Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Quartet of Dips

Ok, ok, so I went a little crazy here. But when you’re house-sitting (read: squatting) in a house with such a fantastic kitchen, how do you not go overboard? The real impetus behind my food processor frenzy was really my totally dip-able wholewheat version of Nigella’s flatbread. It deserves more than (God forbid) store-bought hummus. No, I stand resolutely by my lifelong motto that anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

First, the bread:
Wholewheat Flatbread
(adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess):
200g strong white bread flour
300g wholewheat bread flour with grains or spelt in it (Allinson’s make a nice one)
7g (1 packet) easy-blend yeast
2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for greasing
Approx. 300ml warm water
To glaze:
1 egg
1 tsp. water
1 tsp. yogurt
Seeds for topping such as poppy or sesame (optional)
Combine the flour, salt, yeast in a large bowl and make a well. Mix together the wet ingredients then pour into the flour mixture. Fold in the wet ingredients with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together then turn out on a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8-10 minutes. Form into a ball and place in an oiled bowl in a warm place, covered with plastic wrap until doubled in size; a little over an hour. Divide the dough with a knife into about 6 pieces (more or less depending on the size you want the final flatbreads to be) and allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C/425 degrees F. Roll out the pieces with a rolling pin or the heel of your hand into an oblong egg-shape about 2cm thick and lay out on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with a tea towel and leave to prove for about 20 minutes, until puffy. Mix the glaze ingredients together (minus the seeds, if using) and brush over the dough. Sprinkle with seeds then bake 8-10 minutes. While still warm, wrap the flatbreads in a tea towel to prevent a crust forming (if desired).
Now that you’ve got your delicious bread ready to dip, take a gander at some of these traditional and not-so-traditional delicious dips. Except for the tzatziki, the directions for these combinations are all the same: simply place the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and push the little button with your index finger. To make these, we roasted about 2 ½ heads of garlic along with the butternut squash while the dough was rising, so it was all ready to go when we were.

Roasted Garlic Hummus:
1 can chickpeas, drained (water reserved for thinning, if necessary)
Garlicy mush of 1 head of roasted garlic
4 Tbsp. olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup toasted sesame seeds (we didn’t have tahini on hand, but this worked a treat and added a scrumptious texture to the final product)
¼ tsp each cumin and coriander
Salt and pepper to taste
Chili flakes (optional)

Roasted Butternut Squash, Parmesean and Nutmeg Dip (I know, it needs a snappier name!):
Flesh of ½ a medium butternut squash, cut into cubes and roasted until soft
½ cup Greek yogurt
3 cloves roasted garlic
3-4 Tbsp. olive oil
¼ cup freshly-grated parmesan
1 hearty grating of nutmeg (well, it depends on how much you like nutmeg…)
Salt and pepper to taste
Sundried Tomato Cannellini Dip:
1 can cannellini beans drained (water reserved for thinning—you’ll need it)
½ cup sundried tomatoes in oil, packed
½ a head of roasted garlic
½ tsp each dried tarragon and thyme
Handful fresh basil
¼ tsp each cayenne, smoked paprika and chili flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

Tzatziki (just mix these together in a bowl, no need for a food processor here):
1 cup grated cucumber
1 cup Greek yogurt
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ each chopped fresh mint and parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil for finishing

Thursday, February 7, 2008


Without trying to sound whimsical, I can honestly tell you that I was introduced to this dish in the kitchen of a Tuscan winery by an extraordinary woman who makes not only her own tomato sauce, pesto, and preserves, but her own wine and olive oil as well. Now that’s the kind of life I want to have one day. Indeed, my old buddy Jenna and I gained access to the indescribable culinary enclave at La Fattoria Santa Vittoria in Pozzo della Chiana on a carefree, whirlwind post-college-graduation tour of Northern Italy in the summer of 2006. Oh, the headiness of youth!
I think it goes without saying that this rustic, fresh salad is best served overlooking a sun-drenched Tuscan countryside, but such idyllic surroundings may be hard to come by in February. Panzanella is essentially a tomato basil salad with breadcrumbs or croutons to soak up the delicious dressing and make a meal out of the affair. I’ve seen tons of variations (one Mr. Oliver even goes so far as to employ a roasted bell pepper here and there alongside his usual bath of olive oil), but as long as everything is fresh, even with the barest ingredients, you’re still going to end up with something delicious. This is peasant food at its best if you ask me, and I know of no better way to use up day old bread and avoid my least favorite activity of throwing away food.

Now I’ll admit, this recipe would undoubtedly be at its peak in summer (I don’t even want to think about the food miles implicit in the cherry tomatoes alone—but sometimes in the dead of winter was have to find ways to trick our bodies into thinking that spring is around the corner, no?), but then when summer finally does roll around, you’ll have it tried and tested to lock away in your food memory bank for a cold day like this. I can’t stress the simplicity angle enough here, however because of this, the higher quality your ingredients are to start with, the better the end result. Also, if the idea of raw onion or garlic intimidates, feel free to omit them entirely, or alternatively soak the slivered offenders in cold water for a few minutes to take the edge off. So go ahead and try this EASY little number, close your eyes and meditate on la dolce vita

Half loaf of day-old, good Italian country bread, such as ciabatta or pugliese, cut into cubes or processed into crumbs
1 box of cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cucumber diced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced into ribbons
Small bunch of basil, torn
1 clove garlic, finely minced
3 ounces of fresh mozzarella, diced (and a few Tbsp of brine, reserved)
Good olive oil
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

Directions: Place the bread (either cubed or crumbed) onto an ungreased baking sheet and bake at 170 degrees C/ 325 degrees F for about 8-10 minutes (you don’t want it to get too brown, just dried out, so keep an eye on it). While that’s happening, place all other prepped ingredients in a large bowl, season with a good pinch of sea salt and fresh pepper to taste. Allow the fresh ingredients to marinade for a few minutes. Add the bread and toss to combine, checking seasonings again. Serves 2 as a main course or 3 as an appetizer.