Meeting Meat – Malloreddus alla Campidanese

Sometimes life surprises you. Even more than a baking project of mine gone successfully.

There were very few things about which I was more certain than golf definitely not being my cup of tea or even cappuccino.

Sixteen and a half years of my culinary life I spent very contently not eating red meat.

And then someone just asked me nicely.

As a result, I am now a baffled owner of a green card and am posting the first red meat recipe on Cucina Fintastica today. (Slightly overconfident about his abilities to change a stubborn Finnish lady, this someone even tried to replace my morning Earl Grey tea with a cup of coffee but one does have to draw the line somewhere…)

Anyway, after getting over the initial shock of these very unlikely changes in my life, I started to embrace the opportunities they bring about. I already specialize in sipping fellow golfers’ hole-in-one champagnes. And obviously the red meat opens up quite a few new possibilities for my adventures in the Italian kitchen!

In addition to tasting things like prosciutto di Parma, I have already successfully tested a couple of Italian meat recipes. The first one I tried was this pasta from La Cucina Italiana. It is a traditional dish from Sardinia in which you use fresh sausages. However, as the sausages are opened up and their contents cut into smaller pieces, the very tasty end result bears more resemblance to a spaghetti alle bolognese or meatballs rather than a hot dog!

Malloreddus alla Campidanese (sorry – couldn’t think of an English translation for this this time)

Serves 6

800 g tomatoes

500 g fresh sausages (e.g. salsiccia sarda)

500 g (malloreddus) pasta

1 onion

1 bayleaf

saffron

basil

(Sardinian) pecorino

dry white wine

olive oil

salt

Peel the tomatoes, remove their seeds and slice them. Peel and chop the onion. Remove the contents of the sausages from their casings (don’t try to keep the shape of the sausages when doing this but the contents can break into pieces).

Heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan and gently fry the chopped onion in it for 1-2 minutes. Add the sausages and the bayleaf. Cook for about 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and season with salt. Cover the pan with a lid and let the sauce cook for 20 minutes. Season with some basil leaves and continue cooking for another 20-25 minutes.

Cook the pasta in boiling and salted water. Drain the pasta and combine it with the sausage sauce. Add some grated pecorino on top and serve warm.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.