Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Red onion, pear, swiss chard and walnut pizza

So last week I did a bit of a healthy makeover of a grilled cheese sandwich.  This week pizza is up to bat.

I love pizza. I could literally devour an entire large pizza smothered in yummy, delish, slightly browned and melting cheese.  Probably not the healthiest thing to do though.  Did you know that one slice of pizza is a serving size?  And we're not talking those slices you get in NY city - those are almost a quarter of a pizza.  

Pizza doesn't have to be all unhealthy. To tackle the portion size issue, I make my pizzas into little individual pizzas - nothing like lying to yourself that you've just eaten a whole pizza.  I feel like I've indulged, but I haven't had more than the equivalent of 1-2 slices.  For the dough, try to find a whole wheat dough or make your own and swap out at least half of the flour for whole wheat. Use a healthy and tasty oil like olive oil.  Then, load up on the veggies. Be creative, here in Austria corn and an egg, sunny-side-up, are favorite toppings.  Corn is delish!  Then comes the hard part.  Put less cheese on there than you think you need.  I promise it won't be missed. 

Now to putting salad on your pizza, try out some of your winter greens - Swiss chard, kale, spinach. There a bit tougher and can hold their own against the heat.  More sensitive greens like arugula/rocket should be added at the very last few minutes of oven time. 

To make this recipe, I mixed in a handful of baby spinach in with chard, which worked really well. I thought I had prepped too much greens and sort of panicked when I looked at the 7 cups of chopped greens. I'm happy I made so much though, they really wilted during the cooking.

For the pizza bottoms, you'll need 6 rounds of approximately 6-7 inches each. For a quick meal, grab the pre-made ones from the store or try making them from scratch. Here's the pizza dough recipe I use the most.  

This is a beautiful and delish recipe. It goes pretty fast, so be ready with everything before you begin. That's why I separated the vegetable prep in this recipe. This is great for a family dinner or when you want to make something casual, but still special for when a guest comes over. It will even keep for lunch the next day, wrapped in foil, in the fridge. Reheat in a hot oven.

What do you serve with salad on pizza? Well a salad and red wine of course! Try a baby spinach, walnut and pear salad with an olive oil, mustard and apple-raspberry vinegar and a bottle of Austrian Zweigelt. That's what we did. Enjoy!

What are your favorite pizza toppings?

Salad on Pizza

Notes: Any tougher greens - spinach, kale, radish and beet tops, etc. can be used in place of or with the Swiss chard. Vorarlberger Bergkäse can be bought in the USA at Murray's in New York. While in Austria it's possible to get Bergkäse made without animal rennet, Murray's only carries one with animal rennet. Substitute any slightly stronger, but not overpowering cheese.
Prep time: 20 min (mostly washing and chopping vegetables)
Cooking time: 10 min + 4-5 min per pizza
Servings: 6

1/4 of a yellow onion
1-2 cloves of garlic
Swiss chard, 1 medium-sized bunch, washed and dried
3 pears, medium or 1 can of pears, unsweetened and drained
1 red onion, small
4 tablespoons shredded Vorarlberger Bergkäse (Austrian Mountain Cheese)
5 tablespoons walnuts
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
6 6-inch pizza rounds
salt and pepper
rosemary, dried and crushed
Preheat your oven to 220°C / 425°F.
Vegetable prep
Peel and chop the yellow onion and garlic. Wash the Swiss chard, remove the stem and center rib. Retain half of them and chop into small pieces. Add to the onion and garlic (remaining stems can be used in other recipes). Roughly chop the green leaves. You need approx. 7 cups of greens.

Peel, core and chop pears into large chunks. Add to the greens. Peel and cut the red onion in half and slice into thin half-circles. Grate or crumble cheese. Chop the walnuts. Set each aside individually.

Cooking pizza
Brush one tablespoon of olive oil on all of the pizza rounds (in total; not one tablespoon per pizza round). Slightly salt and add a pinch of dried rosemary. Place in the oven until toasted, approx. 3 min for pre-cooked rounds; 7-8 for uncooked rounds. Remove from oven and set aside.

In a large pan, heat remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Add onions, garlic and chopped Swiss chard stems and heat until onions are translucent, approx. 1-2 minutes.

Lower heat to medium. Add greens and pears. Cook until greens wilt and pears are soft, approx. 4 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and dried rosemary.
Layer a bit of cooked greens on each pizza. Top with remaining red onions and cheese.

Return to the oven for approx. 4-5 minutes, or just until the cheese is melted. Top with walnuts and serve.
© 2010 Nicole

Friday, March 12, 2010

Gourmet grilled cheese

Here's another quick recipe for a great lunch or a low-key evening dinner when everyone is running around crazy with a million things to do. If Camembert is a bit too much for you, try out some Brie. And by all means, if you are set on cheddar, then use that. Just make certain any cheese you use is ripe; in the case of Camembert and Brie, you don't want it hard, you want it soft and a bit runny.

I recommend serving the sandwiches with a mixed lettuce salad, tossed in a light vinaigrette.  The cheese makes these sandwiches quite heavy in the stomach. You'll need something light and fresh to even it out.  If everyone's really hungry, cream of tomato soup is what Mom always made us with the traditional cheddar cheese version of grilled cheese sandwiches.

Get someone to help you assemble all of the sandwiches and then one after the other grill them in a pan. Put them under a broiler so that they are all warm at the same time and the cheese can finish melting. I'll admit these are even good cold the next morning when heading out the door to work.

Gourmet Grilled Cheese Sandwiches loosely adapted from Saving Dinner: Winter Vegetarian E-Book
Notes: If not using sliced bread, slice your whole grain loaf as thin as you can.  In the pan, the cheese won't melt all the way because there is so much loaded up on there. That's what's the broiler for at the end.  If you have it, ghee or clarified butter, will give you really top results.  Ghee has a higher smoke point than normal butter and will give you more even browning. Butter or any other healthy oil will substitute just fine. If you've got an indoor grill or sandwich maker, this recipe would be a prime candidate to try it out.
Prep time: 15 min
Cooking time: 10 min per sandwich
Servings: 5-6 sandwiches

1-2 cloves garlic
salt & pepper
Sundried tomatoes, in oil (reserve 2 teaspoons of oil)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
5-6 walnuts, shelled
10-12 slices of whole grain bread, thinly sliced
1/2 a round of ripe Camembert
1 jar roasted red peppers
2-3 tablespoons chopped chives
Enough hard cheese to make 5-6 sandwiches, my suggestions Gruyère or Vorarlberg (Austria) Bergkaese (mountain cheese).

Preheat the broiler in your oven.

In a mortar and pestle or food processor, mash the garlic, sundried tomato oil, walnuts, mustard, salt and pepper into a paste. Adjust seasoning as desired. Take one slice of bread and spread a bunch of Camembert on it. Load it up with a layer of roasted peppers. Add some chives. Top with the hard cheese. Top with one or two sundried tomatoes. Spread a bit of the garlic and walnut mustard on a second slice of bread. Top the sandwich with the second bread.

On high heat, melt ghee or butter in a pan. Carefully grill each side of the sandwich until brown, flipping one time. Place all of the sandwiches on a baking pan lined with parchment paper and broil until all of the cheese is melted.
© 2010 Nicole

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Curried pumpkin and carrot soup

Curried soups were one of my first "special" cooking skills I learned.  Somewhere online I found an article on making better soups and it included a 5-in-1 soup recipe - or something along those lines.  I remember being so proud of myself for making such a good and creative soup. Over the years, this method of cooking became a fall-back routine for me, but as my cooking improved and the techniques and recipes I had been exposed to grew, this well-deserving recipe fell out of use.  It wasn't that it didn't taste good to me, but it had lost the original excitement for me. 

Then, just 2 days ago, I was staring at a whole bunch of carrots in my fridge and half of a Hokkaido pumpkin - leftovers from a walnut pumpkin lasagna.  Soup came immediately to mind.   So I pulled out a few of my many traditional Austrian recipes for pumpkin soup, thinking I'd just add some carrots to it.  I opened my spice cabinet and my eyes fell on my curry jar.  Memories of that first time I made really good soup came back.  I called into the living room to ask M what he would prefer - traditional pumpkin soup or one made with curry.  I held my breath.  He chose curry.  I jumped on it. 

This way of making soup is super versatile.  I don't remember what vegetables exactly the original recipe was for, but it had a carrot soup version and a cauliflower version, never a pumpkin version and never a mixed vegetable version.  I believe good recipes are there to be used as inspiration. My good ole friend of a recipe didn't let me down this time.  As I cautiously tasted the soup, I remembered why I used to cook vegetables this way so often.  Try this out, not only with pumpkin, but also with just carrots or with cauliflower or red beets or or or.  

The secret is the pan roasting of the vegetables first.  It caramelizes the sugars and locks in the flavor.  If you just plop veggies in a broth and then puree, you'll end up with something akin to baby food.  Great for babies, boring for adult taste buds.  So you really want to make certain your veggies end up golden brown, but certainly not burnt.

A few tips when cooking with pumpkin. Hokkaido is my favorite for soup, but others such as butternut squash are also good.  My sister-in-law gave me the tip, that at least for Hokkaido, there is no need to remove the outer peel of the pumpkin.  Which is a BIG pain in the butt. Just wash it super well.  Cut the stem and base away as well as any obviously knobby parts.  Then cut your pumpkin into cubes and plop them into the pot. 

This recipe is best with a bit of Styrian pumpkin seed oil, but a really exquisite olive oil can be substituted. Serve this with a really crusty, heavy whole grain bread.


Curried Carrot and Pumpkin Soup
Notes: It is better to use a flavorful vegetable broth.  If using bouillion powder, go right ahead and add an extra (half) teaspoon. I am also a fan of really thick soups.  Add a bit of broth if it's too thick for your taste.  If you are a curry fan, add an extra teaspoon or use a stronger version of curry powder. If you are not a curry fan, try this recipe without the curry.  Mix into the soup a bit of crème fraiche and serve with a spoonful of sour cream plopped on top.  Nomatter how you make it, serve with a really good crusty whole grain bread.

Prep time: 15 min
Cooking time: 20-30 min
Servings: 4 large bowls of soup

1 onion
2 cloves garlic
small piece of fresh ginger
500g / 1 pound / ~1/2 a medium Hokkaido pumpkin
2 medium carrots
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper
2 teaspoons curry powder
700ml vegetable broth
2 teaspoons lemon juice (optional)
roasted pumpkin seeds or fresh chives (garnish)
pumpkin seed oil (garnish)
Prep the vegetables. Wash the carrots and pumpkin well. As long as they are organic, there is no reason to peel or cut away the shell. Cut away both ends of the carrot and chop the rest into thick coins. Cut the pumpkin in half and with a spoon scoop out the seeds and stringy bits. Chop into roughly the same size cubes as the carrot coins. Peel and chop onion. Peel and mince the garlic and ginger.

Heat oil in a large soup pot. Add onion, garlic and ginger. Sautée, but do not burn, until fragrant and onions start to turn translucent. Add in carrots and pumpkin. Stir occasionally, but allow them to brown (approx. 8-10 minutes). Add curry and salt and pepper. Mix to cover evenly and cook for a few minutes until curry is fragrant. Then, pour in the broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the vegetables are able to be pureed (approx. 10 min).

Remove pot from heat. Puree the vegetables with a hand held mixer or in batches in a blender. Adjust consistency by adding broth. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding up to 2 teaspoons lemon juice for flavor.

Serve with chopped pumpkin seeds or chives and a few drops of pumpkin seed oil.
© 2010 Nicole

Friday, March 5, 2010

Swiss chard chips

This is a quicky.  I served these up for some friends we had over last Saturday night.  I told my guests they were my guinea pigs - frankly I've never followed the rule about not serving new things to guests.  I pretty much serve guests exclusively new recipes.  Usually recipes that are too complicated or time consuming than what I would prepare during the week.  This one though was the opposite.  Can you add dressing to a salad and know how to turn on your oven (and maybe use that timer as well)?  Then you can make this recipe.  

This is a crumbly finger-food so probably better for casual get-togethers or for a healthy alternative, and personally more delicious one, than potato chips in front of the TV.

This is becoming a staple in our house.  The chips after a cautious look and little nibble from the guests disappeared immediately.  I had left over French bread, cheese, spread and crostinis, but not a single crumb of chard chips.  There are tons of recipes floating around and different presentations.  Some with lemon juice, some with less oil, some with more.  I found the cayenne, as one guest noted, added an almost Asian note to the chips.  I overdid it a bit with the cayenne, but I definitely recommend trying at least a few with cayenne.

There are tons of "recipes" for kale chips all over the Internet. It's so easy it's odd to call it a recipe.  All are about the same,toss the green, leafy part of the kale with some olive oil and salt, put it in a low-heat oven and wait until crunchy.  I changed it up just a bit by using Swiss chard and adding cayenne pepper, but I think all variations would be great! Healthy, tasty and easy, what more can I want?

Chard chips  adapted from Epicurious
Notes: Save the ribs for stir fry or for quiche. Replace Swiss chard (mangold) with any other leafy winter green, such as kale. This might be beautiful with some of the rainbow varieties of Swiss chard out there.
Prep time: less than 5 min min
Cooking time: approx. 30 min

1 head of Swiss chard
olive oil
salt & pepper
cayenne pepper

Preheat your oven to 120°C / 250°F.

Wash and dry the chard thoroughly.  Cut away the leaves from the ribs and large stems of the chard. Reserve the ribs for another recipe.  Toss the leaves with a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper generously and add cayenne pepper to taste.

Either tear the leaves into chip size or leave as are. Lay them in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for approx. 30 minutes or until crispy.

Let them cool and enjoy!
Other kale chip recipes on the web (really there are 100s and each has its own temperature and amount of oil, be creative!):
© 2010 Nicole

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Walnut Pesto

Family is great. My in-laws have a great big walnut tree.  When I told my father-in-law that I loved walnuts, he looked at me quizzically and said, "what do you do with them?" I started listing off: as a snack, in a salad, make a pie, add them to cookies or lasagna...  On their next visit to Vienna, my brother-in-law and his girlfriend came to visit and brought me a giant, Santa Claus red bag of walnuts. I didn't weigh it, but I think it was around 5-7 kilos of organic walnuts. So thanks to my father-in-law, I have more yummy, nutty, crunchy walnuts than I know what to do with.

Since then, I've been cooking away with walnuts. Below is an adaptation of a walnut pesto that appeared on 101 Cookbooks.   This is great because basil isn't exactly in season at the moment and my little potted basil is too little to provide enough for pesto.

Got some issues? Pent up aggression?   Shell some walnuts. You'll feel better I promise.

Lay them out on a baking sheet and toast them.  With a clean towel, rub to remove most of the skin. I had a lot of trouble with this. It took forever.  Make certain your walnuts are well toasted, but not burnt.

Grind your walnuts in a food processor or mortar and pestle.

Add in the olive oil, herbs and cheese.  I don't know if my walnuts are a special oily version, but I used a lot less oil than the recipe called for and I still think it was a bit too much. Go slowly with the oil, mix often and stop when there's enough. As to the cheese, I used a vegetarian Parmesan and a Allgauer Bergkäse, a Swiss mountain cheese, you'll want a dry, slightly spicy cheese - Italian hard cheeses work well.

This pesto will keep, but not long if either M or I come by to visit. When you add it to the pasta, use the pasta cooking water to thin the pesto. 

Use a short pasta, one with lots of nooks and crannies. By the way, do you know your pasta shapes?  Here's a handy little quiz.

How many did you get right?  My score? 16 right.

Walnut Pesto Rigatoni, adapted from 101 Cookbooks
Notes: Add the olive oil a little bit at a time. It's easy to end up with too much oil.  For the fresh herbs, my suggestions are thyme and marjoram. Use a short noodle with lots of nooks & crannies.
Prep time: 20 min
Cooking time: 30-40 min
Servings: approx. 6-8

140g / 1 1/2 cup walnuts, shelled
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
115 - 160ml / 1/2 - 2/3 cup olive oil, extra-virgin & cold pressed
5-6 tablespoons fresh herbs, chopped
30g / 1/2 cup vegetarian Parmesan, grated
10g / 3 tablespoons Allgauer Bergkäse (Swiss mountain cheese)
salt & pepper
450g / 1 pound whole-grain rigatoni
Preheat your oven to 350°F / 175°C.
Toast your walnuts by laying them on a baking sheet and toasting them in the oven until golden brown, approx. 8-10 minutes. Remove the skins by rubbing them, while still warm, with a clean kitchen towel.

Start heating a big pot of water for the pasta.

In a food processor or mortar and pestel, grind or pound the garlic and salt into a paste. Add the walnuts and continue to pound or grind. Then transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and add in the herbs and the cheese.  Finish by slowly adding the olive oil, mixing often, until the desired consistency.

To cook the pasta:
When the water is boiling, add a generous amount of salt and add the pasta all at once. Cook until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving about a cup of the pasta cooking water.
Do not rinse. Add the pesto to the pasta, mixing well and adding the cooking water to thin the sauce.

Leftover pesto can be kept in the fridge in a sealed container.
Other Walnut Pesto on the web:
© 2010 Nicole


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