Pumpkin, Strawberry and Gorgonzola ‘Traybake’ Salad

Okay, so I love a traybake. I love the simplicity, the lack of washing up, and the lack of plating up. But to be fair, this is more of a traybake-salad hybrid. In the spirit of the one-pan dinner (my preferred way to cook) you can literally take this one straight from the oven to the table with just a little artless assembly (my preferred way to assemble) along the way.

Half of the inspiration for this has been brewing in my mind for a few weeks now. My sister-in-law, Lilli, was going to be in town and asked if I’d like to meet for lunch after I finished up at work. We decided to meet at Old Friend bistro and bar on Pirie Street where I had caught up with, aptly, an old friend for lunch a few weeks before. By happy circumstance, my husband’s office was a street away and he was free for lunch, and our nephew, Christopher, and his girlfriend, Alice, were also around and free for lunch! Our lunch for two became an impromptu family catchup for six. The fabulous yet concise menu at Old Friend provides something to please everyone, yet it was Alice’s vegan roast pumpkin salad that was the table showstopper and the source of lots of plate envy: think thick wedges of roasted pumpkin with salad leaves, grilled stone fruit and accessorised with ruby red pomegranate jewels. It looked so beautiful on the plate that it has stuck in my mind as something I might one day try to replicate.

The other half of the inspiration for this recipe was a salad I made for a Christmas brunch a few years ago which consisted of baby spinach leaves, pecans, gorgonzola and strawberries. Blue cheese isn’t to everyone’s liking, and even if it isn’t your fromage du jour, I urge you to be open-minded: the sharp saltiness of the cheese is the perfect counterbalance to the sweetness of fruit, and this salad is a perfect example of how to make these flavours work in perfect harmony.

So, I have taken the essence of the strawberry, spinach and gorgonzola salad and coupled it with roasted pumpkin to create something that is sure to prove that you can, very much, make friends with salad!

 

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PUMPKIN, STRAWBERRY AND GORGONZOLA TRAYBAKE SALAD
Serves 4 as a main or 8 as an entree

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 large Jap pumpkin; seeds reserved
  • 100g pecans
  • 1 punnet strawberries; leaves removed, quartered
  • 2 large handfuls (about 120g) beetroot leaves (or rocket or baby spinach)
  • 100g pecan kernels
  • 180g Gorgonzola Dolce cheese
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
  • 10 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • A good pinch of salt

METHOD

Preheat oven to 220C and line a baking tray with baking paper.

Slice the pumpkin into 8 equal sized wedges and reserve the seeds. Separate the seeds and remove the stringy fibres. Arrange the pumpkin pieces on the tray so they are evenly spaced.

Sprinkle the pecans and pumpkin seeds evenly over the tray and drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil and a sprinkle of salt.

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Place the tray in the oven and bake for about 30-35 minutes or until the pumpkin is tender and the skin is a little coloured, being careful to roast but not burn the pecans. Do not to overcook or else the pumpkin will not hold its shape.

Meanwhile, in a small jar with a secure lid, add the honey, the remaining oil, and the balsamic vinegar. Shake vigorously to make a dressing making sure the honey is totally combined. Set aside.

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Remove the tray from the oven and distribute the leaves evenly over the pumpkin still in the tray. Then, evenly sprinkle over the quartered strawberries.

With your hands, break up the gorgonzola into small blobs and dot the salad with the cheese, then sprinkle over the sunflower seeds.

Give the jar of dressing a final shake and then drizzle a few tablespoons over the whole salad.

Place the whole tray on the table with a few salad servers and the jar of leftover dressing on the side, and let everyone help themselves.

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Baklava Gyoza

I spent six months recovering from a life-threatening injury and during this time I think I watched every cooking and lifestyle program on television and the internet. When I was well enough to start doing things again, I found my way back into the kitchen. While I had always loved cooking, for the period of about two years before my injury I felt like I had lost my touch. Furthermore, I just couldn’t be bothered with it anymore. It had become a chore as opposed to its former joy. As it happened, during my recovery time cooking became for me something that it had stopped being for a long time: therapy. And as my health improved, the joy for cooking returned, so much so that I finally started this blog which many have told me is well overdue. This recipe is perhaps an ode to the returned passion for cooking and for creating through experimentation.

One of the shows I must have watched a thousand episodes of during my recovery time is Everyday Gourmet with Justine Schofield. On one particular episode she used gow gee gyoza wrappers to wrap stewed spiced apples and fresh berries, turning the concept of the Japanese savoury dumpling into a sweet bite-sized pastry. I was reminded of a restaurant I ate at years ago on a work trip to Ballarat where I was served cherry and marscapone spring rolls for dessert. I came home and attempted to create my own with disastrous results: the pastry split and the filling exploded everywhere. I never attempted an asian fusion dessert ever again.

Until now.

A ‘foodspiration’ walk through the Adelaide Central Market had me feeling like Greek food, hence I revisited my ‘Stolen’ Lamb and Potato Packets and was inspired to create my Warm Greek Bean Salad. And I knew my husband, being the sweet-tooth he his, would be wanting ‘a little sweetie’ to round off our night. Baklava is one of those foods I have always loved eating and have always been too scared to make – all that pastry! Then I thought about Schofield’s sweet gyoza and the dessert spring rolls I’d eaten all those years ago (yes, my memory for food and flavours is a well-catalogued library) – I wondered ‘what would happen if you stuffed dumpling pastry with a nutty baklava mixture?’ Well, this happened: Baklava Gyoza.

Using store-bought wrappers makes these dumplings pretty quick to make: blitz nuts with sweeteners and spices, place on wrappers, seal them up, quickly fry and then steam with water under a lid. Gow gee wrappers are commonly available in supermarkets but you’ll certainly find them in asian grocery stores. You want the round gow gee wrappers in order to make the gyoza shape as opposed to square wanton wrappers. You will need a non-stick frypan to cook these, and you will also need a lid big enough to cover the whole pan. You should also wear an apron as the oiled pan gets filled with water, so there will be a little bit of drama with steam and spattering, so go carefully.

Aside from that, they are not terribly fiddly to make, and the repetitive nature when making big batches of them is quite therapeutic, to go back to my earlier theme. The satisfaction, however, is all the sweet, citrusy and woody spice of Greek baklava in soft syrup-bathed Japanese-style pastry parcels.

No confusion, this is one sweet fusion!

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BAKLAVA GYOZA
Makes 24

INGREDIENTS

For the gyoza:

  • 24 gow gee gyoza wrappers
  • 100g walnuts
  • 80g flaked almonds
  • 80g pistachios
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 Tablespoons caster sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 Tablespoons honey

For the syrup:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 Tablespoons honey
  • 3 Tablespoons orange blossom water (optional)
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 cardamom pods, bruised
  • 4 slices of lemon rind (roughly 1cm x 4cm)
  • 3/4 cup water

METHOD

Start with the syrup:

Put all the ingredients for the syrup into a medium saucepan. Cook over medium high heat, stirring continuously, until the it comes a simmer and the sugar dissolves.

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Turn the heat down and allow to simmer for 3 minutes, still stirring, and making sure the liquid does not boil or burn.

Take the syrup off the heat and allow to cool with the whole spices and rind.

Now prepare your gyoza:

Place the nuts, butter, sugar, orange blossom water (if using), cinnamon and honey into a food processor and blitz until the nuts are coarsely ground and the mixture forms a pliable paste. You should be able to take teaspoons of the mixture and roll it into a ball; it should be able to be shaped and hold together.

Lay your wrappers out on your work surface and have a small dish of water close by.

Place teaspoons of the nut mixture in the centre of each wrapper and manipulate the mixture to form that unmistakable quenelle gyoza shape.

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Dip your finger in the water and trace around the outside edge of each wrapper. Bring the edges of the wrappers together to seal in the nut mixture, securing them by pressing together the moistened edges and pinching the pastry to form your gyoza.

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Cooking your gyoza:

Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot, spray it lightly with with canola oil.

Place 6 gyoza in the hot pan to lightly brown their bases.

When they have started to turn golden on the base, pour 3/4 cup of water into the pan – be careful, water and oil do not play nicely and this will steam and bubble and it may spatter a little. Immediately cover the frying pan with a lid and allow the gyoza to cook for about 5 minutes or until all the liquid in the pan has evaporated.

If you are cooking more than 6 gyoza at a time, you may need to use more water for steaming. You want the gyoza bases to remain crisp on the bottom but the rest of the pastry should be soft, not leathery, so add more water if your gyoza haven’t steamed through when the initial liquid has evaporated.

Use a palette knife to carefully lift the gyoza to serving plate.

Generously drizzle the cooled syrup over the gyoza and serve extra syrup in sauce dishes for dunking.

Serve immediately.

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Warm Greek Bean Salad

This is more Greek inspired than it is a Greek dish. I wanted something to complement my ‘Stolen’ Lamb and Potato Packets and given it was a cold wintery Adelaide Hills night a cold salad was not going to cut it.

The most actual cooking you’re going to do here is boil the kettle and pop a few tomatoes on an oven tray. The rest is just some artless assembly – the salad doesn’t even need tossing.

Here you will find most of the usual suspects in a Greek salad: tomato, crumbly feta, kalamata olives, extra virgin olive oil and oregano, but I’ve replaced lettuce with warmed green beans. You could also top the salad with some fresh chunky-cut Lebanese cucumber if you wanted to cut through the saltiness, particularly if you opt to be heavy handed with the olives and feta. I have a particular preference for the multicoloured cherry tomato medley packs you can buy now but you can really use whatever tomatoes you want. A little Jamie Oliver trick is to salt the tomatoes generously and leave to rest a little before roasting to draw out the juices. The tomatoes taste sweeter when you do this.

WARM GREEK BEAN SALAD

Serves 2 as a generous side

This is salad, not chemistry: adjust measurements as you please. Quantities given below are a guide.

INGREDIENTS

  • 250g green stringless beans, trimmed
  • 150g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 80g kalamata olives
  • 80g Greek style feta cheese
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • A pinch of salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper

METHOD

Preheat oven to 200C.

Arrange tomatoes, cut side up, on an oven tray lined with baking paper. Sprinkle over salt, pepper, oregano and drizzle with a tablespoon of oil.

Bake tomatoes for 15 – 20 minutes or until they start to colour but still hold their shape. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. You want them to be warm on your salad.

Boil a kettle of water. While the water is heating up, place the beans in a salad bowl.

Pour enough boiling water to just cover the beans and allow to stand about 2 minutes or until the colour of the beans intensifies. Drain the beans and dry the bowl fore retuning the warmed beans to the salad bowl.

Drizzle another tablespoon of oil and the vinegar over the beans and toss a couple of times to cover. Add the olives and crumble over the feta before topping the whole lot with the warm roasted tomatoes.

Give a last drizzle with the remaining oil and sprinkle with a pinch of extra dried oregano before serving.

Pear and Berry Bircher

If I want to feel particularly virtuous, I make sure that I am totally prepared for the day ahead the night before: the gym bag is packed for that commitment to the gym after work, the house is spotlessly cleaned, lunches are packed, and I have committed to a day of healthy eating by preparing a healthy and satisfying breakfast before I have even gone to bed! My Pear and Berry Bircher ticks all the boxes – healthy, nutritious, delicious and made in under 10 minutes.

Unlike many other bircher muesli recipes, this one does not contain fruit juice which is a good thing if you are conscious of hidden empty calories and sugars.

Be sure that you use rolled oats – not quick oats – you want the coarser texture of the fuller oats so that they almost become a little plumper as they soak in the liquid overnight. Quick oats will absorb the moisture quicker and turn your muesli into a gloopy sludge.

Be adventurous with your fruit toppings. My mother in law gives us a bucket of apricots from her tree every summer, so I poached a whole batch in some water, a cinnamon stick, star anise and a little sugar and kept them in the fridge to have on our bircher every other morning. Frozen berries are a busy person’s godsend, though, and letting them defrost on your muesli overnight allows them to bleed a little extra juice which adds a fresh flavour to your breakfast. If you’re not such a fan of the tart acidity of the juice, defrost your berries on a plate lined with paper towel in the fridge and just add the berries to your muesli in the morning.

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PEAR AND BERRY BIRCHER
Serves 2

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 Cup Rolled Oats
  • 1 pear, grated
  • 1 Cup Low Fat Natural Yoghurt (I like the creaminess of the Tamar Valley Natural Yoghurt)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1-2 teaspoons honey
  • Handful of mixed frozen berries
  • Chopped nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, pepitas and sunflower seeds

METHOD

Combine oats, pear, yoghurt, water, cinnamon and honey in a bowl.

Divide mixture between two bowls.

Top with frozen berries, nuts and seeds.

Cover with cling wrap and place in fridge overnight.

If you like your bircher creamier, stir through an extra tablespoon of yoghurt before eating.

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