aids for the most acute frutti di mare cravings – and as a bonus, are slightly cheaper than catching a flight to Milan.

I have usually used a frozen seafood mix but this time wanted to try squid. I found this recipe with fresh squid. It sounded quite fast and easy to make – yet the package of my frozen squid advised me to cook the squids for more than hour. As I get enough extreme experiences in my kitchen when baking, I did not feel I needed the additional excitement of potential food poisoning. Hence I decided to follow the instructions of my package. Googling this now, it seems that this contradiction wasn’t actually a case of stomach security but rather due to the fact that “Squid must either be cooked very quickly or for a very long time, otherwise it will be tough.” (BBC Food). Time is also a good friend of tomatoes which are cooked with the squid for the entire time.

All in all, this dish did a fantastic job at keeping this seafoodie satisfied for some time. However, I’m afraid it was less successful at keeping my dreams about those Milan flights at bay..!

Linguine with Squid

Serves 4

1 package of frozen squid

1-2 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped

1 small onion, chopped

fresh parsley, chopped

1 glass of dry white wine

400 g chopped tomatoes (1 tin)

olive oil

salt, pepper

320 g linguine

Thaw the squid, and rinse them with water, dry and finally slice them.

Heat some olive oil in a pan. Add the onion, garlic and parsley and cook for a few minutes. Add the squid and stir and cook for 5 minutes  Pour the white wine into the mixture and let it evaporate a bit. Add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper to your taste. Cover the pan with a lid and let the sauce cook slowly at a low heat for 75 minutes.

Cook the linguine in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and combine them with the sauce and add some fresh parsley. Serve immediately.

The Zone Call – Mini Calzoni al Forno

Even though – for understandable reasons – a bulk of my food-related reading tends to be in Italian these days, I do use some publications in other languages for culinaristic inspiration as well. One of them is a Finnish foodie magazine called “Glorian ruoka ja viini”. Obviously it doesn’t really qualify as a proper source for Cucina Fintastica – the magazine being in Finnish and all. However, the latest issue included a recipe for mini calzones that looked so delicious that I just had to find a loophole.

My sneaky strategy was to utilise this recipe for the dough and the recipe from my Finnish magazine only for the filling. In addition, I experimented with another filling of my own as I had some funnel chanterelles in stock. Both of them worked quite nicely! The pizza dough I used this time also required less kneading and time to rise than the other Italian ones I have tried earlier.

To my own amazement, I currently seem to be on a winning streak when it comes to baking (knocking on wood…) as I have been moving from one success to the next recently. Maybe I should start filling in applications for the Great Finnish Bake-Off after all… Well, maybe not.

Mini Calzones in Oven

For the dough (of ~20 pc):

300 ml warm water

500 g flour + some extra for kneading and rolling out the dough

25 g fresh yeast

10 g salt

1 tsp sugar

Filling 1 (for ~10-15 calzones):

5 dl kale, chopped

2 garlic cloves

½ dl olive oil

200 g goat cheese

½ dl parmesan, grated

1 tl salt

pepper

100 g sour cream

Filling 2 (for ~10 calzones):

3 dl mushrooms (e.g. funnel chanterelles)

1 onion

olive oil/ butter

½ dl parmesan, grated

½ dl gruyere cheese, grated

salt, pepper

100 g sour cream

Start by preparing the pizza dough. Mix the yeast in one half of the warm water and add the sugar. Stir well. Measure the flour into a bowl. Make a little hole in the middle of the flour and pour the yeast water into it.

Mix the salt with the other half of the warm water in another bowl and add the olive oil. Combine the mixture with the flour and yeast water. Knead until you have obtained a smooth and elastic consistency. Add some flour as much as needed while kneading (at least my dough was quite wet in the beginning). Cover the bowl with a towel and leave the dough to rise for at least 3 hours in a warm place.

Prepare the fillings. Remove the kale leaves from the thick stems and chop them. Peel, crush and slice the garlic cloves. Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the kale leaves and garlic cloves. Cook at medium heat for 3-4 minutes, remove the pan from the stove and add the goat cheese (in crumbles). Add the grated parmesan and season with salt and pepper.

Clean and slice the mushrooms of your choice. Peel and chop the onion. Heat the olive oil/ butter in a pan and add first the onion and after a few minutes the mushrooms. Cook until the excess liquid of the mushrooms has evaporated. Remove the pan from the heat and add the grated parmesan and gruyere and season to your taste.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough to a block that is about 2 mm thick (I rolled out one half of the dough first due to limitations of my kitchen space…). Use a mold (a diameter of 10 – 15 cm) to separate round pieces of the flat dough. Save the excess dough for later use. Spread some sour cream onto one half of each round. Add a spoonful or two of the filling of your choice on top of the sour cream. Fold the clean half of each calzone on top of the one with the filling to create “half moons”. Press and seal each half moon tightly from the sides (you can check out the impressive fork technique of Giallo Zafferano here). Roll out the excess dough and repeat the aforementioned steps until you have used it entirely.

Sprinkle the calzones lightly with some olive oil and bake them in the oven at 230C for 10-15 minutes. Serve warm (although they do taste quite pleasant also a bit colder!).

Appetizing Aperitivo

When traveling in Italy this summer, I discovered the very pleasant Italian version of aperitifs. Unlike in Finland (and in many other countries where I have traveled) an aperitif in Italy often includes a nice little – or sometimes not so little – buffet of food to accompany your drink. And it can be quite reasonably priced too. E.g. in a trendy bar in Bologna, I only needed to pay 1 € extra in addition to my drink to get a plate for the buffet table. So in short, this aperitif concept certainly is one more thing to love about Italy!

Inspired my fond summer memories I put together a little aperitivo of my own for four people last weekend. Admittedly, a street-credible blogger would have included a picture of the actual drinks in her post. However, in this case of a thirsty blogger, it will suffice to say that I made some Aperol Spritzes to all of us (and if you don’t know them yet for some reason, google them…).

Foodwise my interpretation of an aperitivo consisted of:

  • Nice green olives (marinated by my supermarket, not me)
  • Focaccia alla genovese: I am very proud to report that this time I managed to make this bread record thick (at least 0.5 cm thicker than ever before!). Yet I found it a bit too oily so I won’t share the recipe I used. But maybe the next time I’ll nail it at even another 0.5 cm thicker…
  • “Mini caprese”: I got the idea for this originally from Italian Elle. It is a fool proof combination of mozzarella, tomatoes and basil with a nice aperitif style presentation!
  • Insalata di avocado con gamberetti: I think shrimp cocktails were the epitome of elegance in the Finnish dinner parties in the 1980s and this dish reminded me of them in a nice retro kind of way. I found it also surprising how well walnuts worked with shrimps, avocado and celery. The recipe suggested that you utilise the avocado shells for presentation but I preferred to use some Finnish design instead!

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Shrimp and Avocado Salad

Serves 4

2 avocados

200 – 300 g frozen and peeled shrimp

4 celery ribs

10 walnuts

10 g ketchup

20 g mayonnaise

4 lettuce leaves

lemon juice

Unfreeze the shrimp and cut them into 2-3 pieces each. Halve the avocados, remove the pits and carve out the avocado flesh. Cut the avocado flesh into smallish cubes and sprinkle them with some lemon juice. Clean the celery ribs and slice them into cubes. Chop the walnuts and mix them together with the shrimp, avocados and celery.

Combine the mayonnaise with the ketchup to create a dressing. Stir it into the mixture of shrimp and vegetables. Divide the salad into four portions for serving. Take one lettuce leaf for each portion, place it in a dish of your choice (or an empty avocado shell if you prefer) and add a portion of the salad on top of it.

The Pumpkin Challenge – Zucca al Forno con Caprino

Pumpkins are not really traditionally part of the Finnish kitchen whereas they play an important role in the Italian diet – especially during autumn and winter time. Fortunately for a Finnish wanna-be nonna such as myself, pumpkins are widely available in today’s Helsinki.

Yet that does not solve another traditional challenge with pumpkins. Also this time when making this recipe (another one of my friend Giorgione), I started to consider investing in a chainsaw or possibly a pet beaver at this point:

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I am also quite happy that I chose those Italian grannies as my culinary role models rather than American ones (I don’t think I would survive any Halloween with my carving skills…). This time, I did finally manage to halve the pumpkin with my kitchen knife after some considerable effort. And once having two halves to slice instead of the entire vegetable, things got a lot easier as I could really lean onto the knife without worrying about losing a finger or two in the process.

Apart from the initial pumpkin challenge, this dish is quite easy to prepare – and certainly worth the sweat in the beginning! As Giorgione also writes, the acidity of the goat cheese and sweetness of the pumpkin pair superbly. I also quite liked the extra twist that the Pecorino Romano cheese brought to the combination. Unfortunately I couldn’t get Italian caprini freschi in the supermarkets but a French chevre did an excellent job as a substitute. However, I am now planning to do a little trip to the Helsinki market halls to investigate if they could offer a bit broader range of Italian cheeses!

Oven-baked Pumpkin with Goat Cheese

400 g pumpkin

400 g caprini freschi or other goat cheese

Pecorino Romano

olive oil

salt, pepper

Break/ cut the goat cheese into small pieces. Add some grated Pecorino Romano, black pepper and a little bit of olive oil. Leave to rest while preparing the pumpkin.

Halve the pumpkin (with a kitchen knife, pet beaver or another power tool of your choice) and remove the seeds. You can keep the seeds and toast them for another use. Cut the pumpkin into some chunks, place them on an oven tray with parchment paper and bake them in the oven at 200C for 20 minutes. After cooking, peel the pumpkin chunks carefully and slice them into smaller pieces. Season with salt and pepper and combine with the goat cheese mixture. Serve warm or cold as an antipasto or secondo.