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Carb Solutions: Pixies & Prosciutto Bruschetta

Image of Pixies & Prosciutto Bruschetta
Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as being overweight or obese. Another 29 million of us have Diabetes, many as a direct result of being overweight. Then there are the 23.9 million overweight children who are dutifully following the example of their XXL adult role models. Diabetes and these extra pounds cost this country billions annually in both medical and economic resources; not to mention the effect these weight-related maladies have on a person’s overall mental well-being and happiness. However, both diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some consistent exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our own weight. One easy way to start taking that control is to make decisions about the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [GI] and glycemic load [GL].

Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the blood stream. The Glycemic Index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based how speedy the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate theses calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for diabetics who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from eating foods that have low glycemic scores since they also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts have been proven to actually increase appetite and impede effective fat oxidation.

  • The glycemic index of a food compares its effect on blood sugar level to that of pure glucose, which has a score of 100. White breads, which are made of processed white flour, are at the top of this scale, scoring a “perfect” 100 on the glycemic index. For perspective, a score of 55 or below denotes a low-glycemic-index food; 70 or above is considered very high. Serving size is not a consideration in arriving at a food’s Glycemic Index number.
  • The glycemic load, on the other hand, focuses on how much digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, which is defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
Since living low carb, I have ignored all bruschetta recipes, no matter the delicious topping possibilities, due to the foundational ingredient of this classic appetizer that I had to give up long ago, the French baguette. However, while cruising the ‘net for a snack to nibble on during the annual NCAA College basketball tourney this month (aka March Madness), I bumped into what promised to be a low carb “baguette” made with almond flour that I just had to try. Even better, the recipe’s mandarin-based topping coincided with this month’s Pixie Tangerine harvest!

However, in the process of making this alternative bread, I was reminded that (a) Do not assume every recipe in cyberspace will work and (b) Trying to replicate a favorite food that was the source of having to adopt a low carb diet in the first place is a slippery slope! In other words, never return to the scene of your dietary “crime.” The tale of this baguette journey will be recounted further in this blog; let’s start with a better outcome— the delicious topping featuring the unique flavor of the Pixie Tangerine!

It’s a very over-used description, but the Pixie Tangerine from the Ojai Valley of California is a flavor bomb, as in atomic! While there are other regions in the state where Pixies are grown commercially, location is everything and the Ojai Valley produces fruit far superior in flavor than any other. The climate, soil and grower experience with this delicate crop produce a piece of fruit that is truly special. I have watched seasoned produce professionals at a fresh produce trade show be stopped in their proverbial tracks sampling what they expected to be just another tangerine! Flavor is a very difficult thing to describe, but the Pixie is the essence of pure tangerine-ness times ten is the best I can do. The palate recognizes tangerine right off, but that initial familiar flavor immediately explodes into something more intense. This mandarin variety is available from March through May at most retailers but watch for the label Ojai Pixies. Skeptical? A simple taste comparison will prove it! For this bruschetta topping, the uniquely sweet and juicy Pixie goodness combines with a shallot-rosemary mix that contrasts beautifully with creamy mozzarella and salty prosciutto ham. It’s a deliciously perfect small bite— let the games begin!

The description of the low-carb baguette recipe that caught my eye was advertised as “perfect to toast, serve with a dipping oil or use for bruschetta. Gluten, grain and sugar free.” Just what the doctor ordered! The bread recipe used almond flour in combination with baking powder, promising a moderate rise with a similar texture of French bread including the classic holes (called crumb) in the loaf’s texture. I tried this recipe, to the letter, twice and realized why the recipe had no prep pictures – it did not work! A little research taught me that the “holes” in French bread come from the gasses released by yeast that feeds on the starches and sugars in the white flour dough that form cavities during the baking process. Almond flour is almost completely void of sugar and starch, so even if there had been yeast, there was nothing to react with it to cause the dough to rise or form crumb! Twice I ended up with a long, thin flatbread-like loaf that certainly could not be cut in fluffy slices crosswise as a platform for a bruschetta topping. Nothing like what I had been promised or had envisioned. My bad for such false expectations.

On the other hand, sometimes cooking (and especially baking for this mostly savory-leaning writer) demands a quick fix in the middle of a recipe. So, with two failed attempts, the challenge was to figure out how to come up with some sort of bruschetta-like bread surface out of most of the same ingredients to present the delicious topping. Solution: add a few eggs and double up on the almond flour measure. This time I got a loaf with just enough volume without rise that I could at least slice in half lengthwise, then cut those two halves into three-inch wide sections. It worked, though it does not look or taste like white flour French bread. Still, the taste and texture have its own denser characteristics that still paired well with the Pixie topping. Just another reminder that those French bread days are, in fact, over. On the other hand, I still ended up with a nice two-bite appetizer! Unfortunately, there are no such do-overs allowed with my bracket choices, so I can only hope that those expectations turn out better or at least as good as the nibbles enjoyed during the games this month!

Pixies & Prosciutto Bruschetta
Yield about 20
Image of Ingredients for Pixies & Prosciutto Bruschetta

For the topping:
4 tablespoons olive oil
6 shallots, thinly sliced
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves only, chopped 
½ cup Agave
3 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon black pepper
4 Pixie Tangerines, peeled, cleaned and chopped
2 tablespoons garlic powder
½ lb. fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
Sliced prosciutto, trimmed to fit each bruschetta

For the Low Carb baguette:
3 cups almond flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
5 eggs
¼ cup butter, melted
2 or 3 Baguette molds, depending on size

Image of topping for bruschetta
For the topping: Sauté the shallots in 1 tablespoon olive oil until they are fragrant, 3-5 minutes, add the rosemary, pepper, agave, lemon juice and chopped mandarin. Simmer until it’s reduced by about a quarter. Set aside to cool.
Image of low carb baguette
For the bread: In a mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients, then add in the wet ingredients and stir until a thick batter forms. Spread the batter into each greased mold, using wet hands to smooth the top of the batter. Bake at 375°F for 10-15 minutes. Watch carefully so as not to burn. Let cool.
Image of bruschetta assembly
Slice the loaves in half lengthwise, then cut each half into 3-inch sections. Brush with remaining 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and sprinkle each with garlic powder. Place the slices on a baking sheet, and toast in the oven for about 1 minute under the broiler. Top with the mozzarella slices, and return under the broiler for another minute. Remove from oven, add a piece of prosciutto to each.
Image of baked bruschetta
Then top with a generous spoonful of the Pixie mixture. Serve on a large platter.
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