torta di risotto bambini

torta di risotto bambini

for years i have been moulding risotto into various shapes, and serving slices of the resulting torta on buffets and summer party tables. i love to eat and serve risotto, and this allows us to enjoy it in a completely different, make-ahead kind of way.

these little rice babies are so adorable and perfect for a dinner party and especially for your vegetarian guests. if you know you’re having vegetarians over for dinner, make risotto a few nights before and do up some individuals. you can reheat them in just 20 minutes and serve a special dinner without any fuss.

feel free to experiment with vegetables too. rounds of roasted yellow and green courgettes or a fat slab of grilled eggplant would be divine in the bottom of the mould. and your risotto can change with the seasons as well.

torta di risotto bambini

torta di risotto bambini

1 pint little tomatoes, halved
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup butter
1 large onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup white wine
6 cups water or vegetable stock
salt and pepper
2 cups grated parmegiano reggiano
aged balsamic vinegar
white truffle oil

preheat oven to 450f. toss the little tomatoes with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. roast on a parchment lined tray for 15-20 minutes, or until starting to colour and shrivel. set aside.

heat the water or stock to simmering. in a large pan, heat the 1/2 cup olive oil with half of the butter over medium heat. add the onion and garlic and cook stirring for 4 minutes. increase heat to high and add the mushrooms and some salt and pepper, stirring and cooking until mushrooms have released their water and have begun to colour, about 6 minutes. add the rice and stir to coat with the oil and butter. after drinking half the wine, re-measure, and pour it in the pan (you know you do this!) bring to a boil and stir until the liquid is almost gone. start adding hot water or stock to the pan, a couple of ladle-fuls at a time, stirring and cooking in typical risotto-making fashion. i taste throughout the process and stop adding water when the ice has some bite, and the rice is still rather soupy. it will thicken and cook further as it stands. add the cheese and remaining 2 tbsp. of butter. add a few drizzles of balsamic and some truffle oil. stir a few more times and then allow it to cool until the risotto has become less saucy and firmer. taste again and season as needed adding salt, pepper, or more truffle oil or balsamic or cheese.

line 6-8 single-serve vessels with plastic wrap and leave an overhang. i use ramekins, or stoneware timbale molds, or indian dahl bowls, whatever i have on hand. arrange the little tomatoes in the bottom, then spoon over the rice, right to the top. fold over the plastic, then chill until firm. overnight is best.

when ready to serve, preheat oven to 400f and line a baking pan with parchment. turn out the tortas and remove the plastic wrap. bake for 20 minutes, or until the little bambinis are hot and the bottom are sizzling and turning golden brown. serve hot with a nice salad, or some tomato sauce on the side.

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orzo verde

orzo verde

when the beginnings of spring tease at your psyche, there’s an instinctive longing to forego the heavy, stew-y dishes of winter and make something light and fresh and green. orzo verde is teeny, elongated egg-shaped pasta (israeli couscous is also an option) toasted until golden then all tossed up with lovely green things, olive oil, and lemon. perfect on it’s own, or maybe you’re feeling adventuresome and have ventured out to the barbecue grill. in that case, it makes a lovely side dish for something grilled. i like to make tofu skewers on the grill, or serve this with a nice vegetarian burger.

orzo verde

orzo verde

2 cups orzo pasta
3 tbsp. olive oil, plus a little extra for drizzling
1 large onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups vegetable broth or stock
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
juice and zest of 2 lemons
4 cups arugula packed arugula leaves, finely chopped (you’ll end up with about 1 1/2 cups)
2 cups packed baby spinach, finely chopped (you’ll end up with about 3/4 cup)
2 cups fresh or frozen green peas
2 tbsp. capers, coarsely chopped
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tbsp. toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley

in a large frying pan with a lid, heat the 3 tbsp. olive oil over high heat. add the orzo and cook, stirring constantly, until most of the grains are a light golden brown and some are turning a deeper golden, about 4 minutes. add the onion and garlic and cook for 1 minute. pour in the stock, and add the salt, pepper, and lemon zest and juice. bring to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer, and cover. cook for 15 minutes, stirring very frequently (orzo is sticky stuff) until orzo are nearly tender and the liquid has been nearly absorbed. stir in arugula, spinach, peas, and capers. if mixture seems too thick, add a 1/4 more water to loosen it up. stir over low heat for 2 minutes, or until peas are hot. stir in 3/4 of the feta. serve hot, and top with a light drizzle of olive oil, the remaining feta, pine nuts, and parsley.

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mushroom pie + stilton biscuit crust

mushroom pot pie

pot pie is a pretty humble dish, but one i think most people love. meat pies are ubiquitous, but a good veggie pie is not always easy to find.

the recipe is straightforward, but i did dress it up a little bit. stilton pairs so well with mushrooms, so it gets crumbled up in a biscuit crust, and i added some caramel-y onions, white wine, and fresh thyme to the filling. you can do it up in a large pan, or make up some individual ones for a perfect meal for one.

you may be looking at the picture and thinking, wait, that looks like cheddar cheese in those biscuits! you’re right, and i included that option in the recipe, because the truth is, there are some weird people out there who don’t like blue cheese. probably the same people who don’t like kittens, or happiness. i have nothing against some good old cheddar cheese, and it works equally well.

mushroom pot pie

mushroom pot pie with stilton biscuit crust

3 cups unsalted vegetable stock
3 tbsp. vegetable bouillon powder
4 oz (1 stick) butter
3 onions, halved and sliced
4 carrots, cut into 1/2″ dice
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ dice
4 large stalks celery, cut into 1/2″ dice
4 cups small button mushrooms, cut in half
1 cup flour
1 cup white wine
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 tsp dried basil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup 35% cream
2 cups frozen peas

biscuit crust:

2 cups all-purpose flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup crumbled stilton or grated extra-old cheddar cheese
1 cup buttermilk
flour for dusting
egg wash for brushing (1 egg yolk + 2 tbsp milk, cream, or water)

place stock in a small pot and heat to simmering. add the vegetable bouillon and stir to dissolve. keep hot while you prepare the filling.

in a large pot, melt 1/2 the butter over medium high heat. add the onions and cook, stirring, for 7 minutes, or until the edges just start to colour. turn heat to medium-low, and cook onions another 10 minutes, or until they are well-coloured. remove to a bowl and set aside.

increase heat to medium high. add remaining butter and the carrots, potatoes, celery, mushrooms, and thyme sprigs and cook for 10 minutes, until vegetables are slightly softened and mushrooms have released most of their liquid. return onions to the pan, along with any juices form the bowl. sprinkle the mixture with the flour and stir briefly. add the wine, and stir to make a thick paste. slowly add the hot stock, stirring well so no lumps form (don’t worry if you get a few small ones). and basil, and season with salt and pepper. reduce heat to a low simmer and cook for 5 minutes, stirring. remove from heat, fish out the branches from the thyme, and stir in the cream. pour into a 13×9″ baking pan and set aside while you prepare the biscuits.

preheat oven to 375f

in a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. use a pastry blender or 2 knives to cut in the butter until the pieces are smallish, the size of baby peas. add the cheese and toss to coat in the flour. make a well in the centre and add the buttermilk all at once. stir a few times just to combine, then scrape dough out onto a floured surface. lightly dust with flour. it will be very sticky. turn and fold the dough 4 or 5 times, then form into a rough square shape. cut into squares, rounds, or whatever shapes you like, and place on top of the mushroom mixture. re-roll any scraps and cut. the biscuits do not have to cover the filling completely but they can. be as creative as you like!

brush the biscuits with egg wash and bake the pie for 35-40 minutes, or until biscuits are golden brown and puffed and the filling is bubbly.

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pretty pizza

pretty pizza

i make pizza about every other week using a techinque i’m happy with, dough that behaves itself and a simple sauce that tastes really good. pizza at my place is good fun, with everyone throwing on what they want. it’s delicious, but it ain’t exactly pretty.

i like the idea of a composed pizza. like a composed salad, you can taste each ingredient on its own. usually each piece winds up having 1 or 1 ingredients on it. the next piece is something completely different.

this antipasto pizza is topped with sundried and fresh tomatoes, red onion, kalamata olives, fresh basil, zucchini sliced on the mandoline, and some marinated mushrooms from a recipe i posted on the blog. cheese goes on the bottom to you can see the patterns and colours of the ingredients.

i didn’t take too much time arranging it all. i’d love to see someone go really nuts with this idea and make the world’s most beautiful pizza. the angelina jolie of pizza. today we’ll go with pretty, and that’ll do just fine.

pretty pizza

pretty pizza

make it pretty and compose your ingredients, or just throw them on there.

the starter for the dough needs to be made the night before, but if you want to be eating pizza in the evening, start in the morning and you’ll be fine.

olive oil
salt and pepper
1/4 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
easy and flavourful pizza sauce (recipe follows)
rustic pizza dough (recipe follows)
toppings of your choice

easy and flavourful pizza sauce

1 can plum tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 tsp. dried basil
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

preheat oven to 400F. dump tomatoes into a 9″ glass baking dish and squish them with your hands. stir in the garlic and the basil. roast in the oven for 1 hour, or until tomato juice is reduced and thickened. place in food processor, and process until smooth. drizzle in olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. makes 1 pint.

rustic pizza dough

makes enough for 4 12-inch pizzas. can be frozen after portioning. i’ve scaled it in grams for accuracy.

make the poolish (starter): in the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together 300g flour, 400mls of warm water, and 3g of instant yeast (about a teaspoon). Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon. cover bowl with plastic or a towel and allow to ferment overnight, or 8 hours, minimum.

for the dough: to the bowl, add 1 kg of flour, 23g of salt, and 20g yeast. pour in 600mls warm water. place in mixer with the dough hook attachment, and stir on medium-low speed until dough is smooth and elastic, about 7 minutes. remove bowl from mixer and cover with a clean towel. proof in the bowl for 1 hour.

turn onto floured board and divide into 4 equal pieces, shaping into round balls. each piece will be roughly 530g. allow the dough to rest 10 minutes. (if freezing, wrap each piece well in plastic wrap, then pop into a freezer bag)

tear off a piece of parchment to cover a 12-inch round pizza pan with an overhang. press the dough to cover the pan. brush with olive oil and sprinkle the edge with salt, pepper, the dried basil and the dried oregano. spread with about 1/4 cup of the sauce (or more, if you like lots of sauce). add your toppings of choice. trim the parchment close to the pan.

preheat your oven as hot as it will go. mine goes to 550f, but many only go up to 500f. this is fine. place pizza on the lowest rack.

bake for 10 minutes. rotate pan and move from low rack to the higher one. Reduce heat to 400F and bake another 5-10 minutes or until bottom of crust is browed and feels firm.

rest pizza for 5 minutes, then slice.

chef’s note: i’ve had success cooking these on the bbq. heat grill as hot as it will go. divide the dough into eighths, and roll out. brush rounds with oil and season as above. place un-topped on grill and cook for 3-4 minutes. flip over, add sauce and toppings, and grill another 3-4 minutes, closing lid to melt the cheese.

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chickpea burgers with smoky red pepper spread

chickpea burger

sometimes, what you want is a burger. and burgers can be made from anything, really, so a burger made from chickpeas, is every bit a burger. meat does not hold a monopoly on burgers!

vegetarian burgers come in so many incarnations. this one is not a meat substitute. it’s made with chickpeas, flavoured with garlic and herbs, and is almost like a fritter, so it holds together when you cook it. it’s a bit wet, so use floured hands to shape them.

it’s smeared with a smoky feta and red pepper spread, and piled with greens and avocado on a handmade brioche bun. le yum.

if you have a flat-top or a non-stick pan, use it for this recipe, and you’ll be happy, not swearing.

you can make these up and fry them in advance, up to 2 days, then reheat on a sheet pan. yay! we love do-aheads…

chickpea burger

chickpea burgers with smoky red pepper spread

makes 4

1 14-oz can chickpeas, drained
salt and fresh pepper
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tbsp. cilantro leaves
2 tbsp, mint leaves
juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 green onions, roughly chopped
1 thai chili, roughly chopped
1 large egg, beaten
2 tbsp. melted butter
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
canola oil for frying

place the drained chickpeas, a dash of salt and a few grindings of pepper, the garlic, cilantro, mint, lemon zest and juice, green onions, and thai chili. blitz a few times to break up the chickpeas so that some are mashed but some chunks remain. add the egg and butter and pulse a few times to combine. turn out into a bowl. mix together the flour and baking powder and stir into chickpea mixture. chill completely.

divide into 4 portions (you can make them smaller and divide into 6 if you wish). use floured hands to form into balls, and flatten slightly. heat a flat-top griddle or non-stick pan to high. brush with canola oil. place burgers on hot griddle, reduce heat to medium-high and cook 3-4 minutes per side or until golden and firm.

serve on split, toasted buns with tomato slices, avocado, and smoky red pepper spread.

smoky red pepper spread

1 red pepper
1/2 cup feta cheese, broken up
1 tbsp. hot smoked paprika
squeeze of lemon juice
2 tbsp. plain, natural yogurt

char the pepper over a gas flame, on the grill, or under the broiler, until blackened and blistered on all sides. place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and cool completely. use a paper towel to rub off the skin. pop the pepper open and remove the seeds. don’t rinse the pepper! place in the bowl of a food processor with the feta and the paprika. process until smooth-ish. add the yogurt, 1 tbsp at a time, until mixture is spreadable. add lemon juice. scrape into a covered container and chill.

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laotian vegan barley bowl

laotian vegan barley bowl

back in the 90’s, i saw an episode of the excellent cooking show, taste, where David Rosengarten made larb, the minced meat salad of laos. ever since, i’ve wanted to create a vegan version of this fresh and flavourful salad, and by george, i think i’ve done it. the combination of clean flavours from the vegetables and herbs, combined with the barley and a zippy dressing, is outstanding. every time i make this and eat it, i’m amazed at how good it is. i just have to share it with you!

i sometimes make this with veggie ground round, and it works great if you a craving something “meaty”. but i don’t want to eat a lot of processed fake meat, so i started making it with barley. it absorbs the flavours so well and makes a satisfying meal of this salad.

check out the hands-off method of cooking barley too.

vegan larb 1

laotian vegan barley bowl

3/4 cup uncooked barley
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. canola or peanut oil
1 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. tamari or soy sauce
1 thai chili, thinly sliced (or a pinch of dried red pepper flakes)
salt and pepper
juice of 1 lime
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 sweet red pepper, julienned
1/4 cup each torn basil, mint, and cilantro leaves
4 cups torn lettuces, greens, kale, or sprouts, or a mixture
1 tbsp toasted rice powder*
2 tbsp toasted cashews or peanuts, chopped


1 tsp. almond butter
juice of 1 lime
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper
1/4 cup canola oil

place barley in a medium saucepot and cover with 2 inches of water. bring to a full boil. turn off the heat, cover, and let stand 1 hour (you can do this the night before too). you should have about 1 1/2 cups barley.

make the dressing by whisking together all ingredients. thin with a small amount of warm water so it is drizzle-able.

in a medium pan, heat the canola or peanut oil. add the garlic and chilis and cook for a few seconds. add the barley, sugar, tamari, and lime juice. remove from heat and dump into a large bowl. add the onions and peppers and toss. allow to cool to room temperature, then add the torn herbs. taste and add salt and pepper.

divide the greens among large salad plates. top with barley mixture, drizzle with dressing, and sprinkle with the toasted rice powder and toasted nuts.

*tip: toasted rice powder is available at asian markets, or you can make your own by toasting 2 tbsp. white rice in a dry pan until golden, then buzzing in a spice grinder

*tip: for a hands-on appetizer, use romaine lettuce cups and fill with filling. use the dressing as a dipping sauce.

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