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Cornmeal pizza, pizza leftovers, Indian pizza, and parsnip experiments

After the Hallowe'en pizza the other week, I found myself with a half a pack of VBites ham and a pint of leftover cashew queso (using this old favourite recipe, courtesy of PPK).

I'm a big fan of the cashew queso, but I wasn't quite sure what to do with a pint of it (aside from eat it in a corner with a spoon and hope noone saw me). The VBites ham I can normally take or leave, as it's always a bit floppy - it was only acquired after the other half requested a Hawaiian.

But then I had an idea how to kill two leftovers with one stone. A great, big cheesy, hammy idea.

Let me take you back many, many years ago to when I lived in France, when I used to eat croque-monsieurs a lot (we were at university, so we still found the literal translation of croque monsieur - nibble man - hilarious). Yeah, it feels weird saying I ate something with both cheese and meat in, but it was a looooooong loooooooooooooooong time ago. Anyway, I decided to recreate that most unvegan of dishes at home.

After toasting two slices of bread on one side, I spread their other sides with queso, then put them and the ham under the grill to firm up a little. After both have enjoyed a spell under the grill, you just chuck it all together and enjoy. Bon appetit and all that! (Not sure why the picture's come out in soft focus, like one of those 80s and 90s photo shoots where they rubbed vaseline over the lens. Maybe it's a homage to the vintage of my first encounter with the croque monsieur…)

Not that I've just been eating pizza or anything, but we recently went back to Otto, a small pizza restaurant in Notting Hill. It's not a vegan place, but it always has a vegan option on the menu and a few others that they can veganise.

When we dropped in, the vegan offering du jour was Otto's old faithful of Thai-style red lentil kofte, with red onion and coriander. The special that day was cashew cheese and sweetcorn. I ordered both, and they were both great.

I only had two slices - one slice of each - but trust me, unless you're a big person with a big appetite, then you'll be good for food after just two. The crust is cornmeal (handy for anyone with a gluten allergy) but it also makes a few slices super filling. Mr Flicking the Vs, who's not a small chap, had three slices and was well and truly stuffed.

We've been to Otto a few times, and if I've ever had a niggle with the place, it's that the service can be a bit uninterested. You know, sweet hipster kids who'd rather be out practising with their band, but until they're the raking it in with their platinum albums, they're just y'know waiting your table. Sigh. Anyway, the server we had this time around was a lovely, on the ball, smart lass, so if I needed another reason to get back to Otto, I now have it.

The other pizza-themed edible entering my gob this week was uttapam, sometimes referred to as Indian pizza.

The 'pizza base' is made with a mix of fermented lentil and rice. You can make the batter from scratch, or handily there are packet mixes where you can just add water and get a decent result. No prizes for guessing which I chose!

If you've ever made a dosa, I think the batter's much the same, only with uttapam you make a thick pancake instead of a thin crepe, and sprinkle your toppings so they bake into the uttapam as it cooks.

I went for some chard, fried onion, green chili and cherry tomatoes for my toppings, with a chick pea and spinach curry to go alongside. 

Uttapam are meant to be stovetop dishes, but I've always found that without a decent non-stick pan, the uttapam attaches itself to whatever you're cooking it in with a limpet like ferocity that will have you cursing its name as you try to chisel the crispy bits off your frying pan for the next five days. Pro tip: bake it in a well-greased Pyrex dish and save yourself the raised blood pressure.

But I haven't just been eating pizza-themed treats, oh no. I've been discovered pepperpot stew - a rich, warm Jamaican dish. (When I say discovering it, I mean reading the recipe and then completely murdering it with inauthentic ingredients that merit inclusion chiefly because they're in my cupboard at the time.)

Originally, pepperpot stew includes beef. Pah. No need for any of that, clearly. 

First, chop up and onion and fry lightly with a big chunk of chopped ginger, a couple of minced cloves of garlic, some sprigs of thyme, a quarter teaspoon of powdered allspice, a chopped red chilli, and a couple of bay leaves.

Once the onion has sweated down, chuck in a chunked-up carrot and pumpkin or squash, a drained can of kidney beans, some chopped up pak choi, and half a can of coconut milk and enough stock to barely cover the veggies. Leave it to simmer for ten minutes, then add dumplings of your choice and allow to simmer for another ten minutes more, or until dumplings or cooked.

If you're wondering why I'm off-handedly flinging around 'add dumplings' rather than offering my own suggestion, it's because the ones I made were a bit grim. Normally I make pretty decent ones with self-raising flour and vegan suet, but I thought I'd mix it up, and tried a mix of gluten-free flours, the suet, and some mashed parsnip. Guess what? It was like chewing on tiny parsnipy bowling balls. Note to self: parsnip dumplings were not a success. There is a reason parsnips don't feature in most dumpling recipes. STEP AWAY FROM THE PARSNIPS.

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  1. Pepperpot stew sounds fantastic - and so does that pizza place. And I'm happy to embrace your parsnip sentiments! I was ill earlier in the year after parsnips, and whilst it may not have been the parsnips, I am well and truly off them.

  2. I'm going to look away from that croque monsieur now because it's making me way too hungry and I don't have any vegan cheese to make one.
    Too bad about the parsnip dumplings! I have yet to buy my first parsnips of the season, but it's kind of tempting to put them in all kinds of dishes, isn't it? My Mum just gave me a recipe for sweet parsnip cake with walnuts and it looks pretty good.

  3. Shame your parsnip dumplings didn't taste great - they looked fantastic - I had some dumplings earlier this year that were really chewy and I cooked them again and for longer and they were beautifully fluffy. Your pizzas sound great - and I really fancy trying a croque monsieur

  4. wow it all looks absolutely amazing. your photography is top notch too! :D

  5. How did I not know about Uttapam! I'm going to our local Asian Supermarket on Thursday so I'll be on the look out for packet mixes!

  6. Nice new (to me!) layout of the blog! I like it! Delicious pizza and stew, yum!

  7. Totally LOVING your blog! This post is GRAND...Yum! Found you on Vegan Word :)

  8. oh that sandwich is awesome!!! Shame about the parsnip, I never have much luck with parsnip!

  9. That croque Monsieur looks amazing! Parsnips are difficult to make work in most things... Although I'm impressed at your attempt!! I've discovered it's actually quite nice as a raw "rice"...

  10. Joey, I am loving your blog! I giggled about the croque monsieur translation, and the Indian pizza is on my list of things to try! Also, this: "completely murdering it with inauthentic ingredients that merit inclusion chiefly because they're in my cupboard at the time." - this completely sums up the way I cook hahaha.

  11. I love Otto!! :) Ooh, that uttapam sounds lovely! I've just acquired a cast iron skillet, do you think it would work well in that? Might have to make it soon, particularly as I work near Brick Lane and can easily find some mix...

  12. Bummer the parsnip dumplings didn't work out, they look good in the photo though. I've never been a big fan of parsnips myself, they stay far, far away. :-) Pizza looks good though!

  13. I LOVE YOUR NEW BLOG LOOK, it looks fab and finally I can see the post dates! Did you figure out the soft spot issue? I had this exact issue with a point-and-shoot camera during my travels (it was annoying) and found out that the settings were manual. The pizza reminds me of a deep dish pizza I had in Dove Vive (Portland), and they make vegan cornmeal deep dish crusts! Sorry about your parsnip dumplings, but I love anything dumplings though and a huge fan of parsnips...YES!


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