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).

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 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:

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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.

Greatly Recommended – Ravioli di Zucca

There was a bit of a milestone in my path of food-blogging some weeks ago: I got a recommendation for a recipe for my blog! Coming from a reliable source of a fellow foodie, I was eager to give it a try. My friend also helped me prepare the dish which was certainly a bonus – especially considering that making fresh ravioli does have quite a few similarities with baking. And yes, all the ravioli in the picture were made by her. The ones I put together were of a shape that could be politely described as “creative” or “interesting” (along with “unphotogenic”).

Despite being previously unknown to us, ravioli (or tortelli) di zucca is apparently again one of those very traditional and famous recipes in Italy. We weren’t exactly right in season with our timing of cooking it since it is in fact also a typical dish to be made on Christmas Eve… However, since we aren’t Italians, we just simply enjoyed a lovely dinner without feeling any urge to belt out a couple of verses of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer!

There is one nice twist about this recipe: it includes biscuits! The recipe I found recommended that you use amaretti biscuits which I managed to also find in Helsinki. They had quite a distinct almondy flavour although they do not necessarily include any almonds but only apricot kernels. My friend’s recipe on the other hand utilized the cantuccini biscuits. Apparently both work really well with the pumpkin. In addition, the union of sage, butter and parmesan to top the ravioli is just superb!

Pumpkin Ravioli

Serves 6

400 g flour (preferably “00” or durum wheat)

4 eggs

600 g pumpkin/ butternut squash (incl. shell, 400 g without it)

100 g parmesan, grated

40 g amaretti biscuits (or cantuccini)

bread crumbs (if needed)

nutmeg

salt, pepper

40 g butter

6-8 leaves of sage

Clean the pumpkin and cut it into slices. Remove the seeds. Place them on a parchment paper on an oven tray and cover with some tinfoil. Cook the pumpkin slices in the oven at 200C for 25-30 minutes until soft. Let them cool down.

In the mean time, prepare the pasta dough. Place the flour on a board or in a bowl. Crack the eggs into the centre of your flour. Add a pinch of salt and start kneading the dough. Add a little bit of water if needed. Continue until you have obtained a smooth and homogenous dough. Roll the dough out with a pasta machine or a rolling pin. The dough should be fairly thin to be ready for the ravioli (you can check out e.g. Jamie’s tips on how to roll the dough well if you are unsure what to do!).

To make the stuffing, mix the amaretti biscuits, parmesan, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a blend. Peel the pumpkin slices, add to the mixture and blend well. If the stuffing seems too moist, you can add some bread crumbs to it.

Cut rectangle or round shapes of your pasta dough with a glass or some type of a rolling cutter (mine was a pizza cutter!). Add a little bit of the stuffing in the middle (do not exaggerate to be able to close the ravioli properly) of a dough slice. You can brush the edges of the pasta lightly with water. Place another dough slice on top and carefully seal the edges (my friend used a fork quite successfully for this purpose). Alternatively, you can roll out two big sheets of the pasta dough, add bits of stuffing within equal distances of each other on one sheet and then place the other sheet on top, and only after that cut the ravioli into shapes and seal their edges.

Cook the ravioli in salted boiling water for 3-5 minutes (usually they are ready when they start floating on the water). Make the butter sauce by melting the butter and adding the sage. Serve the ravioli with the sauce and freshly grated parmesan.