The Taste of Pastes – Bruschette alla Umbra

If I had to describe this June in one word, it would probably be “changes”. Naturalmente as usual, it is the month of the season changing from spring to summer. This year it was also a month of several changes in my life, and – due to those – additionally the first month with no posts on Cucina Fintastica.

Leaving poor blog post stats aside, I am usually quite pro-change. Even if new phases and elements in life may bring some uncertainty, they also always include something new, positive and exciting!

Obviously there are also some things that remain solid in this world. Such as my love of Italian food and faith in Giorgione’s recipes. I think I may need to order some new Italian cook books to my kitchen library soon including Giorgione’s  latest (“Giorgioni – Le origini“) but in the meantime I’m sharing one more recipe from Giorgione’s fab “Orto e cucina“. There are in fact three different Umbrian style bruschette out of which I have successfully tried two: one with an aubergine topping and another one with green peppers. Both are delicious and superbly simple – and hence dishes for which my appreciation will certainly never change!

Umbrian Style Bruschette

White (country-style) bread of your choice

For the green pepper paste:

½ onion

2 green peppers

red chilli pepper

marjoram

parsley

butter

olive oil

For the aubergine paste:

1 aubergine

1 garlic clove

red chilli pepper

mint

marjoram

butter

olive oil

Heat some olive oil in a pan and add the chopped onion, a dash of red chilli, and a leaf of marjoram (or more if your fresh marjoram are a bit blander than in Giorgione’s region – such as here in Helsinki). Add the green peppers (sliced into small pieces) and some salt and fry lightly. Once cooked (the green peppers should be soft enough for blending), move them into a blender with a knob of butter and a bunch of parsley. Mix into a soft paste.

Heat some olive oil in a pan and quickly fry the aubergines (sliced into cubes) in it. Drain the aubergines. In another pan, heat some olive and gently fry the garlic clove, some red chilli, mint and marjoram. Add the aubergines. Move the mixture into a blender and mix into a soft paste with a knob of butter.

Cut the bread into nice slices and gently grill the slices. Top each slice with the paste of your choice.

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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.