This savoury Dutch baby that I made for brunch this weekend was inspired by an Italian romance. I promise the pictures don’t do it justice, so I invite you to please read on and maybe you’ll also fall in love with this combination of tastes like I did.
Last week I received my much-anticipated copy of The Official Pasta Grannies Cookbook in the mail. I caught wind of the Pasta Grannies YouTube Channel earlier this month and I was instantly hooked. It’s a concept that speaks to me on a lot of levels – celebrating and preserving traditional foodways, learning the secrets of experienced home cooks, and exploring the incredible nuance in the many regional cuisines of Italy.
When a plan-free Sunday fell into my lap this weekend I set up shop in front of a rainy window with coffee in hand and cracked open the book. I learned about the distinctive smell of Ligurian basil growing on craggy sun-drenched cliff faces, the process of foraging wild borage and mushrooms, the many culinary uses for chestnuts and chestnut flour, and the surprising prevalence of marjoram in the Italian kitchen.
Cornelia’s home is perched high above the Ligurian coastline surrounded by olive trees clinging to near vertical slopes, and whose branches provide hazy shade for the curtain-falls of wild flowers in the spring. She is an enthusiastic forager of the posy of herbs needed to make pansotti. ‘You need at least seven varieties of herbs,’ she says. ‘You must pick them while they are young and still growing, and you want a balance of flavours. Some, like the dandelions, are bitter. Borage has a cucumber flavour, but there are others like nettle, campanula, and Sanguisorba which are mild, too.’ Cornelia’s Pansotti with Walnut Pesto in The Official Pasta Grannies Cookbook
The biggest takeaway so far has been the tremendous variety of ingredients and preparation methods…to say nothing of the pasta shapes themselves. Of course many of the women in Pasta Grannies experienced the famine and poverty before, during and after the second world war. Their cooking habits were marked by scarcity, taking shape into what is now often called la cucina povera.
From these hard times came recipes that have endured and have even become exalted. More than the recipes, la cucina povera, “the cooking of the poor,” or “peasant cooking,” is based on the philosophy of not wasting anything edible and using a variety of simple techniques to make every bite as tasty as possible. Cucina Povera: Tuscan Peasant Cooking by Pamela Sheldon Johns
These women used what was available – and oftentimes that varied widely by region and season and even in one case by government policies that heavily taxed salt, forcing frugal home cooks to think of creative ways to make food enjoyable without the salt (which was used preferentially for salting and preserving meats).
Tuscan bread is not made with salt because up until a few years ago, salt was heavily taxed and was used only for the things that were absolutely necessary such as curing meat and making cheese; none was spared for bread. In any event, bread was baked only once a week, and bread made without salt dries out within a day, as salt is what holds the moisture in the bread. From these simple facts come the many classic Italian recipes that use dry or day-old bread, such as ribollita, panzanella, and pappa al pomodoro. Cucina Povera: Tuscan Peasant Cooking by Pamela Sheldon Johns
This forced cooks to work with their local and seasonal produce, which resulted in the incredible milieu of different approaches we have today that all fall under the banner of Italian cuisine, unified by a distinctly Italian sensibility surrounding ingredients and purity of flavours.
It reminds me of something that Jechiam Gural, Founder of Amsterdam’s Baking Lab, mentioned during the sourdough workshop I attended. He said that in his bakery he likes to combine different varieties of heritage flour because in the “old days”, depending on one type of ingredient would leave bakers vulnerable to the whims and exigencies of seasonal conditions and unfavourable government policies.
So what does this have to do with this meal? The Pasta Grannies Cookbook and book on Cucina Povera I’ve been reading have put me in a very Italian state of mind. With so much talk of drawing out maximum flavour my mind turned to more immediate concerns – how would I draw out maximum flavours from the contents of my fridge? I needed to make something that would quell my deepening craving for a taste of anything approximating regional Italian cuisine. And that’s how this savoury Dutch baby was born.
The meatballs are made with ground chicken, breadcrumbs, an egg, grated parmigiano, and a mix of sage and thyme. They pair nicely with the rich butter-cooked mushrooms and caramelized onions. The mascarpone and herb sauce I added at the end is more a nod to Turkish than Italian but it adds a cool note which pairs nicely with the rest of the ingredients.
After we had finished eating my husband said it tasted like the brunch you would eat on Christmas morning. Indeed, it has all the heart of a holiday meal inspired in large part by my ongoing love-affair with the Italian culinary sensibility.
Chicken Meatballs with Sage & Parmesan
To make the chicken meatballs I simply combined 300 grams of ground chicken, 1/2 cup of grated parmigiano, 1/2 cup of dried breadcrumbs, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon each of chopped sage and thyme, and salt & pepper. I combined all of the ingredients in a bowl, rolled the mix into a 2.5 cm / 1 inch ball, and then fried in olive oil. For me this made 18 meatballs.
My plan was to finish in the oven along with the Dutch baby, but I had forgotten you can’t open the oven while the Dutch baby is cooking so I ended up finishing them afterwards. If you give them a quick sear then no reason you can’t pop them into the oven at the same time as the Dutch baby. Baking them at the same time (without a pre-sear) is also an option though you might miss out on that nice browning.
I would also recommend simply pan-frying the ground chicken with herbs (stirring constantly for 8-10 minutes) while the Dutch baby is in the oven. You can skip the balls altogether. Just time it right so you can serve the herbed mince hot on top of the baby once it’s out of the oven.
Herb Butter Mushrooms & Caramelized Onions
Caramelized Onions: I cut two onions into slivers, salted with 1/4 tsp, and fried them with a bit of olive oil in a small non-stick skillet over medium-low heat for about 25 minutes. Every so often I added a tablespoon or two of water. It’s ideal to stir constantly so they don’t burn (which can result in a bitter flavour) but of course it’s not the end of the world if they char a bit, just add a bit of water to disperse the flavours and stir onwards.
Herb Butter Mushrooms: I used about 9 baby portobello mushrooms, cut into 1/2 cm slices as shown in the picture and then tossed them in a pan with 1 tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of mixed sage and thyme. I cooked on medium heat for about 8 minutes or until they softened and dehydrated.
Savoury Dutch Baby with Herbs
Recipe: I used a slightly modified version of the food.com Dutch baby recipe but doubled it to fit my large 12 inch / 30 cm All-Clad stainless steel frying pan. I omitted the sugar and used a 1/4 cup of mixed herbs right in the pan with the butter. I also used Oatley oat milk instead of dairy milk because it’s what I had on hand (and its a very common substitution in my kitchen).
food.com modified Dutch Baby Recipe
- 1.5 cups flour
- 1 cup of milk
- 4 eggs
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Pinch salt
- 1/4 cup mixed herbs, chopped
Equipment: Traditionally Dutch babies are made in a cast-iron skillet but seeing as my large cast iron skillet (along with most of my kitchen) is in a storage container in the US awaiting transport to the Netherlands – I used what I had. Cast iron is incomparable though and if you have a large enough cast-iron skillet you should use it. I used a blender to pulse the ingredients together but you could also whisk them, use an electric mixer or even an immersion blender.
I heated the skillet on high heat on the burner, dropped in the butter and then added the herb mix right away. I used a mix of celery, leek, broccoli, chives, chervil and parsley. You can substitute an equal amount of any herb mix you prefer.
Mascarpone, Herb & Yogurt Sauce
I made this sauce by quickly sautéing in 2 teaspoons of butter another 1/4 cup of the herb blend I used in the Dutch baby. Once slightly softened I mixed it in with a mix of two large spoonfuls each of mascarpone and full fat Turkish yogurt. It made a nice, cooling counterpoint to the herb and spice of the pancake itself.
Savoury Dutch Baby with Sage & Parmesan Meatballs
This savoury Dutch baby with herbs baked into the batter is topped with sage & parmesan chicken meatballs, caramelized onion, mushrooms & herbed mascarpone.
- Prep Time: 15
- Cook Time: 25
- Total Time: 40 minutes
- Yield: 4 - 6 1x
- Category: Breakfast
- Method: Oven
- Cuisine: Global
- 300 grams ground chicken
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon each of fresh thyme and sage, diced
- Black pepper and salt
Savoury Dutch Baby
- 1.5 cups milk
- 1 cup flour
- 4 eggs
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- 1/4 cup of mixed fresh herbs (celery, leek, broccoli, chives, chervil and parsley)
- 2 large yellow onions
- Olive oil
Herb butter mushrooms
- 9–10 baby portobello mushrooms
- 1 tablespoon of mixed sage and thyme, diced
- 1 tablespoon of butter
Mascarpone, herb and yogurt sauce
- 2 large spoonfuls each of mascarpone and Turkish style full-fat yogurt
- 1.4 cup of mixed fresh herbs (celery, leek, broccoli, chives, chervil and parsley)
- 2 teaspoons butter
Preheat oven to 225 C / 450 F
Prep and fry the onions: Slice two medium sized yellow onions into strips and then fry in a bit of olive oil on medium-low heat for about 25 minutes stirring frequently and adding water if they dry out too much.
Prepare chicken meatballs: Combine all ingredients in a bowl and then roll into meatballs approximately 2.5 cm / 1 inch wide. It should make about 18.
Prepare the Dutch baby: Combine the flour, milk, eggs and salt in a blender (or whisk together).
Bake the Dutch baby: Heat butter in a large 12 inch / 30 cm oven safe skillet (ideally cast iron) then add the herb blend and saute on high heat for 30 seconds to a minute until aromatic. Pour the batter into the hot pan and pop straight into the preheated oven. Bake for 18 minutes without opening the oven.
Fry the herb butter mushrooms: While the Dutch baby is in the oven, melt butter in a non-stick skillet over high heat and then toss in the mushrooms and herbs. Stir-fry quickly for about 8 minutes or until they’ve reduced and softened.
Make the mascarpone, herb & yogurt sauce: Remove the mushrooms from the pan, add more butter and 1/4 cup of mixed herbs. Sautee for a few minutes until aromatic. While herbs sautee combine two large spoonfuls each of mascarpone and Turkish full-fat yogurt in a bowl and whip until smooth then pour the sauteed herbs in butter over the mascarpone and yogurt. Mix and set aside.
Fry the chicken meatballs: You can either fry them in a skillet about 10 minutes before the Dutch baby is due to come out of the oven or otherwise bake them in the oven at the same time.
Keywords: savoury dutch baby, dutch baby, pancake, savoury pancake, meatballs, breakfast, brunch
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