Make Ahead Stuffed Eggplant

This is a different kind of eggplant “parmigiana.” You’ll notice there isn’t any mozzarella and very little Parmesan. While this recipe calls for a lot of preparation ahead of time, there’s no fussy breading or layering steps. The presentation is fun – there’s an eggplant on my plate! The flavor is large and delicious. This is not a quick dish – don’t think that – but you can easily make most of it ahead of time and hold it until you want to serve it.

I paired this with polenta which cooperatively had to bake for the exact amount of time and at the same temperature as the eggplant. Topped with an arugula salad, it made a whole meal.

Serves 4

Eggplant and filling:
5 small eggplants, about 7 oz. each
1 1/2 c. tomato sauce
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp. salt
2 tbls. chopped herbs – basil, oregano, and/or parsley

Sauce:
1 1/2 tbls. butter
4 1/2 tbls. AP flour
1 1/2 c. milk
3/4 tsp. salt
a sprinkling of fresh nutmeg

Topping:
1/8 c. freshly grated Parmesan
1/8 c. breadcrumbs
salt, pepper

  1. Wash eggplants and place whole on a baking sheet. Bake at 450F for 15 minutes. (This will soften the eggplant enough to enable you to scoop out the flesh but won’t ruin the skin.)
  2. After the eggplants have cooled a bit. Rest them on your cutting board and see where they sit naturally. (Which side wants to be the top?) Cut a lid in the top side of your eggplant. (Use the same technique you’d use for a stuffed potato. Check the photo here.)
  3. Cut the flesh from the lid and discard that piece of skin. Use a spoon to scoop the rest of the flesh out of all the eggplants. Discard one of the eggplant shells. (You need the flesh from five eggplants to make four eggplants to serve.) Place the remaining four eggplant shells back on your baking sheet to await filling.
  4. Rough chop the eggplant flesh.
  5. Drizzle a little olive oil in a skillet over medium low heat. Add eggplant. Sprinkle with 1 tsp. salt and a few dashes of pepper. Cook covered, stirring often, for about 15 minutes. Toss in garlic and stir around once or twice.
  6. Add tomato sauce and herbs. Cook for three minutes. Remove from heat.
  7. Stuff the shells with this tomato eggplant mixture.
    *Stop here, if you’re making this ahead of time. Hold the eggplants in the refrigerator until needed.
  8. Bake filled eggplants for 10 minutes at 450F.
  9. While your eggplants are baking, prepare the sauce. Melt butter in a small saucepan. Whisk in flour and cook over medium-low heat for 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in milk, salt, and nutmeg. Cook four more minutes. If you like, pass the sauce through a sieve once. Keep on low heat, if necessasry.
  10. To make the topping, mix breadcrumbs with about one tbls. of olive oil and then mix in cheese.
  11. Pull the eggplants out of the oven. Top with white sauce and sprinkle with topping.
  12. Bake for 20 more minutes.

Notes:

  • Alternatives to the tomato sauce recipe above include roasted vegetable sauce or a quick sauce using canned tomatoes.
  • Polenta is a good match for this meal. To make, add 2 cups polenta to 6 cups boiling water and 1 tsp. of salt. Simmer over very low for 25 minutes. Spread into an oiled 9X13 pan. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Flip over on cutting board. Slice. Bake for 20 minutes at 450F. If browning is desired, broil for a few minutes at the end of the cooking time.

Roasted Tomato Cream Sauce

Sometimes you just need to wallow in a bowl of pasta.

For two

1 batch fresh pasta
2 large heirloom tomatoes
1 small onion
3 cloves spunky garlic
drizzle of olive oil
2 stems oregano
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 -1/2 c. cream

  1. Roll some fresh pasta. I rolled mine to #6 and used the fat lasagnette cutter. (Sage advice given by R. as he was walking by: “If your dough is sticking to your board, you’re not using enough flour.”)
  2. Meanwhile, cut two beautiful tomatoes into large hunks. Do the same with an onion. Peel garlic.
  3. Roast the tomato and the onion with olive oil on a parchment-covered baking sheet at 450F for about 15 minutes. Toss the garlic in the center of the sheet after about 5 minutes.
  4. After roasting, blend the vegetables, oregano, and salt in a food processor until smooth. (An immersion blender would actually work better here, if one’s husband has not broken it in a homemade hot dog experiment. Ahem.)
  5. Add tomato sauce to a skillet with cream. Heat gently and briefly over low.
  6. Add pasta to salted, boiling water for 1 minute. Reserve some pasta water.
  7. Toss the pasta in the skillet with the sauce. Thin with pasta water if needed.

This recipe is dedicated to my friend (who lives in a much warmer climate) and who had the “problem” of her garden producing too many heirloom tomatoes which you see at right.

Small Batch Ketchup: Batch #2

Over the Labor Day weekend, we were invited to a party involving a grill and hamburgers.  A perfect opportunity for a second batch of homemade ketchup!  This time, I wanted to play down the spice, ramp up the sweetness, and stick more to ingredients like garlic and onion.  The result was considerably more similar to a traditional ketchup.

The Food Mill

More Traditional Ketchup

⅛ tsp ground cloves
⅛ tsp ground cinnamon
1 lb ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp fresh basil, chiffonade
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chiffonade
¼ cup white wine vinegar
5 peppercorns
pinch of dried fennel seed
¼ red onion, chopped
⅓ red pepper, chopped
1 tbsp honey
¼ tsp salt

Place ingredients in a small sauce pan and simmer for about 30 minutes over medium low heat.  After 30 minutes, run through a food mill with a medium disk and return to a simmer until the desired consistency is reached (1-2 hours).  Remove from heat and allow to cool completely, refrigerate and enjoy!

See my previous article on ketchup inspiration and for a spicier recipe.

Small Batch Ketchup

I have been musing about the idea of gourmet ketchup for too many years now.

It probably started in a college eatery in Pittsburgh, the Original Hot Dog Shop.  Students called it the “The O” and a large fry was literally the entire frier basked dumped over an ironically small paper basket.  These fries were frequently perfectly cooked and well-salted.  Needless to say, if you were going to gorge on that many fries in one sitting (and what self respecting college student could turn that many calories down?), you probably were going to eat some ketchup.  They had their own private label ketchup, but it didn’t taste like the thick, bright red, syrupy goop that I ate at home.  It was a deeper color, thinner and slightly spicier.  I wondered why people ate bad ketchup?

Fast-forward some years, and I stumbled across Skillet Street Food in Seattle, WA.  So many have already sung its praises, I won’t go into details here (okay, I have to say that chopped sage on fries should not be missed.)  On my first visit, and most since, I’ve enjoyed their homemade ketchup.  Thinner than commercial ketchup and with a real tomato flavor, it re-invigorated my desire for the perfect ketchup.  I strongly suspect there is no one correct answer – different moods and foods will require different qualities.  The possibilities seem endless.

So, last weekend, I began my quest with a scaled down, and slightly modified version of a Honey Ketchup recipe from Preserving Food without Canning or Freezing.

Small Batch Spicy KetchupSpicy Ketchup, Batch One

1 lb. ripe heirloom sauce tomatoes, chopped
½ a sweet red pepper, chopped
1 tsp fresh marjoram, minced
1 tsp fresh basil, minced
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
¼ tsp ground cloves
1 scant pinch ground cloves
¾ tsp smoked Spanish paprika
¼ tsp salt
1 ¼ tbsp honey
¼ cup white wine vinegar

Combine ingredients and simmer over medium low heat for about 30 minutes.  Run ingredients through a food mill and return to heat.  Simmer slowly for about an hour or until the consistency meets your needs. (It will set up slightly in the refrigerator.)  Remove from heat and refrigerate.  I was able to serve it about 2 hours after it came off the stove.

The result was much spicier than I had expected, had a deep brown-red color, and tasted excellent.  Best of all it smelled definitively of ketchup.  The spices were powerful – the smoked paprika and cayenne pepper were obvious, the tomato flavor taking more of a backseat.

So what’s next?  I have already procured several extremely early recipes (for “catsup”) and countless newer recipes.  My immediate goal is to create a clean variant with a strong garlic finish.

How to Make Grilled Pizza

pizzaSummer vegetables make for great pizzas. It’s time to highlight those delicious tomatoes. Grilled pizza comes close to simulating the brick oven pizza that you might find in restaurants (and is always an impressive party trick.) If you’re organized, it’s not too hard and it’s worth every bit of work. The key to the amazing flavor really is the garlic oil. Try different variations of your own – different veggies, with or without the pesto – but never skip the oil.

Dough:

Makes 4 personal pizzas.

2 1/4 cups bread flour
2 tsp. sugar
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp. yeast
1 cup water, warm
2 tbls. extra-virgin olive oil

  1. For the dough, mix dry ingredients (including yeast). With a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, add water and oil. Mix and knead until smooth. You want it to be elastic, not sticky.  Move dough to  a clean bowl, sprayed with olive oil. Cover and let rise for 1-2 hours. (This step is very forgiving.)Stack dough between heavily floured parchment.
  2. Deflate dough and divide it into 4 pieces. With cupped hands, roll each into a nice ball and let sit, covered, for 15 minutes.
  3. Cut 4 squares of parchment paper. With a rolling pin, roll each dough ball out to about 8 inches. Stack between heavily floured parchment paper. (Sticky dough is your worst enemy during this process. Err towards using extra flour.)

Toppings:

3 balls mozzarella, fresh or homemade, sliced into small pieces
3 or so delicious tomatoes, sliced thinly and patted dry between two washcloths
fresh garlic oil
pestoOrganize your toppings.
fresh basil or oregano, coarsely chopped
kosher salt

Prepare your toppings and lay them  out on a tray. You want everything to be easily on hand when you go out to grill. Be ready to brush on the oil with a pastry brush (or improvise with a paper towel folded into a tight rectangle.)

Time to grill:

When you prepare your grill, heap charcoal on one side of the grill. This creates a hot side and a cooler side. Arm yourself with tongs, a large spatula, and an empty cutting board. If you have an assistant around, they can help in case panic sets in, but don’t let them tell you any interesting stories. Pay attention! Constant vigilance!

  1. Grill only 2 pizzas at once. Peel off parchment and place dough on hot side of the grill. Cook for about 1-2 minutes. (Don’t be afraid to check the bottom.)After cooking one side, remove from grill.
  2. Remove pizzas from grill and place, cooked side up, on the empty board. Top your pizza in this order:  garlic oil, pesto
    (if you’re using), cheese, tomatoes, sprinkle of kosher salt over the whole thing.
  3. Return pizzas to cool side of grill. Cover with lid. Cook for about 2 minutes until cheese is melted. (Check often.)  Remove and keep pizzas warm in oven. (If your fire gets away from you and the bottom starts to burn before the cheese melts, there is no shame in melting your cheese under the broiler.  It happens.) Remove from heat and sprinkle with fresh herbs.
  4. Repeat with 2 remaining pizzas.

Eat Locally, Even When You Hit the Trail (or ‘How to Really Torture a Tomato’)

A gourmet meal, fit for a tired hiker -Summer is here and it’s time to go out and enjoy nature. Chances are that you’re packing up to go explore some of the wonderful scenery that our area has to offer. If you’re going backpacking, you might find yourself staring at packaged foods, lost and wandering through the grocery store, as your prepare for your trip. There I was, reading instant rice packages and browsing the bulk aisle for the least worst option. After about an hour of aimless indecision, I had a revelation. Why, especially when I’m going out to enjoy the depths of nature, should I compromise on the way that I like to eat? Why couldn’t I take my love of local food on the trail? I must admit that these questions sent me down a rather involved road, but believe me when I tell you just how good my meals tasted when I was dirty and tired on the top of the mountain.

I spent the most time thinking about the main meals. For the mornings, I add apples (that I dehydrate at home), local hazelnuts, milk powder, and brown sugar to instant oatmeal. This is more cost effective than buying individual, prepackaged portions and tastes better too. For lunch, I stocked up on Trailhead cheese, raw green beans, and a hearty loaf of dense bread. And then, it was time to consider what to have for dinner. I eyed the beautiful tomatoes sitting on my counter. Did I dare? Could I really? I decided to give it a shot. After roasting, blending, and dehydrating, I had a sauce that I could take on the trail. I hand-rolled and dehydrated some fresh pasta to go with it. When I was finished, I had a meal that was local, organic, packable, and delicious. All I needed to complete the feast was a rock to sit on.

At Home

Roasted Vegetable Sauce

Yields: 2 cups of sauce which makes 2 dehydrated rolls (One roll will liberally sauce two portions of pasta.)

1 pint small tomatoes, sliced into chunksChop the vegetables.
1 medium-sized zucchini, sliced into 2-inch chunks
1 onion, sliced into 2-inch chunks
4 cloves garlic, whole
olive oil, salt, pepper

On a baking sheet lined with parchment, mix tomatoes, zucchini, and onion. Drizzle with olive oil and season. Roast in oven at 450F for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and add garlic in the center of the sheet. Roast 15 minutes more. Blend in food processor.It's a good idea to cool sauce before dehydrating.

Spread sauce out onto plastic tray of an dehydrator. (If you don’t have a plastic tray, cut parchment paper to fit on your regular tray.) Be careful to spread it as evenly as possible. Dry at 135F for 8 hours (or until completely dry.) Cut, if necessary, into two pieces and roll.

Pasta for the Trail

Yield: 4 portions of pasta

8 ½ ounces flour (and more to use while working the dough)
3 medium eggs
1 tbls. olive oil
½ tsp. kosher salt

Mix dry ingredients. With a fork, stir in eggs and oil. Knead dough for about 5 minutes. Make a ball. Cover with plastic and let it rest for 30 minutes. Cut ball in two, leaving one piece in the plastic. Flatten, sprinkle with flour, and fold like a letter. Flatten and run through machine a series of times. Roll to setting 6 and cut with fettuccine cutter.

Separate and lay strands in a dehydrator. Dehydrate at 135F for 1 ½ hours.

Package dried pasta in a bag with a little salt, so that it’s all ready to go. Pack a little grated Parmesan on the side for extra decadence.

On the TrailGet ready to cook!

Lay out all of the components for the meal: sauce, pasta, and cheese. Bring a pot of water to boil. As it heats, remove some warm water with a cup. Reconstitute a sauce roll in a bowl with the warm water. Add a little water at a time until you reach your desired consistency. Boil pasta for about 6 minutes. Drain with lid. Serve and savor!

Other Hearty Snacks

With the philosophy that, if you’re going to carry baked goods, they should be worth their weight.

This article was also published by Sound Food. Check out their website for lots of great recipes and ideas.

Quickest Tomato Sauce Ever

Tomato season means its time for lots of pasta. Here’s a flexible and fast sauce.

Slice a large tomato or spread about two handfuls of cherry tomatoes on a cookie sheet. Toss in a few garlic cloves. Sprinkle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast at 450F for about 20 minutes. Add a few fresh herbs like oregano or basil to your tomatoes. Blend in your little food processor or leave chunky. Toss with pasta. That’s it. Really. It doesn’t get any better…