A Gnocchout Dish – Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina

If I need to name my strengths, perseverance and persistence are definitely among the top ones.

They are quite useful qualities also in the worlds of blogging and cooking.

They enable me to write yet another post to Cucina Fintastica after a …er… lengthy break.

They also make me re-try recipes even if the first experiment resulted in a kitchen disaster of some sort. As you may remember, I have had my fair share of them. Like this. Or some of these.

Today’s dish is another example of a dish gone unfriendly at the first attempt. When I had mixed all the ingredients of the gnocchi together, I had a pasta dough so wet and sticky that you could have probably very successfully used it for hanging a wallpaper. However, for making  fresh pasta it was completely useless. So I added flour. And more flour. And more and more. I ended up with something not so useful for decorating your walls anymore and managed to make the pieces of pasta out of the dough. Unfortunately after all the extra rounds of flour, the gnocchi tasted of – not too surprisingly – flour and were very hard.

Apparently I am not the only one who has miserably failed in the art of gnocchi-making. According to this article by La Cucina Italiana, there are several errors that you can make. You have to pick the right kind of potatoes, not peel them before cooking, avoid using too much flour and so on.

My first failed attempt did put me off potato gnocchi for quite some time though. Then I dared to test a version of them with pumpkins (no potatoes) which worked out quite perfectly. Another success was gnocchi of ricotta (still no potatoes). Finally I tried gnocchi alla sorrentina with a shortcut of using ready-made gnocchi.

In fact, I was going to take the same shortcut today but my not-so-well-equipped supermarket didn’t have any ready gnocchi available. Hence I was forced to bravely crawl out of my gnocchi comfort zone. And I’m glad that I did.

This time I selected the right potatoes, tapped the potatoes dry with papertowel and didn’t add the entire egg when my dough started to show signs of stickiness. And voila, the gnocchi had proper taste and consistency! Another culinary lesson learned.

Gnocchi alla sorrentina

Serves 4

For the gnocchi

1 kg red potatoes

300 g (00) flour

1 medium-sized egg

Salt

For the tomato sauce

600 g tomato paste

6 basil leaves

1 garlic clove

Olive oil

Salt

For the final dish

250 g mozzarella

70 g parmesan cheese

Cook the potatoes in boiling water until soft (depending on their size for about 30-40 minutes).

In the meantime, prepare the tomato sauce. In a pan, heat some olive oil and add the garlic clove and tomato paste and season with some salt. Add the basil leaves and cover the pan with a lid. Cook on a low – medium heat for at least 30 minutes.

When the potatoes are cooked, drain them very well. Put the flour on a board. Peel the still warm potatoes and manually mash/ puree them. Combine them with the flour. Add the egg and a pinch of salt. Start kneading the mixture until you have a homogenous, soft (not too sticky nor too hard) dough.

Boil some water in a kettle to cook the gnocchi. Add some salt.

Make the gnocchi out of the dough. Form long “sticks” of the dough on the board. They need to be 2-3 cm thick. With a knife, cut small chunks (1-2 cm wide) of the stick and form a gnoccho of each with a fork. In the original recipe, there are some good pictures how to do this in practice! Use some extra flour all the time in case the dough or the gnocchi get stuck.

Cook the gnocchi in several parts (to ensure the won’t break) in the boiling water for about 2-3 minutes.

Take an oven dish and spread a small amount of the tomato sauce and sprinkle of olive oil at the bottom. Mix the remaining tomato sauce with the cooked gnocchi (again careful not to break them).

Slice the mozzarella and grate the parmesan. Add one half of the gnocchi in tomato sauce to the oven dish. Put one half of the cheeses on top. Add the remaining gnocchi and finally the remaining cheese.

Bake in the oven at 250C for about 5 minutes.

 

 

 

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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.

 

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.

Baking on the Edge – Torta di Pomodoro

It was bound to be una grande catastrofe. I was really asking for trouble. And yet somehow I managed to pull it off.

It all started on a stormy late-summer evening when I made the daring promise to be responsible for a lunch of four people on the following Saturday. Without a moment of hesitation, I immediately knew what I had to do: to bake a pie.

Yes, many could have told me that this decision was ill-advised and potentially of the most disastrous consequences. But even if they had, I would have stubbornly ignored their well-meaning pleas to stop when I still could as I had a vision. A vision of the perfect tomato pie (well, at least edible) as described in the book “Le Ricette della Prova del Cuoco”.

I was on a mission. I was unstoppable. There were admittedly many obstacles on my course. I had to fight my way to the ripest cherry tomatoes. I sweet-talked my cake tin into accommodating several pieces of parchment paper. I patiently guided the cherry tomatoes to relinquish their excess liquid in a pan. I persuaded the dough to get a good grip of the parchment papers to form a crust of the right shape. I bravely shedded no tears (ok, maybe a few but not many) when realising I lacked the dry beans required to be placed on the crust for the first phase of baking it in the oven.

And yes, the crust behaved impeccably, the filling was soft, creamy and tasty, and the lunch arrived at the table on time.

Mission accomplished.

Tomato Pie

Serves 6-8

For the crust:

300 g flour

1 tbsp cream

1 glass whole milk

pinch of salt

pinch of baking soda

For the filling:

500 g cherry tomatoes

1 garlic clove

basil to your taste

1 tbsp olive oil

salt, pepper

For the sauce:

25 g flour

25 g butter

100 ml cream

150 ml whole milk

100 g parmesan, grated

salt, pepper

For the crust, quickly mix all the ingredients in a bowl to create smooth dough. Store the dough in a fridge for 30 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the filling. Cut the cherry tomatoes into four slices each. In a pan, gently fry the garlic clove until golden. Remove the pan from the heat and add the tomatoes and salt and pepper to your taste. Cook at strong heat until the most of the excess liquid of the tomatoes has evaporated (it took about 10-15 minutes for me). Season to your taste with the basil.

Prepare the sauce. Melt the butter in a pan and stir in the flour. In another pan, heat the cream and the milk. Add the butter and the flour and stir continuously until the sauce has thickened and obtained a creamy texture. Season with salt and pepper and remove the pan from the heat. Add the grated parmesan and mix well.

Roll out the dough into a round with a rolling pin (the diameter should be some centimetres longer than your cake/ pie tin). Line your cake tin with parchment paper (including the base). Place the rolled out crust into the tin. Add some dry but slightly oiled beans on top of the crust (if you have some; don’t panic if you don’t, you can manage without too..!), and bake the crust in the oven at 180C for 15-20 minutes. Remove the beans from the crust, add the tomato filling and finally pour the parmesan sauce on top. Bake in the oven at 180C for another 10-15 minutes.

Team Tomato – Insalata Erbette e Tre Pomodori

I was cheering on behalf of Cucina Fintastica for Gli Azzurri yesterday to no avail. Stupid football. Stupid Uruguay team (apart from the tight compression shirts that is).

Fortunately I am also an avid supporter of another team that never fails: Team Tomato. This salad includes three types of them and with the help of avocado, feta cheese and toasted bread it doesn’t need any unjust red cards, corner kicks or skimpy outfits to become a sure winner! And who knows – maybe if somebody had offered this salad to that chap Luis Suarez before yesterday’s match, he wouldn’t have needed to sink his teeth into his fellow player…

Salad of Three Tomatoes and Herbs

Serves 4

(Wild) herbs

100 g tomatoes

100 g cherry tomatoes

100 g sun-dried tomatoes

1 avocado (+ some lemon juice)

100 g feta cheese in cubes

extra virgin olive oil

balsamic vinegar

some slices of white bread

Chop the herbs and slice the tomatoes and the avocado (squeeze some lemon juice onto the avocado slices). Mix all ingredients together and season with oil and vinegar (+ salt & pepper) to your taste. Toast the bread. I used the bread as “croutons” but you can also serve it on side with some oil and vinegar.

Summer in the City – Pomodori al Tonno

Continuing my list of things that I appreciate about the Italian kitchen, I have to mention their understanding of the seasonality of different ingredients. Obviously me being a Finn, it doesn’t yet mean that I always follow this thinking.

I had some leftover mayonnaise in my fridge and decided to try this recipe that according to its source is “ideal for the summer season”.  Ok, so the Finnish greenhouse tomatoes at this time of the year may bear little other resemblance to their summer (or Italian) versions than the colour red but the tasty stuffing of this recipe reasonably well makes up for what the winter tomatoes may lack in flavour. However, I think I will definitely prepare this dish also during the season officially approved by Italians, and might even take them (the tomatoes, not the Italians) with me to a summer picnic!

The tomatoes are quite filling so we had some to spare for the following day, and it seemed that they got even tastier over night. As mayonnaise can be a bit heavy, I am also thinking of substituting some of it with yoghurt to make it slightly lighter and fresher the next time.

Originally I was planning to use the recipe from the book “Oggi cucino io 4” but I ended up also partially utilizing this.

Tuna-stuffed Tomatoes

Serves 6

8 round, ripe tomatoes

350 g tuna in oil, crumbled with a fork

200 g mayonnaise

4 hard boiled eggs

6 anchovy fillets, finely chopped

2 tablepoons capers in vinegar, drained, one half finely chopped, the other half without chopping

2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped

16 basil leaves, in small pieces

salt, pepper

Cut away the top of each tomato, and scrape out the seeds of the tomatoes with a spoon. Turn the tomatoes upside down and leave them to drain on a plate. In the meantime, peel the eggs and cut them into small pieces. In a bowl, combine the mayonnaise with the tuna. Add the capers, the anchovies, the eggs and the herbs, and mix well until you have a smooth(ish) paste. Season with salt and pepper. Fill the tomatoes with the paste and put them in the fridge for at least an hour before serving.