Marinated Tomato and Mozzarella Caprese Ciabbata Sandwich

Well that recipe title is a mouthful, but not as delicious as the mouthfuls of hot cheese sandwiched between some incredible toppings.


To the person who decided to marinate cheese- THANK YOU. I first came across the concept on The Kitchn and stopped in my tracks to try it. The only cheese I had in the fridge at the time was halloumi, and you can see for yourself how much I’ve enjoyed using halloumi. I marinated it in a tandoor paste to make these killer skewers a couple of months ago- seriously so good!


Whilst in Europe, I fell in love with sandwiches. I know, so terribly common of me. There was one particular sandwich that sealed the deal and it was this caprese sandwich. Made by an Australian man in Interlaken, Switzerland, I had this sandwich alongside a blood orange cocktail; incredibly incongruous but in that moment, I didn’t feel lonely. At that point, I had been without family for 3 weeks and I was feeling that ache in my chest commonly known as homesickness.


There’s a reason why a large portion of Zimbabweans choose to migrate to Australia. Their culture is very similar to ours, our weather patterns are almost identical and our accents are indistinguishable to the average European/American. Seriously, I have been asked way too many times if I’m from Australia or New Zealand. For this one plucky restaurant owner, his friendliness and sage in helping me choose a meal I’ll never forget uplifted my spirits after a long day of hiking.


Upon my return to Zimbabwe, I spent my time in the kitchen trying to recreate the magical sandwich. To some extent, my circumstances created some of the magic around the sandwich; I had been travelling alone for a week and I hadn’t had anything to eat that day since descending the mountain. The prospect of a new friend and a killer cocktail made me enjoy the meal so much more. Cheers to familiar faces in strange places!

Marinated Tomato and Mozzarella Caprese Ciabbata Grilled Sandwich

Ingredients

  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp chilli flakes (optional)
  • 250 g mozzarella cheese, sliced into ¼ inch thick slices
  • 2 heirloom tomatoes, sliced thinly
  • ½ cup spinach pesto, homemade or storebought
  • 1 loaf of ciabatta bread, sliced in half horizontally then cut into sections.
  • Optional for serving: balsamic reduction, just boil 1 cup of balsamic vinegar until thick and reduced by half.

Method

  1. Combine the olive oil, garlic cloves, honey, lemon zest, black pepper and chilli flakes in a large airtight glass jar. Seal tightly and shake the jar to combine everything. Normally I would microwave the jar for 30 seconds to infuse the olive oil with the spices but this isn’t necessary.
  2. Throw the mozzarella and tomatoes into the olive oil mixture, seal the jar and shake to soak the tomatoes and cheese in the oil. Allow to sit at room temperature for at least an hour but for best results, leave overnight. Meanwhile, make the balsamic reduction if using.
  3. Heat your grill/broiler. Spread both halves of the ciabatta bread with the spinach pesto. Layer one half of the sandwiches with the tomatoes followed by the marinated cheese. Add both halves of the sandwiches to a baking tray, with the empty half pesto-side up.
  4. Grill the sandwich until the cheese has melted, about 5 minutes. If desired, you can leave it until the cheese is starting to turn golden brown, about another 5 minutes. Serve hot whilst the cheese is still gooey with the balsamic reduction!
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A Trio Of Canapés

Salut tout le monde! Christmas is done and dusted, now is the time to burn the Christmas tree and unpack the stilettos because NYE is on its way! I think we can all agree that 2016 is a year that nobody wants to remember, and there is nothing I look forward to more than watching it fizzle out with the fireworks on the 31st of December. If there is one way to make sure 2017 is memorable, it’s with these canapés.


They’re ridiculously easy to prepare, and you get 3 for the price of one! You don’t have to follow this recipe to the bone, you’re allowed to be creative here and add whatever you think will taste good here. A drizzle of balsamic vinegar here, a splash of tahini there, this is your chance to go wild.


These are best served to your guests as soon as they arrive as entrées: which comes from the French verb entrer, to enter. They make great amuse bouches or ‘mouth entertainment’ because I can guarantee a festival of flavour for your tastebuds. Pair these with a rocking champagne or prosecco and you’ve got yourself a banging NYE party!

A Trio Of Canapés                                                                                                  makes about 50 

To start you will need:

2 12-inch long baguettes

½ cup of butter, melted (if you like, you can add 1 tsp of crushed garlic to the butter and microwave for 20 seconds)


Preparing the bread:

Preheat your oven to 200 °C/400°F. Start by slicing the baguettes into ¾ inch thick slices. Too thick and your guests will have a wad of bread in their mouths, but if they’re too thin then the toppings won’t hold and they’ll fall apart. Lay the bread slices in a single layer across 3 baking pans.

Drizzle or brush the melted butter evenly across the sliced bread. Bake for 15 minutes or until the bread is lightly toasted. Remove from the oven and once cooled, divide the slices into 3 parts.

Caramelised Onion and Goat’s Cheese 

Ingredients

4 tbsp butter

2 large red onions, sliced thinly

about 3 tbsp of balsamic vinegar or vegetable stock or water

¼ cup crumbled/grated goat’s cheese

Method

  1. Heat a heavy bottomed saucepan on high. Melt the butter before adding the red onions to caramelise. DO NOT STIR FOR THE FIRST 10 MINUTES unless the onions are starting to burn, then reduce the heat*. Cook for an extra 30 minutes, stirring as little as possible, I would recommend only turning the onions every 10 minutes. You will notice a dark brown sticky residue building up at the bottom of the pot, this is called the fond and we’ll deal with it later.
  2. At the 30 minute mark, taste the onions to check for degree of caramelisation. If they’re to your liking, then you may continue with the next step but if you want a deeper caramel flavour then cook for another 15 minutes, watching carefully that they don’t burn.
  3. Once you’re satisfied with your caramelised onions, add the 3 tbsp of balsamic vinegar/vegetable stock/water to your pan to deglaze it. Use a wooden spoon to scrape the fond up as you do this and mix it into the onions. Fond be gone! This contributes to the overall flavour of the onions. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
  4. Top one third of the baguette slices with 2 tbsp of the cooled caramelised onions. Sprinkle about a tablespoon of the crumbled goat’s cheese on top. Before serving, warm for 10 minutes in a preheated oven. These can also be served at room temperature if you’re short on time.

*The name of the game here is ‘Low and Slow’. Cook on low heat for a long period of time. If the heat is too high then your onions will be more burnt that caramelised. Patience is a virtue. Too much stirring disrupts the formation of the fond and your onions won’t be nearly as flavoursome.

 

Spinach Pesto, Roasted Tomatoes & Cheddar

Ingredients

1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

2 tbsp olive oil

1 heaped tablespoon of mixed herbs

roughly 100g of white cheddar or mozarella, sliced into small rectangles (i.e 3 cm × 5 cm)

¼ cup spinach pesto (or whatever kind of pesto you fancy) homemade or storebought

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 200 °C/400°F. In a large roasting pan, lay the tomatoes such that the cut side is facing upwards. Drizzle evenly with olive oil and mixed herbs. Roast for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
  2. Top one third of the bread slices with the cheddar rectangles. Dollop with a teaspoon of spinach pesto and top with half a roasted cherry tomato. These should be served at room temperature.

 

Parmesan Garlic Herbed Mushrooms

Ingredients

3 tbsp butter

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp thyme

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp rosemary

1 and ½ cups button mushrooms, sliced

2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

4 tbsp fresh cream

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Method

  1. In a large frying pan on high heat, add the butter, garlic, thyme, oregano and rosemary. Once the butter has melted, throw in the mushrooms and sauté until dark brown and reduced in size, stirring frequently. Add the Worcestershire sauce to deglaze the pan and scoop up any residue that has formed at the bottom of the pan. Pour the fresh cream and add ¼ cup of the Parmesan cheese.  Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste before removing to a separate bowl to let cool.
  2. Once cooled, top the last third of the baguette slices with 2 tbsp of the mushroom mixture before dusting with Parmesan cheese. Before serving, warm in a preheated oven for 10 minutes. Alternatively, these can be served at room temperature.

 

Okay so this can look overwhelming at first and whether you’re making one or all three, you probably have no idea where to start. So I’m adding a little guide to the bottom of this post to make it that much easier for you.

Order in which to prepare all 3 canapés: 

  1. Start by caramelising the onions. These take the longest to prepare so it makes sense to get them out of the way first.
  2. Whilst the onions are caramelising, slice the baguettes and cherry tomatoes. Toast the bread and roast the tomatoes at the same time in your oven as they take roughly the same time.
  3. Whilst the bread and tomatoes are in the oven, cook the mushrooms, making sure to be checking on the onions at the same time.
  4. Leave the bread, tomatoes and mushrooms to cool in the fridge whilst you finish up with the onions.
  5. Assemble and get ready to party because you’re a rockstar for getting all this done!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spinach Pesto Braided Bread Wreath

Stop the presses- I’m alive!

I know it’s been over a month since my last post, my sincerest apologies, and I would love to tell you about all the wonderful adventures I’ve had since then, but today, let’s focus on this beautiful braided baby. Ain’t she a beaut?

To all of you who are declaring November ‘No-Bread Month’, I’m begging you to stop and end this madness. Who decided to give bread a bad name? What did she ever do to you? Carbs are your friends. Don’t believe me? Read the article I wrote for Purple Lipstick on why food is your friend and not your enemy. *Rant over*

This recipe starts with a simple bread dough that is then rolled out into a rectangle and spread with spinach pesto and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. You can use homemade pesto or you can use any store bought pesto (I’ll avert my eyes). If you’re going the homemade route, check this recipe I have for the best pesto you will ever have in your entire life.

Then the rectangle can be rolled out into a long, similar to the process of making cinnamon rolls

Slice the rectangle longitudinally and braid the two sides over each other and shape into a wreath

Bake for 30 minutes in the oven and ta-da! 

For the visual learners, here’s a time lapse of me braiding the wreath:


If you want to get extra-fancy and take this recipe up a notch, you can try steaming your bread for the first 10 minutes of baking. The process is simple, whilst you’re preheating your oven at 200°C you’ll adjust your oven rack to the lowest level and lay a baking sheet right on the floor of your oven. When you’re ready to bake, set the baking pan with the bread on the rack, and throw a couple of ice cubes onto the preheated baking sheet. This exercise has to be completed as quickly as possible to avoid losing heat. After 10 minutes, you’ll remove the now empty baking sheet from the bottom shelf and leave the bread to continue baking.

Steaming your bread has several benefits:

  • Steam has a high heat capacity. This means that the steam will hold a much greater quantity of heat energy than the bread. So when the steam comes into contact with the bread crust, it will donate all that heat energy and the temperature of the dough increases much faster than it would have originally. This gives us beautifully crunchy crust
  • The steam also helps to dissolve any simple sugars on the surface of the dough that will caramelise during baking, vastly improving the quality of the crust
  • It helps reduce the amount of moisture lost by the bread during the first 10 minutes of baking, keeping the crust soft and pliable. The yeast will still be active in those first 10 minutes of baking, metabolising any sugar to carbon dioxide and water. These will escape as gases, helping the bread to rise further forming that lovely dome shape. This is known as ovenspring. (Un)Fortunately, the yeast dies shortly after due to the high temperature of the oven.

It’s up to you whether or not you’d like to steam your bread first but I would strongly recommend it.

Spinach Pesto Braided Bread Wreath

Ingredients

1 ½ cups lukewarm water (roughly 35° if you have a thermometer)

1 tsp yeast

2 tsp granulated sugar

3 cups of flour (bread flour would be preferred but self raising or all-purpose would work perfectly)

1 tsp salt

¼ cup olive oil

3 heaped tbsp of spinach pesto

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese + an extra 2 tbsp

6-8 ice blocks + ½ cup of cold water (optional)

Method

  1. In a large measuring cup, dissolve the yeast and sugar in the water and leave to proof for about 10 minutes. The mixture should be frothy and bubbling.
  2. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in the water with the proofed yeast, and the olive oil. Mix to form a shaggy dough. Once the ingredients are combined, turn the dough over to a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, adding more flour as needed. You should knead the dough for at least 8 minutes. Turn the dough into a well-oiled bowl, cover with a towel and leave to rise until doubled in size, which should take 60-90 minutes.
  3. Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto an oiled surface and roll it out into a 10 in ×13 in rectangle. Preheat your oven 200°C and adjust your rack to the lowest level. *Lay a baking tray right on the floor of the oven. Grease and line a 9×13 baking sheet with parchment paper.
  4. Spread the pesto evenly over the surface of the rectangular dough, leaving a border of about 1 in. Sprinkle the ¼ cup of parmesan over the pesto. Starting from the long end, roll the rectangle into a log, similar to shaping cinnamon rolls. Using a sharp chef’s knife, slice the log down the long end. As you’re slicing, be careful not to pull the dough. Cut from a 90° angle, directly above the dough. Separate the two halves and lay them pesto side up. Braid the two dough pieces, laying one side over the other until you reach the end. Knot the end. Bring one end of the braid over to meet the other and shape into a circle. If you’re confused by the instructions, see the video above.
  5. Grease a ramekin with butter/oil and lay it in the baking sheet. Gently lift and transfer your wreath to the baking sheet and adjust it so that it fits around the ramekin. Sprinkle the other 2 tbsp of Parmesan over the dough. Transfer the dough wreath to the oven rack. *Wasting no time, add the ice cubes and cold water to the preheated baking tray. You’ll need to do this as quickly as possible to avoid losing any heat in the oven. Close the oven door and set a timer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove the now empty baking tray from the oven and allow the bread to continue baking for another 25 minutes. The bread is done when the crust is a deep golden bread. Allow to cool until it is barely warm before carefully removing the ramekin. Serve warm/room temperature. If there are any leftovers, keep them tightly sealed at room temperature for up to 3 days.

* If you choose not to steam your bread, it’s totally okay, my feelings aren’t hurt at all. Ignore the steps that are marked with an asterisk.