When you Start Thinking About Lunch at 10am . . .

For once I was grateful that my son dislikes (well, hates!) eggplant. I got all the leftovers to myself today at lunch-time (yes it may have been an early-ish lunch).

 

I made my first Eggplant Parmesan of the summer last night. I didn’t start cooking until 6:05pm and we had dinner at 7pm and the last half hour of that the dish was in the oven. So it can be done on a weeknight!

If you like eggplant but no one else in your family days, still make it. Leftovers are so good! And you may even convert a few doubters. . .

 

Weeknight Eggplant Parmesan

 

First of all I don’t salt and drain eggplant. I used to but don’t think it made a big difference especially with nice fresh eggplant. In this preparation it also doesn’t seem to need lots of oil and cooks up perfectly in just a tablespoon of oil. The dish is so flavorful and not at all heavy like some versions I’ve eaten (and enjoyed!) over the years.

 

Serves 4-6

 

2 large globe eggplants, sliced into ¼ – 1/3 –inch slices lengthwise or into rounds

Olive oil

Salt

3 generous cups tomato sauce (recipe below, or your favorite version) heated up

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons chopped basil

2 cups (or more) grated Parmesan or aged Asiago (less expensive & still delicious alternative)

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

 

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in the largest skillet you have over medium-high heat. Add eggplant slices in a single layer and sprinkle with salt. Cook for a few minutes and when the underside is nicely browning in places, flip and cook for a few more minutes until the slices are tender (but not falling apart) and browned. Remove from pan, add another tablespoon oil and repeat with remaining slices.

 

Heat up the tomato sauce with the minced garlic and basil, or just stir in cold if you’re in a hurry and you made the sauce earlier. Spread just a little tomato sauce on the bottom of an 8 x 13” baking dish (or something similar), cover with a layer of eggplant and spread a thin layer of sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle with Parmesan. Repeat until you’ve used up all your ingredients, ending with either eggplant and cheese or sauce and cheese.

 

Bake for 25 minutes or so until everything is bubbling and the cheese is browning on top. You can run it under the broiler for a few minutes if you want more color. Serve hot or warm.

 

Simplest Tomato Sauce

 

Tomatoes, olive oil, salt. That’s it. When the tomatoes are good it’s honestly all you need. And I make sauce with slicer and heirloom tomatoes, not just sauce types, all the time. It takes a little longer to cook down because they’re so juicy but with a little patience and high heat it’s pretty quick too.

 

Olive oil

2 lb +/- fresh tomatoes, diced (I don’t usually bother pealing and seeding them)

Salt

A little butter, to finish (optional)

 

Coat the bottom of a wide skillet with olive oil. Heat over high heat until shimmering. Add tomatoes and a few pinches salt. Stir well, turn down to medium high and simmer, stirring often, until sauce thickens to your liking. Taste, adjust seasoning with salt and a tablespoon or two of butter, especially if the sauce is quite acidic.  Butter is THE perfecter of tomato sauce. Serve over spaghetti with Parmesan and fresh basil.

Hanging on to Summer Veggies

The farmers markets here in the Portland area are probably at their most abundant right now. Tomatoes, peppers, corn, and eggplants are still bountiful and colorful. But trying to crowd them out are the piles of winter squash, apples, pears, brussels sprouts and the rest of the fall contingent. The weather is leaning towards fall but I’m a die-hard summer veggie eater as long as I possibly can be. I know those hefty squash that have absorbed a season’s worth of warmth and turned it into an edible hunk of sunshine will be there for me in a few weeks and will stick around until early spring, not much worse for wear.

Eggplants and a sweet, red pepper needed for the Hot, Sweet, Sour Eggplant dish below.

But the summer veggies are more fleeting so I’m cooking with eggplant and peppers almost every day and madly preserving tomatoes along the way.  I tend to make Italian dishes with these but lately I’ve been having fun with a Chinese-inspired dish–Sweet, Hot, Sour Eggplant–named so by me and undoubtedly inauthentic. It’s quick, full flavored and richer tasting than it is. The Thai basil that’s still thriving in a pot in my backyard makes it extra good but more common Genovese basil, cilantro or even parsley would all be good.

I neglected to take a picture on the evening I made this so this photo is of the leftovers I heated up together with the rice for lunch the next day.

Sweet, Sour and Hot Eggplant

My favorite way to serve this quick Chinese-inspired dish is over short grain brown rice but any rice is excellent. It’s a rich-tasting dish though actually fairly light in preparation.

2 medium eggplant (or several smaller ones—any kind of eggplant will work in this dish—the long slender Japanese ones, more common Italian, globe ones, . . .), skin on, cubed

1 medium onion, diced

1 sweet red pepper, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or fresh, minced Serrano, jalapeno or other hot pepper

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoons salt (or to taste)

2-3 tablespoons olive or sunflower or other oil

3-4 tablespoons Thai basil, basil, cilantro or parsley, roughly chopped

Stir together soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and cornstarch in a small bowel.

In a large skillet or wok heat the oil and sauté onions and pepper (if using) over medium-high heat for about 5-7 minutes until they soften. Add red pepper flakes (or minced hot pepper) and eggplant and cook until it softens and browns a bit, about 15 minutes, stirring frequently. A few minutes before the eggplant is done add the minced garlic and stir well. Then add the sauce and stir well to mix and coat veggies. Cook over medium heat for a few minutes until sauce thickens and veggies are tender. Stir in the herbs, saving out a few for garnish if you’d like. Serve hot over rice with reserved herbs.

Happy Cooking and Eating!

Ratatouille

This is not the correct ratio of ingredients for ratatouille but I was in such a rush to make the dish that I did not take any photos beforehand and this is all I had on hand this morning.

I had no particular intention of writing about ratatouille but I returned from the farmers market last Saturday around 12:30 (sleepy child on the bike) with a single-minded focus on ratatouille. I postponed the nap routine long enough to get the peppers and onions sauteing in one pan and the eggplant in another. I chopped the zucchini and left my husband with instructions to finish the eggplant and start the squash while I did the nap routine. Ellis went to sleep easily and I had that ratatouille done in another 20 minutes or so!

My husband and I sat down with a glass of red wine and our ratatouille at 1:15 on the sunny porch. I probably hadn’t eaten this dish since last October and was just overcome by the perfection of it, as I am every year.  For about two months every summer/fall all the ingredients for this classic french vegetable dish are available and even abundant. And the combination of flavors and textures is just unbeatable.

I won’t even attempt any claim of authentic preparation since I think it’s one of those dishes that has as many versions as cooks making it, but I am a believer in my technique and will encourage you to give it a try. It may seem like a lot of steps but it really comes together quickly and just entails a bit of chopping, none of which has to be terribly precise for this dish. And it’s even better the next day and is always best at room temperature. I, however, did not take the time to wait for that on Saturday . . . .

The next morning, having no bread in the house, I decided to make Ratatouille Breakfast Burritos. I scrambled a few eggs, chopped a bunch of parsley and grated a bit of cheese (feta would have been good too I think) and rolled the whole thing up in a whole-wheat tortilla. They were unbelievably good!

Ratatouille

Quantities listed here are just guidelines so use what you have but you want to have more or less equal amounts of zucchini, eggplant, onion, and pepper, a bit less tomato and just a sprinkling of herbs and garlic at the end.

3 sweet red peppers (or 6-7 skinny Jimmy Nardello peppers–pictured above, now available in the Portland area farmers markets), cut into about 1 inch chunks

1 small-medium white or yellow onion or Walla Walla Sweet, cut into 1/2 dice

1 medium-large (or several small) eggplants, cut into  1/2 inch dice

2 medium zucchini or other summer squash such as patty pan or yellow crookneck, cut into slices or 1/2 inch dice

2 medium tomatoes, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

10 or so leaves of basil or  tablespoon of fresh oregano (or a combination), finely chopped

salt

olive oil

Heat 1 tablespoon or so of olive oil (don’t skimp on the oil in this dish!) each in two large saute pans over high heat. Add the onions and peppers to one of the pans. Sprinkle generously with salt. Add the eggplant to the other and do the same. Stir well to coat veggies with a little oil. Continue cooking over fairly high heat, stirring occasionally. You want to soften the vegetables and browning them a little is fine. Turn down to med-high and continue cooking until they’re soft. Turn off the peppers and onions but leave in the pan. Remove eggplant and set aside on a plate, add another tablespoon of olive oil to that pan and add zucchini, salt well and cook, stirring frequently until they’re soft. Add eggplant, zucchini and diced tomato to the onions and peppers. Over high heat bring it to a boil–the tomatoes will give off a bit of liquid–reduce to medium-high and cook for about 5-7 minutes until much of the liquid from the tomatoes has been cooked off. Add the garlic and herbs, cook for about 2 more minutes. Turn off heat, adjust for salt, drizzle generously with good extra virgin olive oil and voila!

Best warm or at room temperature but I don’t blame you if can’t resist digging right in. Wonderful with good, crusty bread, over pasta, with eggs, a green salad, etc.

P.S. I’ve just planned and posted my October and November class schedule including some soup classes, an everyday baking class, a fall preserving one focused on tomato and onion jams, etc.