Bruschetta Times (Two) – Bruschette alle Zucchine & Bruschetta con Crema di Zucca e Noci

I am a curious person by nature and love to experiment and experience new things in the world of food. However, I have noticed that in ethnic restaurants, I easily tend to order the same dish on each visit: red or green curry in the case of Thai food, kung-po chicken in Chinese restaurants, palak paneer in Indian places etc. The same pattern used to dominate my visits to Italian restaurants in Finland: bruschette with tomato and mozzarella or insalata di bufala for a starter and a seafood pasta for a main course.

This may not only be a question of my habits but also of the restaurants in Helsinki focusing their offer on the most internationally popular dishes. When visiting Italy on the other hand, I enjoy trying out as many new dishes as possible. And obviously also in Cucina Fintastica (more or less successfully).

I have already earlier broadened my understanding of potential bruschetta toppings with Giorgione’s help. Today I am sharing two other fabulous options: one with zucchini and another with pumpkin cream and cream cheese. The neat trick about the former recipe is that the bread slices are dipped in a mixture of eggs and cream before placing them in the oven. The slices are also baked there with the zucchini topping for a longer period than usual. Yet the outcome is quite fresh as after the oven, the bruschette are completed with herbs and chilli.

Zucchini Bruschette

8 slices of white bread (casereccio or other)

3 zucchinis (depending on their size 1-2 larger ones may suffice too)

3 eggs

2 dl double cream

fresh mint

fresh parsley

½ shallot

butter

1 red chilli pepper

salt

Clean the zucchinis and cut them into round slices about 0.5 cm thick. Clean a bunch of parsley and some mint leaves and chop them together with the shallot. Sprinkle the zucchini slices with the herb – shallot mixture.

Break the eggs into a bowl. Add the cream and a pinch of salt and mix well with a wooden fork.

Grease an oven dish with butter (I used an oven tray and a parchment paper instead). Dip the bread slices in the egg – cream mixture, and place them in the oven dish. Cover the bread slices with the zucchini slices.

Bake the bruschette in the oven at 200 C for about 15 minutes. In the meantime, clean the red chilli pepper and eliminate its seeds. Chop it with 20 leaves of parsley and 5-6 of mint. Switch the oven onto its grill mode and let the bruschette bake further for a few minutes. Remove them from the oven and sprinkle them with the chopped herbs and chilli. Let the bruschette cool down slightly and serve.

Bruschette with Pumpkin Cream and Walnuts

Serves 4

4 slices of white bread (casereccio or other)

200 g pumpkin

1 shallot

4 walnuts

3 tbsp olive oil

100 g cream cheese

salt

pepper

Peel the pumpkin, remove its seeds and cut it into cubes. Peel and chop the shallot.

In a pan, heat the olive oil with the chopped shallot and let them (gently) brown. Add the pumpkin cubes. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the pan with a lid, and cook for about 20 minutes (until the pumpkin is soft). Remove from the heat and move into a blender with 1 tablespoon of the cream cheese. Blend to obtain a nice pumpkin cream and let it cool down.

Divide the walnut kernels into ~4 pieces each. Toast the bread slices (in an oven on its grill mode). Prepare the bruschette by first adding the pumpkin cream on top of the grilled bread and then some walnut pieces and a few teaspoons of the cream cheese (for each bread slice).

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The Taste of Pastes – Bruschette alla Umbra

If I had to describe this June in one word, it would probably be “changes”. Naturalmente as usual, it is the month of the season changing from spring to summer. This year it was also a month of several changes in my life, and – due to those – additionally the first month with no posts on Cucina Fintastica.

Leaving poor blog post stats aside, I am usually quite pro-change. Even if new phases and elements in life may bring some uncertainty, they also always include something new, positive and exciting!

Obviously there are also some things that remain solid in this world. Such as my love of Italian food and faith in Giorgione’s recipes. I think I may need to order some new Italian cook books to my kitchen library soon including Giorgione’s  latest (“Giorgioni – Le origini“) but in the meantime I’m sharing one more recipe from Giorgione’s fab “Orto e cucina“. There are in fact three different Umbrian style bruschette out of which I have successfully tried two: one with an aubergine topping and another one with green peppers. Both are delicious and superbly simple – and hence dishes for which my appreciation will certainly never change!

Umbrian Style Bruschette

White (country-style) bread of your choice

For the green pepper paste:

½ onion

2 green peppers

red chilli pepper

marjoram

parsley

butter

olive oil

For the aubergine paste:

1 aubergine

1 garlic clove

red chilli pepper

mint

marjoram

butter

olive oil

Heat some olive oil in a pan and add the chopped onion, a dash of red chilli, and a leaf of marjoram (or more if your fresh marjoram are a bit blander than in Giorgione’s region – such as here in Helsinki). Add the green peppers (sliced into small pieces) and some salt and fry lightly. Once cooked (the green peppers should be soft enough for blending), move them into a blender with a knob of butter and a bunch of parsley. Mix into a soft paste.

Heat some olive oil in a pan and quickly fry the aubergines (sliced into cubes) in it. Drain the aubergines. In another pan, heat some olive and gently fry the garlic clove, some red chilli, mint and marjoram. Add the aubergines. Move the mixture into a blender and mix into a soft paste with a knob of butter.

Cut the bread into nice slices and gently grill the slices. Top each slice with the paste of your choice.

Well-Dressed – Insalata di Melanzane

I am one of those women who tried her best to avoid every visible source of fat (such as salad dressings and butter on a piece of bread) in her food for years. When I learned a few years ago that in fact my diet contained too little fat, I had to retrain myself to remember to accompany my lettuce with a bit of olive oil. The success of my endevours is now clearly visible on my waistline but at least it is good fat, eh?

As a byproduct of my retraining comes a proper appreciation for a nice salad dressing whenever I meet one. My latest pleasant acquintance of this sort was enabled by the book “Voglia di Cucinare“. The method of making the dressing is quite interesting: it is cooked and includes some cream in addition to the more traditional elements of olive oil, vinegar and lemon juice. I am not usually a very big fan of uncooked champignon mushrooms but for some reason this dressing marinates even them into quite a delicious format! Hence, all I have to do now is to negotiate with my waistline to hit the gym…

Aubergine Salad

2 aubergines

4 tbsp olive oil

2 tomatoes

1 zucchini

100 g champignons

1 garlic clove

1 dl white wine

juice of 1 lemon

1.5 dl cream

1 tsp rosemary

1 tsp fresh mint

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

salt, pepper

Cut the aubergine into very thin slices. Sprinkle them with salt if needed and after an hour, rinse with water and dry (you may skip this step if your aubergines are not the bitter type, as most aubergines sold in Helsinki aren’t).

Heat one half of the olive oil in a pan and add the aubergines. When the slices are cooked, transfer them into a salad bowl. Add the sliced tomatoes, zucchini and champignons to the bowl.

Heat the other half of the olive oil in a pan and gently fry the garlic clove in it. Add the white wine, lemon juice and cream. Stir into the sauce the rosemary, fresh mint and vinegar and bring it to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and season with salt and pepper.

Pour the dressing onto the salad and let the vegetables marinate in it for at least 30 minutes. At the time of serving, season with some additional salt and pepper to your taste.

Music to Tastebuds – Rosette con Pane alla Menta e Limone

One of the disadvantages of living in a city apartment is that there is a fairly limited amount of space available for your pots, kitchen utensils and gadgets. At least if you prioritise things like a dining table and living room sofa over them. I still possess items such as a wok pan that I don’t really use since due to its enormous size, you can only wash it in a bathtub. Yet in general, I try to limit my kitchenware to mainly essentials.

That being said, I have now identified a new must-have: a mandolin. Obviously I mean the slicer, not the instrument although nice music to accompany your cooking can sometimes be quite essential too! This fabulous zucchini dish alone – from the July edition of La Cucina Italiana – justifies the investment of money and space in this utensil (even if I have to ditch the wok giant, which may not be such a bad idea anyway…).

The process of this recipe is quite simple: you slice the zucchini with your mandolin, shortly precook the slices to make them soft enough for rolling, wrap and bake them with a superbly flavoursome filling and finally accompany with the perfect match of parmesan mayonnaise. The end result will be music to your tastebuds!

I came up with a neat trick for the breadcrumbs since I do not often have old white bread at home and the right kind of breadcrumbs are as essential for the success of this recipe as the mandolin: I bought one wheat roll, halved it, grilled the halves in the oven to dry them and finally blended them into crumbs.

Zucchini Rolls with Bread, Mint and Lemon

Serves 4

400 g zucchini

100 g breadcrumbs/ 1 wheat roll dried and crumbled

100 g mayonnaise

parmesan, grated

1 tbsp (strong) mint, chopped

zest of ½ lemon, grated

olive oil

salt

To make the filling, mix the breadcrumbs, lemon zest, mint, a pinch of salt and 60 g olive oil in a bowl.

For the accompanying sauce: In a separate bowl, combine the mayonnaise with 40 g of the parmesan and 10 g hot water.

Cut the zucchini lengthways into thin slices (by using the mandolin if possible). Cook them in boiling water for 1 minute, drain them and put them in cold water. After that drain and dry the slices.

Take two zucchini slices at a time and place them in an adjoining “line” (one on top of the other for a few centimeters) to obtain a “slice” of double length. Add the breadcrumb filling on top of the zucchini slices and gently wrap the zucchini slices to form a roll. Repeat until you have used all your zucchini.

Take an oven tray and cover it with a parchment paper. Place the zucchini rolls on it and sprinkle them with some grated parmesan and a trickle of olive oil. Bake in the oven at 180C for 5-8 minutes. Serve immediately with the parmesan mayonnaise.

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.

Flour Power – Pollo al Sugo di Carciofi e Profumo d’Arancia

Only after just writing the title of this post, did I realise what a complicated name this recipe has! It alone hinders any attempts for this dish to become such a worldwide hit as spaghetti alla carbonara or panna cotta although in terms of flavour and simplicity it would certainly deserve its share of recognition outside the Italian borders. Maybe I’d better have a word about this with the editor of Cucina Moderna (from which this recipe originates). Or maybe the name is in fact a clever strategy to keep this chicken dish an Italian national top secret? If it is, I am now sharing it with the rest of the world anyway, ha!

Errr, anyway, there were a few other slightly more relevant things to point out about this secondo… One of its key ingredients is artichoke. I am quite a fan of the vegetable although I have never really used it in my cooking before (an occasional pizza topping from a tin doesn’t really count in my book). This time my plan was to buy them fresh and learn how to chop them properly. However, after discovering that a couple of fresh artichokes in my supermarket cost nearly as much as a three-course meal in Italy (ok, I may be exaggerating slightly although Helsinki is expensive…), I bought some frozen and more reasonably priced Italian artichokes instead. They were certainly quite handy to use although on a negative side, the art of preparing fresh artichokes hence still remains a bit of a mystery for me.

What I did learn though, was the trick of using flour with your chicken. I have never been a very big fan of schnitzels, chicken nuggets and other fried food. However, in this case the amount of both flour and oil is quite moderate compared to those deep-fried calorie kings. Yet, the flour covering the chicken slices helps them gain more flavour by absorbing the beautiful aromas of artichokes, oranges and lemon. Thus, that is the secret power of flour!

Chicken with Artichoke and Orange Sauce

Serves 4

500 g sliced chicken breast

4 artichokes (fresh or frozen)

2 dl milk

40 g grated parmesan

2 slices of orange zest

1 sprig of mint

½ lemon

30 g flour

40 g butter

extravirgin olive oil

salt, pepper

Clean the artichokes (if you are using fresh ones) and chop them into slices and dip them in water with the lemon juice. Melt 20 g of the butter in a pan and add the artichokes. Cook gently for 5 minutes with the orange zest (if you are using frozen artichokes, you can add the lemon juice at this point). Season with salt and pepper, add the milk and continue cooking for about ten minutes (fresh artichokes)/ a few minutes (frozen artichokes) until the artichokes are very soft. Mix one of the artichokes, the sauce and the grated parmesan in a blender, and pour the sauce onto the remaining artichokes.

Cover the chicken slices with the flour (if the fillets of chicken breast are very thick, you can first beat them with a kitchen hammer to make them thinner and then slice and add the flour). Heat some olive oil (~1-2 table spoons) and the remaining butter in a pan and fry the chicken slices for about 5 minutes by stirring occasionally until cooked. Add the artichoke sauce, the mint and season with salt and pepper and let the dish gather flavour for an additional 2-3 minutes. Serve with e.g. mashed potatoes, rise or pasta of your choice.

The Most Unphotogenic Dish in Helsinki – Fave al Pecorino

Today I think I may have found something that is even more unphotogenic than I am: this dish. I apologise for the silly faces posing with it but I felt compelled to add something to distract from the ugliness of the peas.

Yet, if you leave aesthetic questions aside, it is in fact quite a nice side dish! Yes, my version is quite similar to what the Brits call mushy peas, since I had to modify the recipe (from another Italian cooking magazine “Cucina Moderna”) a bit and use frozen peas as broad beans were not yet available in Helsinki this spring. However, even if you have to resort to peas as I did, a hefty dose of pecorino will still guarantee that this culinaristic journey will take you to a cena italiana rather than a Sunday roast!

Broad Beans with Pecorino

Serves 4

1 kg shelled broad beans (about 3 kg with the pod)

olive oil

2 garlic cloves

fresh mint

60 g pecorino

salt

Cook the beans in a good amount of salted water for 15 minutes and drain them. Head some olive oil in a frying pan and add the crushed garlic cloves. After 1-2 minutes, add one ladle of hot water and cook for five minutes. Mix the beans, garlic water, and a handful of fresh mint in a blender. Add the pecorino and season with salt to your taste.

Stunning Simplicity – Insalata di Melanzane e Menta

Sometimes the best things in life and cooking are simple. This is certainly the case with this salad. With little effort, the maximum yum (well, I guess yum really isn’t a word but it kind of rhymes nicely with maximum).

It is a side dish to accompany fish or meat. I have tried this with smoked salmon and it worked wonderfully. Add your favourite Italian song to the mixture and I guarantee you will simply have a stunning Italian meal!

Aubergine and Mint Salad

Serves 4

2 aubergines

1 bunch of fresh mint

3 tbs extravirgin olive oil

1 tbs white wine vinegar

coarse ground salt

1 pomegranate

Cut the aubergines into slices (about 1 cm thick).

These steps you can skip, in case you believe that your aubergines do not hold a grudge, i.e. are not the bitter kind: Spread the slices on a tray and sprinkle the salt onto the slices. Leave them for about 40 minutes. Wipe off the liquid that has come out of the aubergines.

Grill the aubergine slices (I used the grill of my oven at 200C). After the first 5 minutes, flip them and continue grilling for another 5 minutes. Chop the fresh mint. Extract the seeds from the pomegranate.

Mix the grilled aubergine slices, chopped mint and pomegranate seeds in a bowl. Combine the olive oil and vinegar, stir and add to the bowl. If you skipped the previous steps of salting, you can add some salt as well. Mix well and serve with the meat or fish of your choice.

And finally, here is one of my favourite Italian tunes: