Fresh Thoughts – Gnocchi di Ricotta

Cucina Fintastica is about to reach its 5th anniversary. Time certainly flies! My activity as a blogger has had its ups and downs (as have my kitchen adventures – not to mention baking). However, my passion and excitement for cooking has remained constant throughout this time and the number of Italian recipes I have tried during the past five years is probably at least two-fold compared to the number of posts on Cucina Fintastica.

A lot has happened also in the background since January 2014. My kitchen is bigger. A friend with a camera has been replaced by a husband with a camera. There are also some smaller mouths (and hopefully budding fans of Italian kitchen) to feed.

In addition, I have learned a lot! I have become acquainted with all sorts of Italian dishes, many Italian cheeses and even some vegetables. My Italian skills are ever improving (well, slowly but surely). There are also quite a few neat kitchen tricks that I have discovered from my Italian sources.

Kitchen ups and downs teach you about yourself too. I admit now that I will never be a brilliant baker (which never stops me from going for yet another – more or less ill-fated –  attempt to become one anyway). I have also become semi-addicted to fresh home-made pasta.

I think among my first posts, I stated that fresh pasta needs to be stuffed to be worth the effort. I have definitely changed my mind about that… Suddenly making gnocchi on a weekday doesn’t seem that bad and ridiculously time-consuming at all. Or you just can’t imagine eating your ragu without home-made tagliatelle.

For a weekday inspiration of fresh pasta, today’s recipe is a sensible choice. You don’t need to cook any potatoes or similar first but you only mix the ingredients of the gnocchi to create the dough, The result is definitely not any less delicious than a potato version but maybe even more. The gnocchi are supersoft and tasty! I have used this recipe for the gnocchi and this for the basic tomato sauce (although today I added some fresh tomatoes for extra flavour).

Ricotta Gnocchi

Serves 4

For the gnocchi

250 g ricotta

150 g (00) flour

1 egg

50 g parmesan (grated)

Nutmeg

Salt

For the tomato sauce

500 g tomato sauce (passata di pomodoro)

3 tbsp olive oil

1 garlic clove

Salt

6 basil leaves

If you are not in a hurry, start with the tomato sauce. In a pan, heat the olive oil. Add the entire garlic clove (i.e. not crushed not chopped) and gently fry for a few minutes. Pour in the tomato sauce and season with salt. Cover the pan with the lid and cook on a low hear for at least 30 minutes stirring occasionally.

In the meantime, prepare the gnocchi. Mix all ingredients together to make a dough. Divide the dough into 2-3 parts. On a floured surface, roll each part to a “tube” about 2-3 cm thick. Cut each tube into small pieces that are about 2 cm wide. Use a fork and your thumb to create gnocchi of each piece (you can find some good pictures how to do this e.g. here. In a kettle, bring several liters of water to a boil. Add some salt. Cook the gnocchi for 2-3 minutes in the water. The gnocchi float on water when they are cooked.

Season your tomato sauce with the basil leaves and serve with the gnocchi.

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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.

Pretty Perfect in Pink – Farfalle Fucsia di Ugo Tognazzi

In general, I do my best to be an open-minded and tolerant person. Yet I have to admit one thing: despite quite a significant number of years of us trying to bear each other, me and the Finnish winter just don’t get along. I do enjoy a white Christmas as much as everyone else but six months of temperatures below +5C is simply criminal.

Fortunately spring is now just around the corner! And this time I found a perfect recipe to celebrate that. It is from a cook book called “Mettiamoci a cucinare” by Benedetta Parodi. The idea of this cook book is quite neat as it is organised in three different main sections: 1) “Today I have little time”, 2) “Today I make an effort”, and 3) “Today I want to impress”. This recipe is from the impressive part but it is still simple enough for you to prepare even on a regular weekday if you are feeling as festive about the upcoming season as I am! The ingredients are simple but they cooperate in a fabulous harmony (think opposite of my relationship with the Finnish winter). The sweetness and softness of the beetroot and onion is complemented by the cream and parmesan, and balanced by the acidity of lemon and white wine. In addition, the pink colour of the dish is quite lovely even though my iPhone snap doesn’t do it enough justice!

Fuchsia Farfalle of Ugo Tognazzi

Serves 4-6

400 g farfalle pasta

2 cooked beetroots

250 ml cream

1 onion

1 glass of white wine

3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese

juice of ½ lemon

basil

30 g butter

5 tbsp olive oil

salt, pepper

Chop the onion and fry it gently with the butter and olive oil in a pan. Add the wine and let it evaporate a bit. Cut the beetroots into cubes and add them to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and continue cooking the mixture for a few minutes. Pour the contents of the pan into a blender and mix them with the cream to obtain a lovely pink/ fuchsia and creamy texture. Cook the pasta. Return the beetroot cream to the pan with the lemon juice and shortly heat it. Remove the pan from the heat and add the pasta and parmesan. Serve with fresh basil.

Baking on the Edge – Torta di Pomodoro

It was bound to be una grande catastrofe. I was really asking for trouble. And yet somehow I managed to pull it off.

It all started on a stormy late-summer evening when I made the daring promise to be responsible for a lunch of four people on the following Saturday. Without a moment of hesitation, I immediately knew what I had to do: to bake a pie.

Yes, many could have told me that this decision was ill-advised and potentially of the most disastrous consequences. But even if they had, I would have stubbornly ignored their well-meaning pleas to stop when I still could as I had a vision. A vision of the perfect tomato pie (well, at least edible) as described in the book “Le Ricette della Prova del Cuoco”.

I was on a mission. I was unstoppable. There were admittedly many obstacles on my course. I had to fight my way to the ripest cherry tomatoes. I sweet-talked my cake tin into accommodating several pieces of parchment paper. I patiently guided the cherry tomatoes to relinquish their excess liquid in a pan. I persuaded the dough to get a good grip of the parchment papers to form a crust of the right shape. I bravely shedded no tears (ok, maybe a few but not many) when realising I lacked the dry beans required to be placed on the crust for the first phase of baking it in the oven.

And yes, the crust behaved impeccably, the filling was soft, creamy and tasty, and the lunch arrived at the table on time.

Mission accomplished.

Tomato Pie

Serves 6-8

For the crust:

300 g flour

1 tbsp cream

1 glass whole milk

pinch of salt

pinch of baking soda

For the filling:

500 g cherry tomatoes

1 garlic clove

basil to your taste

1 tbsp olive oil

salt, pepper

For the sauce:

25 g flour

25 g butter

100 ml cream

150 ml whole milk

100 g parmesan, grated

salt, pepper

For the crust, quickly mix all the ingredients in a bowl to create smooth dough. Store the dough in a fridge for 30 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the filling. Cut the cherry tomatoes into four slices each. In a pan, gently fry the garlic clove until golden. Remove the pan from the heat and add the tomatoes and salt and pepper to your taste. Cook at strong heat until the most of the excess liquid of the tomatoes has evaporated (it took about 10-15 minutes for me). Season to your taste with the basil.

Prepare the sauce. Melt the butter in a pan and stir in the flour. In another pan, heat the cream and the milk. Add the butter and the flour and stir continuously until the sauce has thickened and obtained a creamy texture. Season with salt and pepper and remove the pan from the heat. Add the grated parmesan and mix well.

Roll out the dough into a round with a rolling pin (the diameter should be some centimetres longer than your cake/ pie tin). Line your cake tin with parchment paper (including the base). Place the rolled out crust into the tin. Add some dry but slightly oiled beans on top of the crust (if you have some; don’t panic if you don’t, you can manage without too..!), and bake the crust in the oven at 180C for 15-20 minutes. Remove the beans from the crust, add the tomato filling and finally pour the parmesan sauce on top. Bake in the oven at 180C for another 10-15 minutes.