Helena’s Italian truffles

These sweet and creamy no-bake mascarpone truffles are my go-to dessert for a special occasion like Christmas or New Year or Valentine’s Day or when I just want a bite size lusciousness to make my day special. One note of advice, make sure you get mascarpone. Don’t substitute with regular cream cheese which is a bit tangier than mascarpone. It would not taste right.

prep time 15 min    Freezing time 10 min
ingredients for 36 truffles
  • 450 g (1 lb) mascarpone
  • 1 package Gentilini biscotti (butter cookies, maybe lady fingers…)
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 2 bottles/packets of sprinkles (3.5 oz) of your choice

1. Crush cookies with a rolling pin or food processor.

2. Mix mascarpone, cocoa and cookies by hand.

3. Form quickly into balls and roll in sprinkles.

4.Put in the freezer for 10 minutes and keep in the fridge until 10 minutes before serving.


Hot aperol

During the cold and snowy winter months it is a tradition in Finland to prepare glögi, similar to mulled wine or gluhwein, with red wine and spices such as cloves, ginger, cinnamon and cardamom. I wanted to try a twist on the traditional glögi for my family who are not too keen on it, so I opted for a hot aperol. And it was a success!

prep time 15 min
ingredients for 6
  • 2 oranges
  • 5 dl semi sweet or sweet white wine
  • 5 dl aperol
  • 1 bag (25 g) of mixed spices for glögi (or use cloves, cardamom, cinnamon stick and ginger)

1. Wash the oranges. Peel only the outer portion of one orange (avoid the pith) and put the peels in a small pot. Halve the orange and add also the juice to the pot. Slice the other orange.

2. Measure the wine and aperol to the pot and add the spices. Warm slowly on low heat for about 15 min.

3. Pour into cups or glasses and garnish with orange slices and a few cloves.


Roman style puntarelle

Puntarelle is the name given in Italy to tender sprouts of Catalogna chicory (or asparagus chicory). They can be eaten boiled, sautéed or raw. Puntarelle alla Romana is crunchy, curly chicory salad dressed with anchovy vinaigrette.
photo from the internet
On the left the Catalogna chicory plant, on the right it is trimmed and cleaned, which is the way I prefer to buy it 🙂 If you want, you can find instructions on the internet on how to clean and trim the chicory. Puntarelle is a lovely side dish and especially good with lamb or pork.
prep time 10 min
ingredients for 4
  • 500g cleaned puntarelle
  • 1-2 garlic cloves
  • 4 oil-packed anchovy fillets (drained)
  • 3-4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 4-5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • salt

1. Dry the ribbons and place in a large bowl.

2. Combine the anchovies, crushed garlic, red wine vinegar and emulsify with oil to make the vinaigrette. Or just mix the cloves and anchovies to the salad and add the oil and vinegar like I do. Some people use lemon instead of vinegar. I am not one of those even though I love me a good lemon or two almost anywhere. Here I think the slightly tangy taste of puntarelle calls for red wine vinegar. Adjust salt – you probably don’t need it at all depending on your anchovies.


Pineapple upside-down cake

This is a recipe that I got from a friend at least 25 years ago. It is truly a retro cake! We usually make it at Christmas time but it is a cake for every season since it doesn’t have any particular Christmas spices such as ginger, cinnamon, cardamom or cloves.

prep time 15 min     cook time 35 min
for the topping
  • 7 pineapple rings in syrup, drained and syrup reserved
  • 50 g sugar
  • 50 g butter, melted
  • 7 glacé cherries
  • handful of almonds, finely chopped

for the cake

  • 100 g butter, melted
  • 100 g sugar
  • 200 g flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder (1 bustina lievito Bertolini)
  • 50 g sambuca
  • 50 g pineapple syrup

1.  Preheat the oven to 170-180C

2.  For the topping, beat 50g melted butter and 50g sugar together until creamy. Spread over the base and a quarter of the way up the sides of a 22cm round cake tin. Arrange 7 pineapple rings on top (reserving the syrup for later), then fill in the spaces with finely chopped almonds. Place the glacé cherries in the centres of the rings.

3. Using an electric whisk beat sugar and eggs until light and creamy. Add flour with the baking powder mixed in, then sambuca, pineapple juice and finally the melted butter. Mix gently with a spatula.

4. Pour the batter over the fruit and smooth it out with a spatula so it’s level.

5. Bake for 30-35 min until a toothpick or a cake tester comes out clean.

6. Let cool for 10 min. Invert a serving plate over the cake pan and, using kitchen towels or oven mitts to grasp onto both the plate and the cake pan, flip both the pan and the plate over so the pan now sits on top of the plate. Slowly lift the cake pan away.

7. Serve the cake warm or cool with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

8. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

here the cherries are placed after baking the cake


Two winter salads with spinach and fruit

Today I have two variations of the same winter salad to present. Just changing the legumes and a few other ingredients you obtain another salad. In the first one I’ve used cannellini beans and in the second chickpeas as protein.

prep time 10 min
ingredients for 2
  • 1 bag (125g) baby spinach or 1/2 baby spinach and 1/2 mixed lettuce
  • 1 can (400g) cannellini beans
  • 1 grapefruit
  • 1 avocado
  • 4-5 sun-dried tomatoes
  • handful of almonds
  • 4-5 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
  • 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • salt

1. Rinse the beans, peel and cut the grapefruit into mouth size bites, cut tomatoes into stripes, deseed the pomegranate unless you have done it previously and slice and peel the avocado.

2. Place all the ingredients apart from the dressing on a bed of baby spinach and toss them together with the dressing.


Substitute the cannellini beans with chickpeas and the almonds with sunflower seeds. Omit the sun dried tomatoes.


Creamy pumpkin soup

Creamy pumpkin soup or as they say in Italian vellutata di zucca is sooo good. Creamy, delicate, slightly sweet with the addition of spices this soup is an ultimate comfort food.

prep time 20 min     cook time 35 min
ingredients for 4
  • 1 kg pumpkin
  • 1 large potato
  • 1 l vegetable broth
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons extra vergin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • dash of cinnamon
  • dash of nutmeg
  • fresh thyme to garnish
  • 50 g pancetta or baconstrips or cubes
  • a few slices of toasted/grilled rustic bread

1. Clean, deseed and cut the pumpkin into relatively small cubes. Peel and cut into cubes also the potato.

2. Warm the oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat and add chopped onion. Let cook until soft, about 5-6 minutes over medium heat. Don’t let it burn. Add pumpkin and potato and as much broth needed to cover the vegetables. Adjust salt and pepper.

3. Let simmer on low for about 25-30 min checking from time to time and adding broth. When the vegetables are cooked, blend the soup with immersion blender until smooth and creamy. Add a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg and mix. Ladle the soup into bowls.

4. Fry the pancetta strips and add them with some fresh thyme and grilled bread to your bowl.

FOR VEGETARIAN ALTERNATIVE: leave out the pancetta

FOR GLUTEN FREE ALTERNATIVE: leave out the bread or use appropriate bread


Pomegranate snack

Pomegranate seeds get their vibrant red hue from polyphenols. These chemicals are powerful antioxidants. Pomegranate juice contains higher levels of antioxidants than most other fruit juices. The antioxidants in pomegranate juice can help remove free radicals, protect cells from damage, and reduce inflammation. Pomegranate seeds are also full of vitamin C and vitamin K.

The skin of the pomegranate is thick and inedible, but there are hundreds of edible seeds called arils within. The arils are what people eat — either raw or processed into pomegranate juice.

Here are step-by-step photo instructions to deseed a pomegranate.


Wear an apron! Pomegranate drops get everywhere so be aware of that. Discard all the white pith. Eat the arils as is, mixed in oatmeal, yogurt, granola or salads or juice it. They keep covered in fridge for 5-6 days.

snack for 1     mix in a bowl
  • 125 g plain Greek yogurt
  • 30 g granola or muesli
  • 1/2 banana sliced
  • 5-6 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
  • 2-3 tablespoons mixed nuts and seeds


Pumpkin, sausage and mushroom risotto

Pumpkin risotto is one of the many variations on the classic Italian slow-cooked rice dish, which is made with a type of rice that releases some of its starch into the cooking liquid, creating its own sauce. In order for this risotto, or any risotto for that matter, to cook, you must use short, roundish and chubby grains of rice with copious amounts of starch.  Carnaroli or  vialone nano are the best options, arborio will do if you can’t find the first two. Stirring is key, so be prepared to stand and stir, looking, smelling, and tasting — you can’t do anything else at the same time.

prep time 15 min     cook time 40 min
ingredients for 4
  • 360 g carnaroli rice
  • 1,5 l vegetable broth
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 400 g pumpkin, cubed
  • 300 g sausage
  • 300 g mushrooms (button or portobello)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 glass of dry white wine
  • 2 knobs butter, cold
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 bayleaf
  • handful of grated Parmesan cheese

1. Bring the broth to a boil and reduce the heat to steady simmer.

2. Clean the pumpkin and cut into fairly big cubes. Wipe the mushrooms and slice them. Remove casings from sausages and crumble them. Chop the onion.

3. Heat the oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat and add onion. After a few minutes add crumbled sausages, stir and keep cooking for 5 minutes. Add pumpkin and mushrooms, stir to coat and keep cooking for another 3-5 minutes. Add the bayleaf.

4. Add the rice and stir until the grains are coated in fat and become translucent. Do not let them brown. Add the wine and stir constantly until it is absorbed and the alcohol has evaporated. The grains must be heated through before you add the wine – “it should sizzle as it hits the pan”.

5. Start ladling broth on top and keep adding 1-2 ladles at a time stirring constantly after each addition and adding the next amount only after the previous one is fully absorbed by the rice.

6. Taste the rice. You are looking for al dente, with the grains just a bit toothsome (a little resistant to the bite) but cooked — not hard or powdery. Check the salt.

7. When the rice is done, which might take up to 30 minutes, turn off the heat. Add the butter and the cheese and cover, let rest for 2 minutes. Uncover and stir quickly. This is called mantecatura.

8. Serve immediately. Risotto is not a make-ahead dish. Even if you finish it 15 minutes before serving and simply allow it to sit, risotto turns into a paste.


Chicken strips with broccoli rabe

I love this for a quick and healthy lunch. Broccoli rabe might not be everyone’s choice since it is a little bit bitter but I like it a lot. You can replace it with chicory greens, also somewhat bitter or spinach.

Prep time  5 min + blanching time      Cook time  15-20 min
  • 300 g of chicken breast
  • 400-500g of broccoli rabe
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 4-5 tbls extra virgin olive oil
  • salt
  • peperoncino or crushed red pepper

1. Trim and rinse the broccoli rabe and blanche it max 5 min in boiling salted water. This can be done in advance. Also if the broccoli is very young and tender, there’s no need to blanche it.

2. Cut the chicken breast into strips. Heat 2 tbls of oil in a large skillet and fry the strips on high heat for a few minutes on both sides. Put them on a plate.

3. Heat 2 tbls of olive oil in the same skillet, add the garlic cloves whole or cut in halves, add a few peperoncino seeds and some skin and let cook until the garlic starts to brown.

4. Add the blanched greens in two or three handfuls tossing to coat. Cook for 8-10 minutes, add the strips with their juices from the plate and cook for another 5 minutes. Check that the meat is cooked through.


Oatmeal for breakfast

I try to eat oatmeal for breakfast once or twice a week. This healthy version with strawberries and all kinds of goodies is my favorite. Oatmeal is the perfect way to start your day with a metabolism boosting meal, and as an added bonus it keeps you full for hours and reduces mid-morning snacking.

prep time 5 min     cook time 10 min
ingredients for 1
  • 35g or 1dl old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2,5dl or 1 cup of water
  • a dash of milk
  • 100 g fresh or frozen strawberries
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 2-3 tablespoons seeds and crumbled nuts
  • cinnamon to sprinkle

1. Prepare the night before the water in the pot, let frozen strawberries thaw in another pot and put chia seeds in water or milk to absorb liquid and become gelatinous – never eat them dry. You can do all this in the morning, but I prefer to do it the night before.

2. Make the oatmeal according to the instructions, boil the water, add a pinch of salt, add the oats and let simmer at low for 6-7 minutes. After that I add a dash of milk and let simmer for an additional minute or two. This gives you a creamy porridge. You can alo use any vegetable milk.

3. Blend the strawberries with an immersion blender and heat for a minute if you prefer. Add to plate. I add the chia seed gel to the strawberries.

4. Mix the cooked creamy oatmeal to your plate, add seeds, crumbled nuts of your choice and sprinkle cinnamon on top.