The Secret Agent – Parmigiana di Zucchine e Mozzarella

There are many secrets to making a fabulous dish. Sometimes it is gigantic quantities of butter and sugar. Sometimes it is the skill of combining just the right and right amounts of ingredients. Sometimes it is just pure luck (at least in my case). And sometimes it is not even about the dish but the fantastic company that also makes the food taste perfect.

I have also noticed that there are some ingredients that bring out the flavours of the other ingredients of a recipe and skillfully complement them in a subtle way. These hidden heroes often make the significant difference between ok and splendid. Salt is obviously one of them as well as lemon and garlic. In the Italian kitchen, the secret of many recipes is often anchovy as is the case also in this parmigiana (from the March 2015 issue of Cucina Moderna).

Obviously when the main ingredients of the recipe are zucchini, mozzarella and tomatoes, you know that there is little risk of a kitchen disaster (unless you forget the dish in the oven – so please don’t) but it is the anchovy that takes the dish onto a level of a kitchen bliss!

Zucchini and mozzarella parmigiana

Serves 5

1 kg zucchini

200 g mozzarella

200 g crushed tomatoes

4 fillets of anchovy in oil

1 (small) bunch of basil

½ garlic clove

1 tbsp chopped onion

olive oil, peanut oil

Cut the mozzarella into thin slices and the zucchini into a bit thicker ones. Fry the zucchini in a pan with some hot peanut oil for 1 minute until they begin to brown. Place the fried slices on paper towels and gently season them with salt.

Heat some olive oil in a pan. Add the onion, chopped garlic clove and anchovy fillets and gently cook them for a few minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, some (a sufficient quantity) basil and continue cooking on a meidum heat for some minutes. While cooking, stir the sauce frequently to ensure the anchovy dissolves into it.

Grease an oven dish with some olive oil. Fill the dish with layers of 1) zucchini and basil, 2) mozzarella and 3) the tomato sauce. The final two top layers should be zucchini and mozzarella. Bake in the oven at 200C for 20 minutes. After that switch off the heat of your oven and let the dish stay in the oven for another 5 minutes before serving.

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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).

Summer in the City – Pomodori al Tonno

Continuing my list of things that I appreciate about the Italian kitchen, I have to mention their understanding of the seasonality of different ingredients. Obviously me being a Finn, it doesn’t yet mean that I always follow this thinking.

I had some leftover mayonnaise in my fridge and decided to try this recipe that according to its source is “ideal for the summer season”.  Ok, so the Finnish greenhouse tomatoes at this time of the year may bear little other resemblance to their summer (or Italian) versions than the colour red but the tasty stuffing of this recipe reasonably well makes up for what the winter tomatoes may lack in flavour. However, I think I will definitely prepare this dish also during the season officially approved by Italians, and might even take them (the tomatoes, not the Italians) with me to a summer picnic!

The tomatoes are quite filling so we had some to spare for the following day, and it seemed that they got even tastier over night. As mayonnaise can be a bit heavy, I am also thinking of substituting some of it with yoghurt to make it slightly lighter and fresher the next time.

Originally I was planning to use the recipe from the book “Oggi cucino io 4” but I ended up also partially utilizing this.

Tuna-stuffed Tomatoes

Serves 6

8 round, ripe tomatoes

350 g tuna in oil, crumbled with a fork

200 g mayonnaise

4 hard boiled eggs

6 anchovy fillets, finely chopped

2 tablepoons capers in vinegar, drained, one half finely chopped, the other half without chopping

2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped

16 basil leaves, in small pieces

salt, pepper

Cut away the top of each tomato, and scrape out the seeds of the tomatoes with a spoon. Turn the tomatoes upside down and leave them to drain on a plate. In the meantime, peel the eggs and cut them into small pieces. In a bowl, combine the mayonnaise with the tuna. Add the capers, the anchovies, the eggs and the herbs, and mix well until you have a smooth(ish) paste. Season with salt and pepper. Fill the tomatoes with the paste and put them in the fridge for at least an hour before serving.