≡ Menu

spinach and bocconcini rolls

For about 9 months of the year we have silver beet, (or Swiss chard if you are in US).  There’s a few months from midsummer to midautumn when the grasshoppers feast on any left in the garden, but there aren’t many left because most spring plantings just bolt to seed.  Egyptian spinach – Mulaheyah – fills the gap.  But proper English spinach, now that’s another thing.

Spinach is up there with kale, one of those superfoods with enough vitamins and minerals and phytonutrients to make vitamin pills look silly. In particular, cooked spinach is a stunning source of Vitamin K, useful for preventing osteoporosis among other things.  Silver beet substitutes for spinach in most recipes, but real spinach, soil grown in season, is a treat. I’m at the edge of the climate range for real English spinach, but for a month or so each year in late winter we feast on it.

Silver beet is a bit tougher and does better for longer cooking.  Spinach though just needs to be blanched.  Under a poached egg, with lemony garlicky mushrooms, in Greens as Themselves.  Or in these little spinach and cheese rolls that are not baked but shallow fried so they come together fast.

The Recipe:

This makes just a dozen little canape sized rolls. I like making recipes in small quantities myself – it saves leftovers and often there’s a quantum leap in how fast and easy it is to make a little batch to a big batch.  And for you, a small batch gives you a chance to decide if you like it or if you want to tweak the recipe for your own taste before you commit too many ingredients.  But, having said all that, the recipe can easily be doubled or trebled, and I would think they would freeze well before frying –  just like ravioli, in layers separated with greaseproof paper.  Which would allow you to just take a few out to fry for lunch boxes whenever. I am looking forward to trying them out on nearly 3-year-old Teo but I imagine they might be very kids lunch box acceptable.  They are very adult lunch box acceptable.

To make the wrappers:

Blend an egg with ½ cup of plain flour (wholemeal or unbleached) and a pinch of salt to make a kneadable dough.  If it is too dry, add a teaspoon or two of oil.  This is a basic pasta or won-ton recipe, so I would think you could use bought wrappers if you like, but making your own is so very easy and you get to use real egg.

Let it rest for a minute while you make the filling, then roll the dough out with a rolling pin on a well floured benchtop, or with a pasta machine, to make a long strip, about 10 cm (4 inches) wide.  Make the ends as square as you can so you don’t have to trim too much off to square them up.

Meanwhile, make the filling:

Blanch a bunch of spinach in boiling water for just a minute or two to wilt it, then drain and squeeze it to remove all the liquid.  It will reduce to about ¼ cup.

Put it in the food processor (you don’t need to wash it after the pastry blending) with

  • 1 ball of bocconcini (or you could substitute 35 gm or so of mozzarella or any really melty cheese)
  • 1 slice parmesan or any tasty cheese

Pulse the spinach in the food processor with the cheeses very briefly, just to chop it all together without blending it. Taste the filling and add salt to taste.   I like adding half a teaspoon of grated lemon rind too.  Or, for adults, a little touch of wasabi. Taste and see what you think.

To assemble and cook:

Mix a dessertspoon of plain flour with a little water to make a paste.  Use a pastry brush, or just your fingers, to spread it thinly over the pastry.  Leave a smidgen for later.

Lay the spinach mixture down the middle, then roll it into a log.

1-DSCF7909

Paint the top side with the leftover flour and water paste and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Cut into 75 cm (3 inch) lengths, then let them sit to dry on a floured benchtop for 10 minutes or so.

Heat 10 cm (½ inch) or so of oil in a heavy bottomed fry pan.  (I use light olive oil for frying like this because it has a high enough smoke point and it’s monounsaturated). Fry the rolls until they are golden, turning with tongs.

They are wonderful warm but also ideal for lunch boxes or made-ahead hors d’oeuvres with a spicy dipping sauce.

{ 1 comment }

My son is here for the weekend with some of his friends, so I get to do my favourite thing in the world and feed a mob of young urbanites.

But they sleep in!

So while I’m waiting, I thought I might give you a preview.

mandarins carambola grapefruit

First up, winter fruit – carambola, mandarins, grilled pink grapefruit, with yoghurt.

Then poached free range eggs on sourdough toast with lemony garlicy  mushrooms with goats’ cheese.  The mushrooms have been braised in garlic, butter and lemon juice, and I’ll pop these in the oven just as they come to wilt the spinach and melt in the cheese a little.

garlic mushrooms with spinach and goats cheese

With a side of haloumi and winter tomatoes (which I’m very proud of at this time of year) on a bed of rocket.  I’ll fry the haloumi in a little olive oil and dress with  balsamic at the last minute.

1-DSCF6111

With homegrown coffee and homemade sourdough with lime or kumquat marmalade.

lime marmalade

There was mention of lemon butter last night so I’m thinking pancakes with lemon curd for tomorrow’s breakfast.

The wood stove is lit, the sun is shining, music on the record player, guests for breakfast – life is good.

{ 3 comments }

spincach and feta phyllo

My glut crop this week is spinach. The warm weather, and its age – it’s been bearing wonderfully for a few months now – are combining to make it think it is time to go to seed.  I’ll let some go to seed to collect some – this variety has been really good this year.  But for most of it, it’s time for the last spinach feast of the year.

Home-made phyllo is one of those glass-half-full, glass-half-empty things.  I could tell you that it’s really easy and worth doing since it makes phyllo really cheap and, living half an hour out of town as I do, really conveniently available.  I could also tell you that it’s not that easy – there’s a definite knack to it – and it’s near impossible to recreate the paper thin sheets of pastry that you buy, and the bought kind is just flour and water and salt so there’s no nasty ingredients to worry about anyway.  And both would be true.

I do make phyllo, but mostly because, when I get a spinach and feta phyllo triangles idea like this morning, it’s not worth a trip to town so it’s either make my own or think of another idea.  And I get stuck on ideas like that. If I had a supermarket in walking distance…hmmm…that would make it an interesting decision.

The Recipe:

Makes 2 dozen triangles. Turn the oven on to heat up.  You want a medium hot oven.

The Pastry:

If you use bought filo, skip ahead to the filling.

Mix 3 cups of plain flour (I use baker’s flour), a good pinch of salt, and ¾ cup liquid, half and half warm water and olive oil.

I use my food processor to blend the liquid into the flour to make a soft dough, but you could just as easily mix in a bowl.

Briefly knead the dough till it is smooth, then cover with a damp cloth and move on to making the filling.

The Filling

The filling works just as well with bought phyllo. This much spinach:

spinach

made two dozen triangles.

Blanch the spinach very briefly, just to wilt it, and drain well squeezing the excess water out.

Mix with:

  • a minced spring onion, greens and all
  • a small red onion, minced
  • 150 grams of feta
  • a good grating of black pepper

I also add a few sprigs of fresh dill and parsley.

I use my food processor to make the filling too, using the large julienning blade.  I like it to have a bit of texture, minced rather than blended.

Assembling:

Break the dough into three balls.

Flour the work surface well and roll the first one out very thin, like making handmade pasta.  If you flip it regularly, you should be able to get it very thin without creasing.

The next bit is the knack.

You need to stretch the dough so it is as thin as you can get it.  Drape the dough over the backs of your hands and gently stretch, using the weight of the dough to do most of the work.  Then work around the edge, lifting it and letting it stretch.

Don’t worry if it gets a few holes but stop before it gets too holey.

Brush the surface with olive oil, then fold in half.  If you haven’t got too many holes, with luck you will have none now. Cut the dough into strips about 7 cm wide. Brush with olive oil again.

Put a bantam egg amount of filling at one end of each strip, and fold diagonally into triangles.

rolling

Place the filled triangles on an oiled baking tray and prick with a sharp fork. Brush with olive oil.

Repeat with the other two balls of dough.

Bake for around half an hour in a medium hot oven.

They’re good hot or cold, as a party plate or snack for friends, or in lunch boxes.

[relatedPosts]

{ 7 comments }

We’re still in the Spring egg glut situation, so for a little while yet, expect Tuesday Night Vego Challenge recipes to feature eggs.  And though we don’t have cows or goats, people who do will know that milk is also a Spring glut produce.  Both are good protein foods, and eggs are also a good source of lots of vitamins including the hard to get B12, and they are rich in choline, which is important for memory.  And low fat ricotta is a great way to get enough calcium without too much saturated fat.

And baked ricotta is so good! Something in the process transforms it.  This recipe makes it into the half hour of the rules by the skin of its teeth and only if your oven heats up fairly nicely and evenly.  But most of the time is just waiting for it to bake.

The Recipe:

Makes 6 Texas muffin sized baked ricottas.  Leftovers are good cold for lunch.

Turn your oven on to heat up to medium.

Steam a packed cup of herbs and leafy greens very briefly, just to wilt them.  I used a mixture of flat leaf parsley, spring onion, dill, thyme, and spinach.

In a food processor or blender, blend together

  • 500 grams low fat ricotta
  • 3 medium sized eggs
  • 50 grams grated parmesan
  • a heaped teaspoon of grated lemon rind
  • salt and pepper

When they are well blended, add the wilted greens and pulse just to chop them in.  You want them finely chopped, (rather than turning the whole mix pale green).
Oil a 6 cup Texan muffin tin well and put a little circle of greaseproof paper in the bottom of each cup.  (This is important – they tend to stick otherwise). Spoon the ricotta mix in and smooth out the top.

Bake for around 25 minutes till they are puffed up and softly set.  They will  be cooked before the tops brown, so be careful not to burn them. Loosen around each ricotta with a knife then tip them out and peel off the paper.

Steamed or grilled asparagus goes really really well with the creamy lemony-ness of the baked ricotta.

[relatedPosts]

{ 3 comments }

I’m starting to pick the first of the season’s real spinach.  I have silver beet growing most of the year – there’s a couple of months in midsummer when it’s a bit too vulnerable to fungus diseases, grasshoppers and bolting – but with successive planting I can get it most months.  And it will substitute nicely for spinach in most recipes.  But there are some recipes where only real spinach will do. And real spinach is a delicacy this far north.  I can plant in Autumn with successive planting through to midwinter, and harvest from June through to September, but as soon as the days start to lengthen and the weather gets warmer it bolts.

Real English spinach is milder and more tender than silver beet. It takes less time to cook and works better in gnocchi. It is really rich in antioxidant beta carotene, iron and folic acid, and the bit of lemon juice in this helps make the iron available. Mushrooms are loaded with dietary fiber and a good source of potassium, copper, selenium, and B vitamins. With some eggs and feta for protein, this makes a very healthy  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge dinner.  And not much cheating either – this comes together really easily within the half hour of the rules of the  Challenge with just a little bit of multitasking.

The Recipe:

Makes 2 adult serves. Double the recipe for more.

Put a kettle on to boil. The gnocchi needs to cook in lots of boiling water.

Mushrooms:

Get a large, heavy fry pan with a little olive oil hot, then fry over a high heat:

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 200 gm mushrooms, sliced

The idea is to caramelise, not stew, so you need the pan hot. Halfway through the cooking, add a little knob of butter.

Give it a stir every so often and cook until the onions are soft and the mushrooms brown. Tip out into a bowl.

The Spinach Gnocchi:

While the mushrooms are cooking, blanch a big handful of spinach – about a packed cupful – in boiling water for just a minute.  Drain well, pressing down to drain off all the water.  Then blend the drained spinach with:

  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup OO bakers flour (I use the bakers flour that I use for my sourdough)
  • 150 gm low fat feta cheese

I use my food processor, blending just for a minute or so, to make a stiff batter that still has flecks of green rather than an overall green-ness.

Flour your benchtop well and tip the mix out onto it.  Put an handful of flour on top and you should be able to knead. Knead in enough extra flour to make a smooth, non-sticky dough.

Divide the dough into two and roll out into two long snakes about 2 cm diameter. Cut the snakes into 2 cm slices and use a fork to squash each gnocchi slightly.

Boil the gnocchi in two batches in a big pot of boiling water for just a couple of minutes until they float to the top.  Remove them with a slotted spoon into a colander.

Finishing:

Get the pan you cooked the mushrooms in hot again.  You may need to add a little more olive oil.  Add the drained gnocchi and cook for a couple of minutes, turning gently, till the gnocchi get a little bit of colour. Add the mushrooms back in, along with:

  • a good handful of chopped parsley and chives or spring onion greens
  • a squeeze of lemon juice (adjust to taste)
  • a good grinding of black pepper
  • a little bit of salt – doesn’t need much – the feta is salty.

Toss to combine, top with a grating of parmesan, and serve.

Please feel free to join in the Vego Tuesday Challenge –  fast, easy, healthy, in season, real food –  and add your link or recipe in the Comments.

[relatedPosts]

{ 8 comments }

There is a small miracle in the number of things that grow well together, taste good together, and are good for you together.  Corn and beans, tomatoes and basil,  broccoli and cheese, turmeric and pepper…

Spinach and lemon juice join the list.  I first had very lemony mushrooms and spinach at The Gun Shop Cafe in Brisbane many years ago, and it was one of those simple but sensational dishes that brilliant chefs make.  It’s not co-incidental that they are in season together – simple dishes depend on fresh, perfect, in season ingredients.  Neither is it co-incidental that they are so good for you in combination – our ancestors who liked the taste of things that kept them healthy got to live to be our ancestors! It all makes sense, but it still feels like such a nice little miracle .

The hollandaise sauce looks so decadent, but it truly takes just 2 minutes to make and has just a teaspoon of butter per serve.  It’s a very tasty way to add a bit of protein to the breakfast.  I’m harvesting the first of the season’s spinach now, rich in antioxidant beta carotene, iron and folic acid, and the lemon in the recipe makes the iron available. Mushrooms are loaded with dietary fiber and a good source of potassium, copper, selenium, and B vitamins. Put it on homemade sourdough and you’re set.

(The Breakfast Cereal Challenge is my 2011 challenge – a year’s worth of breakfast recipes based on in-season ingredients, that are quick and easy enough to be a real option for weekdays, and that are preferable, in nutrition, ethics, and taste,  to the overpackaged, overpriced, mostly empty packets of junk food marketed as “cereal” . The Muesli Bar Challenge was my 2010 Challenge.)

The Recipe:

This recipe makes two good serves.

Put some good wholegrain sourdough on to toast.

Then start with the hollandaise.

Melt a dessertspoon of butter in a small pot. Take care not to brown it.

Use a blender, stick blender or a whisk to blend together 1 egg, three dessertspoons of lemon juice and a pinch of salt.

With the blender going, pour the hot butter very slowly into the egg and lemon mix.  It should go thick and creamy.  If it isn’t thick enough, pour back into the small pot and heat, stirring, for just a few seconds.  It will turn almost instantly.

Now on to the mushrooms and spinach.

Heat a little olive oil in a heavy pan till it is quite hot.  Then add 300 grams of sliced mushrooms (about 10 medium mushrooms).  You can add a clove of crushed garlic if you like.

Cook for a minute till the mushrooms start to brown then add two cups of baby spinach leaves, or larger spinach leaves roughly chopped, along with a little squeeze of lemon juice and salt and pepper.  Cook for just a minute more until the spinach wilts.

Pile the mushrooms and spinach on the toast and top with a good dollop of hollandaise.

[relatedPosts]

{ 13 comments }

Christine at Slow Living Essentials wrote a great post a little while ago about creating a “meal tree” for a new mum.  This is my turn in a meal tree to celebrate the arrival of baby Hilah.  It is one of my favourite recipes for this.  Silver beet for its folate and its iron, feta and cottage cheese for their calcium, eggs for their protein,  nothing in it to upset breast feeding, easy to transport, good hot or cold, and the whole thing easy enough to make and drop off on my way to work this morning.

The Recipe:

This recipe makes two pies (I made one for our dinner as well while I was at it), each around 25cm diameter.

Turn your oven on to heat up.

Strip the green leaf off the stems from a large bunch of silver beet and blanch for a couple of minutes in boiling water, just to wilt the leaves.  Drain well, pushing down with a fork or a potato masher to squeeze out all the water, and allow to cool a little.

While the silver beet is cooling, make the pastry.

In your food processor, blend together 1¼ cups of wholemeal plain flour and 120 grams of cold butter, chopped into little cubes.  Blend for a minute until it looks like breadcrumbs.

Add water, a spoonful at a time, until you have a soft dough that you can knead very briefly then roll out.

Flour your work surface, divide the dough into two balls, and roll it out to fit your two pie dishes.

The Filling:

You don’t need to wash your food processor.

Blend together:

  • the cooled, blanched silver beet
  • 200 grams of cottage cheese
  • 300 grams of feta cheese
  • 6 to 8 eggs, depending on their size.

Pour the filling into the unbaked pie shells.

Sprinkle a little grated cheese over the top.

Bake in a moderate oven for around 45 minutes until the filling is set and the pastry is browning.  The filling will set a bit more as it cools.

[relatedPosts]

{ 3 comments }

The kids are on school holidays, so there’s no Muesli Bar Challenge baking this week.  So I thought I’d do some adult lunch box baking instead.  One of my favourite bought lunches is a spinach and feta pie – yummy but full of fake fats.  And I feel very silly buying it when I have so much silver beet in the garden at present.

This is a bread dough based pastry, which means that it is very low fat.  Filled with a mixture of silver beet or spinach and low fat feta cheese, it is about as healthy as you get in a pie.

The Recipe

This takes a while, but most of the time is waiting for the bread dough to rise.

The Dough

In a big mixing bowl, dissolve a good teaspoon of dry yeast in a cup of ‘baby’s bottle warm’ water.  Add a dessertspoon of honey, cover the bowl, and leave it in a warm spot for 5 minutes.  It should froth, showing the yeast is alive.  If not, you have dud yeast and you can give up now.

If your yeast develops a bit of froth though, stir in a beaten egg, then mix in 2 cups of wholemeal plain flour and a teaspoon of salt. Flour your work surface well and knead the dough until it is smooth and springy.  Like all bread kneading, the more the merrier, but about 5 minutes is a good guide.

Put a little swig of olive oil in your bowl and return the dough to the bowl, swirling it around to coat.  Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave it in a warm place for a couple of hours until it doubles in bulk.  (I find in this Spring weather, the dashboard of the car parked in the sun with the windows up makes a good warm spot).

The Filling

Strip the leaves from the stalks of a bunch of silver beet.  Blanch in boiling water for just a minute or two, drain well, then blend with 60 to 120 grams of low fat feta cheese (depending on how cheesy you like it).  I like to just pulse it briefly so there is still some texture.

Assembling

Turn your oven on to heat up.

Flour your work surface, tip the dough out and knead it just for a minute to knock it down.  Divide it into 9 balls. Flatten the balls between the palms of your hands, then stretch the dough into flat circles about 10 cm across.

Put a heaped dessertspoon of filling on one side of the circle, fold the dough over, and press the edges together with a fork.  You can fill them quite full – unlike pastry dough, the bread dough will stretch so they won’t tend to bust out as they cook.

Put your filled piroshki on an oiled tray and prick the top with a fork.  Leave them to rise for 5 minutes, then bake in a medium hot oven for around 20 to 30 minutes till golden.

{ 3 comments }


This is just skiting really.  Weekend lunch.  Little bit of feta in the fridge, and some spaghetti in the pantry.  I should really have made the pasta – homemade is so much better and eggs are fully in season right now.  But for a quick knock up lunch, healthy, tasty, large and filling but not too many calories, and mostly out of the garden, I thought it looked too good not to post!

The Recipe

For this to come together in 10 minutes, you need to do four things at once!

  1. Put the pasta on to cook.
  2. Heat a pan with a little olive oil and saute a finely chopped onion.  Chop and add a few cloves of garlic, some olives and some macadamias and cook till it is all a bit browned and caramelised.
  3. Rinse a bunch of spinach and put it in a pot with just the water on the leaves.  Put the lid on and blanch for just a minute or two to wilt.  Drain well and transfer to a food processor with a little bit of feta cheese.
  4. Make a salad.

Toss parts 1, 2, and 3 together, and serve with a generous amount of 4.

{ 6 comments }