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).

A Lesson Learnt (& Rhubarb Burnt) – Insalata Mista con Rabarbaro E Caprino

I have always felt a special affinity with Italy and Italians although I have no Italian roots myself. One of the reasons for this is probably that I possess traits stereotypically considered Italian. Such as impatience.

Sometimes impatience can actually be good as it enables you to constantly seek ways to do things more efficiently. And sometimes impatience can be very bad. For instance when you are trying a new recipe and reading it a bit haphazardly. Some dishes and cooking techniques are more forgiving for an occasional slip of attention whereas some are definitely not. Baking is certainly one of the most brutal kinds in this sense. You miss one little ingredient or step and suddenly you have a disaster instead of a lovely pie in your kitchen.

Yesterday I learnt that caramelization is another example of these less relaxed types. I missed one word of a recipe and managed to make something resembling charcoal for Barbie’s barbecue rather than a rhubarb topping for my salad. Fortunately this time – in addition to spare rhubarb – I had a more capable “sous chef” at my disposal who kindly and more patiently showed me what was supposed to be done. (Just in case you are wondering, Barbie’s charcoal is on the left below.)

Rhubarbs

A nice thing about this wonderful salad recipe is that it is quite easy and quick to prepare – as long as you follow the sous chef technique for caramelization instead of the charcoal one! Goat cheese and sweet flavours obviously work well together but walnuts also complement the nutty flavour of caramelization brilliantly, and the acidity of rhubarb balances the richness and sweetness of the other ingredients just superbly.

Goat Cheese And Rhubarb Salad

60 g butter

4 tbsp sugar

100 g rhubarb (leaf stalks)

3 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp sweet mustard

salt, pepper

200 g mixed lettuce leaves

50 g goat cheese (sliced or crumbled)

6 pc walnuts (slightly crumbled)

Clean and peel the rhubarb leaf stalks and cut them into smallish cubes.

In a pan melt the butter on a low/ medium heat. Add the sugar and once it starts to dissolve into the butter, add the rhubarb cubes. Cook (on that low/ medium heat) for about ten minutes until you have caramelized the rhubarb cubes and they are a bit soft. Remove the pan from the heat and let the rhubarb cool down for some minutes.

In a small glass, mix the ingredients of the salad dressing (olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, salt, pepper). Make the salad by first placing the lettuce leaves on at the bottom of the salad bowl, then pouring the dressing onto them, and finally adding the caramelized rhubarb, goat cheese and walnuts on top.

A Classic Twist – Banana Bread

There is one pastry that I remember having at almost every family gathering of my father’s side throughout my childhood: a banana cake. Apparently the recipe originated from a Canadian exchange student who visited my Dad’s family in the 1960s, and my relatives were hooked from the very first bite (or something like that – I wasn’t born yet)! It certainly is a nice cake although it is a bit hard to objectively rate a dessert that epitomizes your family coffee breaks of several decades, isn’t it?

I have never dared to try that recipe myself yet which – considering my very varying degrees of success when it comes to baking – may be a good idea. However, instead I found a neat, easy and baking-foolproof recipe with a nice Italian twist (i.e. ricotta) from Benedetta Parodi’s book Mettiamoci a cucinare. In this recipe, the softness and sweetness of the bananas is very nicely balanced with the freshness of the accompanying ricotta sauce and crunchiness of the walnuts. I have made this cake a few times now and even if it is yet to become a true family classic, it has also already won over fans of several generations!

Banana Bread

Serves 4-6

For the cake:

3 bananas

250 g flour

150 g sugar

100 g walnuts

80 g butter

75 g ricotta

2 eggs

1 small cup of coffee

½ tsp bicarbonate (of soda)

½ tsp cinnamon

a pinch of nutmeg

salt

For the sauce:

250 g ricotta

50 ml maple leaf syrup

Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl: The flour, sugar, bicarbonate, chopped walnuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a pinch of salt. In another bowl, squash the bananas and add and mix in the ricotta, eggs, butter and coffee. Combine the ingredients of the two bowls and stir moderately (the dough should be lumpy). Pour the dough into a narrow rectangular cake tin (buttered or lined with a parchment paper), and bake it in the oven at 180C for about half an hour. Prepare the accompanying sauce by mixing together the ricotta and maple leaf syrup. Serve the cake with the sauce.

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.

Nuturalmente Fabulous – Caserecce alle Noci

Sometimes in this world you may feel that it is difficult to know what to really believe in. But at least there is one thing that you can always trust: a chef proudly sporting a very round tummy!

My acquaintance with this Italian signor called Giorgione started when I bought his book “Giorgione – Orto e Cucina” in Italy this summer. It was his street-credible belly (in addition to a very simpatico smile) that initially caught my attention. I later discovered that the book is in fact based on a popular TV series of the same name. In his own words, Giorgione is “a nearly veterinarian who loves the nature and its products”. He lives in a small town in the province of Perugia, and has apparently been a foodie and passionate about agriculture for all his life. A few years ago he was discovered to star in this show that, in addition to cooking, includes his adventures e.g. in the vegetable garden and going mushrooming. Unfortunately there were no episodes of Giorgione available online. However, I did manage to find some short clips on YouTube where I could see him in action and uttering “yummmm” for not an insignificant number of times.

Hence my expectations were high when I opened my book to try one of his recipes – and I am happy to report that (at least based on this pasta) my faith in full-figured middle parts remained intact! A pasta dish mainly based on walnuts did initially sound a bit… (I apologise for the inevitable, unimaginative attempt at linguistic wit) … nuts. Yet the aromas of walnuts evolve when cooking adding a fabulous, distinct flavour to complement the richness of the sauce and sweetness of the red onions. So yes, I expect me and Giorgione to remain friends for quite some time to come!

Caserecce Pasta with Walnuts

200 g caserecce pasta

20 walnuts

½ red onion

butter (Giorgione recommended butter made of buffalo milk but I had to settle for the normal kind)

olive oil

salt, pepper

2 tbsp white wine

½ cup cream

parmesan, grated

pecorino romano, grated

Chop the walnut kernels into rough, small chunks (Giorgione advised to use a blender for this purpose but I was worried that my little device wouldn’t appreciate this task).

Slice the red onion into small cubes (about the same size as the walnuts). Melt a generous amount of butter in a pan and add the onions. Gently cook them for some minutes. Add some olive oil, pepper and as soon as the onions start to become golden brown, the white wine. Add the chopped walnuts and continue cooking the mixture for some additional minutes to gain flavor to the sauce. Season with salt and pour in the cream.

Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water. Once ready, combine the pasta with the walnut sauce and a small amount of the cooking water of the pasta, and the pecorino cheese. Finally, complement the dish with some grated parmesan when serving.