Japanese “Tomato Bruschetta” or Riso Fritto Pomodoro

For lunch, I decided to try to make some fusion cuisine. My main inspiration was noticing earlier that shiso and basil are a good combination, sharing some flavor notes (and common ancestry, both being in the mint family). At a restaurant in Japan, the salad had shiso seeds on it, but they were rather soft, so I tried boiling some shiso seeds. It didn’t seem as flavorful when I tried it at home, but it could have been the variety I used. Googling has yet to show any recipes where shiso is boiled. Only toasted and those seeds were not merely toasted. Hmmm…

(Pictures coming soon…)

The first step is to chop some tomatoes. I got baby romas, sliced them into small rings, and mixed in sliced basil and salt. Since this is going to sit atop fried (and therefore oily) rice, I don’t add olive oil like I usually would for bruschetta to the tomatoes. Do add pepper and salt to taste. Mix in the shiso seeds (maybe toast instead of boil like I did). For this step, I set aside pine nuts to be toasted just in time to be added freshly to the top.

The next step is to make yaki-onigiri. I made it into a flat round shape rather than the more common triangle, in order to be more like fried polenta. If you aren’t familiar with onigiri (also known as musubi, Japanese rice balls), you basically get sticky rice and clump it together. Onigiri often have fillings, but for yaki-onigiri, plain rice is good enough. You can put the rice balls you formed into plastic in the fridge to let them dry out for frying but I skipped this step without getting sticking (though I did use a non-stick fry pan). Sprinkle olive oil on one side of the rice balls and place that side on the pan after preheating it.

After a minute or so, start toasting the pine nuts and watch both them and the rice balls to make sure nothing burns. When the first side of the rice balls gets browned, oil the other side and flip. When done, bring onto plate and shovel the tomatoes on top. Throw the freshly toasted pine nuts on top. Drizzle with ponzu sauce, then put a little bit of balsamic glaze on top. Eat immediately. Cold tomatoes and hot rice make for a nice interplay on the tongue.

This dish isn’t as strange or, rather, isn’t as fusion as it seems at first (other than the ponzu sauce and the shiso). Rice pies are present in a lot of homestyle Italian cooking, not too much unlike Tah Dig in Persian and Turkmen cuisines.

Iron Skillet Fennel Focaccia

Here is one that I make. It is somewhat inspired by the bread they have at Rosa’s in Ontario, which had delicious fennel seeds embedded in it. I go a step further and make it with dessert flour and some of it being whole wheat dessert flour, which I think compliments the flavor. My wife doesn’t like this because she’s not a fan of fennel. One thing to keep in mind when you make anything with fennel or anise in it is some people are absolutely repelled by the flavor. Oh, but I love it. If you or who you are making this for is such a person, just omit the fennel and at the last step where you’d add the salt on top, also sprinkle some herbs from province on top. It’s a good replacement since the lavender also adds a good sweet aroma.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose white flour or more as needed
  • 1 cup white pastry four
  • 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup water (if it’s not delicious water, the bread will suffer)
  • 1 packet quick-rise yeast
  • 1 tsp salt (I use kosher sea-salt – I particularly like Redmond)
  • 1 tbsp sugar or more, to taste
  • 1 tbsp olive oil or more, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds, or to taste. can replace with fresh fennel leaves, chopped.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Then, heat up the water until it is warm, not hot. Dissolve sugar into it, then stir in the yeast packet. When the yeast begins to foam, mix in some olive oil. Then Mix in the dry mix, a ladle-full at a time. The dough should be fairly smooth and not overly wet. Add additional all-purpose flour as needed to achieve the right consistency, or sprinkle water if the mix is too dry (I think many people make the mistake of making their dough too dry).

Pour olive oil into iron skillet and use it to oil all the sides. Then, place dough into iron skillet and flip it over so it’s coated with a thin layer of the oil. Place plastic wrap over the dough and the pan and let rise. Preheat oven to 450°F (~230°C) so that it will be ready by the time the dough has doubled in bulk. You may need to push it down so it fills the pan if it remained in a ball shape (which is a good sign). Once it has doubled in bulk, remove plastic, optionally sprinkle salt on top (I use a salt grinder with sea salt) and place skillet with dough in the oven. Bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Slice and serve hot with a rich, fruity olive oil (optional, sliced garlic – optional, dash of balsamic vinegar or balsamic vinegar glaze).

The consistency of this dough is also suitable for pizza, so if you change the recipe a little (no fennel seeds and only enough sugar to make the yeast happy), you’ve got a good pizza dough, but I’ll cover pizza later. You can make this all white flour or all whole wheat, too. My experience shows that whole wheat, like brown rice, needs more water, so you may need to adjust accordingly. I like the flavor of this with 100% whole wheat, but it’s easier to get it to rise when you half and half it. Also, you don’t have to use dessert flour, but I prefer the texture using it. I made a half-recipe of this yesterday in my mini-iron skillet. You may wish to do the same if it’s just for a couple of people.

Lastly, I want to get out of the stupid American habit of measuring flour by volume. The only accurate way of doing it is by mass (weight), so I hope to go back later and change this to be in grams. Get a kitchen scale, people!