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.

 

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 Runner’s Delight – Pasta con Pesto di Zucchine Arrostite

As this is an Italian food blog, I have so far shared very little about my other passions in life. Well, at least, apart from hating the Finnish winter with a passion I suppose.

However, this time I can reveal that one of them is running. I love the endorfin rush, doses of fresh air and the feeling of just simply everything making more sense (and of being less grumpy about the most disastrous baking attempts) that you get by simply putting one shoe in front of the other.

I also participate in some half-marathon events every now and then, and even once went to a “running school” to prepare for them. In the school, I learned about this brilliant concept of “carb loading”: in the day or days before your running event, you try to stock up on carbohydrates to increase your body’s reserves for the long endurance work-out. It really is an Italian food lover’s dream, isn’t it? An order to eat as much pasta as you like. Ingenious. Well, ok, I do know that carb loading is a lot more relevant when getting ready for a full marathon. Yet I choose not to let that minor detail get in the way between me and my big bowl of pasta. And I still refuse to believe that pasta is bad for you. Just look at the nation full of happy Italians.

I completed one half-marathon just yesterday and hence dutifully did some serious carb loading the day before. I chose a recipe from a cook book called “Le ricette della prova del cuoco“. It turned out be at least as brilliant as the carb loading concept. You make a supertasty simple pesto sauce of roasted zucchini, pistachio, fresh mint and olive oil, and combine it with the pasta and parmesan. And naturalmente, you don’t have to be a runner to enjoy it – just look at the nation full of happy Italians!

Pasta with Roasted Zucchini

Serves 6

480 g (farfalle) pasta

500 g zucchini

40 g parmesan

60 g pistachios

fresh mint (to your taste)

1 bayleaf

olive oil

salt, pepper

Clean and peel the zucchini, and then cut them in half (lengthways). Place the halves on an oven tray covered with a parchment paper, and season them with salt, pepper and some olive oil. Bake them in the oven at 175C for at least 30 minutes and cool down.

Grate the parmesan. Boil the pistachios in hot water for three minutes (I skipped this step as I was using roasted and saltes pistachios), and once cooled down, peel them. In a blender, mix the pistachios and 50 ml olive oil. Add the roasted zucchini and continue blending. Finally add the fresh mint and again continue blending until you have achieved a nice pesto paste. Put the pesto sauce into a bowl and season it with the grated parmesan and salt (if needed).

Cook the pasta in salted water with the bayleaf. Combine the ready pasta with the pesto sauce and serve.

The Secret Agent – Parmigiana di Zucchine e Mozzarella

There are many secrets to making a fabulous dish. Sometimes it is gigantic quantities of butter and sugar. Sometimes it is the skill of combining just the right and right amounts of ingredients. Sometimes it is just pure luck (at least in my case). And sometimes it is not even about the dish but the fantastic company that also makes the food taste perfect.

I have also noticed that there are some ingredients that bring out the flavours of the other ingredients of a recipe and skillfully complement them in a subtle way. These hidden heroes often make the significant difference between ok and splendid. Salt is obviously one of them as well as lemon and garlic. In the Italian kitchen, the secret of many recipes is often anchovy as is the case also in this parmigiana (from the March 2015 issue of Cucina Moderna).

Obviously when the main ingredients of the recipe are zucchini, mozzarella and tomatoes, you know that there is little risk of a kitchen disaster (unless you forget the dish in the oven – so please don’t) but it is the anchovy that takes the dish onto a level of a kitchen bliss!

Zucchini and mozzarella parmigiana

Serves 5

1 kg zucchini

200 g mozzarella

200 g crushed tomatoes

4 fillets of anchovy in oil

1 (small) bunch of basil

½ garlic clove

1 tbsp chopped onion

olive oil, peanut oil

Cut the mozzarella into thin slices and the zucchini into a bit thicker ones. Fry the zucchini in a pan with some hot peanut oil for 1 minute until they begin to brown. Place the fried slices on paper towels and gently season them with salt.

Heat some olive oil in a pan. Add the onion, chopped garlic clove and anchovy fillets and gently cook them for a few minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, some (a sufficient quantity) basil and continue cooking on a meidum heat for some minutes. While cooking, stir the sauce frequently to ensure the anchovy dissolves into it.

Grease an oven dish with some olive oil. Fill the dish with layers of 1) zucchini and basil, 2) mozzarella and 3) the tomato sauce. The final two top layers should be zucchini and mozzarella. Bake in the oven at 200C for 20 minutes. After that switch off the heat of your oven and let the dish stay in the oven for another 5 minutes before serving.

Music to Tastebuds – Rosette con Pane alla Menta e Limone

One of the disadvantages of living in a city apartment is that there is a fairly limited amount of space available for your pots, kitchen utensils and gadgets. At least if you prioritise things like a dining table and living room sofa over them. I still possess items such as a wok pan that I don’t really use since due to its enormous size, you can only wash it in a bathtub. Yet in general, I try to limit my kitchenware to mainly essentials.

That being said, I have now identified a new must-have: a mandolin. Obviously I mean the slicer, not the instrument although nice music to accompany your cooking can sometimes be quite essential too! This fabulous zucchini dish alone – from the July edition of La Cucina Italiana – justifies the investment of money and space in this utensil (even if I have to ditch the wok giant, which may not be such a bad idea anyway…).

The process of this recipe is quite simple: you slice the zucchini with your mandolin, shortly precook the slices to make them soft enough for rolling, wrap and bake them with a superbly flavoursome filling and finally accompany with the perfect match of parmesan mayonnaise. The end result will be music to your tastebuds!

I came up with a neat trick for the breadcrumbs since I do not often have old white bread at home and the right kind of breadcrumbs are as essential for the success of this recipe as the mandolin: I bought one wheat roll, halved it, grilled the halves in the oven to dry them and finally blended them into crumbs.

Zucchini Rolls with Bread, Mint and Lemon

Serves 4

400 g zucchini

100 g breadcrumbs/ 1 wheat roll dried and crumbled

100 g mayonnaise

parmesan, grated

1 tbsp (strong) mint, chopped

zest of ½ lemon, grated

olive oil

salt

To make the filling, mix the breadcrumbs, lemon zest, mint, a pinch of salt and 60 g olive oil in a bowl.

For the accompanying sauce: In a separate bowl, combine the mayonnaise with 40 g of the parmesan and 10 g hot water.

Cut the zucchini lengthways into thin slices (by using the mandolin if possible). Cook them in boiling water for 1 minute, drain them and put them in cold water. After that drain and dry the slices.

Take two zucchini slices at a time and place them in an adjoining “line” (one on top of the other for a few centimeters) to obtain a “slice” of double length. Add the breadcrumb filling on top of the zucchini slices and gently wrap the zucchini slices to form a roll. Repeat until you have used all your zucchini.

Take an oven tray and cover it with a parchment paper. Place the zucchini rolls on it and sprinkle them with some grated parmesan and a trickle of olive oil. Bake in the oven at 180C for 5-8 minutes. Serve immediately with the parmesan mayonnaise.