Usually I love following the traditions: I believe in keeping the proportions and following the procedures even if new technologies can simplify everything: after all, I am not looking for the “correct” and perfect ways, I just need my food to taste like in the childhood. But sometimes, when life sends you a good set of ingredients, I feel like experimenting (anyway, there was no lasagna in my childhood). This time my inspiration was the autumn – keeping in mind that in English climate autumn vegetables must be the tastiest. So, actually, the queen of the autumn, pumpkin, seems like a perfect stuffing balanced with new tomatoes and some potatoes. Alternatively, pumpkin can be replaced with aubergines. The nature is smart, and apparently all autumn veggies tend to combine perfectly with each other.
Pumpkin Potato Lasagna
Potatoes__________ 500 grams
Pumpkin__________ 300 grams
Tomato pasta______ 3 tablespoons
Scamorza Cheese___350 grams
Brie Cheese________150 grams
Parmesan ____100 grams
Butter ______ 40 grams
Flour _______40 grams
Milk ________600 ml
Nutmeg _____a pinch
1. Cut onion and fry till golden, add cut potatoes and diced pumpkin and cook on the low heat for 10 minutes. Add tomato pasta, mix well and cook until ready. Add salt, paper, and rosemary to taste.
2. For the béchamel sauce melt the butter in a pot with thick bottom, add flour, mix it and fry for several minutes constantly mixing so that flour won’t stick to the bottom. Add warm milk, mix well, cook on low flame till it boils, after add salt, nutmeg, cover with the lid and cook for 10-15 minutes (till it becomes dense). Note: for lasagna the sauce shall be not as dense as you would cook otherwise.
3. Grease a baking dish, cover the bottom with béchamel, lay the first layer of lasagna sheets (it’s better if they don’t overlap), cover with béchamel, spread vegetable mix, add salt and pepper to taste, and slices of cheese. Repeat layers till all ingredients are used, cover with lasagna sheets, béchamel, sprinkle with parmesan. Bake on 180C (350F) for 45 minutes.
When I came to Italy, I was amazed how horribly Italians waste food. My flat mates would throw away everything that they had not finished during the dinner; in my perspective you can eat the dish even the day after. From time to time I saw in the garbage a whole loaf of bread; that made me absolutely sick… At least you can give the bread to birds. The fist moths of living together with my Italian bf were a constant fight for the food leftovers – I told we wouldn’t through them away, which confuzzeled him a lot (confuzzeled = confused + puzzled). In general, I can though away only something that is gone, but I prefer to utilize everything before it is wasted. This has nothing to do with greed; it is a matter of respect.
My grandmother was just 4 when the war started – big enough to remember everything. She never spoke about the war, even though many of people of her age or older told us how important it was to keep on studying and helping adults in watching out the fire. The only thing she ever had told me about the war was bread related. She once, when I was a small girl, tried to explain me what was responsibility and that life requires trade-offs. She told me they got a piece of bread per day, and they were three: my granny, her sister and their mother (my grandgrandmother). Each day my grandgrandmother would split this tiny peace in three unequal parts. My grandmother told me, that she was a kid and she was so hungry, as she was growing, but already then she understood that she had right to take just the smallest part of the bread. Her mother was working hard, her sister was studying in school – in her eyes they needed the food more, than herself.
During the siege of Leningrad around 5,000 people per DAY died because of hunger only. The piece of bread, 70% of which was not even wheat, but wood shredding, was the only food for the citizens for 900 days. In total, over 800,000 died from starvation. There is no single person with a normal upbringing in St Petersburg who can through away a piece of bread. It has nothing to do with greed; just the price of this bread is way too high to afford putting it to garbage. It is like spitting in your own history. Each time, when you through away good food, you show fantastic disrespect to those people, who are dying because they don’t have it. Since when have people forgotten that for centuries food was synonym for life?
Well, back to the recipe now. What if you cooked too much of risotto? Next day it is not tasty anymore. Solution is an absolutely fantastic risotto pie.
Time of preparation: 20 minutes Difficulty: Easy
Mushroom risotto leftovers or
Dry mushrooms__ 30 grams
Goat Cheese_____100 grams
1. If you prepare risotto from scratch: put mushrooms into boiling water for 30 minutes. After drain, and save the water. Chop onion; pour oil in the pot, fry onion and mushrooms. Add rice; mix so that every grain is coated with oil. Pour in a splash of broth from mushrooms. Constantly mix till the water evaporates, add another splash then, mix till the liquid evaporates… Repeat this sequence till rice is cooked. Add salt, pepper to taste.
2. Transfer the half of prepared risotto/leftover risotto into the baking dish, put sliced soft goat cheese, sprinkle with dried oregano (any herb you like/have next to you) and cover with the remaining risotto. If you want, sprinkle with grated parmiggiano. Bake on 180C (350F) for about 20 minutes or till golden crust. Super good cold, hot, and on the next day.
For utilizing stale bread you can check stuffed courgettes recipe, for using rice check oven-baked rice, if you have some fried vegetables left roll them into strudel, a lonely cooked potato or a lonely baked aubergine will fit into Balkan cheese pie.
There is a famous Russian journalist, who dedicated himself to studying island cultures. He claimed, that as every island population developed in insolation, its culture and social norms are so distinctive, that it is not easy for continental people to understand them. As the examples he mentions Japan and UK (he spent 10 years in both countries and claims that British people are quite difficult to go alone with). I don’t know how true it is nowadays, but I am sure that this principle is not applicable to another large island – Sicily. It was conquered so many time, that it is rather a melting pot of people, traditions and cuisines. Specially distinguishing in this sense is Palermo region, which was under strong Arabic influence, and thus features couscous as a traditional dish. And it were Arabs, who brought lemons into Sicily – they started cultivated it on the fertile soil of Etna. Many people trust that exactly due to this volcanic soil and Sicilian lemons have these inimitable sweetness, which born the saying: “Lemons are not lemons unless they are from Sicily”.
Lemons are used in many traditional dishes, like famous Granita. But in the summer a popular dish is past with lemon, as it has rich, refreshing flavor.
Spaghetti or tagliatelle_________400 grams
Olive oil______________________12 tablespoons
1. Boil spaghetti in plenty of salted water till al dente. Drain, reserving a splash of cooking water.
2. Chop the garlic and chili; put olive oil into a pan, add garlic and chili and sweat on medium fire for about a minute.
3. One lemon cut in segments, grate the zest and squeeze the juice from another one.
4. Put pasta in the frying pan, add a little bit of cooking water, lemon segments, zest and juice, basil, and cut tomato. Stir, season to taste, and adjust the density with the remaining cooking water. Add grated parmesan and butter. Serve straight away.
I thought I should complete my small flash-back to Liguria with some eternal classics, namely green Pesto or Pesto alla Genovese (quite predictable, isn’t it?). But almost for a week I have been sitting without writing a line. I wanted to tell a little bit about Genova, but I can’t find the right words. I already mentioned, that it is a city of contrasts, city with drug dealers, prostitutes and people of other doubtful occupation openly managing their business right in the middle of the day. I decided to find a holy place within this seem to be sin city.
In good old time I wanted to name my son Harrison – quite a daring ambition for a Russian mother-tongue. Guess who was the hero of my lifetime? Sure, Indiana Jones. He was so irresistible going to all these incredible places (where the hell they are located?), fighting crowds of evil locals, saving somebody in the spare time, digging out various staff… Couldn’t help thinking of becoming an archeologist, buying the suit of a sand color, and going to search for Graal (or similar).
And here I am in Genova, many years after, in simple white-red and blue dress, with degree in international relations and with Graal in my hands. Ok, ok, not in my hands, but in front my very eyes. And what do you think? It’s GREEN! Moreover, it’s BROKEN! They say it was Napoleon, but I guess they just look for a scapegoat (Sphinx, Graal – too many staff to break for one guy). Pretty incredible, but the Holy Graal is not lost, neither it is hidden… it is simply disposed in the treasury of San Lorenzo Cathedral in Genova, together with many other relicts. Obviously, no photography allowed – but it is a hexagonal deep dish, made out of green transparent glass with a huge hole next to the basement…
And back to pesto:
Time of preparation: 10 minutes Difficulty: Easy
Olive Oil_____100 ml
Parmesan___ 70 grams, grated
Pecorino____ 30 grams, grated
Pine nuts____1 tablespoon
1. Chop garlic, put in a food processor. Add basil, a pinch of salt and process for a short time.
2. Pour in oil, process again. Finally add cheeses and nuts, process till mixture is homogeneous. Enjoy!
In many countries, and Italy is not an exception, the traditional cuisine can be divided into two categories: cucina povera, or the food of the poor, and cucina riccha, the food, which only the rich could afford. In the case of Italy, ironically enough, the poor kitchen represented by pasta and pizza, became world-famous and can be found in the most prestigious restaurants nowadays.
Cucina povera shaped with two main factors: a limited number of ingredients, and the desire to use or preserve everything, without leaving a single piece. Clearly, meat was too expensive and what poor could afford were mainly were left-overs or undesirable parts from the tables of the rich. For the same reason, it seemed unreasonable to eat the whole piece they were able to get straight away, so they salted or dried it, which set up the basis for different hams, proscutto, salami. Fish was preserved in the same way (ironically, for many people nowadays baccalà – the salted cod- is affordable only at Christmas). The foundation of the kitchen were cereals and grain-based dishes, such as pasta in the South, polenta and rice in the North and gnocchi throughout. Another important and valuable component was bread: even when stale, it was never thrown away, but used in salads, like in traditional Tuscan panzanella, for stuffing the vegetables, for covering dishes, or for coating croquettes and other fried dishes. Usually, dishes were garnished with fruits and vegetables, in many cases gathered from the wild. With this scarcity of products, the poor put a lot of attention to the sauces, combination of ingredients, and possible elements to add the flavor – usually local specialities, available so broadly that they seem to have no value. This diligent research made the kitchen of the poor remarkable in its taste, and with centuries it was escalated till the worlds best restaurants. There are still many exceptional dishes, mainly unknown, which may be found only in some small local osterias.
This dish though will hardly ever enter the menu: despite being delicious, it’s too rustic and messy in its appearance. Well, as the guys from the Australian Masterchef always say: “The most important is the taste”. And I totally agree with them.
Time of preparation: 50 minutes Difficulty: Easy
Parmesan Cheese to taste
Scamorza cheese__180 grams
Soy sauce_____8 tablespoons
Time of preparation: 15 minutes Difficulty: Easy
- Garlic ____2 cloves
- Spaghetti_320 grams
- English Walnuts___70 grams
- Ricotta cheese____100 grams
- Breadcrumbs_____70 grams