Dishes inspired by Wolfgang Puck are delicious and healthful
I have known Wolfgang Puck since he was about 19 or 20 years old and he was working as a chef at Ma Maison restaurant in West Hollywood. I met him at a cooking class, probably the first one he had ever taught.
I will never forget what happened when he rolled out the pastry dough for a raspberry tart. He confidently flattened the dough around a rolling pin and, in one fluid motion, watched it totally fall apart. Then he looked at us and said, calmly, “If this ever happens to you …” and he proceeded to just mold it by hand into the tart shell instead of starting over.
A longtime fan of Jewish cooking — Puck, a Catholic, has hosted seders and was married to a Jewish woman for 20 years — he inspired me to teach cooking classes using the same method of honesty and creativity that has made him famous.
Puck went on to open his first restaurant, Spago, on Sunset Boulevard in 1982, and one of the dishes he specialized in was Smoked Salmon Pizza, my all-time favorite. Could a pizza be more Jewish? To make the pizza ahead, bake it for just 5 minutes, then, just before serving, complete the baking and top the pizza with smoked salmon.
The renowned chef has inspired me in other ways, too. Consider his most recent cookbook, “Wolfgang Puck Makes It Healthy,” which features the methods he uses to prepare nutritious foods. The book includes an inspiring exercise program to follow, and there are photos of Puck, now 66, exercising with his young sons, Oliver and Alexander.
When thinking of healthy cooking, I always include soups and salads that are easy to make. I have adapted several recipes from Puck’s book that can be made in advance, stored in the freezer and served when needed.
For example, a couple of months ago, my son-in-law, Jay, brought me a large bag of carrots from his garden, and I made a delicious carrot soup, which is similar to the recipe in Puck’s book. It contains only three ingredients — carrots, onions and garlic — and takes only 20 minutes to make.
His Griddled Potato Pancakes topped with sliced smoked fish are delicious, crispy and healthy. Created simply, the grated potato pancakes are cooked on a nonstick griddle, then topped with smoked fish and low-fat sour cream.
Finally, Puck’s recipe for Vegetable Pizza is really a salad on top of a pizza — a great concept and a meal in itself. What a great way to eat a lot of vegetables! Feel free to vary the vegetable toppings with whatever looks great at the farmers market.
SMOKED SALMON PIZZA
- Pizza Dough (recipe follows)
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup cornmeal
- 1/2 cup sour cream or creme fraiche
- 1/4 bunch fresh dill, minced
- 3 to 4 ounces smoked salmon
- 1/2 cup chopped chives
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- 4 heaping tablespoons salmon roe (optional)
Prepare Pizza Dough and set aside.
Preheat oven to 450 F.
Divide dough into 4 balls and, on a lightly floured surface, roll out dough into a 9- or 10-inch circle, with the outer edge a little thicker than the inner circle. Brush a round 12- to 14-inch rimless pizza baking pan with oil and sprinkle with cornmeal. Carefully lift dough onto prepared pizza pan, poke holes in the dough with a fork to prevent bubbling, and bake in prepared oven until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes.
Remove dough from oven and set it on a cutting board. Let dough cool, then use a knife or the back of a spoon to spread the sour cream, covering the inner circle, and sprinkle with dill. Arrange the slices of salmon so that they cover the entire pizza, slightly overlapping the raised rim. Sprinkle the chopped chives and pepper over the salmon. Using a pizza cutter or a large sharp knife, cut the pizza into 8 or 10 slices. If you like, spoon a little salmon roe in the center of each slice. Serve immediately. Repeat with remaining dough.
Makes 4 pizzas.
- 2 packages active dry yeast
- Pinch of sugar
- 1 1/4 cups warm water
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 3 1/2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
Dissolve the yeast with the sugar in 1/2 cup of the water and set aside until foamy.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining 3/4 cup water, the olive oil and yeast mixture. Stir in the flour and salt 1 cup at a time, until the dough begins to come together into a rough ball. Spoon onto a floured board and knead until smooth and elastic. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, oil its top, cover, and set in a warm place to rise for about 1 hour, until doubled in bulk. Or prepare pizza dough and cover with a towel until ready.
Makes 4 pizzas.
VEGETABLE SALAD ON A PIZZA
- Pizza Dough (see recipe above)
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 1/2 cup zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 1/2 cup yellow summer squash, cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 1/2 cup each red and yellow peppers, cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Prepare Pizza Dough and set aside.
Preheat oven to 450 F.
Heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat, add olive oil. Add eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, peppers, cherry tomatoes and sauté, stirring frequently until vegetables begin to turn tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Continue to sauté until tomatoes soften. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool.
Roll out pizza, and poke holes in the dough with a fork to prevent bubbling. Top with sautéed vegetables and bake until pizza is nicely brown, about 10 to 12 minutes.
Makes 4 pizzas.
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons unsalted margarine, melted
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces (about 6 cups)
- 5 cups vegetable stock or broth
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced and
- mashed with 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
- 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 1/3 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely minced (optional)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese, optional
In a small stockpot, mix oil and margarine. Add onion and cook until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add carrots and stock. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the carrots are tender when pierced with the tip of a small, sharp knife.
Transfer the cooked carrots and broth to a food processor or blender and puree in batches. Return the mixture to the pot and stir in the garlic paste and ginger. Simmer briefly and stir in parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with grated Parmesan.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
GRIDDLED POTATO PANCAKE WITH SMOKED FISH
- 1 pound russet baking potatoes
- 1 small yellow onion
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, add as needed
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup low-fat sour cream
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 pound smoked sturgeon, trout or salmon, skin and bones removed, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup salmon roe for garnish, optional
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives for garnish
- 1 lemon cut into wedges
Preheat oven to 200 F, its lowest setting. Set a baking dish in the oven.
Line a large bowl with a clean kitchen towel.
Using the fine hole of a box grater, shredder or a food processer fitted with a grating disc, grate the potatoes. Transfer to the prepared bowl and grate in the onion. Twist the towel around the potato mixture and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
Transfer the mixture to a clean bowl, add egg, baking powder, salt and pepper and stir with a fork to blend.
Heat a large nonstick griddle or skillet over medium-high heat. Brush with olive oil. Using a tablespoon, carefully place spoonfuls of the potato mixture on the griddle, spacing them about 1 inch apart and pressing down on the mixture to flatten to a thickness of no more than 1/4 inch. Cook pancakes until golden brown and crispy, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer pancakes to the baking dish in the oven to keep them warm while you cook the remaining pancakes.
In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream, dill and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. To serve, transfer potato pancakes to a warm platter or individual serving plate. Spoon a little sour cream mixture onto each pancake and top with smoked fish. Add salmon roe and garnish with chives. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.
Makes about 24 servings.
Judy Zeidler is a food consultant, cooking teacher and author of “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her website is judyzeidler.com.
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