Flatbread with Scallion Pesto, Brie, Zucchini and Toasted Walnuts
I love my parents. I really do, despite the strange and frustrating things they do sometimes. You see, they’re much better gardeners than I am….and I mean “much better” in the David Beckham versus the Tim Horton’s soccer kids’ camp way. They plant things and they grow. I plant their plants and then they die. That’s just how the story goes.
We go through the motions though, every year.
Parents: “So? We’re starting our seedlings…do you want us to put aside a few plants for you?”
Tina: “Oh, yes please! I was really looking forward to another basil genocide this year.”
Parents: “Basil. Hmm, yes. We can do that. Tomatoes?”
Tina: “Sure! The 4 tomato plants that you gave me last year produced almost FIVE WHOLE cherry tomatoes! Gosh, that was a tasty salad….”
Parents: “Alright, so you’ll take some tomatoes. We’ll put aside…..eleven.”
Tina: “Whaaaa….? Uh, I don’t think I really NEED eleven-“
Parents: “Oh, and we have an extra cucumber too….”
I appreciate the plants, because this way I get to kill them for free as opposed to killing them after I spent $135 on the blessed tots down at the nursery. It seems that 2006 still fills me with sadness and rage. Anyway, as soon as the early summer was underway they showed up at my house with two big containers full of plants….most of which were labelled. I peered at one of them, suspiciously.
Tina: “Dad, is that…..zucchini?”
Father: “Uh…no.” He squinted down at the plant. “It’s….um…..it’s a cucumber.”
Tina: “Are you SURE that it’s a cucumber? Because you know that we only have that tiny little patch for a garden, and although I love zucchini they kind of take over the garden, and it’s just that – “
Father, sighing heavily: “Bettina,” <–yes, that is my first name. No, you are not allowed to address me as such. Ever. I mean it. I SAID I MEAN IT. “Honey, do you REALLY think that I don’t know the difference between a cucumber and a zucchini? I mean, I don’t mean to criticize, but it seems to me that ONE OF US has been gardening for 35 years, and the OTHER ONE….well…..”
Tina, suitably cowed: “Well…okay…..if you say so.”
So guess what. Two months later and there’s a giant zucchini plant snaking across my garden and choking out the poor fledgling peppers that are searching desperately for sun. I picked my first zucchini of the season last week. Despite my inherent truculence at giving up 1/2 my garden to the beast, I can’t deny that I felt a flutter of pride and excitement as I plucked it’s tumescent green form from the vine. Yes, this is what gardening is all about, I thought to myself. But then the next day there was another. And, I kid you not, I checked in the morning (there was nothing there, I SWEAR there was nothing there) but when I got home from work there was another enormous zeppelin of a vegetable parked comfortably on top of my basil. It’s not even August yet, and I’m already rapidly losing patience for expansionist squash.
As you can imagine, we have just a few zucchini to eat. Unfortunately, we didn’t have very much else in the fridge other than a few wilty scallions and a hunk of Brie that I was saving for god-knows-what (the white of the rind had started to…um….creep, shall we say?) and….and I didn’t want to go out shopping because I had already set my sights on getting a pedicure after work and my poor cracked heels were just CRYING OUT for some TLC, and…and……okay, so maybe that’s not a great excuse, but its one that seems to come up fairly often.
Green onions and Brie. Huh. Well, my Mom always had an affection for Brie and green onion open faced sandwiches. I used to think that this was disgusting. In fact, I used to tell her that it was disgusting. She’d just shrug and eat her sandwich as I shuddered as audibly as possible from the next room. But then things change, don’t they? Your tastes change, and your cravings change. One day you’d cut your arm off for a bag of Sour Patch Kids (okay, there are still days when I’d cut my arm off for a bag of Sour Patch Kids), and the next you’re picking oil packed anchovies out of the jar with a seafood fork. I guess, at some point, I must have been tricked into eating her green onion and Brie sandwiches, and realized that….they were tasty.
She’s not the only one, either. When we were in Paris we passed a wee little man who had camped out on a concrete bench to eat his lunch. There he was with naught more than a paring knife (mind you, little old men who carry paring knives around in their pockets DO make me nervous, but that’s neither here nor there), a wheel of soft unripened cheese, a large bunch of market fresh green onions and a freshly baked baguette. He ate with gusto, carving off large hunks of cheese, twisting the onion in half and pressing it into the cheese, smushing the lot down onto a torn gobbet of bread and eating the whole jin bang show in one large bite. I was entranced.
I tried to get Mike to take a picture of the poor man, who wanted nothing more than to eat his lunch in peace and solitude, but he refused. I wasn’t trying to be invasive, really I wasn’t, I just thought that perhaps I owed this vindication to dear old Mom after questioning her palate for so many years. Anyways, he wouldn’t. He was actually quite appalled that I would ask him to take pictures of innocent pedestrians and their comestibles while we were on the Champs Elysées. I say, what BETTER place to be an offensive tourist and disturb the locals than in a crowd where people probably won’t notice you, and definitely don’t care who you are. We didn’t quite see eye to eye on that. Ergo, I can’t show you photographic evidence that Brie and green onions are a match made in heaven, but just trust me that they are.
Flatbread with Scallion Pesto, Brie, Zucchini and Toasted Walnuts
Makes one 9×13″ flatbread, which could serve 4 for lunch with a salad, or 8 as an appetizer
- 2 bunches scallion/green onion (about 10-12 medium stems)
- 2 small cloves garlic
- 3 sprigs fresh tarragon (about 1.5 tsp chopped)
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium zucchini
- 1/2 cup walnut pieces
- 5-8 oz Brie *
- 1/2 recipe of flatbread dough (recipe below)
- 1 tbsp active dried yeast
- 1.5 cups warm water
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tsp granulated sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 cups all purpose flour
* Oh, I don’t know how much Brie you want to use. I used most of a generous wedge, excluding the part that I ate yesterday when I got a late night craving for cheese….which happens a lot…..
** What to do with the other half of the dough? Well, whatever you want, of course!! Bruschetta, pizza, flatbread with any toppings you like, maybe even a calzone. You can stuff it, braid it, cheese it, twirl it, the dough doesn’t mind and will reward you for your efforts. You can bag the other half of the dough and refrigerate it overnight or even for 2-3 days if you squeeze most of the air out of the bag before you seal it….but be warned that it will stick to the inside of the bag and you’ll need to scrape it out a bit. But such is the messiness of life.
I won’t go into too much detail with the flatbread dough, for a couple of reasons:
1. It’s embarrassingly easy and I would like to at least attempt to maintain the appearance that I expend effort to make dinner every once in a while….even if that’s rarely true.
3. I think putting up pictures of multiple steps might actually make this look harder than it is. Because it’s not. I threw some ingredients in a bowl, gave them a quick stir, and then went to get a pedicure…I mean, “left it to rise”.
But anyway, because I just can’t help myself, here are the bare bones of the flatbread recipe.
Strictly speaking, it’s not always necessary to ‘bloom’ your yeast by putting the yeast in a bowl of warm water for 5-10 minutes until it froths and fizzes. This has no great advantage to the bread, other than letting you know that your yeast is (a)sexually active and reproducing as you speak. Kinda makes you feel dirty, doesn’t it? Anyway, if you’ve bought yeast at some point in the last year, and you’ve kept it tightly sealed and refrigerated, you can probably skip this process. I would always recommend blooming your yeast if you think it’s dicey, but that’s about it. Today, I trusted my yeast because I’ve been scooping from that jar a lot lately and with nary a flat dough to be found.
In a large bowl measure in your yeast, sugar, salt and flour. Fluff it all together with your hands. Pour on the warm (not hot, just rather warm) water and olive oil. Stir the dough with a wooden spoon or your clean hands until it comes together in a sticky ball and draws away from the sides of the bowl. The dough will be rather tacky (in the sticky way, not in the Brittney Spears crotch-flashing way) but that’s fine. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and leave it to rise in a warm draught free place for 2 hours.
About an hour and a half into the dough rising you can do three things:
1. Turn your oven on to 425ºF so it has ample time to pre-heat. Make sure that your oven rack is in the lowest position.
2. Make the scallion pesto.
3. Stick your cheese in the freezer. Just trust me on this one.
For the pesto, give a once over kind of chop to the scallions (white and full green parts) and garlic. Put them in a food processor or small blender, along with the olive oil and a generous sprinkling of salt.
Tear the leaves off the tarragon (discard the stems) and add them to the mix as well.
Puree the mixture until it’s smooth, and then set it aside.
Slice the zucchini very thinly on an angle, so it’s only about 1/16″ thick.
Flour a large flat work surface. Don’t be stingy with the flour, and keep some more close by to sprinkle as you go along. I did warn you that the dough is sticky, didn’t I?
Turn your half recipe of dough out onto the floured table and dust the top with flour as well. Press it down with your finger tips and pat it into a round. You can go over it once or twice with the rolling pin, and don’t be alarmed when it springs back to it’s original shape. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes before rolling it out into a long 9×13″ rectangle.
Gently ease the dough onto an un-greased baking sheet and turn the edges over to make a bit of a ridged edge. Dollop on the scallion pesto and smooth it with the back of your spoon until it’s in a single even layer and no dough is showing apart from the rim.
Lay the thinly slice zucchini overtop, overlapping the slices just slightly.
Slice the Brie into slabs no more than 1/4″ thick and disperse them evenly on top. When the Brie is well chilled (or even ever-so-slightly frozen around the outside) it is much easier to cut, hence the brief freezing period.
Sprinkle the chopped walnuts evenly over top, and season with salt and pepper if you really feel the yen. I find Brie to run on the salty side, and between that and the seasoned pesto I’m alright without adding more salt. Mike, however, who is part deer, would recommend a tad more seasoning. So there you go, you can listen to either one of us.
Bake the flatbread for about 12 minutes on the lowest rack of your oven, or until the edges are golden brown. Lift a corner of the flatbread up and peek underneath – it should be golden as well. If it’s not, tuck it back in the oven for another 2-3 minutes.
The gooey, melty cheese, tender-crisp zucchini, and smoky toasted walnuts are set off by the pungent and slightly licorice-green scented scallion pesto.
Also, did you happen to notice how I tricked Mike into enjoying a vegetarian meal by positioning this as “Pizza with Brie and…some other stuff….” Because I did. A bit of sneaky cunning always makes dinner taste just that much better.
Isn’t it amazing what you can do with a couple of leftovers, a garden which hasn’t completely konked out on you yet, and some time to kill while you get your toes polished?