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

Pavlova:
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.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Rocket Salad with Steak, Roasted Eggplant & Dukkah-Crusted Pumpkin

Apologies for the lull here at Southern Spoon recently. We hosted my awesome sister in Sydney for a couple of weeks, after which I few straight to Iceland for work (fabulous fish, meat, soups, berries, etc-- see proof on my instagram feed @SouthernSpoon), then we moved house-- always an exhausting exercise, but our new kitchen makes up for it. It's big by inner-city standards, equipped with new appliances, and just around the corner from a great grocery store and Newtown, a central Sydney suburb known for its great cafes and restaurants. So goodbye to our tiny, 1970s vintage kitchen, and hello to white granite countertops and a new neighborhood of food and drinks to explore.

This simple salad is inspired by one over at Sydney-based blog Eat Drink Paleo (a beautiful blog of delicious, doable, whole food recipes-- highly recommended). Aussie salads are delicious: focused on seasonal produce without tons of dressing weighing them down, and this one is the perfect balance of textures and flavors. The slight sweetness of the dukkah-crusted pumpkin goes well with the savory steak and peppery rocket (aka arugula), and a simple olive oil and apple cider vinegar dressing is all the salad needs to bring the flavors together. Rather than eggplant, you could easily substitute bell pepper or tomatoes, cutting them into slices before roasting for 15-20 minutes.

paleo-friendly salad of rocket, steak, dukkah-crusted pumpkin, and roasted eggplant
This is delicious for lunch or dinner, and would make a great salad to transport to a barbeque or pot luck event, as the hardier rocket leaf holds up very well in a dressing, staying crisp for hours after it is made. The steak packs a protein punch, so this salad will fill you up and keep you satisfied till your next meal. It's paleo, gluten-free, and dairy-free, and allergy friendly for serving to a crowd (though careful about what nuts/seeds you use in the Dukkah if cooking for nut-sensitive eaters). Hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Rocket Salad with Steak, Roasted Peppers & Dukkah-Crusted Pumpkin
Serves 3-4 as a main course, 6-8 as a side
Inspired by Eat Drink Paleo

1.5 lbs (680 g) flank beef steak or other thin-cut of beef
pinch of freshly ground salt and pepper
3 teaspoons cooking oil (such as rice bran oil), divided use
2 cups rocket (arugula), rinsed and spun dry
2 cups diced pumpkin (kent, grey, butternut), about 1-inch squares
2 tablespoons dukkah (see my easy, homemade dukkah recipe here)
1 cup diced eggplant, about 1-inch squares

Vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 small clove garlic, minced
freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 215C / 420F, and line a baking sheet with baking paper.

In a large bowl, add 1 teaspoon of cooking oil and diced pumpkin, tossing to coat. Add the dukkah, and toss to coat the pumpkin evenly with the dukkah. Arrange the pumpkin and diced eggplant on the baking sheet lined with baking paper or greased well with oil, spreading out the vegetables so that the pieces aren't touching. (You may need to spread everything out over two baking trays). Place in pre-heated oven and cook at 215C / 420F for 18-25 minutes, turning over the pieces halfway through, until pumpkin is cooked through. (If the eggplant pieces are done earlier and beginning to brown, just remove them and set aside while the pumpkin continues to cook).

While the pumpkin and eggplant are cooking: season the steak on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a skillet to medium heat. When the skillet is hot, swirl 2 teaspoons cooking oil around to coat the skillet evenly. Add the steak, and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, till seared on the outside but still pink in the middle (medium), or to your desired level of doneness. Remove steak and set aside to rest for 5-10 minutes before thinly slicing across the grain into 1/4-inch thick slices.

Make a vinaigrette by whisking together the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar, and the minced garlic.

To assemble the salad: on a large serving platter or wide bowl, spread out the rocket leaves. Scatter the dukkah-crusted pumpkin and the roasted eggplant evenly over the leaves. Arrange the steak slices along the top of the salad, and drizzle the vinaigrette over the entire salad. Top with freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve immediately, or chill for up to 6 hours, and bring to room temperature before serving.

Leftover salad will keep for two days in the fridge in a sealed container.