Thursday, December 27, 2018

As 2018 draws to a close: Buckwheat Salad with Burrata, Eggplant, Zucchini & Baby Spinach

As this year draws to a close, we long for a winter salad, with grains or seeds, heavy with veggies and topped with fresh, creamy cheese. To change things up a bit, I chose to use buckwheat rather than my other favorites for this type of salad, such as barley, farro or freekeh (for a base recipe, please take a look here).

The name 'Buckwheat' is somewhat deceiving as buckwheat is not a grain and has no relation to wheat at all. It is actually a seed, and the plant is a relative of rhubarb. However, it is very similar to a grain, so people tend to include it in that category. Buckwheat is often used in a similar way to rice, barley, bulgar or quinoa, usually as a side dish. You can also use buckwheat for a breakfast porridge with milk, or ground into flour for blini pancakes, bread and noodles. If you are a bit hesitant about the taste of buckwheat, you might enjoy Japanese Soba Noodles, although made from buckwheat flour, they are more delicate and less nutty than buckwheat groats and make delicious salads too.

Buckwheat kernels have a dark hull with a lighter inner seed. And groats are the intact seeds with the hull removed, used for cooking. When toasted, the buckwheat groats are called Kasha, which is how they are most often used in Eastern Europe cooking.

However you chose to serve buckwheat, it has an intense, earthy, slightly nutty and smoky flavor.  Look for kasha, or plain groats, in Eastern European markets, health food shops or in the organic aisle at the grocery store, or simply order online. Once you shop for buckwheat and use it, please do remember that buckwheat contains about double the oil of most cereals, which affects its shelf life, so once opened, keep it in an airtight container.

I am using the hulled seed, or toasted buckwheat groats, in this salad. They cook quickly, unlike many other grains, and their nutty flavor is a delicious backdrop for the vegetables and cheese in this salad. The cooked groats are very light and fluffy in comparison to the denseness of many other grains. I love their texture, especially in salads. If you do enjoy buckwheat, feel free to substitute buckwheat for white rice in any dish.

Buckwheat Salad with Burrata, Eggplant, Zucchini & Baby Spinach


For the Salad
  • 250g toasted buckwheat groats (also called Kasha)
  • 2 zucchini (M), diced
  • 2 eggplants (M), diced
  • olive oil (some olive oil for frying the veg and some extra virgin olive oil for the salad dressing)
  • 100g baby spinach leaves, picked over, washed and dried (best done in a salad spinner)
  • one bunch of basil, leaves only, roughly torn (optional)

For the Dressing
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (see above) or more
  • one lemon, juiced
  • one clove garlic, peeled and crushed (optional)
  • freshly ground black pepper, salt (to taste)

To serve
  • 200g ball burrata, drained and served whole – for looks – or torn into chunks (OR 2 x 125g balls mozzarella. also drained)

  1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil, turn the heat to very low, stir in the buckwheat, cover and cook about 10 to 15 minutes (depending on the type of buckwheat you are using, the cooking time might be up to 20 minutes). Set aside for a few minutes with the lid on, then spread on a plate, fluff with a fork and leave to cool.
  2. Meanwhile, fry eggplant (aubergine), zucchini (courgette), drain on paper towels and set aside to cool.
  3. Once cool, mix them in a large bowl with the buckwheat.
  4. For the dressing, in a small bowl, lightly whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper (and garlic, if using). Set aside for a few minutes and then drain the garlic from the dressing. 
  5. Pour some of the dressing on the cooled buckwheat with the veg and toss gently to combine.
  6. Just before serving, stir in the spinach leaves.
  7. Arrange the buratta OR mozzarella, whole or torn into chunks, on top of OR around the salad and scatter the basil leaves over (optional). Scatter a little salt and pepper on top. 
  8. Quickly whisk up the remaining dressing again if necessary, drizzle it over and serve.

Recipe Note: If the buckwheat you plan to use for this recipe is not toasted, you can dry-roast it over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until it is golden brown in color then remove from heat and proceed with the recipe.

Just a quick note on that lovely Burrata - Burrata is a very decadent cheese – made from mozzarella and cream wrapped in more mozzarella. It is a wonderful addition here but if you cannot get hold of this lovely Italian cheese, feel free to use fresh Mozarella instead. Prosciutto di Parma (Parma ham) would also be a nice addition here as the enjoyable saltiness of that Italian ham goes so well with the soft and creamy Burrata and the delightfully nutty Buckwheat.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Merry and Sweet Christmas Wishes

Wishing all of you and your families a very Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!

Ich wünsche euch allen ein frohes Weihnachtfest und besinnliche Festtage!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

December Lunch - Pizza Bianca with Fingerling Potatoes, Rosemary & Winter Purslane

Pizza Bianca, which translates to 'White Pizza' in Italian, is basically a pizza prepared without tomato sauce. My favorite version has a topping of thinly sliced new potatoes and gets its flavor from two kinds of cheese, one mild (mozzarella) one deliciously salty (parmesan), then delightfully woodsy rosemary from my garden and a lovely topping of peppery winter purslane. If you cannot find fresh Winter Purslane, of course, you could substitute with fresh arugula (aka rocket) here or other seasonal winter greens that you like.

As far as the pizza base is concerned, we all know that nothing beats making your own pizza dough but, particularly at this rather busy time of the year, there is no shame in using a good quality store bought pizza dough. Whether you make the dough yourself or not, just remember to make sure that your oven is rather hot as you are looking for a crust that will be crisp on the outside and chewy in the middle, maybe charred in spots, giving your Pizza Bianca that slightly smoky flavor that you love from brick ovens.

Pizza Bianca with Potatoes , Rosemary & Purslane

Ingredients for the Toppings
  • 1 pizza base* (use your favorite recipe OR use a good quality store bought one)
  • 4 to 5 fingerling potatoes, cooked, cooled, skins on or off, slice as thinly as possible (although a mandoline works best here, you could use a sharp knife)
  • good olive oil (about 2 tbsps)
  • freshly ground black pepper and salt
  • 50g mozzarella cheese, coarsely grated (if you grate the mozzarella yourself and it is rather soft, freeze briefly before grating, making your life a lot easier when you make this recipe)
  • some parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • small rosemary twigs OR use thyme 

          Winter Greens Topping (optional)
          • fresh purslane, washed, picked through and dried (OR use other winter greens)
          • some good olive oil
          • freshly ground black pepper and salt, to taste

          1. Preheat your oven to 240° C (464°F) or as hot as it will go.
          2. Transfer the dough directly onto an upside-down oiled baking sheet OR use a pizza stone.
          3. Flatten the dough into rough pizza shape.
          4. Prove the dough for a good 5 minutes while you prepare the toppings.
          5. Pat away any excess moisture from the potatoes and carefully toss the potato slices in the olive oil and season with pepper and salt to taste.
          6. Top base with the mozzarella and parmesan. 
          7. Lay the potato slices on top and drizzle with any remaining olive oil from the bowl. 
          8. Top with rosemary.
          9. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes OR until the base is puffed and golden and the potatoes are crisping up around the edges. Set aside for a moment while you prepare the winter green topping.
          10. Top with purslane or other greens, as is, or tossed with a bit of olive oil, freshly ground black pepper and salt.
          11. Serve warm or at room temperature.

          Ingredients for the Pizza Dough*

          For the biga
          • 150g flour, plus extra for dusting (please note: for pizza making it is best to use (strong) white bread flour or Tipo '00' flour available at most Italian supermarkets or online)
          • ½ tsp fast-action dried yeast
          • ½ tsp fine (caster) sugar
          • 150ml lukewarm water 
          For the final dough
          • 275g flour
          • 1 tsp fast-action dried yeast
          • 2 tbsp olive oil
          • 1 tsp salt 
          • about 200 to 220ml lukewarm water

          Preparation of the Pizza Dough

          1. Make the biga the night before: mix the flour, yeast and sugar in a bowl. Slowly add 150ml lukewarm water and stir to create a thick batter. 
          2. Cover with plastic wrap or tea towel and leave in a warm place overnight to ferment.
          3. The next day: add the flour, yeast, olive oil and 1 tsp salt to the biga, then gradually mix in enough water to make a soft, wet dough that still holds its shape. 
          4. Cover and leave to rise for 2 to 4 hours or until tripled in size.
          5. Once the dough has risen, punch the dough to knock the air out, then tip out onto a heavily floured surface. Knead in the flour until the dough stops sticking to your hands – it should be very soft and springy, but not so wet that it sticks to the surface. 
          6. Divide the dough into two balls. Roll one out to make a large pizza base OR divide in half again to make two smaller pizzas (NOTE: double the toppings to make two pizza bianca or freeze one portion).

          Enjoy for lunch or dinner, just as is or maybe with a warming bowl of soup alongside.