Baked/Stuffed Picnic Loaf

Bread, cheese, bacon & leeks all baked together in the ultimate picnic loaf! This recipe idea derives from a Portuguese traditional stuffed bread made in the North of Portugal called ‘Bola’. This was made by the farmers wives for their husbands to take to work when they were out working the fields. It consists of bread dough enriched with ‘lard’ or butter and then put in layers in a baking tray, filled in the middle with meat leftovers like roast pork, veal, chicken or chourico (smoked pork sausage).

This kind of reminds me of Pan Bagnat, the traditional Nice ‘sandwich’, in which the top of a round loaf would be sliced off and some of the crumbs hollowed out, mixed with tuna, olives, anchovies, etc. then spooned back in and the ‘lid’ put on top. Later variations are often made with ham and cheese and sometimes peppers are added.

In September 2017, I posted a blog on Pan Bagnat. Once the flavors all meld together the taste was incredible. I thought this stuffed bread would be perfect for an outdoor summer meal or picnic.

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Baked Stuffed Picnic Loaf
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Instructions
  1. Very lightly grease a skillet with olive oil, put in the bacon & sauté until browned. Add the chopped shallot; sauté until softened, then add the leek. Stir together and remove from the heat – you want the leeks to keep their color so don't overcook.
  2. In a bowl, whisk sour cream, eggs, mustard & spices together. Don’t overmix: keep the mixture a little lumpy.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
  4. Slice into the bread, but not all the way through. You need to cut deep enough into the bread to open out the loaf and fill between the “slices, while leaving the loaf connected at the base. Place the bread on a sheet of parchment paper.
  5. Into each slot in the bread, place a slice of potato, followed by some of the bacon, shallot and leeks.
  6. Use the paper to lift the bread onto a baking tray. Spoon some of the sour cream/egg mixture into each slot, so that the bread absorbs as much as possible.
  7. Finally insert the slices of cheese. Enclose the loaf fully in the baking paper and then wrap it in foil to make a tight parcel.
  8. Put the wrapped bread into the preheated oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, then remove the tray and open the foil and parchment paper. Return to the oven until the top of the bread and its filling is golden brown. Remove and serve!

Chicken & Leek Calzones

Like their Italian cousin pizza, calzones originated in Naples, Italy during the 18th century. The calzone’s original purpose was to serve as a ‘walk around pizza‘ that were not meant to be eaten with utensils. This Italian style turnover is created by folding a pizza in half. When correctly prepared, the calzone’s outer crust is baked to crispy perfection while the inside filling contains a warm, gooey blend of ricotta and mozzarella cheeses along side an assortment of hearty meats and vegetables. The crust of calzones, traditionally made with yeast, olive oil, water, flour, and salt, makes them extremely portable. Calzones, are always baked.  The original calzones of Naples, were most likely much smaller than the modern calzones seen in North American restaurants today, because the pizzas created in 18th century Italy were for a single person to enjoy.

Calzones are similar to stromboli and the two are sometimes confused. Unlike calzones, which are always stuffed and folded into a crescent shape, a stromboli is typically rolled and folded into a cylinder. Both are pizza derivatives. They utilize the same ingredients to achieve different versions of a sealed, portable meal. Calzones are traditionally stuffed with cheese, tomatoes, and marinara. But much like the pizza, any sort of toppings can be added inside the calzone.

Today, I wanted to put a bit of a different spin on the calzone idea. I’m making a potato/leek yeast dough, filling them with chicken & mushrooms & adding a bit of pizazz to the shape. What’s old is new again!

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Chicken & Leek Calzones
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Course Lunch
Cuisine American
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Course Lunch
Cuisine American
Servings
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Rating: 5
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Instructions
Leeks
  1. Rinse & slice leek. In a skillet, place oil, sliced leek, sage leaves, garlic, salt & pepper. When the garlic is fragrant & the leek is tender, turn off heat & transfer to a dish to cool.
Dough
  1. In a small dish, combine yeast with lukewarm water; allow to stand for a few minutes until frothy. In a large bowl, combine butter, salt, sour cream, cooked, mashed potato & 1/2 of the leek mixture. Beat together well.
  2. When yeast is ready, add it to the wet mixture. Mix in flour, one cup at a time. When dough is blended, turn onto a lightly buttered work surface. Knead dough about 10 minutes, until smooth & elastic. Place dough ball in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap & let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours. While dough is rising prepare filling.
Filling
  1. In a skillet, fry bacon to a cooked but not real crisp stage. Transfer to a paper towel, reserving bacon drippings to sauté mushrooms in. When mushrooms have cooked & released most of their moisture, remove from heat.
  2. In a bowl, combine remaining other half of cooked leek mixture, bacon, cooked chicken (or turkey), & mushrooms. Add Ranch dressing & salt to taste. Set aside.
Assembly & Baking
  1. On a lightly greased work surface, divide risen dough into 8 balls. Roll each ball into an OVAL shape, about 7 x 6-inch size. Divide filling into 8 portions. On each oval, place a portion of the filling in a straight line on the middle of the dough.
  2. Keep one side free & cut the other side of the dough into thin strips using a knife. Fold the uncut side over the filling first, then continue rolling over the cut side.
  3. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper & place the 'calzones' on it, curving them into a C shape. (Place the side with the 'strips' curving to the outside). Brush calzones lightly with egg wash; cover with plastic wrap & allow to rise for about 20 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  5. Bake calzones for 40 minutes until a golden brown. Serve hot or room temperature.

Israeli Couscous w/ Shrimp & Zucchini

This shrimp vegetable couscous not only makes a fabulous midweek meal for four but can be easily multiplied to accommodate more. The quick cooking couscous turns this simple recipe into a one pot wonder with a fusion of flavors.

Couscous has become one of my favorite pantry staples. It’s quick, convenient, versatile and makes a good alternative to traditional rice or pasta.

There are actually three different kinds of couscous:

Pearl (Israeli) couscous, which resembles tiny pasta shaped like pearls.

Lebanese couscous, which is a bit larger, the size of peas.

Then, there is the smallest size couscous made of fine granules of durum wheat. This one is associated more with Moroccan cooking.

Couscous used to be hand rolled into tiny pasta. It is now available in instant- cook packages or bulk, where couscous has already been pre-cooked by steaming and then dried. This leaves us with the simple task of re-hydrating in water, which typically takes something like 5 minutes!

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Israeli Couscous w/ Shrimp & Zucchini
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Instructions
  1. In a medium saucepan, fry chopped bacon until crisp, about 3 minutes; add shrimp during last few minutes of sautéing. Remove bacon & shrimp to a bowl & set aside.
  2. To saucepan containing bacon drippings, add zucchini, mushrooms, leek, garlic & cilantro; sauté until tender crisp. Add to bacon & shrimp bowl.
  3. To the saucepan, add broth & salt & bring to a boil; add couscous. Cover saucepan & remove from heat; set aside until liquid has been absorbed, about 5-10 minutes.
  4. Add bowl of bacon, vegetables & shrimp; gently stir together with a fork. Serve immediately.

French Mussels w/ Bacon & Leek Risotto

Thanks for the memories! This phrase says it all when I think back to the wonderful time we spent in France. Although this holiday is now 20 years past, the memories remain very vivid and special.

My sister, Loretta had joined Brion & I on this French vacation which had made it even more special. Our journey began in Paris where we had rented a car, then travelled south (about 613 km/380 miles) to the sleepy little village of St Thibery. For this segment of our trip we had rented an apartment to use as ‘home base’ during our time in this part of France. Many of these houses are from the 14th,15th & 17th century. The apartment was quaint but adequate even having a roof top patio.

St Thibery is situated between the larger towns of Agde & Pezenas and is just a short distance from the Mediterranean Sea. On one of our day trips we visited the town of Agde. It is one of the oldest towns in France and is captivating by its maze of narrow streets. Agde was built of black basalt from a volcanic eruption thus the black color of its buildings.

It was here we discovered a nice restaurant where we enjoyed some classic French steamed mussels. It would be an understatement to say how much the three of us enjoyed this feast of fresh seafood.

During the time we spent in the area, we made the 20 minute drive from St Thibery to Agde just to have some more mussels on numerous evenings.

Brion & I decided to revisit the taste of those ‘French’ mussels today with our supper meal. Of course, nothing compares to the ‘taste of a memory’!

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French Mussels w/ Bacon & Leek Risotto
Instructions
Risotto
  1. Bring vegetable broth to a boil in a saucepan, then turn heat to low & keep at a simmer.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat; add bacon & sauté until crisp. Remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain & set aside.
  3. Remove all but 2 Tbsp bacon drippings from skillet (add extra olive oil if necessary to equal 2 Tbsp) then add leeks, mushrooms & shallot. Turn heat up to medium-high; season with salt & pepper. Sauté until vegetables are tender & starting to turn golden brown, about 7-8 minutes. Add garlic & sauté for 1 minute. Add rice; stir to coat & cook for 1 more minute.
  4. Turn heat back to medium; add wine & stir until absorbed by rice. Add hot vegetable broth; stir near constantly until rice is tender & all the broth is absorbed, about 25 minutes. If broth gets to a hard boil, turn heat down. Remove skillet from heat; stir in thyme, parmesan cheese & cooked bacon. Keep warm until mussels are ready.
Mussels
  1. Heat olive oil & butter in a large pot over medium high heat. Sauté the onion & garlic until softened, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the mussels, wine, cream, butter & parsley. Season well with salt & pepper to taste.
  3. Mix well, cover pot with a lid & cook until mussels are cooked through & opened, about 12-15 minutes.
  4. Serve mussels along with the juices in the pan with risotto & crusty or garlic bread.

Stuffed Pork Tenderloin w/ Sweet Potato, Caramelized Onions & Bacon

CELEBRATING FATHER’S DAY!

Father’s Day is celebrated on many different dates around the world. It gives us the opportunity to thank or reflect on, that special person we call ‘Dad’.

The imprint of a father remains forever on the lives of his children. For daughters, he is the standard against which she will judge all men. To a son, he is his first hero.

Father’s are some of the most unsung, unpraised and unnoticed valuable assets of our society. Growing up, I recall that wonderful feeling of being very protected by our father.

Both of our dad’s are no longer with us but we will always hold dear fond memories of them. It seems a father’s love and influence is never fully appreciated until they are no longer with you.

Today, I’m making a stuffed tenderloin meal which I think they both would have enjoyed.

Pork tenderloin is definitely one of my ‘go to’ sources of protein. It is a very lean cut with virtually no fat at all and can be flavored and cooked in a variety of ways.

Pork can be as easy or involved as you choose to make it. Since sweet potatoes make the perfect compliment to pork, combining them with caramelized onion and bacon tastes amazing.

Slicing into this tenderloin reveals the wonderful colors of the stuffing, making it a feast for both eyes and taste buds.

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Stuffed Pork Tenderloin w/ Sweet Potato, Caramelized Onions & Bacon
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Instructions
  1. In a skillet, fry bacon until cooked but not crisp. Remove bacon from skillet; blot on paper towel.
  2. Dice onion in about a 1/4-inch size. Add to bacon drippings in skillet & sprinkle with salt. Cook & stir about 15 minutes or until moisture has evaporated & onion is soft.
  3. Reduce heat; sprinkle with apple cider vinegar. Cook & stir until golden. Add brown sugar; cook & stir until golden. Cook sweet potato, peel & mash.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  5. Remove any 'silver-skin' from pork tenderloin. Butterfly tenderloin & pound carefully to make it an even thickness. Sprinkle with salt & pepper. Spread cut side evenly with mashed sweet potato & top with caramelized onion & crumbled bacon .
  6. Starting on the short end, roll tenderloin & place seam side down on a lightly greased piece of foil. Place on a baking sheet & cup foil corners to resemble a dish. Brush tenderloin with Fig Balsamic Olive Oil Vinaigrette (or just use oil).
  7. Roast about 45 minutes or until meat thermometer reaches 160 F. If you prefer you can roast the tenderloin 8-10 minutes more.

Pearl Couscous w/ Wild Mushrooms & Herbs

If you follow my blog, you’ve probably noticed pearl couscous has become one of my favorites. There was a time when rice and pasta reigned supreme as a side dish staple in North America. But we have become more adventurous, probably due to world travel and the internet. Foods like couscous have come onto the food scene and never left.

If you have not tried it, pearl or Israeli couscous has a chewy texture with a warm, nutty flavor. Made from wheat flour and semolina, it has a ball-like shape and is toasted, rather than dried, after the granules are formed. Unlike common types of pasta or couscous, pearl couscous was factory made from the outset and therefore is rarely seen homemade from scratch.

Whether you like it hot or cold, savory or even a little sweet, the options are endless with this versatile ‘ancient’ food.

I find it pairs so well with the wild mushrooms & herbs. I wanted to make this dish as our main course so I added some bacon which really added to the flavor.

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Pearl Couscous w/ Wild Mushrooms & Herbs
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Instructions
  1. In a medium saucepan, fry chopped bacon until crisp, about 3 minutes; remove from pan & blot on paper towel. Add mushrooms, onion & garlic; saute until softened.
  2. To the mushroom mixture add broth, (salt if using water) & bring to a boil. Add couscous; stir to combine. Cover saucepan & remove from heat; set aside until liquid has been absorbed, about 10 minutes. Add herbs & bacon crumbles. Gently stir together with a fork. Serve immediately.

Leek ‘Cannelloni’ w/ Ground Beef & Cheese in Herb Sauce

Transforming vegetables into majestic vessels for holding flavorful fillings is nothing new. Any vegetable that keeps its shape while cooking is a good candidate for stuffing.

The leek is a winter vegetable, inexpensive, sturdy and resistant. It will keep for several months, thus its association with ‘rustic’ food.

It has been said that the leek has a dual personality. Although, an unsung hero of the onion family, it has long been prized for its aromatic properties and considered an essential addition to stocks, soups and stews.

Stuffed vegetables appear as first courses, as main course accompaniments and as the main course itself.

In this recipe, the outer layers of the leeks form the ‘pasta’ here, whereas in the classic ‘cannelloni’ dish, pasta tubes are stuffed with various fillings and baked in a bechamel sauce. This recipe is an adaptation of a Turkish meal which leek tubes are filled with a beef mixture and baked in a cream sauce.

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Leek 'Cannelloni' w/ Ground Beef & Cheese in Herb Sauce
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American, European
Keyword stuffed leeks
Servings
"CANNELLONI
Course Main Dish
Cuisine American, European
Keyword stuffed leeks
Servings
"CANNELLONI
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Rating: 3
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Instructions
Leek Cannelloni
  1. Peel, wash & remove root end & unwanted green parts of leek. Cut crosswise into 10 cm - 4-inch long pieces. Simmer in salted water for about 5 minutes or until tender but NOT real soft. Remove from pan, reserving liquid; drain. Push center parts of leek out with fingers, making leek shells open on both ends. Set aside.
  2. Add rice to reserved liquid from leeks & cook until just barely done, then pour it into a strainer & cool it down to room temperature. In a saucepan, fry chopped bacon; add ground beef, onions & garlic. Cook ONLY until meat is no longer pink. Remove from saucepan & drain on paper towels.
  3. In a bowl, combine bacon, ground beef & onions, cooked rice, egg, parsley, paprika, salt, pepper & grated cheese. Spoon the mixture into the leek 'noodles'. Place the stuffed leeks standing upright in a casserole dish.
Herb Cream Sauce
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a saucepan, heat butter; add chopped leeks & herbs & saute for a few minutes. Stir in flour; cook 1 minute or until smooth & bubbly. Add milk, chicken broth. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, 5-8 minutes or until sauce thickens. Season with salt & pepper. Pour over the leek noodles, sprinkle shredded cheese on top & bake for 30-40 minutes.
  2. This meal is so nice served with mashed potatoes or bread sticks.

Sweet Corn Risotto w/ Sauteed Shrimp

Comforting, creamy risotto is one of those dishes that isn’t difficult to prepare but it can be quite time consuming. I find it works best for me when I’m doing other things in the kitchen at the same time.

Risotto is typically made with arborio rice, but pearl barley is a good substitute; it produces a similar texture but with a nuttier taste.

Over the years, I have made various kinds of risotto. Brion is the eternal rice lover. He could eat rice everyday of the week. Even though his favorite is just plain white rice, I can’t resist adding risotto to the mix now and again.

As a rule, if you are using corn in risotto, it would probably be fresh. In February, ‘fresh’ is not happening in our part of the country yet. One of the most favorite canned vegetables in North America is corn. Personally, I love corn no matter if its canned, frozen or fresh. Without trying to sound like an advertisement, I found that Green Giant Steam Crisp was real nice for this recipe. It’s supposedly picked at its peak and then quickly steamed in the can to preserve as many vitamins and nutrients as possible. I added some bacon and mushrooms to give it some extra pizzazz!

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Sweet Corn Risotto w/ Sauteed Shrimp
Instructions
  1. In a medium saucepan, bring chicken broth to a simmer.
  2. In another large saucepan, saute bacon until lightly browned but not crispy. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a plate lined with paper towels. Drain off fat & wipe out pan with paper towels.
  3. Add butter to pan & melt over medium heat. Saute mushrooms until moisture evaporates; add onion & green pepper. Saute for 5 minutes or until tender crisp then add barley (or rice) & hot chicken broth; simmer, stirring occasionally until all broth is absorbed, 15-20 minutes. If you need to make more broth, do so but be sure it is hot before adding it.
  4. When barley (or rice) is cooked & broth is absorbed, remove from heat & stir in corn, butter, Parmesan & parsley. Season with salt & pepper & transfer to a large bowl.
  5. Add remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil to skillet & heat over medium-high heat. Add garlic, shallot & red pepper flakes & cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add shrimp & cook until pink & beginning to brown, 3-4 minutes. Add 1/4 cup chicken broth & let simmer until evaporated, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat, season with salt & pepper & stir in basil. Add risotto & bacon back to skillet, stirring to combine with shrimp. Serve.

Savory Ham, Olive & Cheese French Toast

Like so many other dishes throughout history, french toast was created as a way to utilize everything and eliminate waste. Practically anyone who likes bread, milk and eggs will enjoy french toast.

Known by many names around the world, in France itself, the dish is known as ‘pain perdu‘ or ‘lost bread’. The dish is made by dipping hard or stale bread in a mixture of milk and eggs, then fried. In the process, you ‘lost’ the original bread and what you had was a sweet dish held together by the eggs and milk.

Over the years, french toast has seen many gourmet makeovers. Savory or sweet, it can be eaten for brunch, dinner or a late night snack either hot or cold. The best french toast is browned and crispy on the outside while incredibly custardy and rich on the inside. I found there are a few things you might want to avoid to achieve success …. not choosing the right type of bread …. using anything less than whole milk …. not whisking the custard enough …. not soaking the bread long enough …. cooking the french toast at too high of a heat.

The inspiration for this recipe came to me when I had made some ham & olive bread. Out of curiosity, I decided to see what it would taste like as french toast. The flavor was absolutely amazing!

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Savory Ham, Olive & Cheese French Toast
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Ingredients
Bread Dough
Filling
Egg Dip for 8 thick slices bread
Servings
Ingredients
Bread Dough
Filling
Egg Dip for 8 thick slices bread
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Instructions
Bread Dough
  1. Cook potato, peel, mash & cool. Combine yeast with lukewarm water; whisk until yeast is dissolved. Let stand about 3 minutes until foamy. Add butter, salt, sour cream & potato; mix well.
  2. Stir in flour, one cup at a time. When dough is completely blended, turn onto lightly floured surface. Knead dough about 10 minutes, until smooth & elastic. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap & allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Filling
  1. In a skillet, saute onion with bacon until slightly cooked. Drain well on paper towel. In a large bowl, combine all prepared filling ingredients.
Assembly
  1. When dough has risen, place on a lightly floured work surface. Roll into a large rectangle then scatter filling ingredients evenly over dough. Roll up like a jelly roll, starting from its longest side. Place in a bundt pan or a 9-inch round spring form pan. Make deep slashes on the top (making sure NOT to go right to the bottom). Cover with plastic & allow to rise in a draft-free place for about an hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 F. Brush with a bit of milk or beaten egg. Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until bread has a nice golden brown color. Remove from oven & allow to cool. Nice if made a day ahead of preparing french toast with it.
French Toast
  1. In a small bowl, beat together 1 cup milk & 3 eggs. Slice 8 thick slices from olive bread. Pour half of the egg/milk mixture on to a rectangle plate. Lay bread slices in it, then pour the rest over top. Heat griddle. When bread has soaked up all the egg/milk mixture place slices on griddle & fry to a golden brown. Serve just plain or with butter.

Savory Artichoke, Chicken & Mushroom Galette

Over the last few years, marinated artichokes have become one of the ‘go-to’ ingredients on my pantry shelf. Jarred marinated artichoke hearts add an instant burst of flavor and unlike fresh artichokes, they are available all year around. Might I add, they require zero preparation! Keep in mind, these are the ones in glass jars, not the canned ones that can be flavorless and soggy.

Some of the ways I have made use of them were: as a pizza topping, veggie dip, on crostini, with roasted potatoes, omelettes or in au gratin dishes.

As you have probably noticed if you follow my blog, I love savory pastries all year long. Spring through winter they showcase their ingredients so beautifully. If you’re someone who feels intimidated by pastry, galettes give you opportunity to make a free-form masterpiece. This recipe simplifies it even more by using frozen puff pastry. Yet another reason to keep a package on hand in your freezer.

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Savory Artichoke, Chicken & Mushroom Galette
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Instructions
Filling
  1. Slice breast & marinate in artichoke MARINADE (liquid only) for about 30 minutes. In a skillet, cook chopped bacon, onion, garlic & chopped mushrooms over medium heat until bacon is cooked & the mushrooms have released most of their liquids.
  2. Add the chicken & marinade & continue to cook until the liquid is evaporated. Remove from heat. In a bowl, beat together cream cheese, milk, egg & grated Parmesan cheese & fold into chicken mixture as well as the reserved artichoke pieces.
Pastry
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F. On a large piece of parchment paper, roll out thawed, puff pastry 'SHEET' into a rough 12-inch 'CIRCLE'. Sprinkle half of the mozzarella cheese over pastry, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border. Spoon cooked mixture over cheese then fold edges of pastry in about an inch, 'pleating' to keep filling in. Sprinkle remaining mozzarella cheese on top of filling.
  2. Brush pastry edge with egg wash & bake for 25 minutes or until puff pastry is golden & filling is slightly browning. Remove from oven; slice & serve.