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.

Food for Moods – Cosce di Pollo al Limone

I have admitted earlier that I am not a winter person. At all. What I am even less, is a January person. I think January is the Monday of months. In this part of the world, it is criminally cold and terribly dark. There is nothing exciting happening as everyone is on a diet and just moping at home wearing wooly socks (apart from that sensible bunch who can elope Finland and head to a tropical country for a week or longer).

Well, ok. Views may be somewhat decent(ish) in January too.

Helsinki winter

Anyway – decent or not – on a more positive note, when the end of the month finally approaches, an anti-January person feels quite rejoiceful and festive. And obviously a celebration to welcome February should be accompanied by some fab Italian food.

My adventures in the Italian kitchen have already earlier made me renew my appreciation for chicken legs. This dish is another recipe to maintain that appreciation. It is also a brilliant all-rounder. It is flavoursome and fantastic for those February feasts but yet simple enough to also brighten the bluest of Mondays anytime of the year!

Chicken Legs with Lemon

Serves 4

4 chicken legs with thighs

1 garlic clove

1 glass of white wine

2 (organic) lemons

½ onion

rosemary (to your taste)

sage (to your taste)

6 tbsp olive oil

salt, pepper

Clean the chicken legs (if needed – in Helsinki they are usually quite clean without any leftover feathers). You can also remove the skin of the legs if you prefer a slightly lighter dish.

Peel and chop the onion. Wash the lemons and grate their zest. Squeeze the juice of the lemons into a cup.

In a pan, heat the olive oil with the rosemary, sage, chopped onion and (entire) garlic clove. Add the chicken legs and season with salt and pepper. Fry the legs for a few minutes to get some colour on them. Pour in the white wine and let it evaporate. Add the lemon juice. Cover the pan with a lid. Let the chicken legs cook on a low heat for approximately 45 minutes (until cooked). During the final minutes of cooking, add the lemon zest. Serve immediately.

New Wonders – Gratin di Pollo con Porcini E Radicchio di Campo in Salsa Carbonara

Happy New Year everyone!

2014 seems to have flown by and suddenly we have reached the mid-point of this decade. Amazing. What is quite baffling too is that in a few weeks Cucina Fintastica will celebrate its first birthday. I set up this blog with the initial target of challenging myself to complete three posts. Almost a year later, not only is the amount of posts 15-fold but I also possess a widened range of cooking skills (learnt both the easy and hard way), an impressive library of Italian cook books (ok, five to be exact but still…), and a renewed optimism in my abilities to actually bake a cake (apart from that stupid torta della nonna that is).

Anyway, as I mentioned in my previous post, this week I had the intention of looking into the Italian New Year’s traditions. I actually hosted a little New Year’s party, and was obviously keen to utilise the fabulous wisdom of the Italian kitchen in my menu. I did make this salad and tested some nice spinach and goat cheese pastries from “Le ricette della prova del cuoco” but didn’t find any must-haves to prepare for exactly New Year.

Now that I am in a bit less of a hurry and have the time to actually sit down when searching for recipes, I can see that there would have been at least one thing not to miss: lentils. Apparently having lentils (symbolising money) on New Year’s Eve should be auspicious for your finances for the coming year. I suppose I hence can’t expect Cucina Fintastica (nor my real career nor any attempts at lottery) to take the world by storm this year either. Well, at least I’ll know better the next time.

According to Google, there are also some other interesting New Year’s traditions in Italy. One of the most worrying kind is throwing old plates and glasses out of windows at midnight. In today’s Italy this habit is not quite as widespread as earlier but anyway be warned to take a helmet with you if you ever happen to visit Italy at this time of the year. Or obviously you can always consider changing your travel destination to a nice city where windows remain firmly closed in Dec/ Jan, such as Helsinki.

It seems that I have now managed to almost complete this post by writing about things that have absolutely nothing to do with today’s dish… It is in fact another fantastic recipe from Bruno Barbieri’s book “Via Emilia, via da casa“. By just looking at the list of its ingredients, you know you can’t go wrong with it. And believe me you certainly won’t. So what better way to start off your culinary year?

Chicken Gratin with Mushrooms And Wild Rocket (Rucola) in Carbonara Sauce

Serves 4

For the carbonara sauce

150 g smoked pancetta

50 g butter

1 egg yolk

parmesan cheese

1 liqueur glass of water

Splash of cognac

For the gratin

2 chicken breasts

4 handfuls of wild rocket

3 (porcini) mushrooms

100 g parmesan

1 bay leaf

1 sprig of rosemary

2 garlic cloves

olive oil

Cut the pancetta ham into small cubes. Fry them in a pan with the butter for a few minutes. Add the cognac and let it evaporate. Remove the pan from the heat and once cooled down, add a mixture of the egg yolk and the water. The sauce (that you hence make) should not be too thick. If it thickens too much, pour into the sauce a little bit more water or a few drops of vegetable stock. Move the sauce to a heat-resistant (gratin) dish and cover it with the grated parmesan.

Clean and slice the mushrooms. Move them to a pan and cook them with a crushed garlic clove, the bay leaf and some olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and continue cooking the mushrooms for another few minutes.

Cut the chicken breasts into cubes. Fry them in a pan on a high heat with some olive oil, the other garlic clove and the rosemary for 3-4 minutes stirring continuously.

Add the chicken cubes on top of the carbonara sauce in the gratin dish, and then the rocket leaves. Sprinkle the dish with the grated parmesan, add a trickel of olive oil, salt and pepper, and finally a knobs of butter. Bake in grill for some minutes.

Serve the chicken with the mushrooms.

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 Underrated Legs – Cosce di Pollo con i Gelsi

Some things in this world – such as 80s shoulder pads, most of the Finnish Eurovision Song contestants, the English weather and my baking skills – are left without much recognition for understandable reasons.

Yet there are also some things whose lack of appreciation is more unfortunate.

Take chicken legs for example. For years, I have seen everyone praise the qualities of chicken breasts and they are a part of every street-credible athlete’s and nutritionist’s diet. However, Italian recipes have now taught me that by eliminating the fat and bones of your chicken, you also eliminate the possibility to add more flavour to your dish. Chicken legs are also relatively inexpensive. Thus, I would dare to suggest that they are the underrated (but hopefully rising) stars of today’s kitchens!

This chicken leg recipe originates from Giogione’s book (Giorgione – Orto e Cucina). Giorgione hasn’t defined the exact quantities for some ingredients of this dish. Fortunately I was not as unlucky as the last time when experimenting with a bit vague recipe, and this secondo turned out great and tasty. However, I think the next time I will consider adding a bit less olive oil and more wine and herbs to increase the flavour even more.

Chicken Legs with Mulberries

7 slices of bacon (I left these out as I don’t eat bacon…)

7 chicken legs with thighs

2 handfuls of black mulberries

white wine

black pepper

salt

1 bunch of rosemary

1 sage leaf (or several if you use less strong Finnish ones…)

olive oil

Mix together some salt, pepper, white wine, olive oil, the rosemary and sage and pour the marinade onto the chicken legs. Leave to rest for some time.

Oil an oven tin. Take one chicken leg at a time, roll it once more well in the marinade, wrap one slice of bacon around the leg and place it in the oven tin. Keep the leftover marinade for later use. Bake the bacon-wrapped (or without bacon as I did) chicken legs in the oven at 180C for 30 minutes.

Add the mulberries, some more white wine and a little bit of additional olive oil and salt to the leftover marinade, and mix gently. Leave to rest while the chicken legs are in the oven.

After the first 30 minutes of baking the chicken legs, take them out, and pour the mulberry sauce onto them. Cover the oven tin with aluminium foil and return the chicken legs to the oven for another 30 minutes.

Well-Dressed – Insalata di Melanzane

I am one of those women who tried her best to avoid every visible source of fat (such as salad dressings and butter on a piece of bread) in her food for years. When I learned a few years ago that in fact my diet contained too little fat, I had to retrain myself to remember to accompany my lettuce with a bit of olive oil. The success of my endevours is now clearly visible on my waistline but at least it is good fat, eh?

As a byproduct of my retraining comes a proper appreciation for a nice salad dressing whenever I meet one. My latest pleasant acquintance of this sort was enabled by the book “Voglia di Cucinare“. The method of making the dressing is quite interesting: it is cooked and includes some cream in addition to the more traditional elements of olive oil, vinegar and lemon juice. I am not usually a very big fan of uncooked champignon mushrooms but for some reason this dressing marinates even them into quite a delicious format! Hence, all I have to do now is to negotiate with my waistline to hit the gym…

Aubergine Salad

2 aubergines

4 tbsp olive oil

2 tomatoes

1 zucchini

100 g champignons

1 garlic clove

1 dl white wine

juice of 1 lemon

1.5 dl cream

1 tsp rosemary

1 tsp fresh mint

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

salt, pepper

Cut the aubergine into very thin slices. Sprinkle them with salt if needed and after an hour, rinse with water and dry (you may skip this step if your aubergines are not the bitter type, as most aubergines sold in Helsinki aren’t).

Heat one half of the olive oil in a pan and add the aubergines. When the slices are cooked, transfer them into a salad bowl. Add the sliced tomatoes, zucchini and champignons to the bowl.

Heat the other half of the olive oil in a pan and gently fry the garlic clove in it. Add the white wine, lemon juice and cream. Stir into the sauce the rosemary, fresh mint and vinegar and bring it to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and season with salt and pepper.

Pour the dressing onto the salad and let the vegetables marinate in it for at least 30 minutes. At the time of serving, season with some additional salt and pepper to your taste.

The Peach Party – Pesche Noci Grigliate

Summer has arrived in Helsinki! Each year it surprises me how fast the weather changes from the freezing stupid winter to the beautiful full bloom of the fabulous May and it is fantastic to see my fellow often grumpy citizens of Helsinki to actually raise a spontaneous smile. Yes, I am not exactly a fan of all four seasons (another motive for my Italian studies in addition to the fantastic cooking) so this time of the year makes me almost lyrical. However, as my talents for writing poems are at least as well hidden as my baking skills, I’d better focus on today’s recipe now and channel my inner Yeats at another time.

Right. In addition to the changes in weather, another thing that surprises me each year is re-discovering how much more fun cooking gets when you suddenly have a lot broader and tastier range of fresh fruit, berries and veggies at your disposal. It also makes cooking easier since you do not need to resort to all sorts of gimmicks (and sometimes even desperate pleas) to bring out the flavour of your ingredients. Today’s recipe is one example of that simplicity. It is from an Italian food blog. I discovered this dish when I was looking for a dessert and noticed that fresh peaches had arrived in my supermarket. I am not a very big dessert person but this one certainly hit the spot! Rosemary and vanilla were two perfect companions to complement the flavour of the peaches and mascarpone gave the dish a creamy finishing touch. I didn’t manage to halve the peaches as instructed in the blog (apparently mine were mostly too ripe) but since this wasn’t a baking assignment, I didn’t panic but sliced them into a tin foil instead. The end result may in fact have been even nicer since this way the sugars and the juice of the peaches formed a tasty sauce during grilling.

Grilled Peaches

Serves 4

4 peaches

250 g mascarpone

Granulated sugar flavoured with vanilla (or cane sugar/ granulated sugar and vanilla sugar)

Fresh rosemary

A knob of butter

Maple syrup

Rinse the peaches and dry them well. Halve them and remove their pits (in case you fail, like I did, you can also just slice them but obviously still remove the pits; after this, move them onto a tin foil). Add the sugar into the holes of the peach halves previously occupied by the pits (or sprinkle it onto the slices). Press a sprig of rosemary into the central part of the peach halves (or the slices).

In a bowl, mix the mascarpone with the maple syrup to your taste and store the mixture in a fridge.

Heat a grill and melt the butter gently on its surface/ grill pan (obviously no need for this step if you are using the tin foil). Put the peach halves onto the grill with their sugary side facing the grill and press them gently for a few minutes (in case of slices, wrap the tin foil and move it to the grill). The peaches are ready when the sugar has been caramelised (in case of slices, grill for some minutes; the end result will be peaches with a sauce rather than caramelised peaches). Serve immediately with the flavoured mascarpone.

Cheesy Sale – Patate Taleggio e Rosmarino

A couple of months ago, I tried making a risotto that included a cheese that I was not familiar with: Taleggio. As this cheese isn’t really included in your grocery staples in Finland, I couldn’t find it in my local corner store either and used Swiss Gruyere as a substitute (well, not exactly a grocery staple in Finland either…). However, last week I managed to get my very first chunk of Taleggio and to top my happiness, it was even on sale.

The flavour of Taleggio is a bit different from any other cheese that I have tried before. I would describe it as something between brie and mozzarella. It definitely has that flavour typical of a mold cheese but it is milder and its texture is not quite as soft as brie’s. It certainly worked so well with the risotto that I went back to the great Taleggio sale and bought another piece. This time I tested it with potatoes and rosemary as suggested by this recipe. Rosemary is one of my favourite herbs which in cooperation with my new friend Tal makes this recipe quite a nice side dish to accompany chicken or red meat!

Taleggio and rosemary potatoes

800 g potatoes

250 g Taleggio

4 tbsp milk

30 g butter

1 sprig of rosemary

salt, pepper

Cook the potatoes in boiling, unsalted water for only 10 minutes. Peel them and cut them into thin slices (~0.5 cm thick). Place the potato slices in a buttered gratin dish. Add the milk and season the potatoes with salt, pepper and chopped rosemary. Bake in the oven at 200C for 20 minutes.

Slice the Taleggio and remove its crust. Cover the potatoes with the cheese and continue cooking for another 10 minutes. Allow the ready dish to cool for a few minutes before serving.

The Chic Chick – Pollo alla Cacciatora

You may have noticed that one type of ingredient has been absent from my first ten posts in this blog, i.e. carne. The simple reason for this is that I haven’t eaten any red meat for 15 years. It has actually been so long that I no longer remember why I stopped. However, as I haven’t really missed it since, this chicken cooked in a sauce of red wine and tomatoes is still the reddest as far as my meat eating goes.

At least in Finland, one of the current food buzzes is about meat cooked slowly, and I think this dish is on that trend. Although you do not need an entire night to prepare it, its slow simmering phase ensures that the chicken absorbs the maximum amount of the fabulous flavours of the sauce whilst obtaining a fantastically soft consistency. It also seems that even Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson have developed their own versions of this. However, obviously I wouldn’t resort to any English trendy interpretations of this dish even if they are Jamie’s or Nigella’s, as I have the opportunity to learn these things straight from the Italian horse’s mouth!

On the other hand, according to my Google research, pollo alla cacciatora is actually a very traditional stew with dozens and dozens of variations from different parts of Italy. The recipe I tried is apparently of Tuscan origin. I also prepared some simple polenta to accompany this stew as recommended but I am sure e.g. mashed potatoes, rice and pasta should work well too!

Hunter-Style Chicken

Serves 4

1 chicken (or 2-3 chicken breast fillets and 2-3 chicken legs)

1 onion, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

3 celery stalks, chopped

1 garlic clove

½ glass of olive oil

1 glass of red wine

400 g peeled tomatoes

1 sprig of rosemary

1 bunch of fresh parsley, chopped

salt, pepper

Clean the chicken and chop it into large chunks. Leave the skin on as it will give more flavour to the sauce. Heat the oil on a frying pan/ casserole and add the chicken. Cook the chicken pieces for about 10 minutes until their both sides are golden. Add the onion, the garlic, the carrots, the celery, a pinch of salt, some pepper and the rosemary. Continue frying for at least 5 minutes until the veggies have a “good colour”. Pour the red wine into the sauce and let it evaporate. Add the tomatoes and cover the pan with a lid. Let the chicken cook at a medium heat for at least 30 minutes. If the stew seems to get too dry during this phase, you can add some hot water or broth. Finally, add the parsley and serve with the accompaniment of your choice.