Beatrice Ojakangas

Recipes from the Scandinavian Chef

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Location: Duluth, Minnesota, United States


Cooking and Baking with Fresh Herbs and Phyllo

Do you remember when parsley was the only fresh herb anybody used? You put a sprig of it onto an otherwise colorless dish and called it “garnish”. Nobody ever ate the stuff. You never ate the garnish. That may have been why people didn’t think anything of decorating food with something poisonous like fresh daisies. The rule now is that you don’t put anything onto a plate that’s not edible.

Today, the garden outside my kitchen window is abundant with all kinds of herbs, including parsley, sage, basil, rosemary, oregano, marjoram, tarragon and thyme. We use these herbs for their flavor, though they do make great edible garnishes. I snipped garlic chives into a salmon quiche the other day and our curious grandchildren wanted a taste. That led to a tasting tour of the herb garden. Tarragon tastes a little peppery and licorice-like, basil leaves are sweet, lovage tastes like celery, rosemary tastes a little like a Christmas tree needle and sorrel leaves taste lemony. Sorrel turned out to be a favorite.

Herbs are one garden product that I feel really pay their way! I like to clip and dry them so that I have a winter’s supply far tastier than anything I can buy in a jar. Although I sometimes use a dehydrator, I like to hang herbs in bunches to dry the old fashioned way. It takes just a couple of days before I can crush the leaves ready for storage. I just want to be sure I pack them away while they’re still green and aromatic. Any herb whether in a jar or in the air that’s turned brown and smells like dried hay won’t do much to flavor anything.

We were talking about fresh herbs one day while I was getting a haircut. My hairdresser said he had clipped a recipe from Gourmet Magazine about twenty years ago for a phyllo-crusted pizza and he uses all kinds of fresh herbs from the garden. The idea sent me to the kitchen to do some experimentation. I loved the results. Eight layers of phyllo, each brushed with an herb and olive oil mixture with a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmegiano Reggiano, makes an irresistible base for a few simple toppings.

The advantage of baking this pizza in the convection oven is that the pizza bakes quickly at a lower temperature than in a conventional oven. For conventional baking, you’ll need to increase the oven temperature by 25*F. Although I prefer a rimless, dark, non-insulated cookie sheet, you can bake the pizza on a shallow-rimmed jelly roll pan. I avoid insulated cookie sheets of any kind.

Phyllo-Crust Fresh Herb Pizza
Makes one 12 by 17-inch pizza, about 6 servings or 24 appetizer squares

8 (17 x 12-inch) sheets phyllo dough
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, basil, oregano, marjoram or thyme, or a combination
8 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, preferably Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese
1 cup coarsely shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup very thinly sliced sweet onion
5 medium-sized tomatoes, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon fresh or dried rosemary

Preheat oven to convection bake at 350*F. (or in standard oven, to 375*F.) Coat a rectangular, preferably rimless, cookie sheet with nonstick spray

Stack phyllo between 2 sheets of waxed paper and cover with a dampened kitchen towel.. Mix olive oil with the garlic and herbs. Lay 1 sheet of the phyllo onto the baking pan. Brush with some of the olive oil and herb mixture and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the Parmesan cheese. Lay another sheet of the phyllo on top and press firmly so that it adheres to the bottom sheet, and brush with oil and sprinkle with the Parmesan, Continue layering the phyllo and brushing with the oil and cheese until all eight sheets are stacked. Brush with any remaining oil mixture and sprinkle with any remaining Parmesan. Scatter sliced onion, sliced tomatoes, oregano, thyme and rosemary over the top. Sprinkle with the mozzarella cheese.

Bake in the center of the oven for 18 to 23 minutes at convection bake or 25 to 30 minutes in a standard oven, or until the edges are golden. With a pizza wheel or sharp knife, cut the pizza into squares.


Blogger Dan said...

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9:52 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

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9:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Bea" I would like to have your recipe for Spiced Tomato Jam . I've got all of the ingredients but not all of the directions.

10:53 AM  

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