The Beardy Monk – Torta Salata alle Mandorle, Gorgonzola e Verdure

Coming back to the theme of changes in my previous post, there is one additional one to consider. Possibly the most radical of them all, really. I am starting to uncover my previously extremely well-hidden inner baker! Within the past few weeks, I have made several pies, pizzas and a (pretty decent) loaf of bread. All naturalmente with Italian recipes.

Just yesterday I used this one for a dose of blueberries I picked in a forest near Helsinki. In general, I am jealous of Italians for their vast range of fresh veggies, herbs, and fruit. However, at this time of the year there are some fantastic ingredients also available in my Finnish hoods, such as those blueberries and chanterelles.


Today’s recipe doesn’t have anything to do with them though (I just wanted to show off my 1.5 litres of blueberries). In fact, the recipe contains an ingredient completely unknown to me, the Finnish forests, and supermarkets in Helsinki called barba di frate. It directly translates as a “monk’s beard”. Fortunately Wikipedia kindly informed me that I would not need to start negotiating with the very few monks in Helsinki about their facial hair but it is a plant called salsola soda or opposite-leaved saltwort (with so terribly complicated English names, I suppose this beard plant is not that common in the UK either…).

Anyway, today’s recipe is a pie I found on one of Italy’s most popular food blogs called Sale&Pepe. I was intrigued by the use of almonds in its filling and topping although it is a salty pie instead of a dessert (the afore-mentioned blueberry pie also has an almond topping). I substituted the beard plant with spinach which worked quite deliciously with those almonds and the heartiness of blue cheese! As the recipe only advised to use a pasta brisé for the crust without any further details, I picked a recipe for it from one of my Italian cook books called Voglia di cucinare. However, if you are a more advanced baker than myself and have a secret crust recipe of your own, or – alternatively – like those ready pastries from supermarket, I am sure they will be fine options too.

Almond, Gorgonzola and Vegetable Pie

Serves 6

For the crust:

500 g flour

250 g butter


For the filling:

1 egg

100 g almond flour

100 g almond flakes

3 bunches of salsola soda (or spinach)

1 garlic clove


300 g soft gorgonzola (or other blue cheese)

1.5 dl milk


First make the pastry for the crust (unless you are using a ready one): Cut the butter into smallish cubes and let them rest in the room temperature for a few minutes to become a bit softer. Place the flour on a pastry board (or other flat surface…) and mix in a pinch of salt. Make a hole in the middle of the flour and add the butter cubes. Use your hands to quickly knead a pastry of the flour, butter, and salt. Finally add a 2 tablespoons of cold water into the pastry. Wrap it in a tinfoil and leave to rest in a fridge at least until you have prepared the filling.

If you are using salsola soda, peel them, wash them and cook them in salted boiling water for at least 4-5 minutes. Drain well. If you are using fresh spinach, cook them in boiling water for a few minutes, and rinse and drain well after that.

Move the drained vegetables (either salsola soda or spinach) into a pan, and gently cook them with some butter, the garlic clove and a pinch of salt for 5 minutes.

In a blender, mix the egg, almond flour, milk and gorgonzola.

Roll out the pastry and move it to a pie mold (previously buttered or coated with parchment paper). Add the vegetables and on top of them the gorgonzola cream. Finally scatter the almond flakes on top of the filling. Bake in the oven at 180C for about 35 minutes. Serve warm.


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


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.

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.


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.


Piegones – Torta della Nonna

Sometimes I never cease to amaze myself. I had one of those moments last weekend.

In the field of baking, my success rate is about 50 percent when I try new recipes. In addition, although I tend to be fairly optimistic by nature, I have learned in life that if you hand Mr. Murphy a chance on a silver platter (or should I say a baking tray), he will usually grab it. So, I really don’t know what I was thinking when I offered to make this pie called torta della nonna to my Dad for his birthday. Obviously I had never tried it before. And obviously I still have no confidence issues in baking although some firemen might beg to differ.

It all started quite beautifully. I was even quite proud of the smooth pastry I managed to make. Then something got lost in translation or possibly in the recipe. What I or my recipe (from “Oggi Cucino Io 4”) missed was the mention of the custard properly thickening before pouring it onto the pastry.

At this point, I called my parents to start considering alternative sources for birthday treats this year:


Yet, being that optimist (or maybe in this case stubborn), I still refused to give up, cleaned up the mess and transferred what was left of the pie into the oven. What came out wasn’t an entire disaster. It had very little to do with torta della nonna, so maybe I will name this one torta di Anna instead. Torta di Anna had two layers of crust each followed by a layer of the custard. As there was no top crust available to add almonds on (as advised in my recipe), I roasted some afterwards and placed them on the ready pie. My mother told me that with the added help of some strawberry preservative, it was even nicer.

I am quite sure though that if I had managed to follow the nonna‘s advice as intended, this would have been a bigger success. Have a try yourself and let me know how it goes! Finally here is one example what it was supposed to look like…

Torta della Nonna

Serves 8-10

For the pastry:

300 g flour

100 g sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

150 g butter

1 egg yolk

1 egg


For the custard:

5 eggs

120 g sugar

75 g flour

5 dl milk

1 vanilla pod

1 slice of lemon peel


To decorate


icing sugar

Prepare the pastry for the crust: Sieve the flour into a bowl and mix it with the sugar, salt and baking powder. Add the cold butter (sliced into small chunks) and rub it into the dry ingredients until you have obtained a granular even mixture. Add the egg yolk and the eggs and continue working on the pastry for a few more minutes. Divide the ready pastry into two different-sized parts (one slightly larger than the other). Roll each out to circles about 3 mm thick and place them on two sheets of parchment paper. Move the parchment papers with the pastry into a fridge.

Prepare the custard: Whisk 2 egg yolks (keep the egg whites for later use) and 3 entire eggs with the sugar and a pinch of salt until smooth. Add the flour and stir well. In a kettle, bring the milk to a boil with the vanilla pod and lemon peel. Take the kettle of the heat and pour the milk into the egg and sugar mixture continuously stirring. Move the mixture back to the hot stove and cook for one minute still continuously mixing (as mentioned, at this point the sauce should (hopefully) thicken but yet please be careful not to exceed the time any more than necessary as you may also end up with scrambled eggs instead of a lovely custard…). Remove your custard from the stove and let it cool down stirring occasionally.

Move the larger part of the pastry together with its parchment paper into a pie dish to line its base and sides. Pour the custard onto first part of the pastry. Slightly fold the sides of the pastry to cover the custard, and brush the sides with the egg whites (mixed with a small quantity of water). Add the top layer of the pastry to the pie and fold its sides behind the bottom layer of the pastry. Decorate with the almonds. Bake in the oven at 180C for 45 minutes whilst ensuring that the pie won’t burn on top. Cool down for at least 15 minutes and dust the pie with some icing sugar before serving.