Just Give Me a Season: Secondo – Zucchini Ripiene di Carne

As promised in my previous post, Cucina Fintastica’s special season series now continues with a superb secondo!

Today’s season star is zucchini. In Finland zucchini is quite underrated. According to Wikipedia, Finns eat about 0.5 kg of it every year. In Italy, it is indeed a very different story. It is an integral part of the Italian kitchen and according to some study in difficultish Italian, it is their second favourite (vegetable I presume) right after tomatoes.

So if you are a Finn, this recipe of stuffed zucchini (from the Cookaround site) is a very deserving candidate to eat your annual quota of zucchini! Who knows – you may actually even like it enough to increase it to 0.7 kg…

Zucchini Stuffed with Meat

Serves 4

4 zucchinis

200 g minced meat (pork in the receipe but I have used beef)

100 g parmesan, grated

1 egg

150 g mortadella

50 g prosciutto cotto (boiled ham)

2 pc (stale) bread

milk

4 tbsp olive oil

salt, pepper

Wash the zucchinis and cook them in boiling, lightly salted water for 5 minutes to soften them gently. Remove them from the water and cut each of them into half lengthways.

With a spoon, scoop out enough zucchini flesh to create some space for the stuffing.

Prepare the stuffing. Soak the dry bread in some milk to soften it. Cut the mortadella and prosciutto into small pieces. In a bowl, combine the minced meat, egg, parmesan, mortadella, soaked bread, salt and pepper. Stir well to obtain a homogeneous mixture.

Fill the zucchini halves with the stuffing. Place the zucchinis on an oven tray covered with a parchment paper (or oiled gently) and sprinkle with some additional grated parmesan.

Bake in the oven at 180C for about 30 minutes. The zucchinis are ready once the stuffing is cooked. Serve hot or warm.

 

Food for Moods – Cosce di Pollo al Limone

I have admitted earlier that I am not a winter person. At all. What I am even less, is a January person. I think January is the Monday of months. In this part of the world, it is criminally cold and terribly dark. There is nothing exciting happening as everyone is on a diet and just moping at home wearing wooly socks (apart from that sensible bunch who can elope Finland and head to a tropical country for a week or longer).

Well, ok. Views may be somewhat decent(ish) in January too.

Helsinki winter

Anyway – decent or not – on a more positive note, when the end of the month finally approaches, an anti-January person feels quite rejoiceful and festive. And obviously a celebration to welcome February should be accompanied by some fab Italian food.

My adventures in the Italian kitchen have already earlier made me renew my appreciation for chicken legs. This dish is another recipe to maintain that appreciation. It is also a brilliant all-rounder. It is flavoursome and fantastic for those February feasts but yet simple enough to also brighten the bluest of Mondays anytime of the year!

Chicken Legs with Lemon

Serves 4

4 chicken legs with thighs

1 garlic clove

1 glass of white wine

2 (organic) lemons

½ onion

rosemary (to your taste)

sage (to your taste)

6 tbsp olive oil

salt, pepper

Clean the chicken legs (if needed – in Helsinki they are usually quite clean without any leftover feathers). You can also remove the skin of the legs if you prefer a slightly lighter dish.

Peel and chop the onion. Wash the lemons and grate their zest. Squeeze the juice of the lemons into a cup.

In a pan, heat the olive oil with the rosemary, sage, chopped onion and (entire) garlic clove. Add the chicken legs and season with salt and pepper. Fry the legs for a few minutes to get some colour on them. Pour in the white wine and let it evaporate. Add the lemon juice. Cover the pan with a lid. Let the chicken legs cook on a low heat for approximately 45 minutes (until cooked). During the final minutes of cooking, add the lemon zest. Serve immediately.

New Wonders – Gratin di Pollo con Porcini E Radicchio di Campo in Salsa Carbonara

Happy New Year everyone!

2014 seems to have flown by and suddenly we have reached the mid-point of this decade. Amazing. What is quite baffling too is that in a few weeks Cucina Fintastica will celebrate its first birthday. I set up this blog with the initial target of challenging myself to complete three posts. Almost a year later, not only is the amount of posts 15-fold but I also possess a widened range of cooking skills (learnt both the easy and hard way), an impressive library of Italian cook books (ok, five to be exact but still…), and a renewed optimism in my abilities to actually bake a cake (apart from that stupid torta della nonna that is).

Anyway, as I mentioned in my previous post, this week I had the intention of looking into the Italian New Year’s traditions. I actually hosted a little New Year’s party, and was obviously keen to utilise the fabulous wisdom of the Italian kitchen in my menu. I did make this salad and tested some nice spinach and goat cheese pastries from “Le ricette della prova del cuoco” but didn’t find any must-haves to prepare for exactly New Year.

Now that I am in a bit less of a hurry and have the time to actually sit down when searching for recipes, I can see that there would have been at least one thing not to miss: lentils. Apparently having lentils (symbolising money) on New Year’s Eve should be auspicious for your finances for the coming year. I suppose I hence can’t expect Cucina Fintastica (nor my real career nor any attempts at lottery) to take the world by storm this year either. Well, at least I’ll know better the next time.

According to Google, there are also some other interesting New Year’s traditions in Italy. One of the most worrying kind is throwing old plates and glasses out of windows at midnight. In today’s Italy this habit is not quite as widespread as earlier but anyway be warned to take a helmet with you if you ever happen to visit Italy at this time of the year. Or obviously you can always consider changing your travel destination to a nice city where windows remain firmly closed in Dec/ Jan, such as Helsinki.

It seems that I have now managed to almost complete this post by writing about things that have absolutely nothing to do with today’s dish… It is in fact another fantastic recipe from Bruno Barbieri’s book “Via Emilia, via da casa“. By just looking at the list of its ingredients, you know you can’t go wrong with it. And believe me you certainly won’t. So what better way to start off your culinary year?

Chicken Gratin with Mushrooms And Wild Rocket (Rucola) in Carbonara Sauce

Serves 4

For the carbonara sauce

150 g smoked pancetta

50 g butter

1 egg yolk

parmesan cheese

1 liqueur glass of water

Splash of cognac

For the gratin

2 chicken breasts

4 handfuls of wild rocket

3 (porcini) mushrooms

100 g parmesan

1 bay leaf

1 sprig of rosemary

2 garlic cloves

olive oil

Cut the pancetta ham into small cubes. Fry them in a pan with the butter for a few minutes. Add the cognac and let it evaporate. Remove the pan from the heat and once cooled down, add a mixture of the egg yolk and the water. The sauce (that you hence make) should not be too thick. If it thickens too much, pour into the sauce a little bit more water or a few drops of vegetable stock. Move the sauce to a heat-resistant (gratin) dish and cover it with the grated parmesan.

Clean and slice the mushrooms. Move them to a pan and cook them with a crushed garlic clove, the bay leaf and some olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and continue cooking the mushrooms for another few minutes.

Cut the chicken breasts into cubes. Fry them in a pan on a high heat with some olive oil, the other garlic clove and the rosemary for 3-4 minutes stirring continuously.

Add the chicken cubes on top of the carbonara sauce in the gratin dish, and then the rocket leaves. Sprinkle the dish with the grated parmesan, add a trickel of olive oil, salt and pepper, and finally a knobs of butter. Bake in grill for some minutes.

Serve the chicken with the mushrooms.

The Incredible Ingredients – Trota alla Quinoa

I have probably stated this already before but making Italian dishes from Italian recipes really is also a part-time adventure when it comes to food shopping. Sometimes my attempts here in Helsinki are more successful and sometimes less. I am not sure into which category my latest trial falls (another recipe from the October edition of “La Cucina Italiana“).

My first part of the shopping adventure for this recipe took place in the vegetable section of a supermarket. It was my first time buying endives although I had eaten them before. I spent some sweaty minutes trying to locate them until I discovered that – for some horticultural reasons beyond me – somebody had given a complicated Finnish name for them (I thought the right word would be about the same as in English). Fortunately I was saved by the label of their package which was in English. However, I still don’t remember what the proper, mysterious Finnish word for endives was.

The next challenge was the fish. Although trout is actually one of the few species of fish that can be found in both Italy and Helsinki, it is still not widely available in all supermarkets here. This was also the case in the store that I visited but after consulting its fishmonger, we agreed that salmon was the best substitute available, and I think it did quite a nice job.

Finally, I was scratching my head when trying to understand the sort of quinoa listed for this dish (“soffiata”). My favourite on-line dictionary translated the word “soffiare” as “to blow” with examples such as to blow one’s nose. As preparing the quinoa through my nostrils didn’t exactly sound like one of the most appetizing (and grown-up) ideas, I resorted to just cooking the quinoa as instructed on its package before covering the fish with it. Now that I am less hungry (i.e. have more patience to Google things a bit more thoroughly), I learned that in fact the right translation is “puffed quinoa” which apparently can be bought as such but can also be made at home in a similar way to popcorn.

However, even if I failed to properly source two of the listed ingredients, I had a lovely meal at a little effort! I think I will definitely try this again though with that properly popped quinoa – as well as an English-Finnish dictionary to ensure I rediscover those endives!

Trout with quinoa

Serves 4

500 g trout fillets (without skin)

500 g lettuce

500 g endives

40 g puffed quinoa

1 spring onions

thyme

olive oil

salt, pepper

Cut the trout fillet into large slices. Season them with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, pepper and chopped thyme leaves. Roll the slices in the puffed quinoa and place them on an oven tray (covered with a parchment paper). Bake at 200C for ca. 10 minutes.

In the meantime, chop the spring onion, lettuce and endives. Cook them on a pan with a splash of olive oil, salt and pepper on a high heat for 5 minutes. Serve with the trout.

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:

IMG_2122

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.

The Underrated Legs – Cosce di Pollo con i Gelsi

Some things in this world – such as 80s shoulder pads, most of the Finnish Eurovision Song contestants, the English weather and my baking skills – are left without much recognition for understandable reasons.

Yet there are also some things whose lack of appreciation is more unfortunate.

Take chicken legs for example. For years, I have seen everyone praise the qualities of chicken breasts and they are a part of every street-credible athlete’s and nutritionist’s diet. However, Italian recipes have now taught me that by eliminating the fat and bones of your chicken, you also eliminate the possibility to add more flavour to your dish. Chicken legs are also relatively inexpensive. Thus, I would dare to suggest that they are the underrated (but hopefully rising) stars of today’s kitchens!

This chicken leg recipe originates from Giogione’s book (Giorgione – Orto e Cucina). Giorgione hasn’t defined the exact quantities for some ingredients of this dish. Fortunately I was not as unlucky as the last time when experimenting with a bit vague recipe, and this secondo turned out great and tasty. However, I think the next time I will consider adding a bit less olive oil and more wine and herbs to increase the flavour even more.

Chicken Legs with Mulberries

7 slices of bacon (I left these out as I don’t eat bacon…)

7 chicken legs with thighs

2 handfuls of black mulberries

white wine

black pepper

salt

1 bunch of rosemary

1 sage leaf (or several if you use less strong Finnish ones…)

olive oil

Mix together some salt, pepper, white wine, olive oil, the rosemary and sage and pour the marinade onto the chicken legs. Leave to rest for some time.

Oil an oven tin. Take one chicken leg at a time, roll it once more well in the marinade, wrap one slice of bacon around the leg and place it in the oven tin. Keep the leftover marinade for later use. Bake the bacon-wrapped (or without bacon as I did) chicken legs in the oven at 180C for 30 minutes.

Add the mulberries, some more white wine and a little bit of additional olive oil and salt to the leftover marinade, and mix gently. Leave to rest while the chicken legs are in the oven.

After the first 30 minutes of baking the chicken legs, take them out, and pour the mulberry sauce onto them. Cover the oven tin with aluminium foil and return the chicken legs to the oven for another 30 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.

Flour Power – Pollo al Sugo di Carciofi e Profumo d’Arancia

Only after just writing the title of this post, did I realise what a complicated name this recipe has! It alone hinders any attempts for this dish to become such a worldwide hit as spaghetti alla carbonara or panna cotta although in terms of flavour and simplicity it would certainly deserve its share of recognition outside the Italian borders. Maybe I’d better have a word about this with the editor of Cucina Moderna (from which this recipe originates). Or maybe the name is in fact a clever strategy to keep this chicken dish an Italian national top secret? If it is, I am now sharing it with the rest of the world anyway, ha!

Errr, anyway, there were a few other slightly more relevant things to point out about this secondo… One of its key ingredients is artichoke. I am quite a fan of the vegetable although I have never really used it in my cooking before (an occasional pizza topping from a tin doesn’t really count in my book). This time my plan was to buy them fresh and learn how to chop them properly. However, after discovering that a couple of fresh artichokes in my supermarket cost nearly as much as a three-course meal in Italy (ok, I may be exaggerating slightly although Helsinki is expensive…), I bought some frozen and more reasonably priced Italian artichokes instead. They were certainly quite handy to use although on a negative side, the art of preparing fresh artichokes hence still remains a bit of a mystery for me.

What I did learn though, was the trick of using flour with your chicken. I have never been a very big fan of schnitzels, chicken nuggets and other fried food. However, in this case the amount of both flour and oil is quite moderate compared to those deep-fried calorie kings. Yet, the flour covering the chicken slices helps them gain more flavour by absorbing the beautiful aromas of artichokes, oranges and lemon. Thus, that is the secret power of flour!

Chicken with Artichoke and Orange Sauce

Serves 4

500 g sliced chicken breast

4 artichokes (fresh or frozen)

2 dl milk

40 g grated parmesan

2 slices of orange zest

1 sprig of mint

½ lemon

30 g flour

40 g butter

extravirgin olive oil

salt, pepper

Clean the artichokes (if you are using fresh ones) and chop them into slices and dip them in water with the lemon juice. Melt 20 g of the butter in a pan and add the artichokes. Cook gently for 5 minutes with the orange zest (if you are using frozen artichokes, you can add the lemon juice at this point). Season with salt and pepper, add the milk and continue cooking for about ten minutes (fresh artichokes)/ a few minutes (frozen artichokes) until the artichokes are very soft. Mix one of the artichokes, the sauce and the grated parmesan in a blender, and pour the sauce onto the remaining artichokes.

Cover the chicken slices with the flour (if the fillets of chicken breast are very thick, you can first beat them with a kitchen hammer to make them thinner and then slice and add the flour). Heat some olive oil (~1-2 table spoons) and the remaining butter in a pan and fry the chicken slices for about 5 minutes by stirring occasionally until cooked. Add the artichoke sauce, the mint and season with salt and pepper and let the dish gather flavour for an additional 2-3 minutes. Serve with e.g. mashed potatoes, rise or pasta of your choice.

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.