An Italian cooking in England: food, photography, recipes.

FC&G in trasferta: Finnish salmon soup

Posted on February 7, 2016


Just over two years ago I was in Tbilisi, visiting my sister and her family for my niece’s first birthday. Since we both moved away a good few years back, seeing each other has, sadly, become a once or twice a year event. One day, my sister told me “Let’s say we live until 90 and we meet about once a year. That means we’re only going to be seeing each other another 60 times. That’s not enough! Let’s go on holiday together.” That’s how, last July, I ended up at Helsinki Airport, waiting for her connecting flight from Istanbul to land, a couple of hours after mine had arrived from Manchester. We spent a week roaming South-West Finland, from Helsinki to Hanko to Turku to Tampere and back to Helsinki.

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In a similar fashion to what I did for my road trip of Morocco (refresh your memory here! One, two and three), I’ve divided all my photos from the holiday into three chunks. This is the first batch, along with a Finnish, or Finnish-inspired, recipe. I met my sister at Vantaa airport, we collected our hire car and drove straight into the sunny countryside-meets-seaside area southwest of Helsinki. Over the next few days, we slept on an alpaca farm (where we narrowly missed out on the birth of a baby alpaca, which happened only two days after we left), chatted about life sat on the jetty of a pond just like they used to do in Dawson’s Creek and, obviously, took the obligatory photo of one of the nearly ubiquitous reindeer danger signs that dot every Finnish country road. The photos in this post cover those first few days, before we drove into Tampere and finished the week off discovering Helsinki.

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Finnish salmon soup

The first time I made this, I started with a sensible mash-up of three reputable-looking recipes I found online, two from Scandifoodie, the other from a website about Finnish food (term, no surprise there). The soup was very quick to prepare – when you consider it’s a main dish, really. the second time I made this (for my family’s Christmas Eve dinner) I prepared the spiced liquid base a couple of hours in advance to let it infuse. I also added the cream then, rather than at the end, like all the recipes I saw suggested. Call me heretical, but I preferred it done this way. If you’d rather follow the original method, add the cream with the salmon. Serves 8, and then some.

2 lt water
400 ml single cream
1 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 parsnip, cubed
1 chunk of celeriac, finely chopped
1 carrot, sliced into 1cm thick rounds
10 small (or 5 medium) potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 kg fresh salmon, skinned, boned and cut into chunks
sea salt, to taste
whole bunch fresh dill, finely chopped

Start by infusing the liquid base. In a stockpot, add water, cream, allspice, and bay leaves. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat off and let it infuse for a couple of hours. Bring back to the boil, add onions, parsnip, celeriac, carrot and potatoes and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the biggest chunks in the soup can almost be pierced through with a knife. Keep an eye on them as you don’t want them fully cooked at this point. Add the pieces of salmon and simmer on a low heat for 5-10 minutes, or until the fish is just cooked. You can check this by gently pulling apart a piece of salmon: if it flakes easily, it’s cooked. Add salt, to taste. Turn the heat off, add the chopped dill and serve (along with some rye bread or crispbread, if you wish).

Smoky autumn soup

Posted on November 4, 2015

FCG_Smoky_autumn_soup_2My autumn has been beautiful and difficult. After another house move, I’ve found it hard to settle in and feel at home in my new house. As I sit here in my dining room, next to a big window facing the back garden, I feel like a guest. Almost as if I was staying with friends, for a while. Of all my house moves (all eight of them), this has been the most painful. Leaving my previous house, the one that started out as a home, then turned into an uneasy, temporary-yet-dragged out living arrangement, came with a lot of complications, emotional, practical and economical. Emotional ones most of all, though. As soon as the house move was done, the last of the boxes unpacked, a slimy sense of panic started creeping up inside me. Almost as if my thoughts had waited until I was done with all the practicalities, in a sort of negative Hierarchy of Needs, before assaulting me. I felt uneasy, a lot of the time. At times, I still do, although now I’m used to the signals and I can deal with them. I do things that comfort me, I try to remain rational and positive (and my life is full of positives), I make the most of what I have. I talk about what’s wrong, so it’s less overwhelming. Most of all, I try not to be too hard on myself and I take it easy, knowing that I have everything I need to feel stronger and in control of my own thoughts, again.

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In the midst of all this, I have started to think about food again. Cooking, feeding, dining… I’d set them aside for a long time. I would still cook, of course: bringing my own packed lunch to the office, making my own muesli and yogurt, and a handful of other basics. (I realise defining ‘making my own yogurt’ a basic may sound odd to a lot of people. Not to me: homemade yogurt has been a staple in my diet since I was very little. If I ever stop making that, then I’d start to really worry about my own sanity…). Lately, however, I’ve dedicated more time to curating my shopping lists, planning specific recipes ahead and, generally, being enthusiastic about cooking like I hadn’t in a long time. Last Saturday I made pizza for the first time in over a year. Over a year! Before that, I used to make pizza from scratch once or twice a month. Then I made a huge batch of beetroot and haricot stew with preserved lemons. Millie, my starter that’s been sitting in the fridge for a good six months, is now bubbling away and feeding a loaf each weekend. Whilst I slowly take control of what’s happening in the kitchen, again, I leave you with an intensely smoky and colourful soup I made a few weeks ago. There’s a good amount of smoked paprika in, which turns the whole thing into a kind of liquid and healthy chorizo (cue eyes rolling at this obvious exaggeration). No, seriously, the smoky kick takes the sweet-but-bland autumn roots and vegetables to another level. Go try it. It freezes beautifully and if dressed with some peppery olive oil, fancypants smoked salt and toasted slice of sourdough wouldn’t be out of place at your new hipster vegan brunch place in Homerton (not that I’m being stereotypical or anything).

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Smoky autumn soup

Because soup aren’t easy enough to prepare, I have adopted another lazy shortcut to achieve the perfect chop-pan-forget-turn heat off soup-making routine: these days I often forgo the soffritto (cue a gasp from all the sensible Italians out there). Oh well, I think it tastes just fine, especially in a soup like this one where the flavours are pretty strong anyway.

3 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
3 small onions (or 2 medium/big ones)
1 700 gr pumpkin (whole weight, more or less)
650/700 gr sweet potatoes
3 carrots
200 gr canned peeled plum tomatoes
1 scant tbsp tomato puree
1 scant tbsp mild smoked paprika
a pinch crushed chillies (or quantity to suit their heat and your preference)
salt and black pepper, to taste
extra virgin olive oil, to serve

Once all your vegetables are peeled and chopped, put them in a stockpot. Add the canned tomatoes, tomato puree, smoke paprika and chillies. Add enough water to just about cover the vegetables, then cover with a lid and cook on a medium heat until the vegetables can be priced through with a knife. Take away from the heat and blend until smooth (or to your liking!). Taste and season. If the soup is too thick, add a little bit of water. If too liquid, cook on a low heat, lid off, until it reaches your preferred consistency. Serve with a good, peppery extra virgin olive oil.