Just Give Me a Season: Secondo – Zucchini Ripiene di Carne

As promised in my previous post, Cucina Fintastica’s special season series now continues with a superb secondo!

Today’s season star is zucchini. In Finland zucchini is quite underrated. According to Wikipedia, Finns eat about 0.5 kg of it every year. In Italy, it is indeed a very different story. It is an integral part of the Italian kitchen and according to some study in difficultish Italian, it is their second favourite (vegetable I presume) right after tomatoes.

So if you are a Finn, this recipe of stuffed zucchini (from the Cookaround site) is a very deserving candidate to eat your annual quota of zucchini! Who knows – you may actually even like it enough to increase it to 0.7 kg…

Zucchini Stuffed with Meat

Serves 4

4 zucchinis

200 g minced meat (pork in the receipe but I have used beef)

100 g parmesan, grated

1 egg

150 g mortadella

50 g prosciutto cotto (boiled ham)

2 pc (stale) bread

milk

4 tbsp olive oil

salt, pepper

Wash the zucchinis and cook them in boiling, lightly salted water for 5 minutes to soften them gently. Remove them from the water and cut each of them into half lengthways.

With a spoon, scoop out enough zucchini flesh to create some space for the stuffing.

Prepare the stuffing. Soak the dry bread in some milk to soften it. Cut the mortadella and prosciutto into small pieces. In a bowl, combine the minced meat, egg, parmesan, mortadella, soaked bread, salt and pepper. Stir well to obtain a homogeneous mixture.

Fill the zucchini halves with the stuffing. Place the zucchinis on an oven tray covered with a parchment paper (or oiled gently) and sprinkle with some additional grated parmesan.

Bake in the oven at 180C for about 30 minutes. The zucchinis are ready once the stuffing is cooked. Serve hot or warm.

 

Just Give Me a Season: Primo – Conchiglioni Raffinati con le Fragole

One could definitely sound like a broken record when praising the impact of different seasons on the possibilities of the Italian kitchen. Actually, on second thought, “a broken record” is probably soon an expression that millenials do not actually understand (not that I expect Cucina Fintastica to be the “it blog” of millenial hipsters though).

Anyway. Sometimes I do not let the seasonality of Italian recipes restrict my culinary adventures too much – like in this case of Christmas food in June. But more often, especially during the warm half of the year, the availability of fresh European and Finnish veggies, fruit and berries does make cooking even more exciting.

I have been collecting quite a backlog of recipes for Cucina Fintastica recently so in the seasonal spirit of early summer, I’m now publishing a series of three fab recipes: a primo, a secondo and a dolce.

This fantastic pasta dish is by my old friend Giorgione. I have successfully tested quite a few of his recipes (like this great chicken with mulberries) from his first book and was recently delighted to get the second book “Giorgione – le origini“. In this pasta from the le origini book, one of the main ingredients is quite surprisingly strawberries. I already appreciated adding strawberries to a salad e.g. with goat cheese but strawberries with pasta sounded… interesting. I suppose this combination is also unusual for Italians as Giorgione writes in his book that “you won’t believe it but it is really worth a try”. I can confirm that it definitely is!

Pasta Refined with Strawberries

300 g strawberries (preferably not too ripe to be slightly less sweet and soft)

½ (Cannara) onion (I used a shallot)

100 g butter

olive oil

salt, pepper

1 mozzarella

200 g ricotta

parmesan cheese

basil

250 g conchiglioni pasta (shell pasta)

(optional: bread crumbs, milk)

Chop the onion and cut the strawberries into slices.

Bring a kettle of water to a boil, season with salt and add the pasta.

While the pasta is cooking, in a pan, heat some olive oil and butter. Add the onions and cook gently for a few minutes. Add the strawberries, season with salt and pepper and continue cooking.

While the strawberries are also gently cooking, prepare the filling. Cut the mozzarella into small pieces and mix it with the ricotta, some salt and pepper, and a heaped tablespoon of parmesan.

Once the pasta is cooked (al dente), let it cool down a bit. After that, fill the pasta shells with the mozzarella ricotta mixture. If you prefer to eat the warm version of this dish, you can add a drop of milk into the cheese mixture and sprinkle some bread crumbs on top of the pasta shells and put them in a hot oven for a few minutes (Giorgione didn’t specify how hot but mine was about 200C). If you prefer the colder version, you skip the milk, bread crumbs and oven. Finally, place the strawberries onto the filled pasta shells, sprinkle with the sauce from the pan and add some basil leaves to garnish.

Flour Power – Pollo al Sugo di Carciofi e Profumo d’Arancia

Only after just writing the title of this post, did I realise what a complicated name this recipe has! It alone hinders any attempts for this dish to become such a worldwide hit as spaghetti alla carbonara or panna cotta although in terms of flavour and simplicity it would certainly deserve its share of recognition outside the Italian borders. Maybe I’d better have a word about this with the editor of Cucina Moderna (from which this recipe originates). Or maybe the name is in fact a clever strategy to keep this chicken dish an Italian national top secret? If it is, I am now sharing it with the rest of the world anyway, ha!

Errr, anyway, there were a few other slightly more relevant things to point out about this secondo… One of its key ingredients is artichoke. I am quite a fan of the vegetable although I have never really used it in my cooking before (an occasional pizza topping from a tin doesn’t really count in my book). This time my plan was to buy them fresh and learn how to chop them properly. However, after discovering that a couple of fresh artichokes in my supermarket cost nearly as much as a three-course meal in Italy (ok, I may be exaggerating slightly although Helsinki is expensive…), I bought some frozen and more reasonably priced Italian artichokes instead. They were certainly quite handy to use although on a negative side, the art of preparing fresh artichokes hence still remains a bit of a mystery for me.

What I did learn though, was the trick of using flour with your chicken. I have never been a very big fan of schnitzels, chicken nuggets and other fried food. However, in this case the amount of both flour and oil is quite moderate compared to those deep-fried calorie kings. Yet, the flour covering the chicken slices helps them gain more flavour by absorbing the beautiful aromas of artichokes, oranges and lemon. Thus, that is the secret power of flour!

Chicken with Artichoke and Orange Sauce

Serves 4

500 g sliced chicken breast

4 artichokes (fresh or frozen)

2 dl milk

40 g grated parmesan

2 slices of orange zest

1 sprig of mint

½ lemon

30 g flour

40 g butter

extravirgin olive oil

salt, pepper

Clean the artichokes (if you are using fresh ones) and chop them into slices and dip them in water with the lemon juice. Melt 20 g of the butter in a pan and add the artichokes. Cook gently for 5 minutes with the orange zest (if you are using frozen artichokes, you can add the lemon juice at this point). Season with salt and pepper, add the milk and continue cooking for about ten minutes (fresh artichokes)/ a few minutes (frozen artichokes) until the artichokes are very soft. Mix one of the artichokes, the sauce and the grated parmesan in a blender, and pour the sauce onto the remaining artichokes.

Cover the chicken slices with the flour (if the fillets of chicken breast are very thick, you can first beat them with a kitchen hammer to make them thinner and then slice and add the flour). Heat some olive oil (~1-2 table spoons) and the remaining butter in a pan and fry the chicken slices for about 5 minutes by stirring occasionally until cooked. Add the artichoke sauce, the mint and season with salt and pepper and let the dish gather flavour for an additional 2-3 minutes. Serve with e.g. mashed potatoes, rise or pasta of your choice.

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.