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eggplant

Improvised pasta with Greenmarket vegetable saute

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August, the month of summer vacations and relaxation. We here at Chez 107 will have some vacation time soon, but for now I’m still in the throes of long work hours and business travel and failing to keep up with the housework. Summer has not particularly brought leisure, though it has brought humidity. And this evening it brought a crazy thunderstorm, which has tempered the heat only a little.

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With my heavy travel and work schedule I’ve been neglecting the kitchen, even as I’ve added some toys to it. We replaced our skillets, which were chewed-up nonstick — not an especially safe arrangement, but now we have Calphalon. Also nonstick; I must have misread the product description, but we can be more gingerly with them than we were with the old ones, since we didn’t buy them with grocery receipts. We bought a a SodaStream, which we adore. Last week I hauled home a new kitchen garbage can, a robust (and kind of expensive) one with a foot pedal, which so far is performing wonderfully. But cooking? I have been a bit lazy. I did a little baking in June and July, and have made a few pasta dishes. Still, we’ve had more than our fair share of delivery.

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This weekend I did better. I cooked dinner both last night and tonight. Given how hot it’s been I feel like I deserve a freakin’ medal for standing in front of the stove, even if only long enough to saute vegetables and cook pasta.

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Tonight’s dish was improvised, using vegetables I’d gotten at the Greenmarket without a very definite plan for how to use them. I sliced and salted some baby eggplant, then rinsed away the salt and blotted them dry. I threw them into a skillet (one of the new ones) with some olive oil and let them cook a bit, then gradually added garlic; green peppers; a few pinches of oregano, paprika and thyme; about two tablespoons’ worth of basil chiffonade; some chopped tomatoes; about 3/4 cup of red wine; and some baby spinach.

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I kept cooking and stirring around until the eggplant was breaking down nicely and everything seemed to be blending together well.

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In the meantime I cooked a pound of dried rotini, then drained it and tossed the pasta together with the vegetables in the pot, adding a little bit of the pasta water to help the consistency.

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I dished it up and grated on some Romano. The mixture was delicious. The flavor of the vegetables blended wonderfully, and the wine gave a nice tone without overwhelming the other ingredients.

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Best of all? Leftovers. This is going to be really good cold.

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Lidia’s Italy: What to Do With a Greenmarket Haul

smothered eggplant and summer vegetables, Anna’s spaghetti and pesto Trapanese

AddingBasil2Lidia’s Italy is another cookbook I bought through a club and hadn’t used until now. Lidia Bastianich is a cookbook author, TV personality and restaurant owner (most notably New York’s Felidia), and it is clear she knows her way around Italian cuisine. The book is organized by the regions of Italy, with a wonderful range of flavors and ingredients within each chapter and from region to SpaghettiWithPesto2region.

I chose two recipes from the chapter on Sicily. This seemed appropriate; the Sicilian climate is hot and intense, which meant the summer selection of Greenmarket produce would find good use here. I wanted something I could make ahead, because I was having friends over for a sewing party, so I wanted to spend most Eggplants2of my time out of the kitchen once they arrived. I opted for a caponata or eggplant dish, which I could offer as a snack while we worked, and a fresh tomato sauce for spaghetti, which I could add to noodles when we were ready for dinner.

The smothered eggplant dish took a bit of preparation. I began with the eggplants, three modestly EggplantChunkssized beauties from the Greenmarket, which I cut into chunks about an inch wide and two inches long. More or less. Quite a few chunks were closer to an inch and a half or an inch, but I didn’t think that would matter. I tossed the eggplant chunks with some kosher salt and put them in a colander for the excess moisture to be drawn out and drained away. Next, I cut about OrangePlumTomatoes3two pounds of plum tomatoes into wedges, scooped out the seeds, and put them in a sieve for their excess moisture to drain as well. The tomatoes were orange, a lovely but unexpected color. I also chopped up some onions, celery and green olives, drained a jar of capers, and plucked and rinsed 12 large basil leaves and set them aside.

CeleryOnionsOlivesI took a few minutes to set up the flavoring syrup: I combined half a cup of red wine vinegar, half a cup of water and two tablespoons of sugar in a saucepan and brought the mixture to a boil, then let it cook until it was reduced by about half. This was easy to do, but I quickly discovered that it’s a bad idea to be downwind of the gust of steam from a pan in which you are CaponataIngredsboiling vinegar. That is one intense smell. My sinuses sterilized, I moved to the other side of the stove and set about frying the eggplant, which I had rinsed and dried after its salting time was up.

I put about a cup of canola oil into a large pan — the cookbook says to use a skillet, but I thought my big Calphalon pot would be a FriedEggplant3better choice — and heated it to medium, then added the eggplant and fried the pieces, stirring often to ensure even cooking and coloration. I removed the fried pieces to a dish lined with paper towels and let the excess oil drain off; I then discarded the cooking oil, wiped out the pan, and added a smaller quantity of olive oil to heat. When it was warm, I added the onions and celery and a AddingOlivesCapersbit of salt, and cooked them until the onion had softened and just begun to brown, about 8 minutes. Then I added the olives and capers, and stirred the mixture until the new ingredients began to sizzle a bit. I added the tomato wedges and a little more salt, stirred everything up, and let it cook for about 5 minutes.

AddingTomatoes2At this point I added the eggplant back to the pan and mixed it in, then poured in the vinegar syrup. I let this mixture cook for a few minutes, then drizzled in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and let the mixture cook for about 10 minutes more. When the timer went off, I turned off the heat, tore up the basil leaves and added them to the pot, and pulled the whole pan aside to cool to room temperature. I also began AddingEggplant2to rethink my serving plan. I had expected the vegetables to fall apart into a softer, more indistinct mixture, based on comments in the introduction such as “use it as a sauce for pasta or as topping for bruschetta.” The chunks in the pan were certainly soft, but still far too large to make an effective topping for bread or crackers. I decided to postpone any further PestoIngreds2decision until the mixture was cool, and turned to my other dish.

Pesto Trapanese is a much faster dish to make. I rinsed and dried about three-quarters of a pound of globe tomatoes, and put them into a food processor with 12 large basil leaves (clearly a popular quantity), one clove of garlic that I’d peeled and crushed with the flat of a knife blade, 1/3 PestoPureedcup of toasted almonds, a pinch of red pepper flakes and about half a teaspoon of kosher salt. I processed the mixture until it was a smooth liquid, then drizzled in about half a cup of olive oil and kept processing until the puree was a bit thicker and even in texture. I think it may have been meant to be thicker, but my tomatoes were a little larger than the cherry tomatoes called for in SpaghettiWithPestothe recipe and probably had a bit more liquid in them. If I had been making the pesto closer to dinnertime I could have just set it aside, but since I was working ahead I put it in the refrigerator.

Not long afterward, my friends arrived and we sat down for a snack before turning on the sewing machine. The eggplant mixture was indeed too chunky to easily spread on bread or a cracker, though we tried. But it tasted phenomenal. The flavors of the individual vegetables came through, and the overall mixture had a great tangy undertone (from the vinegar syrup, no doubt) and a richness, with a thick base from the portion that had broken down a bit. I think that if I were to make this again and wanted to use it as a dip or bruschetta topping, I’d throw it in the food processor and give it three or four pulses to break it down just a bit more. But in its chunky form I’m itching to try another of the suggestions from the recipe header: “use it as a sauce for pasta.” That’ll be Wednesday night, I think.

When we were ready to have dinner I cooked a pound of dried spaghetti. I realized while the water was coming to a boil that I was supposed to have brought out the pesto earlier so it could come to room temperature. Luckily it was fairly warm in the kitchen, and the sauce wasn’t really cold by the time the spaghetti was done. I drained the noodles and put them into a large pasta bowl, then added the pesto sauce and tossed the mixture together until the spaghetti was evenly coated. I passed around a chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano and a microplane zester, and invited people to add cheese if they wanted it. Everyone raved over this one, including me. I know it’s bad form to praise your own cooking, but I didn’t feel I’d really done that much, just followed excellent and simple instructions. I’m going to have to make this one again and again. In fact, I may have to do a serious Greenmarket run and make a large batch to freeze in portions. I don’t know how well the sauce freezes; we didn’t have enough left over to find out. But I think this deserves to be in weekly rotation for as long as tomatoes are in season.

Verdict: Success. Both the work-intensive dish and the easy one were well worth doing again.

Eat More, Weigh Less: The Joy of Eggplant

pita chips with roasted eggplant dip

EggplantAtPicnic2Lately it seems to be taking an act of God to get me to cook much. I’m cooking dinner most evenings, but I’ve been doing easy lazy things. Pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, basil and chickpeas. Stir-fry. Hot dogs. Things that don’t require measuring or even really counting. I feel like I haven’t quite caught up with my domestic life yet, what with travel and Eggplantsome fairly mentally demanding projects at work.

But this past Friday was the office picnic, in Central Park no less, and I knew I had to get my act together. By the time I signed the contribution sheet the dessert and entree categories were pretty full, so I turned my attention to appetizers, and chose two: a spicy roasted eggplant dip, and a EggplantRoastedgoat cheese spread with roasted garlic (next post).

I’ve made roasted eggplant dip before, about a year ago. This one is a little bit different, with the inclusion of a minced jalapeno pepper and a slightly different blend of spices. Spices are a key element in Eat More, Weigh Less, the first of two healthy lifestyle cookbooks by Dr. Dean Ornish (I ShallotChileSpicescooked from the second, Everyday Cooking With Dr. Dean Ornish, in November). Dr. Ornish’s recipes are drastically low in fat, so strong flavor elements are featured to help counteract the popular notion that low-fat food isn’t flavorful.

This dip was definitely flavorful. I began by halving two eggplants lengthwise and putting them in a EggplantRoasted3350-degree oven to roast. While they cooked, I minced a jalapeno pepper and a shallot, juiced a lemon and a lime to get a teaspoon of juice from each, and mixed that in a bowl with some cumin, cinnamon and salt. Once the eggplants were out of the oven and cool enough to handle, I put them into a food processor with the shallot-pepper mixture and processed it all until it was EggplantInProcessorsmooth.

I did push the eggplant halves into the processor bowl without cutting them up (come on, you try neatly slicing a roasted eggplant! It kind of falls apart on you), and this meant that there were some oversized pieces of the skin that I had to pluck out for aesthetic reasons. I think if I did this again I’d scoop the EggplantDip3eggplant flesh out of the skins, even though I favor eating the skins of vegetables on principle.

I also cut up some pitas into single-layer slices and toasted them. Dr. Ornish’s recipe said to brush them with an egg white wash, which I didn’t bother to do. That might have made them stiffer and better able to scoop up dip, but I wasn’t convinced the MorePicnicSpread2extra effort would have been worth it. I cut up some additional pitas and left them uncooked, and they seemed robust enough.

The next day I hauled my dips, pitas and bread to the park, where our crew found a picnic spot that was very close to, but not exactly, the spot we had chosen ahead of time. We laid out blankets and massive quantities MorePicnicSpreadof food, and began to dish up a welcome late lunch. People seemed to enjoy the eggplant dip. There was a fair amount of it left at the end of the day, but that was because we had managed to bring enough to feed at least twice our number. And it was a little too warm out to overstuff ourselves.

Verdict: Success. Easy, tasty, and low in fat. I’ll want to make this one again.

The Moosewood Cookbook: Hearty Veggie Fare

ratatouille

RatatouillePlatedI’ve owned The Moosewood Cookbook for years, decades perhaps, and cooked from it quite a bit. It’s very charming, with hand-lettered recipes and illustrations, and it has a kind of cute hippie tone to it — lots of whole grains and bliss. But don’t let that fool you. The food in here is good, and the recipes are varied. There are a few starch-intensive recipes but for the most EggplantCubespart the dishes present great combinations of vegetables, textures and flavors. My go-to minestrone recipe is in here, and I see from marginal notes that I’ve made the rarebit before (“more horseradish, get a wire whisk, need LOTS OF BREAD,” say my notes).

I’ve never made ratatouille from either this book or any other. I’m ZucchiniGarlicPeppersnot sure why. It’s not at all difficult, and it’s an excellent vegetarian dinner. It was a good choice for a cold night. New York’s in the middle of a cold snap, though we’re weathering it much better at our place now that we’ve replaced the broken middle blind in the front windows — especially since in the process Scott discovered that all three windows were slightly open at the ZucchinitomPastePeppersTomatoestop, which explains the draft and chill that we’ve had since *ahem* 2005.

I started by doing most of my vegetable prep, then heated some olive oil in a heavy pot. I crushed in some garlic and added diced onion and a bay leaf, then let them cook until the onion was softened and translucent. Then I added a little red wine, some OnionsGarlicBayLeaftomato juice and a diced eggplant, and let them stew for about 10 minutes. I did the last of my chopping (the tomatoes and parsley) and washed the cutting board and dishes while it cooked. When the eggplant was softened a bit I added some diced zucchini and green pepper, as well as some herbs, and let them continue to stew. Now it was time to add tomato paste and diced Ratatouille2tomato and let it simmer a little while longer. When the vegetables were tender I turned off the heat and stirred in some chopped parsley.

I served the ratatouille over rice, topped with grated romano cheese and some chopped Kalamata olives. It was delicious: The vegetables were tender but not mushy, and the flavors were RatatouillePlatedOliveslively and complex. And there are leftovers, so I know what I’m taking for lunch on Monday.

Verdict: Success. This is definitely going into my repertoire. It comes together pretty quickly, so I could probably make it on a weeknight, and it would be ideal for a brown-bag lunch.

The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook: More party food

roasted eggplant spread, parmesan croutons
Roasted eggplant spread

It was probably not my smartest move to kick off the project by making nine recipes from five cookbooks in two days. But I was hosting a party and thought it would be good to try out a range of appetizers and nibbles, particularly since we don’t have enough room for a sit-down dinner for the number of people I invited.

I was looking for things I could cook ahead and serve without warming up, since our apartment gets RedPeppersvery warm in the summer and I didn’t want to add to it with a freshly heated oven. I had a feeling The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook would have good options; the Long Island shop closed before I moved to this part of the country but the book’s pictures suggest food you could bring home in cartons, turn into a pretty china dish, and offer to your weekend houseguests with wine and cheese. The eggplant spread looked like it would be as delicious at room temperature as it was when warm.

The recipe was very easy to prepare. You peel and dice an eggplant, dice red bell pepper and red onion, and mince some garlic. peeling eggplant to roastToss these with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast them at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes. When the chunks have cooled a bit, throw them into a food processor with a bit of tomato paste and pulse them until the consistency looks right: well blended but with some chunks.

I wanted to offer something interesting for dipping into the spread, and thought the parmesan croutons would fit the bill. Since they’re not cubes but individual slices of baguette, I took to calling them toasts instead of croutons, not that it really matters. Preparing these was easy too: slice a baguette diagonally into inch-thick slices, brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, top with freshly grated parmesan, and toast in a 400-degree oven for about 15 minutes. EggplantMixtureI think next time I make them I’ll slice the bread a bit thinner, which will mean a shorter cooking time; an inch-thick slice of bread is a bit hefty to bite into even if you haven’t dipped it into eggplant spread or hummus.

Both the eggplant spread and the toasts tasted great. The guests polished off about half the eggplant spread during the evening. More of the toast was left; people were pairing the dips with plain untoasted baguette and veggies as well. I wasn’t terribly surprised that the spread went over well; I’ve cooked from this book before and enjoyed everything I’ve tried. Ina Garten’s recipes focus on fresh, high-quality ingredients, with just enough preparation to build flavor and texture without overcomplicating matters.EggplantMixtRoasted

Verdict: Success. Both recipes were easy and delicious.I may hold off on making them again until the fall, though, since I try to avoid using the oven during the hottest months. But I will make them again, and want to try other unfamiliar recipes from the book as well.ParmesanToasts