Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Prosciutto-wrapped green beans & pecorino over lentils with swiss chard & mustard

A couple of weeks ago I finally tried a few of the dinner recipes I've been eyeing in Rachel Khoo's wonderful My Little French Kitchen cookbook. In this sequel to My Little Paris Kitchen, Rachel has traveled all around France to gather the quintessential flavors and current food trends of many areas. The result is a beautiful snapshot of the varied French palate, from seaside-inspired dishes to heartier fare from the eastern side of the country. I loved the look of her green bean bundles over lentils, and though we've pretty much cut out legumes over the last few months (along with grains), I gave this one a try.
Prosciutto-wrapped green beans & pecorino over lentils with swiss chard & mustard
green beans & pecorino wrapped in prosciutto, served over lentils and swiss chard
The first time around I was very impressed with the green bean bundles, but the lentils were a little lackluster. A week later I revisited the recipe, this time sautéing swiss chard with the onions and thyme, and deglazing the pan with some apple cider vinegar and strong dijon mustard before gently tossing in the lentils. Tangy and delicious, plus another full serving of green vegetables : )  I used canned lentils for ease. If you have dried lentils, measure out 200g (7oz), rinse them, and bring to a slow simmer in 400g (14oz) water, simmering uncovered for 20-30 minutes, until lentils are soft.
Prosciutto-wrapped green beans & pecorino over mustardy lentils with swiss chard @ Southern Spoon Blog
tangy apple cider vinegar & dijon mustard lend lots of flavor to swiss chard & lentils
Tonight we're making the green bean bundles for dinner to serve alongside portuguese baked chicken. They are a very tasty side, and I bet these little prosciutto wrapped, cheese stuffed beauties will persuade even the pickiest non-green bean eater (they would also make a beautiful addition to a Thanksgiving table). The lentils could also work on their own as a side, or make them a main dish by stirring through some cooked sausage or crumbled crispy prosciutto. Enjoy, and happy fall to folks in the northern hemisphere!

Prosciutto-wrapped green beans & pecorino
serves 4-6 (larger appetites may want 2 bundles)

oil to coat baking tray
400g (or 14oz) green beans, rinsed
100g (or 3.5oz) pecorino (or other hard cheese, such as parmesan)
6 slices prosciutto 

Preheat oven to 190C/ 375F. Line a baking tray with baking paper and spray or brush lightly with oil (foil works, too, but must be oiled very well to avoid sticking). Set aside.

Slice the cheese into 12 sticks, about as long as the beans. Gather about 8-10 green beans, and two pieces of pecorino, and carefully wrap a slice of prosciutto around the bundle. Place the bundle on the prepared baking pan. Repeat with remaining ingredients. 

Bake the wrapped bundles for 18-25 minutes, until cheese is melted, just beginning to brown at the tips, and the prosciutto is beginning to crisp up. Remove from oven and carefully lift bundles from the baking tray. Serve immediately. 

Lentils with swiss chard & mustard
serves 4

1 tablespoon cooking oil (I use rice bran oil)
1 yellow or white onion, coursely chopped
about 10 sprigs thyme, leaves picked from any woodier stems, other thin stems rough chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 heaping cups rough chopped swiss chard, cleaned and de-stemmed
2-3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (to taste)
1-2 tablespoons strong dijon mustard (to taste), plus additional mustard to serve
freshly ground salt and pepper (to taste)
2 x 400g cans lentils (or 14oz each), drained and rinsed (I used brown, any type will do)

Heat a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the onions, and sauté on medium to low heat for about 7-8 minutes, until onions are soft and beginning to brown. 

Add the thyme and garlic to the onions and stir, cooking for 1 minute. Add the swiss chard, stirring to distribute it amongst the onions. Cover and cook at medium-low heat for 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid burning. Add the apple cider vinegar and mustard to the pan to deglaze, scraping off any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. 

Add the lentils and salt and pepper to the pan. Stir gently to distribute, then cover and cook on medium-low for 5 minutes, until lentils are heated through. 

Serve immediately, with a little mustard on the side to which people can help themselves. To serve with green bean bundles, arrange the lentils on a serving dish and place the bundles over the top of the lentils, or serve up individually with a mound of lentils on each plate topped with a green bean bundle. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Mini Eggplant Pizzas, Julia Childs style

As soon as I saw a pin for mini eggplant pizzas, I immediately began creating the perfect pizza in my head-- spinach mixed with tomato sauce for a hearty base, thinly sliced mushrooms and chunky olives, bit o mozzarella, and some prosciutto or prawns on top. *How* had I never thought of this?! My mom used to make me and my siblings mini pizzas on English muffin halves after school, and these are just as easy and tasty-- but paleofied : )
mini pizzas loaded with spinach and veggies on an eggplant base
Apparently the idea originated with Julia Childs, America's favorite TV chef before TV chefs were a thing. This woman introduced French cooking techniques to the household cook, and we are forever grateful. Eggplant pizzas may not be French, but they are adorable, hearty, veg-based snacks that can easily make a meal. 

I give the recipe for what I made below, but feel free to adapt as you wish. A different protein, such as cooked beef mince (ground beef), turkey mince, or shredded cooked chicken, could be added to the tomato sauce base instead of prawns or prosciutto. Anchovies would also work well. Or go for pineapple and prosciutto if you're feeling Hawaiian. Your imagination is the limit. These would be great to make for a DIY eggplant pizza bar dinner party. Three little pizzas were filling enough for dinner for me, and one each would serve as a nice starter before a main meal. Enjoy!

Mini Eggplant Pizzas
Makes approximately 9 pizzas

1 large eggplant, sliced into 1cm-wide slices
1 14oz (400g) can whole, peeled tomatoes
1/2 cup frozen spinach, cooked (or wilt a few big handfuls of fresh spinach)
1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
1/4 cup thinly sliced mushrooms
2 tablespoons sliced ripe (black) olives
1/3 cup freshly shredded mozzarella cheese
9 raw prawns, peeled, deveined, and butterflied (split almost in half with a knife down the belly of the prawn)

Preheat the oven to 210C/ 410F. Line a large baking tray or cookie sheet with baking paper.

Place the eggplant slices on try baking tray and place them in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes. 

Meanwhile, discard half of the liquid from the can of peeled tomatoes (or save for another use), and pour the remaining half into a medium sized bowl. Roughly chop chop (or pulse in a blender or food processor) the tomatoes, and add them to the tomato juice. Add the spinach and chili flakes (if using) to the tomatoes and mix well. 

Remove the eggplant from the oven and turn each slice over. On top of each eggplant slice, place a couple of tablespoons of the tomato mixture, spreading evenly over each slice. Next top with the mushroom slices and olives, then sprinkle the mozzarella evenly over each pizza. Top each pizza with a butterflied prawn. 

Bake the pizzas in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, until the prawns are cooked through and the mozzarella begins to bubble. Serve immediately. 

Pizzas will keep, covered in the fridge, for 2 days.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Chocolate Pavlova with Figs & Honey Yogurt Whipped Cream

This weekend was my sister's birthday-- happy birthday! Although I haven't been able to celebrate with her in the same country for the last nine years, we did have a mini early celebration last month when she visited us in Sydney. To acknowledge the Australian locale, we made a pavlova (aka *pav*), the delicious meringue dessert topped with cream and fruit that is ubiquitous at any Aussie holiday, especially around the broiling Christmas season.
Pavlova with a chocolate base, lightly sweetened cream filling,
ripe figs, and melted dark chocolate 
We decided to experiment with a chocolate pav base, and used an interesting technique picked up from Nigella Lawson recipe-- a touch of balsamic vinegar stirred into the whipped egg whites with some cocoa. The flavor is perfect, not too chocolatey, and a delicious accompaniment to ripe figs and lightly sweetened cream. I've since made this recipe again using a half cup of halved fresh cherries, which worked really well with the chocolate flavor, and I'm sure sliced strawberries would also be great. We Americanized the pav even further by drizzling a little melted dark chocolate over everything before serving, which made for a great presentation-- but it's just as tasty without the drizzle.

chocolate pav: a delicious birthday cake alternative : )
A word of warning-- the pavlova base doesn't hold its shape well in a fan-forced oven (I accidentally made a flat fruit pizza instead of a pav when I used the fan on my oven), and this dessert will work best when prepared on a less-humid day. Try it out for a special occasion-- it's a gluten-free dessert that's sure to impress, and people will be coming back for seconds. Enjoy, and happy birthday wishes to my favorite sister!

Chocolate Pavlova with Figs and Honey Yogurt Whipped Cream
Adapted from Nigella Lawson
Serves 6-8

4 egg whites
2/3 cups sugar (I used  2 tablespoons brown sugar as part of this)
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Honey Yogurt Whipped Cream:
1 small carton cream (whipping cream in the US, single cream in the UK)
3 tablespoons natural or Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Fruit & Chocolate Topping:
4 ripe figs, quartered (halved fresh cherries or strawberries also work well)
1/4 cup finely chopped dark chocolate (optional)

Preheat oven to 180C/ 350F (do not use a fan-forced oven or pavlova will flatten).

Whip up the egg whites till firm with electric mixer. Add the sugar one tablespoon at a time. Carefully stir in cocoa and balsamic vinegar. (It's ok if streaks of cocoa remain)

Pile the egg white mixture onto a baking-paper lined cookie sheet. Make a large but tall circle, making a bit of an indentation in the centre for the cream filling. Place in oven and immediately turn oven down to 150C/ 300F. Bake for 1 - 1 1/4 hours, until meringue is set, but still very slightly squidgy when you press your finger in the very centre. Turn off oven, crack open the oven door a couple of inches, and leave to cool completely (pavlova can be left in the oven overnight if necessary).

When ready to serve, carefully peel the meringue shell from the baking paper and set it on a serving plate. Mix all ingredients together for the honey yogurt whipped cream. Pile the yogurt whipped cream into the centre of the meringue shell, leaving an inch or so of meringue showing around the edge. Arrange the fig quarters around the creamy topping.

For the chocolate topping (optional): melt the dark chocolate carefully in a microwave (at 15 second intervals) or a double-boiler. Drizzle the chocolate over the entire pavlova.

Serve within a few hours to ensure that the meringue stays crisp on the outside.