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.

Cucina Spaintastica – Risotto al Limone e Gamberetti

It’s been quite a busy autumn.

But quite good too in many ways.

And I definitely haven’t forgotten about cooking and Italy.

Even when travelling to Spain this October, I scrolled my archives and Mr. Google for all sorts of Italian recipes. I thought cooking in Spain would be a fantastic opportunity to obtain all sorts of fresh ingredients that are difficult to find for Cucina Fintastica in Helsinki.

I was partially right. We were very intrigued by the wide range of fish and seafood. Maybe even a bit too much. We often ended up scratching our heads at our flat trying to figure out what we had actually bought and – assuming it was edible – how to prepare it. On the other hand, some ingredients were notably absent from the supermarkets. E.g. it was nearly impossible to find fresh chilli peppers and the assortment of herbs was very limited. I suppose that the absence of herbs is somewhat understandable when you think about the hot and dry terrain of Spain compared to many areas of Italy. I never did realise though that the Spaniards love their peppers red and sweet but not hot – unlike e.g. the Mexicans and Italians.

This Italian seafood risotto didn’t fortunately suffer from either of these supermarket limitations but instead flourished with the availability of fabulous fresh prawns. And you can certainly never go wrong with the culinary pairing of lemon and seafood!

Lemon and Prawn Risotto

Serves 4

juice of 1 lemon

zest of ½ lemon

1 onion

400 g shelled prawns

1 litre vegetable stock

350 g risotto rice (e.g. carnaroli)

40 g butter

½ glass white wine

salt, pepper, chives to your taste

Cook the prawns in boiling, salted water for 3-4 minutes and drain them. Peel and chop the onion. In a pan, melt 20 g butter and add the chopped onion. Gently fry it for some minutes until soft. Add the rice and toast it for a few minutes. Pour the wine into the pan and let it evaporate and be absorbed by the rice. Add the lemon juice. Start pouring the vegetable stock to the pan – one ladle at a time and (almost) continuously stirring the rice on a medium heat until the stock has been absorbed by the rice. Repeat until the rice is almost cooked. Add the lemon zest and the cooked prawns (a few minutes before the rice is completely cooked). Continue cooking with the vegetable stock until the rice is ready. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the remaining butter. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately with chopped chives.

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.

Something Not Borrowed – Insalata Improvvisata

The idea of my blog is to learn about Italian cooking by testing recipes I have found from different sources. Yet in real life, I do come up with my own little recipes from time to time too. And since for this blog I have no manager to answer to, I can really post here whatever I like (at least until Cucina Fintastica becomes a supermega success with the amount of sponsors to challenge Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson combined). Who knows, you might even like it… At least I quite enjoyed this potato salad tonight!

So today’s dish has very little to do with Italy although a quick Google search tells me that there is a broad range of Italian recipes of potato salads available too. Maybe I will give them a try later. Anyway, I got the inspiration for this dish after buying new potatoes of this season and realising I had some leftover yoghurt and asparagus readily in my fridge. Obviously lemon is the BFF of asparagus but I also liked the creamy yet fresh twist of the yoghurt with it!

Potato Salad with Asparagus and Lemon

Serves 4

800 g potatoes

1 bunch of fresh asparagus

2-3 spring onions

3 dl Greek yoghurt

1 tbsp olive oil

zest of 1 lemon, grated

lemon juice

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp honey

fresh mint

salt, pepper

Clean the potatoes and cook them in salted, boiling water until ready. In another kettle, bring a sufficient amount of water to a boil, add some salt and lemon juice and the asparagus. Cook for a few minutes.

Mix the yoghurt with the lemon zest, a bit of lemon juice, honey, salt, mustard and olive oil. Cut the cooked potatoes and asparagus into chunks and chop the spring onions. Place them into a bowl, pour the yoghurt dressing onto them and mix well. Add fresh mint, salt and pepper to your taste. Serve with e.g. fresh salmon.

Toast to Success – Orecchiette al Limone

This pasta dish was recommended to me by a colleague of mine. He is a fellow Italy enthusiast and lent me the book “Oggi cucino io 4” which also included this recipe. It is a dish that can probably be categorised as the ultimate nightmare for many of today’s carb conscious people. Hence, if you happen to be one of them, please accept my apologies and skip this one. For the rest of you, I recommend you read on.

The secret of this recipe is in fact bread. Yes, combining bread with pasta isn’t exactly the most obvious thing to do but it works wonderfully. The toasted bread absorbs all the lovely flavours of lemon, garlic, chilli and fennel in a way that would probably be harder to achieve by sticking to just one carb (the pasta). However, the lemon I had was fairly small. I think, if you are into citrus flavours like I am, you can consider slightly increasing the amount of lemon in the recipe.

Finally, there is another apology to make (which also applies to my previous pasta post): I know that the pasta in the picture is not exactly orecchiette. Unfortunately the right type of pasta wasn’t available in my supermarket and this is the best substitute I could find. Mi scusate!

Orecchiette Pasta with Lemons

Serves 4

400 g orecchiette pasta (or similar…)

Juice of ½ lemon

Zest of ½ lemon

60 ml extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 fennel, sliced

60 g bread, diced

1 pinch of dried chilli flakes

60 g pecorino cheese, grated

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan at medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the fennel slices and let them soften for 5 minutes. Season with salt and lemon juice and transfer the mixture from the pan to a plate.

Toast the bread cubes in the same frying pan for 3-4 minutes until they are golden and crunchy. Return the fennel mixture into the pan and add the lemon zest and chilli flakes. Stir well and move the pan away from the hot stove. Cook the pasta in a sufficient amount of water with salt. Once al dente, drain the pasta and pour it into the frying pan. Transfer the pan back to the stove and cook for 1 minute at high heat by continuously stirring. Serve with the grated pecorino cheese.