Dinner Dare – Ravioli Verdi al Salmerino

A paradox of life is that as a child you dream of being an adult and can’t wait to grow up, and as an adult you end up fondly reminiscing those carefree, fun days of your childhood. I suppose the big thing about adulthood for kids is the liberty to do whatever you want. No bed times, no dietary restictions, no compulsory hats and scarves when going out. Then as an adult, you realize that you actually want to go to bed early enough, your teeth get rotten and your tummy will ache with a diet of candies and chocolate, and – at least in a climate like Finland’s – you are willing to do everything in your power to insulate yourself from the terrible cold winter.

But every now and then it is good to forget about your pragmatic middle-aged self and channel your inner Pippi Longstocking and do something less sensible to fully enjoy the benefits of your liberty. You owe it to your dreaming 10-year-old self.

One of my (and my spouse’s) ways to enjoy this freedom is to start too ambitious cooking projects at very insensible times – e.g.  starting to make fresh stuffed pasta at 9 o’clock in the evening on a week night. (Well ok, my 10-year-old self might not have been very impressed with this kind of “rebellism” but I am middle-aged after all.) Making fresh stuff pasta is always an impossibly long project so you will then end up eating totally exhausted at a time that most adults consider to be closer to a proper breakfast hour than dinner time. But it is still a very enjoyable meal!

However, in case you are feeling less daring about your evening schedules, you can also split the workload into two evenings as I did with this recipe. I prepared the dough and the filling in one evening and then turned them into ravioli the next.

Green Raviolis with Salmon

Serves 6

400 g flour

50 g durum wheat flour

400 g fillet of salmon (boned)

100 g spinach

4 eggs

300 g ricotta cheese (soft)

2 shallots

dry white wine

sage

parsley

butter

olive oil

salt, pepper

Cook the spinach in boiling water (for some minutes) and after that, drain and squeeze the water out of them as much as possible. Chop the spinach.

Make the pasta dough by combining the two types of flour with the eggs, spinach and a pinch of salt. Knead until you have obtained a homogeneous dough. Wrap the dough in a foil and leave it to rest in a cool place (e.g. fridge) for at least 30 minutes.

Cut the shallots into small pieces. Chop the parsley. Cut the salmon into small(ish) slices. In a pan, heat some olive oil and cook the shallot on a low(ish) heat for 3 minutes. Add the salmon and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and a dash/ splash of white wine. Continue cooking for 3 more minutes. (Tip: In case you prefer your salmon not overly cooked, you can prepare the salmon in two batches. The first 250 g should be more well-done as it is used for the filling and it is then easier to mix. The second 150 g you can cook in a shorter time frame as it is used in the sauce).

Let the salmon cool down. Take 250 g of the salmon and mix it together with the ricotta and parsley to prepare the filling. Season it with salt and pepper.

Roll out the dough into a sheet that is 1 mm thick. Take one half of the sheet and add small (walnut size) portions of the filling at equal distances (at least several centimeters apart). Place the other half of the sheet on top and gently press it around the edges of the filling. Using a ravioli cutter or a pastry wheel, cut squares around each filling to make the ravioli. Finally press the sides of each ravioli tight with a fork to ensure the filling will not leak out of it during cooking. You can find a good example of how to do this process exactly for example here.

In a pan, melt 60-70 g butter on a low heat with some leaves of sage. Cook the ravioli in salted, boiling for a 2-3 minutes (they float when they are ready but you can always also check the right time by cooking one piece before the others). Serve the ravioli with the sage butter and the remaining pieces of salmon.

 

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Couple of Pairs – Risotto con Vino Rosso, Rosmarino e Cipolla Caramellata

As it was Valentine’s Day just about a week ago, maybe it is appropriate to talk about pairs in this post. I’m not actually sure if Italians really celebrate Valentine’s Day or whether it is one of those American things that was imported to all Europeans by romantic Hollywood movies and clever marketing people. Commercial, imported, Italian or not – I don’t really care though. As a more or less hopeless romantic, I welcome every opportunity in life to celebrate love and loved ones anyway!

Although Italians have the stereotypical reputation of being quite romantic, the Italian kitchen is traditionally less welcoming for pairing. You have your antipasto, primo and secondo all to be enjoyed as separate dishes. The only exception to this rule are contorni i.e. the side dishes. However, for proper Italian kitchen, pasta and risotto never qualify as contorni.

So maybe we shouldn’t tell this to any Italians, but when combining this risotto with our secondo of deer, we considered ourselves quite successful match-makers! In a risotto, a typical pair with the rice is white wine but also red wine can work fantastically well as in today’s recipe. As a result, the colour of this risotto also corresponds nicely with a loving mood.

Finally a third type of coupling worth mentioning is adding a nice little twist to a relatively simple dish such as this: the caramelized onions definitely take it to the next level of culinary love ❤

Risotto with Red Wine, Rosemary and Caramelized Onion

Serves 4

320 g Carnaroli rice (80 g per person)

1 onion (red or yellow)

15 g butter

2 small glasses of red wine

2 l of meat stock

2-3 tbsp parmesan

1 sprig of rosemary

salt, pepper

For the caramelized onion

½ middle-sized onion

1 knob of butter

1 tbsp cane sugar

1 small glass of red wine (the same as for the risotto obviously)

 

Peel and cut the onion into thin slices. In a pan, melt the butter (on a low heat) and the onion. Stir and cover the pan with a lid. Let the onion cook for several minutes until it is soft and transparent.

Add the rice and increase the heat. Toast the rice for a few minutes and stir continuously. Pour the wine into the pan and let it evaporate.

Lower the heat and add the rosemary and a few scoops of the meat stock, stir and cover the pan again with a lid. Repeat the steps of adding the stock and mixing the risotto until the rice is cooked. This takes about 18 minutes.

In the mean time, prepare the caramelized onion. Slice the onion thinly. Take another pan and melt some butter in it. Keep the heat low, add the onion, cover the pan with a lid and again let the onion cook for several minutes until soft. Add the wine and let it boil gently (thus reducing the amount of liquid). After a few minutes when the amount of wine has been reduced to about a half, add the cane sugar and mix well. Continue cooking for some additional minutes while ensuring that the onion doesn’t get too dry (you can add some wine in case it does).

Once the rice of the risotto is cooked (it should be a little bit  al dente) remove the sprig of rosemary, add one more scoop of the meat stock, the parmesan and a little bit more butter (to your taste). Stir well. Remove the pan from the heat, cover with a lid and let it rest very shortly. Serve the risotto with the caramelized onion sprinkled on top.

Mamma Mia Moments – Tagliatelle Verdi con Sugo al Limone

There are many reasons for love of cooking and Italian food. One is pure necessity: we have to eat anyway so why not make the most of it? As you gradually learn new skills, the task of preparing enjoyable food also becomes easier and (nothing short of a miracle) even your baking skills improve to the level of mere occasional disasters.

Another source of motivation for me is what I like to call mamma mia moments. They are those occasions when you just happen to find such a perfect recipe that so brilliantly strikes a chord that all you can do is utter a satisfied “mamma mia”. These mamma mia moments do not occur every week nor every month but when you come across one, you certainly appreciate it!

Some of my mamma mia moments are definitely linked with Italian pizza. However, the most recent one I had when  we made this fantastic pasta dish from the July 2015 edition of La Cucina Italiana. In fact, my partner and I were so baffled by our success that we are afraid to try the recipe again in case it was just an unrepeatable stroke of pasta luck. But now after our second attempt of equal success, I am happy to share it with you as well!

The method to prepare the fresh pasta is quite interesting and relatively fast. You do not need a pasta maker at all. Instead the pasta paste/ dough is rolled out with a rolling pin. After that it is wrapped into a roll, the roll is cut into pieces and the pieces unrolled. In addition to the tasty pasta, the sauce combining lime, creme and white cheese is just superb.

Green Tagliatelle with Lime Sauce

Serves 4

400 g mangold (or 300 g fresh spinach)

300 g flour

125 g stracchino (I substituted this with mild brie cheese)

120 g cream

2 eggs

2 (organic) limes

60 g butter

olive oil

salt

If you use mangold, cook it in unsalted boiling water for 10-12 minutes. Drain, wring out the cook mangold (to remove as much of the cooking water as possible) and weigh it (not sure why this recipe is saying this but apparently it should weigh 100 g). Mix the mangold into small pieces/ paste in a blender. If you are using fresh spinach, a few minutes of cooking is sufficient and you don’t need as much fresh spinach as mangold.

Knead the flour with the eggs and blended mangold/ spinach until you have obtained a soft dough. Cover it and let it rest for 30 minutes.

Grate the limes or cut the lime zest with a knife (don’t use the white part, only the green). Then squeeze out the lime juice. In a pan, melt the butter and a thread of olive oil. Add the grated/ cut lemon zest and let it gather flavour for 2 minutes. Add the lime juice and season with salt. Finally add the cream and the cheese. Once the cheese has melted, switch of the heat.

Roll out the dough with a rolling pin to a sheet (not too thin, ~1 – 1.5 mm thick). Sprinkle a light layer of flour on the sheet. Then with your hands, carefully wrap the sheet (lenghtways) to a roll. Don’t make the roll too tight. Cut the roll with a knife into sices (about 1-2 cm thick). Finally unroll the slices and place each tagliatella next to each other on a floured surface.

tagliatelle

Carefully transfer the tagliatelle to a kettle with salted boiling water and cook for 2-3 minutes. Drain the tagliatelle and combine with the lime sauce. Serve immediately.

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.

 

Saucy Observations – Pasta agli Asparagi e Ricotta

As I have stated before, I am a big fan of pasta. Regardless of those trends of low-carbing, living like a cavewoman, and considering wheat a greater villain than Sherlock’s Moriarty, nothing stands between me and my bowl of pasta. Well, on second thought, this “piece of news” about myself may be somewhat obvious. Avoiding pasta whilst loving Italian food (and blogging about it ) would be kind of… pointless.

However, despite having made a reasonably impressive amount number of pastas to-date (impressive on a Finnish amateur scale that is – definitely not Italian), I still regularly struggle with the fine balance of pasta and its sauce. If there is too little of the sauce, a dish lacks flavour and can be a bit dry. On the other hand, if your pasta is of better quality, you do not want to overpower it by soaking it in the sauce or creating an unintentional macaroni soup.

It seems that Italian recipes do not often appreciate these struggles of a Finnish pasta lover who hasn’t had direct access to the culinary wisdom of nonnas. On the contrary. Recipes often lack precise quantities of oil and other ingredients leaving a Finnish cook with a feeling of participating in a pasta version of lottery.

Today’s pasta is partially a fine example of this phenomenon: In addition to the usual lack of the amount of olive oil, there is no advice on how to divide your ricotta into two portions (one is mixed directly with your pasta and the other added separately as part of an asparagus cream). However, fortunately  in this lottery case, you have slightly less to lose as you can adjust the amount of the asparagus cream while eating.

Prior to trying this recipe, I had already learned earlier that asparagus and ricotta work together wonderfully. And based on this dish, I can verify that they still definitely do!

Pasta with asparagus and ricotta

Serves 2

160 g pasta

500 g asparagus

200 g ricotta

1 onion

olive oil

salt, pepper

Clean the asparagus, remove their chalks and cook them in boiling water for some minutes (max ~5 minutes) until ready (soft enough for blending but not soggy and limp). After cooking, you can cool them with cold water or ice to prevent them from further cooking in their own heat.

Cut the tips of the asparagus and keep them for futher use. In a blender, mix the remaining parts of the asparagus with 100 g ricotta, some olive oil, salt and pepper until you have obtained a nice and smooth cream. If the cream is very thick (the target consistency is about the same as of the bechamel sauce), you can add a little bit of water.

Peel and chop the onion and gently fry it in a pan with some olive oil. Add the tips of the asparagus and let them gather flavour shortly.

Cook the pasta. Once ready, combine it with the onion and asparagus tips in the pan. Add 100 g ricotta and some cooking water of the pasta if needed. Mix well and let it warm up until creamy.

Put some asparagus ricotta cream onto each plate. Add the pasta with asparagus tips on top. Season with some additional pepper and serve.

Season’s Eatings – Pasta Zucca e Ricotta

Christmas is approaching again, and as usual, Cucina Fintastica is full of ambitious culinary plans! The advantage of ambitious plans is that even if you don’t quite meet them (let’s say only 15%), you still achieve something. I hope.

Today’s recipe is not exactly a Christmas dish. In fact, I think the only Italian Christmas recipe I have posted so far was this one that I tested (very proactively) in May. Well, anyway, as far as I now know about the Italian kitchen, pumpkins are one of the seasonal favorites both for Christmas and autumn. So this dish should be at least a decent warm-up to get you in that Christmassy culinary mood!

Already earlier, I have learned that pumpkins are the BFFs of strong cheeses. This dish is another strong evidence of that. The end result is a lovely soft, hearty and flavourful pasta that is yet not overly heavy.

Pumpkin and ricotta pasta

Serves 2

160 g pasta

400 g pumpkin (peeled and cubed)

180 g ricotta

40 g pecorino cheese (grated)

1 garlic clove

olive oil

salt, pepper

In a pan, gently fry the garlic clove in some olive oil. Add the pumpkin cubes and a little bit of salt. Add a (smallish) cup of water, cover the pan with a lid and let the pumpkins cook on a low heat for about 20 minutes (until soft).

Cook the pasta in boiling and salted water until it is al dente, and drain it. Please note that the pasta will still get a bit softer in the oven in the next phases of this recipe.

Remove the garlic clove and mash the pumpkin cubes with a fork (or alternatively place the soft cubes in a blender to mash them). Stir in the ricotta cheese. Add the pasta into the sauce, and let the pumpkin pasta gain flavour for one minute. Season with salt and pepper. Add one half of the grated pecorino and mix.

Grease an oven dish (~medium-sized) with some olive oil. Move the pumpkin pasta into the dish. Sprinkle the remaining pecorino cheese on top. Bake in the oven at 200C for about 10 minutes.

 

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.

A Runner’s Delight – Pasta con Pesto di Zucchine Arrostite

As this is an Italian food blog, I have so far shared very little about my other passions in life. Well, at least, apart from hating the Finnish winter with a passion I suppose.

However, this time I can reveal that one of them is running. I love the endorfin rush, doses of fresh air and the feeling of just simply everything making more sense (and of being less grumpy about the most disastrous baking attempts) that you get by simply putting one shoe in front of the other.

I also participate in some half-marathon events every now and then, and even once went to a “running school” to prepare for them. In the school, I learned about this brilliant concept of “carb loading”: in the day or days before your running event, you try to stock up on carbohydrates to increase your body’s reserves for the long endurance work-out. It really is an Italian food lover’s dream, isn’t it? An order to eat as much pasta as you like. Ingenious. Well, ok, I do know that carb loading is a lot more relevant when getting ready for a full marathon. Yet I choose not to let that minor detail get in the way between me and my big bowl of pasta. And I still refuse to believe that pasta is bad for you. Just look at the nation full of happy Italians.

I completed one half-marathon just yesterday and hence dutifully did some serious carb loading the day before. I chose a recipe from a cook book called “Le ricette della prova del cuoco“. It turned out be at least as brilliant as the carb loading concept. You make a supertasty simple pesto sauce of roasted zucchini, pistachio, fresh mint and olive oil, and combine it with the pasta and parmesan. And naturalmente, you don’t have to be a runner to enjoy it – just look at the nation full of happy Italians!

Pasta with Roasted Zucchini

Serves 6

480 g (farfalle) pasta

500 g zucchini

40 g parmesan

60 g pistachios

fresh mint (to your taste)

1 bayleaf

olive oil

salt, pepper

Clean and peel the zucchini, and then cut them in half (lengthways). Place the halves on an oven tray covered with a parchment paper, and season them with salt, pepper and some olive oil. Bake them in the oven at 175C for at least 30 minutes and cool down.

Grate the parmesan. Boil the pistachios in hot water for three minutes (I skipped this step as I was using roasted and saltes pistachios), and once cooled down, peel them. In a blender, mix the pistachios and 50 ml olive oil. Add the roasted zucchini and continue blending. Finally add the fresh mint and again continue blending until you have achieved a nice pesto paste. Put the pesto sauce into a bowl and season it with the grated parmesan and salt (if needed).

Cook the pasta in salted water with the bayleaf. Combine the ready pasta with the pesto sauce and serve.

The Quick Fix – Pasta e Fagioli Napoletana

The first time that I ever visited Italy was when I was nine years old in the mid-eighties. We stayed in Riccione for a week, and most of my memories include tons of swimming. In addition, I remember being deeply disappointed when we went for a day trip to Venice and I discovered that the city wasn’t at all like in the Donald Duck comics!

This vacation also marked my first experiences of real Italian food. Our hotel included a half pension and we would have proper Italian three- and four-course meals every night. Today’s recipe reminds me of those broth-based pastas that our waiter would expertly serve us back then.

“Pasta e fagioli” is apparently a very typical Italian dish with lots of different versions of different regions, and this one comes from Naples. I have no idea how it differs from the similar dishes of the other regions though as I was quite hungry when Googling for something to eat so I didn’t have the patience for proper research… Anyway, the list of its ingredients is quite simple, healthy and affordable – yet the end result is super tasty. It is also very easy and quick to prepare even after a busy day in the office when you are so hungry that you don’t have the patience for proper food blog research!

Neapolitan Pasta with Beans

Serves 4

350 g cooked borlotti beans

250 g pasta (of your choice)

1 garlic clove

1 stalk of celery

6 cherry tomatoes

fresh basil

olive oil

salt, pepper

Prepare the vegetables: clean the celery (and cut it into a few big chunks if needed for your kettle), tomatoes and basil, and peel the garlic clove. Place the beans in a kettle and cover them with water. Add the vegetables and some olive oil. Cook for about 10 minutes. Add the pasta and some salt to the kettle and continue cooking for another 10 minutes. Season with pepper to your taste.

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.