Just Give Me a Season: Secondo – Zucchini Ripiene di Carne

As promised in my previous post, Cucina Fintastica’s special season series now continues with a superb secondo!

Today’s season star is zucchini. In Finland zucchini is quite underrated. According to Wikipedia, Finns eat about 0.5 kg of it every year. In Italy, it is indeed a very different story. It is an integral part of the Italian kitchen and according to some study in difficultish Italian, it is their second favourite (vegetable I presume) right after tomatoes.

So if you are a Finn, this recipe of stuffed zucchini (from the Cookaround site) is a very deserving candidate to eat your annual quota of zucchini! Who knows – you may actually even like it enough to increase it to 0.7 kg…

Zucchini Stuffed with Meat

Serves 4

4 zucchinis

200 g minced meat (pork in the receipe but I have used beef)

100 g parmesan, grated

1 egg

150 g mortadella

50 g prosciutto cotto (boiled ham)

2 pc (stale) bread

milk

4 tbsp olive oil

salt, pepper

Wash the zucchinis and cook them in boiling, lightly salted water for 5 minutes to soften them gently. Remove them from the water and cut each of them into half lengthways.

With a spoon, scoop out enough zucchini flesh to create some space for the stuffing.

Prepare the stuffing. Soak the dry bread in some milk to soften it. Cut the mortadella and prosciutto into small pieces. In a bowl, combine the minced meat, egg, parmesan, mortadella, soaked bread, salt and pepper. Stir well to obtain a homogeneous mixture.

Fill the zucchini halves with the stuffing. Place the zucchinis on an oven tray covered with a parchment paper (or oiled gently) and sprinkle with some additional grated parmesan.

Bake in the oven at 180C for about 30 minutes. The zucchinis are ready once the stuffing is cooked. Serve hot or warm.

 

Just Give Me a Season: Primo – Conchiglioni Raffinati con le Fragole

One could definitely sound like a broken record when praising the impact of different seasons on the possibilities of the Italian kitchen. Actually, on second thought, “a broken record” is probably soon an expression that millenials do not actually understand (not that I expect Cucina Fintastica to be the “it blog” of millenial hipsters though).

Anyway. Sometimes I do not let the seasonality of Italian recipes restrict my culinary adventures too much – like in this case of Christmas food in June. But more often, especially during the warm half of the year, the availability of fresh European and Finnish veggies, fruit and berries does make cooking even more exciting.

I have been collecting quite a backlog of recipes for Cucina Fintastica recently so in the seasonal spirit of early summer, I’m now publishing a series of three fab recipes: a primo, a secondo and a dolce.

This fantastic pasta dish is by my old friend Giorgione. I have successfully tested quite a few of his recipes (like this great chicken with mulberries) from his first book and was recently delighted to get the second book “Giorgione – le origini“. In this pasta from the le origini book, one of the main ingredients is quite surprisingly strawberries. I already appreciated adding strawberries to a salad e.g. with goat cheese but strawberries with pasta sounded… interesting. I suppose this combination is also unusual for Italians as Giorgione writes in his book that “you won’t believe it but it is really worth a try”. I can confirm that it definitely is!

Pasta Refined with Strawberries

300 g strawberries (preferably not too ripe to be slightly less sweet and soft)

½ (Cannara) onion (I used a shallot)

100 g butter

olive oil

salt, pepper

1 mozzarella

200 g ricotta

parmesan cheese

basil

250 g conchiglioni pasta (shell pasta)

(optional: bread crumbs, milk)

Chop the onion and cut the strawberries into slices.

Bring a kettle of water to a boil, season with salt and add the pasta.

While the pasta is cooking, in a pan, heat some olive oil and butter. Add the onions and cook gently for a few minutes. Add the strawberries, season with salt and pepper and continue cooking.

While the strawberries are also gently cooking, prepare the filling. Cut the mozzarella into small pieces and mix it with the ricotta, some salt and pepper, and a heaped tablespoon of parmesan.

Once the pasta is cooked (al dente), let it cool down a bit. After that, fill the pasta shells with the mozzarella ricotta mixture. If you prefer to eat the warm version of this dish, you can add a drop of milk into the cheese mixture and sprinkle some bread crumbs on top of the pasta shells and put them in a hot oven for a few minutes (Giorgione didn’t specify how hot but mine was about 200C). If you prefer the colder version, you skip the milk, bread crumbs and oven. Finally, place the strawberries onto the filled pasta shells, sprinkle with the sauce from the pan and add some basil leaves to garnish.

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.

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.

The Proper Hearty Meal – Crostata con Patate e Pollo

Although I’m not a native English speaker, there are some words that I quite like in that language. One of them is “proper“. Whenever an Englishman uses that word, you immediately know that we are really talking about serious business here (usually involving a tradition of at least several centuries). Another example is “hearty” when used to describe a meal. In my mind, a hearty meal immediately gives me an impression of something very wholesome, comforting and – obviously – very calorific (hence ironically being an expression that probably most cardiologists do not fully support; at least if they are not mean and unemployed).

For me, a hearty meal is also a question of weather. In the summer months, you can practically subsist on veggies and berries. However, when the winter starts looming, suddenly you feel the growing urge to substitute all those six pack tummies as your fitness role models with the very warm- and cosy-looking shapes of seals.

I suppose I am not alone in this. In the Italian kitchen, the same seal idol phenomenon is visible in both the seasonality of the dishes as well as their regionality. The food from the most Northern part of Italy is typically heavier than that of the South, and during late autumn and winter months you seem to find more recipes such as the one that I’m sharing today (from the October issue of La Cucina Italiana).

This recipe is also ideal for colder months and lousy weather, as it takes hours to prepare… Yet it is certainly worth the efforts with a very comfort foody yet Italian taste. I am also happy to report that I have now prepared my very first Italian recipe of the level per esperti – and to top my happiness, it is a pie. Believe it or not!

Chicken and Potato Pie

Serves 6-8

600 g chicken legs and thighs

450 g boiled potatoes

200 g flour

200 g Ricotta Infornata (hard Ricotta cheese) or Provolone cheese (or another hard not overly strong cheese)

125 g butter

100 g rice flour

60 g walnuts

3 eggs

1 egg yolk

1 tbsp cane sugar

1 sprig of rosemary

12 chive scapes

2 tbsp grated parmesan

1 garlic clove

salt, pepper

Chop the walnuts into not too fine chunks as well as the chive scapes.

Combine both flours with the butter in a bowl and mix until you have small coarse crumbs (about the size of rice grains). Add the egg yolk, 1 entire egg, the cane sugar, a pinch of salt, the walnuts, the chives and the grated parmesan. Continue mixing for a few minutes until you have obtained a proper dough. Cover the bowl and store it in a fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Bone the chicken legs. Remove the skin of each leg and keep them for later use. Divide the flesh of the chicken legs into two parts thighs and legs. Cut the thighs into smallish pieces.

Take a blender and quickly mix the flesh of the legs (but not thighs!) in it. Add 80 g water, a pinch of salt, some pepper and 1 egg and continue blending until you have a smooth sauce (and please do not mix it up with a strawberry smoothie eventhough it looks like one..!).

Slice the chicken skin and fry it in a pan with a knob of butter, the rosemary sprig and the garlic clove (unpeeled) on a high heat for 2-3 minutes. Remove the rosemary and garlic clove from the pan, and add the flesh of chicken thighs. Continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Slice the cheese and the boiled potatoes.

Roll out the dough into a 0.5 cm thick round. Take a cake/ pie tin (with a diameter of 22 cm) and line it with parchment paper (including the base). Carefully move the dough into the tin. Remove the excess dough on the edges and keep it for decorating the pie.

Fill the pie by first adding a layer of cheese, followed by a layer of potatoes and a layer of the chicken leg sauce, and finally a layer of the cooked chicken thighs. Repeat until you have used all your ingredients (I had two layers of each). Try and create neat stripes of the excess dough and add them onto the top of the pie (I only managed to add two but in the picture of the magazine they had plenty – maybe they cheated…). Finally brush the pie with a beaten egg, and bake it in the oven at 170 C for 50 minutes.

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!).

Nuturalmente Fabulous – Caserecce alle Noci

Sometimes in this world you may feel that it is difficult to know what to really believe in. But at least there is one thing that you can always trust: a chef proudly sporting a very round tummy!

My acquaintance with this Italian signor called Giorgione started when I bought his book “Giorgione – Orto e Cucina” in Italy this summer. It was his street-credible belly (in addition to a very simpatico smile) that initially caught my attention. I later discovered that the book is in fact based on a popular TV series of the same name. In his own words, Giorgione is “a nearly veterinarian who loves the nature and its products”. He lives in a small town in the province of Perugia, and has apparently been a foodie and passionate about agriculture for all his life. A few years ago he was discovered to star in this show that, in addition to cooking, includes his adventures e.g. in the vegetable garden and going mushrooming. Unfortunately there were no episodes of Giorgione available online. However, I did manage to find some short clips on YouTube where I could see him in action and uttering “yummmm” for not an insignificant number of times.

Hence my expectations were high when I opened my book to try one of his recipes – and I am happy to report that (at least based on this pasta) my faith in full-figured middle parts remained intact! A pasta dish mainly based on walnuts did initially sound a bit… (I apologise for the inevitable, unimaginative attempt at linguistic wit) … nuts. Yet the aromas of walnuts evolve when cooking adding a fabulous, distinct flavour to complement the richness of the sauce and sweetness of the red onions. So yes, I expect me and Giorgione to remain friends for quite some time to come!

Caserecce Pasta with Walnuts

200 g caserecce pasta

20 walnuts

½ red onion

butter (Giorgione recommended butter made of buffalo milk but I had to settle for the normal kind)

olive oil

salt, pepper

2 tbsp white wine

½ cup cream

parmesan, grated

pecorino romano, grated

Chop the walnut kernels into rough, small chunks (Giorgione advised to use a blender for this purpose but I was worried that my little device wouldn’t appreciate this task).

Slice the red onion into small cubes (about the same size as the walnuts). Melt a generous amount of butter in a pan and add the onions. Gently cook them for some minutes. Add some olive oil, pepper and as soon as the onions start to become golden brown, the white wine. Add the chopped walnuts and continue cooking the mixture for some additional minutes to gain flavor to the sauce. Season with salt and pour in the cream.

Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water. Once ready, combine the pasta with the walnut sauce and a small amount of the cooking water of the pasta, and the pecorino cheese. Finally, complement the dish with some grated parmesan when serving.

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.

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.