A Lesson Learnt (& Rhubarb Burnt) – Insalata Mista con Rabarbaro E Caprino

I have always felt a special affinity with Italy and Italians although I have no Italian roots myself. One of the reasons for this is probably that I possess traits stereotypically considered Italian. Such as impatience.

Sometimes impatience can actually be good as it enables you to constantly seek ways to do things more efficiently. And sometimes impatience can be very bad. For instance when you are trying a new recipe and reading it a bit haphazardly. Some dishes and cooking techniques are more forgiving for an occasional slip of attention whereas some are definitely not. Baking is certainly one of the most brutal kinds in this sense. You miss one little ingredient or step and suddenly you have a disaster instead of a lovely pie in your kitchen.

Yesterday I learnt that caramelization is another example of these less relaxed types. I missed one word of a recipe and managed to make something resembling charcoal for Barbie’s barbecue rather than a rhubarb topping for my salad. Fortunately this time – in addition to spare rhubarb – I had a more capable “sous chef” at my disposal who kindly and more patiently showed me what was supposed to be done. (Just in case you are wondering, Barbie’s charcoal is on the left below.)

Rhubarbs

A nice thing about this wonderful salad recipe is that it is quite easy and quick to prepare – as long as you follow the sous chef technique for caramelization instead of the charcoal one! Goat cheese and sweet flavours obviously work well together but walnuts also complement the nutty flavour of caramelization brilliantly, and the acidity of rhubarb balances the richness and sweetness of the other ingredients just superbly.

Goat Cheese And Rhubarb Salad

60 g butter

4 tbsp sugar

100 g rhubarb (leaf stalks)

3 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp sweet mustard

salt, pepper

200 g mixed lettuce leaves

50 g goat cheese (sliced or crumbled)

6 pc walnuts (slightly crumbled)

Clean and peel the rhubarb leaf stalks and cut them into smallish cubes.

In a pan melt the butter on a low/ medium heat. Add the sugar and once it starts to dissolve into the butter, add the rhubarb cubes. Cook (on that low/ medium heat) for about ten minutes until you have caramelized the rhubarb cubes and they are a bit soft. Remove the pan from the heat and let the rhubarb cool down for some minutes.

In a small glass, mix the ingredients of the salad dressing (olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, salt, pepper). Make the salad by first placing the lettuce leaves on at the bottom of the salad bowl, then pouring the dressing onto them, and finally adding the caramelized rhubarb, goat cheese and walnuts on top.

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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!).

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.