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Bowl your guests over with Watercress Salad in The Flatbread Bowl

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First there was fire. Then there was flatbread.

The first hard mixture of hand-ground flour and water was baked in hot ashes or on a stone over flames more than 6,000 years ago. Since then, flatbread has gone global.

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Now, cookbook author and cooking instructor Shelley Holman has written a soon-to-be released cookbook celebrating the versatile bread that takes little time to prepare.

The Arizona woman taught a Flatbread Fantasy class I recently attended at Sweet Basil Gourmetware & Cooking School in Scottsdale. From appetizers to dessert, a variety of sweet and savory morsels were wrapped, rolled, spread, spooned and stuffed into a variety of flatbreads.

Holman, wearing a chef's jacket the color of a red tomato, stood before a group of 11 students in the bright kitchen classroom at Sweet Basil. She said that during a trip through Europe several years ago, she realized she was eating a variation of flatbread in every country she visited, each with its own unique form and flavor. That's when she decided to write a cookbook focused on flatbread.

The seven recipes students prepared in class that day were samples of what to expect in "Skinny Bread: 100 Amazing Ways to make Flatbread," due to be out sometime in late summer of this year. My cooking partner, Roger, and I took on the task of making bread bowls using pizza dough purchased from the store and tossing a salad to fill the soft, yeasty bowls. Other students created easy-gourmet flatbread treats, such as pizzettas, wraps, pitas and tarts.

Although the bread bowl recipe we used in class instructed us to form pizza dough over oven-safe soup bowls turned upside-down, the stash of dinnerware in the classroom's abundant cupboards and drawers did not include soup bowls that could withstand the heat of a 450-degree oven. Our creative instructor decided the bottoms of large muffin tins would work just as well. She was right. The smaller size bread bowl was just the right size for a generous serving of salad made of watercress and romaine lettuce.

In Arizona, freshly made pizza dough is available in the refrigerated case in the deli area of some grocery stores. Your favorite supermarket may offer it, too. My local pizzeria offers their pizza dough in portions home cooks can shape and bake as they please. Of course, you can definitely use your own handmade pizza dough for this recipe.

Holman's recipe for Watercress Salad included romaine lettuce, sugar snap peas and tomatoes tossed with cucumber dressing. Crumbled goat cheese can be sprinkled on as it is served.

The bread bowls can be baked up to five days before serving and they can be stored, tightly sealed, in the freezer for a month or two. Use them for serving your favorite salad throughout the summer. Even a chilled soup would work in these edible bowls. And how about ladling hot soup or stew into these chewy bowls next winter?

Fill this flatbread that's not flat with fresh ingredients and flavors you love. Then enjoy.

Watercress Salad in "The Flatbread Bowl"

Pizza dough, purchased or homemade, enough to make a 12- to 14-inch pizza

Olive oil, for greasing pan

1 to 2 tablespoons cornmeal

1 cup plain fat-free dairy or non-dairy yogurt

1/2 cup chopped seedless cucumber

1/4 cup chopped red onion

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 cups chopped romaine lettuce

4 cups watercress

1 cup fresh snap peas, blanched, chopped

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese, optional

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Turn muffin tin upside-down. Brush with olive oil.

Cut pizza dough into 10 to 12 equal pieces. Roll out each portion of dough. Sprinkle with cornmeal. Drape dough over prepared upside-down muffin cups, using hands to form it around each cup, being careful not to press too hard. Bake in preheated 450-degree oven for about 15 minutes, or until the dough is nicely browned. Carefully release the flatbread bowls from the pan onto a cooling rack.

While flatbread bowls are baking, prepare salad dressing. In a medium bowl, whisk yogurt with cucumber, red onion and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until serving time.

In a large bowl, toss lettuce and watercress with blanched snap peas and tomato halves. Add salad dressing and toss lightly until all vegetables are coated. Taste and season with more salt and pepper, if needed. Sprinkle crumbled goat cheese over salad, if desired. Serve in flatbread bowls. Serves 10 to 12.

Recipe from cookbook author and cooking instructor, Shelley Holman. Her cookbook, "Skinny Bread: 100 Amazing Ways to make Flatbread" will be released in late summer 2012. Connect with Holman and get more of her recipes at her blog, backpocketrecipes.com.

Tips from the cook

--Shelley Holman suggests baking the bowls up to 5 days before serving. Store them in a sealed container. The baked bowls can also be stored in a sealed container in the freezer for a month or two.

--Fresh, unbaked pizza dough is available in the refrigerated case in the deli area of some grocery stores. You can also check your local pizzeria to see if they sell unbaked balls of dough ready for customers to take home, shape and bake.

--To blanch snap peas, put the trimmed pods into a pot of boiling water. Cook for 2 minutes. Immediately drain and plunge the pods into a large bowl of ice water. Allow pods to cool in the water for 2 minutes. Drain.

--Muffin tins with cups that each hold 3/4 cup of liquid are just the right size for these bread bowls.

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