The Heavy Weight Champion – Torta di Limone

As I think I mentioned earlier, in addition to my more and less successful cooking adventures in my own kitchen, I recently also took a series of Italian cooking classes. And I certainly learned a lot! Now I am more familiar with the culinary differences between different Italian regions and have a nice collection of fab recipes from many of them. I also discovered that with my limited patience I am not a big fan of making fresh pasta – at least if it doesn’t include any filling (poor effort/ added flavour ratio compared to nice dry pasta IMO). And to my utter amazement I concluded that my baking skills really are improvable!

In fact I might go as far as to suggest that I am finally over my trauma of torta della nonna as I think I now know what went wrong. When making a custard containing eggs/ egg yolks, you need at least 10-15 minutes of stirring it on a low heat for it to thicken. This same gem of information is needed with today’s recipe (one from my cooking classes): an Italian lemon pie. I have eaten different versions of this pie before and it has long been one of my favourites. I’m not even sure which country can actually claim to be the originator of this splendido concept of combining a hearty crust with a fresh lemon custard filling and a smooth meringue topping. However, I can safely say that this is certainly the best one out of the wonderful bunch of lemon pies that I have ever eaten.

The secrets of this recipe are very simple: gigantic quantities of butter and sugar. Yet due to the freshness of lemon, there is a lightness of flavour in this pie even though it probably contains more calories than… well, than you really care to think. On the other hand, although this pie tastes simply fantastic, it is so heavy that it is quite challenging to consume it without a considerable group of sweet teeth available. Hence, since my household is fairly limited in its size, the pie that I made this time ended up making quite an impressive and successful tour around Helsinki area by visiting five different locations before it was finally completely eaten..!

Lemon Pie

Serves: Many (depending on the size of their sweet teeth)

For the crust:

250 g flour

200 g butter

2 tbsp sugar

3 tbsp lemon juice

~1 tsp salt

For the custard:

6 egg yolks

125 g sugar

1 tbsp potato starch

150 g butter

2 tsp grated lemon zest

5 tbsp lemon juice

For the meringue topping:

6 egg whites

1 tbsp lemon juice

200 g sugar

salt

Combine the flour, 175 g butter, the sugar, the lemon juice and salt and stir until you have obtained a soft pastry. Leave it to rest for a half hour. On a floured surface, roll out the pastry to a circle about 0.5 cm thick. Move it into a pie dish/ mold so that the sides of the pastry are about 3 cm high. Melt the rest of the butter and pour it onto the pastry. Cover it with a piece of parchment paper and add some dried peas/ beans/ lentils on top of the paper. Bake in the oven at 200C for 15 minutes. Take the crust out of the oven and remove the parchment paper and the dried peas/ beans/ lentils. Return the crust into the oven and continue baking it for another ~10 minutes. Let it cool down.

Prepare the custard: mix the egg yolks with the potato starch and the sugar in a saucepan. Combine the butter (in small pieces), the lemon zest and lemon juice. Place the pan on a medium heat and stir continuously until the custard thickens (it can take 10-15 minutes). Remove it from the heat and once slightly cooled down, pour it onto the pie crust.

Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt and the lemon juice until you have obtained “soft peaks”. Add the sugar and continue whisking a little bit until the mixture is smooth and easy and firm enough to apply on top of the pie. Bake the pie in the oven at 225C for about 10 minutes until the meringue has obtained a golden colour.

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The Ancient Couple – Minestra di Zucca alla Milanese

The ancient Finns probably knew how to fight a bear with their bare hands, how to survive a freezing dark winter lasting 7 months (I have no idea how without the modern technology) and which berries and mushrooms are not poisonous to eat.

The ancient Italians – on the other hand – knew how to write a piece of literature classics, how to compose an opera and that a strong cheese and pumpkins make a fantastic culinary couple. I already concluded the same thing about pumpkins and cheese based on this Giorgione’s recipe a few months ago, and this traditional soup is another example why this love affair has been able to solidly withstand the lures of different foodie trends for centuries.

Another neat thing about this recipe is cooking pasta with (pumpkin) milk instead of water. The end result combined with parmesan and butter is a delicious, hearty soup fabulous during the colder months of the year. In fact, it would have also also a very fitting dish for those poor shivering Finns to warm up their hands still cold from the bear fight…

Milanese Pumpkin Soup

Serves 4

200 g pasta (small & short)

600 g pumpkin

600 ml whole milk

100 g grated parmesan

40 g butter salt (to your taste)

Peel the pumpkin, remove its seeds and slice it. Cook the pumpkin slices in a small amount of water until soft. Drain the pumpkins and blend them into a purée. In a kettle, bring the milk to a boil and add the pumpkin purée. Stir and season with salt. Add the pasta and cook the soup on a moderate heat (stirring frequently) until the pasta is cooked. Mix the butter and half of the parmesan into the soup. Serve immediately on soup dishes and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan cheese on top.