Culinary Creativity: Recipes From Our Prize Winner!

By day they are executives in New York City but by night (and most weekends too) they are culinary wizards adventuring their way around the inventive kitchen. Meet blog reader Michael, one of the winners in last month’s Spartan Souvenir giveaway and his lovely wife Renee.

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As soon as their prize of Greek olive oil and wild mountain oregano hit their mailbox they started day dreaming about what they could make. Possibilities abounded of course, but it didn’t take very long before they settled on two Mediterranean style dishes that highlighted their new winnings and captured the simple fresh flavors of their farmers market palates.  In a lovely spirit of community, these two home chefs not only sent back a follow-up note on their gift receipt but also included recipes and photos of everything they made with their Sparta samplings. Fantastic! Here is what they made…

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“The olive oil has such a nice  fruitiness and the oregano is slightly floral and delicate,” shared Renee. “We love it!”

Long-time connoisseurs of make-it-yourself pizza they first prepared a Mediterranean style Greek pizza with homemade dough and an inventive brussels sprout topping. Next, (just in time for Fish Friday) they made a simple Greek style baked cod using local fish and an array of herbs.

Michael and Renee’s recipes couldn’t have come at a better time in our calendar year. If you are still entertaining holiday house guests the Greek Pizza makes for a fun party pleaser and can be doubled or tripled in size to fit all appetites.  Or if you find yourself ready to put the heavy plates of the holiday season behind you then the Greek Baked Cod would be just the ticket for a light and refreshing meal. Both recipes highlight the unique flavor of the olive oil and oregano from Sparta, Greece which you can find at thespartantable.com All other ingredients can be locally sourced from your grocery or market.

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Greek Pizza

Note: Michael and Renee followed Jim Lahey’s lead on the pizza dough preparation. You can find a step by step guide here which includes a casual video on the making of it all. If you have never made homemade pizza dough before don’t feel intimidated, it’s very easy and this is a no-knead recipe which makes it even easier. If you can’t sacrifice the time for the dough, start out simple with a pre-raised dough ball from Trader Joe’s or the fresh bakery department at most supermarkets.

(for the dough)

3.5 cups all-purpose flour ( M&R veered slightly from the dough recipe and incorporated some whole wheat flour as well. This recipe reflects their version.)

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast

2 teaspoons fine sea salt

1 1/2 cups water

(for the topping)

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced and placed in a bowl, covered with water for at least 30 minutes, then drained and dried

1 Serrano chili pepper, thinly sliced (remove the seeds and veins if you are adverse to heat or if your chili is super strong)

8-10 raw brussels sprouts, shaved

1/4- 1/3 cup (plus more for topping) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

1/2 teaspoon Spartan Table wild mountain Greek Oregano

5 ounces Spartan Table Extra Virgin Greek olive oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

Prepare dough as directed. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Add pizza stone about one hour prior to baking. Mold the dough into a circle on a pizza peel lined with semolina flour to prevent sticking and for easy sliding.

Place all topping ingredients together in a bowl and mix in olive oil and salt and pepper to coat.

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Scatter your toppings evenly on top of the dough. Bake until bubbly and slightly browned about 10-12 minutes. Depending on your oven, this could take more or less time. Finish with olive oil,  sea salt and extra Parmesan cheese.

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Greek Baked Cod (serves 2)

Fresh, local cod  (enough for two portions)

1/2 teaspoon Spartan Table Greek oregano

5 ounces Spartan Table Greek olive oil for drizzling and finishing

1  quarter of a large organic lemon, thinly sliced

1 half of a medium shallot, thinly sliced

1/4 quarter cup of thinly sliced fresh fennel (from the bulb)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely minced, for finishing

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Add cod to two pieces of foil paper (doubled so that it doesn’t leak) placed on a baking sheet. Drizzle fish with the olive oil, oregano and salt and pepper. Arrange the shallot slices on the bottom of the foil, place the cod filet on top with the fennel and lemon slices.

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Close the foil (like a packet) and bake for about 20-25 minutes, depending on your oven and size of the cod. Ours took about 20 minutes to cook. Finish with an extra drizzle of the oil, sea salt and parsley.
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In the land of Ms. Jeannie it is very exciting to have such an enthusiastic (and delicious!) response to a blog post. Hopefully Michael and Renee’s recipes will help pave the way for more culinary adventures discovered by our readers. Having come full circle with an interview that originated months ago in the faraway, mystical olive groves of Greece and ended up finally on the kitchen table of two New York foodies, this post feels a bit like magic. Even though a zillion miles separates us from Sparta and  Nashville and New York we now share a commonality in the history of a food. And our cross-culture community feels a bit more close-knit.  As Homer said “the journey is the thing.”

Again, a big thank you to Jehny and George for carrying on the family tradition of olive-growing in Greece and to Michael and Renee in New York for inspiring us with two new recipes fit for a feast.

If you missed the interview with Jehny and George from The Spartan Table find it here.  If you have any questions regarding Michael and Renee’s recipes post them in the comment box and we’ll get them answered ASAP.

Cheers or opa, as they say in Greece, to the final days of 2016. May they be both merry and bright.

kitchen prep

In the Vintage Kitchen: Eggplant Pizza

Eggplant Pizza

Pizza has been a favorite in the U.S. since the early 1900’s with the first of its kind debuting in New York City in 1905. Popular right from the start, pizza wars started popping up all over the city, then the region then the country as Italian immigrants spread across America with their claims of making the best pizza in town.

G. Lombardi's the trendsetter on the american (pizza) frontier.
G. Lombardi’s on Spring Street in New York City was the trendsetter on the American (pizza) frontier.

And while bravado and traditional recipes may have fueled the pizza craze initially, creativity, with its variations on a theme, has kept it going ever since.

Strolling through 19th century pizza signs
A walk through 20th century pizza signs…

By the 1960’s American home chefs were experimenting with the complimentary trifecta of tomato sauce, bread and cheese in new and spectacular ways.  By thinking beyond the boundaries of size, shape and similarity, pizza was elevated to a nouveau cuisine that could incorporate a host of  ingredients from the humble to the exotic appealing to palates both simple and sophisticated.

One such experimenter determined to add a new twist to the traditional pizza pie was food editor, critic and chef Craig Claiborne.

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In his 1963 Herb and Spice Cookbook, he capitalized on the subtle yet dynamic flavor pairings of basil, oregano and garlic and came up with a dough-less version of eggplant pizza.

An Herb And Spice Cookbook by Craig Claiborne

Craig was no slouch in the cooking department. He knew his way around a home kitchen just as much as he did a commercial kitchen and he knew what and how people liked to eat. As the The New York Times food and restaurant critic for 29 years from 1957-1986, he pretty much pioneered food journalism in the Unites States at a time in the mid-1950’s when such editorial posts were primarily held by women for the female homemaker audience. But Craig was different, he was interested in casting wider nets, reaching more diverse audiences and bridging a relationship between restaurants, patrons and cultures.

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The author of over twenty cookbooks throughout his career, Craig’s Herb and Spice Cook Book is marvelous in both content and presentation. Organized alphabetically by spice or herb name it is a great reference cookbook when you have ten pounds of basil ready to harvest in your garden or you are craving a specific spice like curry or cinnamon… or marjoram!

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The eggplant pizza recipe fell under the oregano section which included recipes for Eggplant Antipasto, Chicken Napolitana, Herb-Broiled Swordfish and Creole Cabbage among four others. Excited by the possibility of giving her indoor oregano plant a hair-cut, Ms. Jeannie was happy to try this new version of pizza which turned out to be really delicious.

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It is a fun recipe for a few different reasons: 1} you make a quick version of homemade tomato sauce that takes little time and tastes great; 2} the “pizzas” can range in a variety of customizable sizes depending on the girth of your eggplant… if you have a skinnier eggplant you could serve those as appetizers or hors d’ouevres  for a party (maybe this weekend’s Super Bowl?!) or if you have a more rubenesque eggplant that would be a perfect size for dinner entrees; and 3} the breadcrumbs add a fabulous bit of crunch to the whole package just like a traditional pizza dough would.

So without further ado, here’s the recipe…Ms. Jeannie hopes you love this magical version of pizza just as much as the tradtional.

Eggplant Pizza (serves 6)

2 tablespoons cooking oil (Ms. Jeannie used olive oil)

1 small clove of garlic, minced

3/4 cup finely chopped onion

3/4 cup finely chopped green pepper

4 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste

3 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon oregano

3/4 teaspoon basil leaves

3/4 teaspoon sugar

2 3/4 teaspoons salt* (Ms. Jeannie thinks this might be a typo as it seems like a lot of salt for this size recipe so please use caution and your own sensibilities with this ingredient. And remember you an always add more salt but never take it away.  Ms.Jeannie used about 1 teaspoon total but you might adjust that according to your taste).

1 medium eggplant

1 egg

1 tablespoon milk

1/2 cup bread crumbs (Ms. Jeannie used plain panko-style bread crumbs)

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesean cheese

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

flour for dredging

Oil for frying (Ms. Jeannie used olive oil)

Toppings of your choice: whatever  you normally like on a pizza ie: mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, olives, etc.

Directions:

1. Heat the oil in a one quart saucepan. Add the garlic, onion and green pepper. Cook, stirring, three minutes or until the onions and green pepper are limp.

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2. Add the tomato paste and water. Cover and cook, stirring frequently, over low heat until very thick, about ten minutes Add the oregano, basil, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt* before the end of cooking time. *Salt to taste here. If you think the sauce needs more add a little bit, just keep in mind you’ll be adding salty parmesean cheese and possibly salty toppings later).

3. Remove sauce from heat and set aside while preparing the eggplant.

4. Wash, peel and cut eggplant into cross-wise slices one half inch thick.

5. Beat the egg with the milk and set aside. Mix bread crumbs with the remaining cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the pepper.

6. Dip the eggplant slices in the flour, then in the beaten egg, then in the seasoned bread crumbs.

7. Saute the eggplant in the hot oil until golden, turning to brown on both sides. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Repeat until all eggplants are cooked.

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8. Place the cooked eggplant slices on a cookie sheet and spread them with the cooked tomato sauce. Top with mozzarella cheese and your desired toppings . Place under a broiler until the cheese has melted and is lightly browned. Serve immediately.

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Ms. Jeannie kept her pizzas simple and just topped them with mozzarella, capers, basil and garlic but other ideas include prosciutto, pineapple, mushrooms, pepperoni, olives, figs, etc. So many possibilities!

Happy experimenting dear readers! With love from Ms. Jeannie and Craig Claiborne

You can find Craig Claiborne’s Herb and Spice Cook Book here and a host of other vintage recipes Ms. Jeannie has blogged about previously here.

Want to know what it is like to run a real-life modern day pizza kitchen? Check out the recently published book Delancey by Molly Wizenberg – it is completely entertaining. And if you are not craving pizza by the end of all this, you are extraordinary:)

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