While living in Finland I’ve heard many foreigners complaining how terrible the food is here and how they hate Finnish cuisine. Well, what I hate are generalizations. Yes it’s true there are very few spices used and the food is usually made bland. It’s also true it often looks grayish, not appealing at all and yeah not that great choice of ingredients available in the shops either (at least out of the Helsinki area). But what makes the cuisine of a given country is not how the food tastes in the cheap lunch places but what people including YOU can make out of it. First, think a bit about country itself. Finland…. well it sits somewhere on the North of Europe right? Have you ever thought how north it actually is? Remember your last Discovery program about Alaska? Those huuuge icicles and snow caps covering all the state, made you probably curl into your comfortable sofa even more. The truth is that Helsinki, that happens to be as well one of the southernmost cities in Finland, is on the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska. Not to mention the rest of the country that spreads still roughly 1300km to the freezing north. So I guess, you get my point – not so much of produce here. Thats why Finnish cuisine will never be similar to bursting with sunny flavors Italian one. Add still isolation of the country and you’ll understand why it’s not Indian either. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth of even a glance to check what it has to offer. Think a bit more and you’ll find yourself wonder how people could live here just like 100 years ago. What is there to eat if the winter lasts half a year and last summer according to Finns themselves was on Tuesday? First of all berries and mushrooms – the country’s treasure lays in its forests. Add to it the wide selection of game (reindeer and moose are delightful) or fish from the lakes untouched by pollution, some root veggies as a side and you can make a truly Finnish gourmet dish that would make Ramsay proud. Well, basically what I want to say is that the true cuisine of a given country is made by people, it is made by you. Never underestimate what it has to offer, adjust it to your palate and well…. don’t complain so much, it gives you wrinkles 😉
So here’s a short story how instead of complaining I made one of the boring staple Finnish Christmas foods a winner. Traditionally, on the Christmas table there are three laatikkos – baked vegetable purees made of potatoes, swedes and carrots. No one will deny that two first ones disappear at a glance, while the carrot one sits there neglected like an ugly duckling. But…. how can that be? I mean we DO love carrots. They are so versatile, no matter if used raw, cooked or roasted. Now when I think of it, we actually always have a bag of them ready to be used. And so I’ve challenged myself – can I improve it enough to transform porkkanalaatikko from just another dish that has to simply appear on Christmas table to something we actually await?
And…. YEEAAASSS!!! I won’t be humble here and will say that my take on the traditional recipe transformed it totally. Definitely I’m gonna make this one for next Christmas. And I can bet that thanks to this metamorphosis, porkkanalaatikko will become a family favorite.
I’ve found a basic traditional recipe in one of the Finnish magazines and decided to change several things. First of all porkkanalaatikko as the only one of the other laatikkos has rice in it. I believe that takes much of delightful carrot sweetness away. So change number one – no rice in here. I have also increased the amount of spices, I believe thought that everyone should adjust it according to their palate, particularly if one is not keen on star anise. But the biggest improvement was making puree itself. Originally it is done simply by boiling and blending the carrots. But don’t you think that boiling actually washes away quite much of the root vegetable’s taste? Well at least I do. That’s why I’ve decided to make it in a bit more tedious, but oh so delicious way – I roasted the carrots and only then pureed them. This way, I managed to preserve all the sweet carroty taste that I adore. I admit though, such way of preparation takes much more time. The slower, the better it seems, but the final choice how to make puree I leave up to you.
– 2kg carrots
– 1tsp salt
– 1 egg
– 2-3 tsp cinnamon
– 1-2 tsp grated star anise
– 2 tbsp honey – preferably from honeydew, not your regular nectar flower honey. you can use golden syrup instead
– 150ml double cream
– 20g melted butter
– bread crumbs
1. Wash, peel and chop the carrots, make puree. Either simply boil the carrots and blend them or preferably sprinkle them with olive oil and roast in the oven till soft. You can cover the baking dish so that the carrots won’t dry out or burn.
2. Fold the spices, egg, honey, cream and butter into pure.
3. Transfer the mixture into greased baking dish. Sprinkle densly bread crumbs, so that they cover all of the laatikko and put on top very thinly cut pieces of butter. Bake in 180C for 45-60min.