Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike. -John Muir

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Eggplant Parm

this is one of those meals that i wont make unless i have all day because to do it right, it just takes time. 
it is so worth it though!

the first step is prepare the eggplant. 

: )

peel it, slice it about 1/4 inch thick, and layer it in a baking pan in this order. paper towel, eggplant, salt(kosher), paper towel, eggplant, salt, paper towel, eggplant, salt...etc. stack it all in one pan if you can because we are going to put weight on it to help extract moisture (the salt is removing moisture into the paper towels as well). removing the moisture from the eggplant will make it extra crispy and light. some say, along with the removal of the skin, that is reduces the bitterness. 

weight it and let it sit for a while... 2-3 hours. now is a great time to clean the kitchen and make the sauce.... and clean again.

or the sauce can be made a day in advance.

for the sauce you will need:

olive oil
1 yellow onion
3-4 cloves of garlic (minced)
2 cans san marzano tomatoes (i know its hard to buy 5 dollar cans of whole tomatoes but it makes all the difference in the world trust me) splurge on this one.
fresh basil 

heat up a pot to medium, drizzle some olive oil and start to sweat off the onions. really make sure that they soften fully because we dont want a hard onion in this dish. just before the onion is translucent add the minced garlic. adding the garlic late keeps it from browning/burning and becoming bitter.


while the onions are softening we need to turn these whole tomatoes into a crushed tomato. a blender or cuisineart is best. dont have a blender? you can also just grab them in your hands and go crazy on them. really mash them up good, no big chunks because we want a tight/level layering of the eggplant. a tomato chunk could throw it off. 

the onions are soft and translucent, time to throw in the crushed tomato. 

season (kosher)

bring this to a boil.

after it has come to a boil take it off the heat. let it cool while you get your basil

grab a  bunch of basil, maybe 10 good sized leaves or so. 
stack them on top of one another, roll up into a "cigar" and slice it very thinly. this is called a "chiffonade". add the basil. doing this at this stage keeps the basil from turning black. let it cool uncovered, sometimes a tomato sauce left to cool covered ends up developing a metalic taste. 

lets go back to the eggplant.

its time to fry these puppies up.

we need 2 plates and a shallow bowl. 
the first plate has flour (season the flour with pepper only the eggplant is already salted)
the bowl is for the egg wash (really beat those eggs up to fully encorporate the whites) 5 eggs should handle 2 eggplant.
the second plate is for a italian style bread crumbs. 

get a pan heated up to medium high, i fry these in olive oil, so do italians. 
here we go.
eggplant into the flour, shake off all the excess, fully coat with egg let the excess drip, and then into the bread crumbs. make sure it is coated really well and head for the pan. 

if the oil isnt hot enough the eggplant will soak up the oil and become soggy, if its too hot you risk burning the eggplant. finding and maintaing the right temp is difficult. if it starts smoking turn it down. if anything starts to burn discard the oil. clean the pan and use fresh oil. at the right temp i had to clean my pan after 2 batches. make sure they are fully browned before turning.

cool them on a rack, and cool them to room temp before assembly.

now that the eggplant is cooled to room temp and our sauce is cooled fully its time to assemble.

we need a smaller size baking dish,  8x12 or run 2 smaller ones. its important to have smaller dishes and be stacked high instead of a big casserole with only 2 layers.

some things to think about during assembly. i know that a lot is personal preference, but this is what i think about.
-getting the right amount of sauce on each layer (too much and everything falls apart, too little and its dry)
-not over cheesing 

ok here we go.

1: put a little sauce in the bottom of the pan (this keeps it from burning/sticking)
2: lay a full and level eggplant layer. every crack is covered by eggplant.
3: sprinkle with real grated parmigiano cheese
4: sprinkle with a little mozzarella (go easy, we arent making enchiladas... p.s. we will make enchiladas soon)
5: sauce: just enough to keep things moist, we dont want to over sauce here. smooth it out with a spatula 
6: drizzle a little olive oil 
7: another eggplant layer and repeat

continue layering until you get to the top. 

when you get to the top, sauce it, be a little more liberal with the cheeses and olive oil : )

cover with tin foil and bake at 375 for about 30 minutes in the middle of the oven. when the cheese is melted and its bubbling take off the foil.

time to get the top crispy.

set the oven to a high broil and keep an eye on it. turn it a few times to get even brownage.

this needs to cool before you dive into it. not only is it crazy hot, but its lacking strength and will slide all over the place. after about 15-20 minutes of cooling it should be ready to slice. or you can do what i like to do and put it in the fridge and wait for breakfast. 


Rutabaga and Cardamom Soup

This soup has a lot going on and i will tell you right now you will either like it or not like it.
It has the slight spice (like radish?) but it is balanced with the sweetness of fresh honey. the thyme gives it the herbal equalities and the cardamom is just wonderful.

you will need:

2 rutabagas
1 yellow onion
2-3 celery stalks
some sprigs of thyme
a little butter : )
cardamom seeds
chicken or veg stock
olive oil

some other things that are important are a strong blender, handblender, or cuisinart. also a sieve or strainer.

start by sweating down the onion, and celery. right now is a good time to throw in the thyme... oh my.
season. cook slowly, we dont want to color the onions because that will give us a dark soup (with little crunchy yet soggy onions... no good)

and when they sweat out, add the cardamom, and a little nob of butter.

here is where we are at...

now we can add our medium chopped rutabagas. season and drizzle with about 2 Tbls of honey. cover.

let it cook slowly. again we dont want to color.  at this time start to boil some chicken stock or veg stock in a different sauce pan.

when the rutabagas start to break down add the boiling stock. just cover the rutabagas. keeping in mind that we want a thicker soup in the end.

bring this back to a boil. when it boils now is the time for cream. 2 cups? eye ball it out. too much cream and it will be too milky.

we are looking for something like this....

now we are ready to blend... at this point i got into the blending zone and forgot to take pictures. but blend it right up and then pass it through a sieve or strainer.

bowl it up, grate some fresh nutmeg right on top and drizzle with some olive oil to finish... : )

Warm Chick-Pea and Feta Salad

Ok, first and foremost I need to apologize to my blog mate for taking way too long to start posting!
I think she has created 3 delicious things so I took the day off and cooked.... all day.
First up is this simple salad. Its probably more of a spring/summer dish, but its delicious and I had a random Feta cheese craving.

You will need:

olive oil
1/2 red onion
1/2 of a chile
1-2 cloves of garlic
1 can chick peas
the zest of one lemon
the juice of 1/2 lemon
good feta
serve it with some toasted pita.

this dish is very vibrant with the sharp citrus and that feta tang.

bring a pan up to medium high heat , drizzle some olive oil, and toss in your red onion and chile. the red onion is going to be sweeter then a yellow onion and will also bring a bright color to the salad. its important to cook these until soft and translucent so they arent tough in your mouth. make sure the garlic is minced fine, add that, and season. keep in mind we are adding feta in a few minutes so go light on the salt.

wow that picture is absolutely terrible i will work on that.

after the onion, chile, and garlic have sauteed go ahead and add the chick peas, lemon zest and lemon juice. all you need to do here is warm the chickpeas through. you can crush the chickpeas a little and that will make them hold better on the pita or cracker.

crumble the feta right on top and as toss it in nicely, rough chop a good amount of parsley and add that as well. the parsley is going to give the salad a bight, fresh flavor so its added at the end so as to not cook it down into mush.

omg another bad photo....

ok, so the last thing to do is to taste it and check for seasoning, and then give it a drizzle of good olive oil. taste some without the olive oil, and you will see why its important. it brings everything together and softens the sharpness of the lemon/feta.

serve hot or cold with some toasted pita, or heck, pile it in a bowl and go wild.