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I love cheese. If you were to place a big plate of cheese down in front of me for a meal, I would be very happy and quite content to eat it all, however when it comes to cooking with cheese, I tend to stick to the same recipes and the same cheeses (all of which I buy in bulk and then keep in the freezer) tasty, parmesan and mozzarella. To help give me some inspiration in the kitchen, I recently spent a morning with Legendairy Ambassador, Karen Martini in the kitchen of her restaurant Mr Wolf down in St Kilda in Melbourne learning how easy it is to use a variety of different cheeses (all which you can find in your local supermarket or deli) to create delicious and most importantly simple meals that are perfect for families.
I’m always eager to learn new ways of incorporating a wider of variety of foods into all of our diets, but especially for my boys as they are growing up so fast (too fast!) and their nutritional needs are changing. They are already pretty good when it comes to meeting their recommended daily intake of dairy each day (1 ½ serves for our three year old and 2 serves for our four year old) thanks to their love of yoghurt and milk, however I am also trying to broaden their tastes with new and different foods – which can be a challenge at times! I’m also conscious of the fact that I often fail to meet my recommended daily 2 ½ serves of dairy, and I’m not alone with nine out of ten Australians also failing to meet the Australian Dietary Guidelines’ recommended intake from the dairy food group, which means we are all missing out on vital minerals, vitamins and protein. This is especially concerning for kids, as foods from the dairy food group such as cheese, milk and yoghurt help to give them the calcium they need to build strong bones and teeth for the rest of their lives.
Karen showed me several ways of just how easy it is to incorporate dairy into our family meals by using gorgeous cheeses I never would have thought of adding to our meals before; ricotta and parmesan cheese on pizzas and even ricotta cheese with doughnuts – yum!
In a relatively short amount of time we made two yummy pizzas, Eggplant, Mozzarella and Ricotta and Basil Pizza plus a Zucchini Pizza as well as a super simple (and delicious) Mozzarella Salad (which has quickly become one of my favourite easy lunch recipes) and Mini Doughnuts with Honey Syrup, Pistachio and Ricotta.
I have already made Karen’s Eggplant, Mozzarella, Ricotta and Basil and Zucchini and Cheese Pizzas a few times since our cooking session as they are both so easy to make and I can easily adjust the ingredients (omit chilli etc) to ensure our entire family enjoys them.
When I made them last weekend when we had friends over, apart from almost burning the house down (thanks to a wayward piece of baking paper that had fallen onto one of the elements in my oven – lucky we noticed the smoke quickly!) the pizzas were a huge success!
I prepared the pizza bases and eggplant slices that morning (which took no time at all) so then all I needed to do was put the pizzas together (which the kids LOVED helping me do) and popped them into the oven for 20 minutes to cook. I made a separate pizza for the kids and left off the basil leaves (Mr 4 asked if they were from one of the trees in the garden – eek!) and while the kids were a little dubious to begin with, once our three year old starting to eat a piece, the other kids all followed.
I also made sure I incorporated Karen’s tips for making great pizzas which included:
* Let the dough prove in the fridge for as long as possible, 24 – 36 hours if you can (perfect as I can make the dough the day before) to give you the best pizza base possible.
* Use just a small amount of cheese when covering the pizza to make sure it cooks through properly, this is a great one for me as I’m known for putting waaaay too much cheese on my pizzas!
* Also try adding different types of cheeses such as parmesan and bocconcini to my pizzas to not only give them some extra flavour but both are also a great source of protein and are low GI which helps you feel fuller for longer.
Eggplant, mozzarella and ricotta and basil pizza
400 grams of plain flour
150 grams of semolina
2 teaspoons of salt
380mls of warm water
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of sugar
2 teaspoons of dry yeast [7gm]
1. Dissolve yeast in water with oil
2. Mix flour and semolina together with salt and then using a dough hook add the water mix on slow speed and mix for 6 mins till you have a wet dough.
3. Cover and allow to prove for as long as possible in fridge ie 24 to 36 hours then bring to room temp before use
2 teaspoons of chilli flakes (optional)
Salt and pepper
100g of ricotta
50g of buffalo mozzarella
50g of parmesan cheese
extra virgin oil
2 cloves garlic
20 fresh basil leaves
1. Pre-heat your oven to 190 degrees.
2. Thinly slice the eggplant and place the pieces into a bowl. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and dried chilli (optional) and squeeze half a lemon over the top before using your hands to combine the ingredients and then place the eggplant pieces onto a baking tray and cook in the oven for approximately 5 – 8 minutes or until the eggplant begins to discolour and soften. Set aside until needed.
3. Pre-heat your oven to 220 degrees.
4. Divide the pizza dough into three balls and use a rolling pin to flatten until approximately 5mm thick.
5. Finely chop the garlic and sprinkle over the three pizza bases.
6. Finely grate the parmesan and mozzarella cheeses and sprinkle over each of the pizza bases.
7. Place the eggplant pieces over the grated cheeses and add the ricotta cheese.
8. Place the fresh basil leaves on top of each pizza and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil before carefully placing onto a pre-heated pizza stone and cooking for 20 minutes.
I also learnt how to make this super easy Mozzarella Spring Salad which serves four people as a side, or two adults and kids if you have it as a main like we did! When preparing this salad for my boys, I left the anchovies and pine nuts off their plates (they don’t like either) and they both enjoyed picking up and tasting the different ingredients (the currants and peas were their favourites) and ended up eating most of it.
Mozzarella spring salad
2 large mozzarella di buffla
8 white anchovies
60 grams of currants which have been soaked in 3 tablespoons of boiling water and simmered for 2 minutes and drained
50 grams of pinenuts toasted
2 shallots finely sliced
1\2 clove of garlic, finely diced
20 mls [sherry] vinegar
60ml freshly pressed extra virgin oil
1\2 fennel sliced thinly
2 handfuls of peas or podded broad beans
1 handful of parsley leaves
Ciabatta, grilled or toasted to serve
Slice the mozzarella and arrange on a platter, curl the anchovies up and place next to the mozzarella.
Top with the shaved fennel and peas or broad beans
Mix the shallots, currants, garlic, parsley, and pinenuts with the oil and lots of pepper and spoon over.
Serve with fresh ciabatta
Finally, we’ve also made Karen’s Homemade Doughnuts with Honey Syrup, Pistachio and Ricotta since our cooking session, something I never would have considered making at home until I saw just how easy they were to put together. I prepared the mixture before I needed to leave to pick up the boys from kindy and it was then rested and ready to cook when we arrived home with a couple of their friends in tow for a play date. All the kids were extremely excited at the idea of having doughnuts for afternoon tea and it didn’t take long for them (plus myself and a couple of other Mums) to quickly eat all of the doughnuts that I had made.
Mini doughnuts with honey syrup and pistachio and ricotta
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) dried yeast – ½ a yeast sachet
40 ml warm water
30 grams caster sugar
200 ml milk
30 grams butter – cubed
pinch of salt
310 grams plain flour – sifted
Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
400 grams honey
100 ml water
400 grams caster sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
splash orange blossom water
300 grams ricotta
40 grams pistachio kernels, crushed
40 grams pine nuts, crushed
1. Place the yeast, water and a pinch of the sugar in a small bowl and stir until yeast is dissolved.
2. Bring milk just to the boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat.
3. Combine butter, remaining sugar and salt in a large bowl and add hot milk. Whisk until smooth, then set aside until just warm.
4. Use a whisk (or your electric beaters) to beat eggs until light and frothy.
5. Add eggs, yeast mixture and flour to warm milk mixture. Mix until smooth. Cover and set aside at room temperature for 1 hour.
6. Heat vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until hot (about 175°C).
7. Deep-fry heaped teaspoons of doughnut mixture until puffed and golden, spinning in the oil for 2 minutes. Otherwise, use a piping bag and cut the dough into little balls using scissors dipped in the oil to stop the dough from sticking.
8. Drain on kitchen paper.
9. To make the honey syrup, combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes, skimming any froth from the top.
10. To serve, soak the doughnuts in the warm honey syrup in a pan. Warm over medium heat, then spoon on the ricotta and sprinkle with nuts.
To say I’ve come away inspired about the simple ways I can incorporate cheese into yummy family recipes and help boost my family’s intake of dairy is an understatement. I’ve started adding little cherry bocconcini (or cheese balls as the boys call them) to the boy’s meals and lunchboxes and I’ve also been experimenting with different cheeses in my salads.
If you are looking for more delicious family friendly recipes using cheese along with other yummy dairy ingredients, visit the Dairy Kitchen.