I forgot I had these nice eggplants I got from the farmers’ market until I saw them in my crisper drawer a week later. So, I needed to use them right away. For a quick weekday dinner, straight from Mario Batali’s “Molto Italiano“, I made this addictive dish (I had tomato sauce on hand from another dinner).
Thinly slice eggplant.
Spread slices with a mixture of ricotta, Parmesan, egg and scallions and roll them.
Layer in a baking dish with tomato sauce and bake.
This eggplant terrine is the very first recipe in Marc Vetri’s book “il Viaggio di Vetri” and it looked so intriguing from the moment I read it. I’ve never really made proper vegetable terrines before, plenty of meat terrines of course, but not a vegetarian layered and molded terrine that holds together beautifully. Vegetarian versions are lots of times held together with an aspic (gelatin) and if done right they could be fantastic. In contrast Vetri’s eggplant slices are held together with a minimal amount of custard base (egg+milk+parmesan+thyme). I half expected the whole thing to fall apart as soon as I unmolded it honestly and that would’ve been a shame because of all the work that went into it.
First the eggplants are peeled and the peel blanched to be used for laying in the terrine mold in lieu of bacon or back fat in a meat terrine. I sliced the eggplant very thin and salted the slices. After draining for an hour or so they get washed, dried and pressed between paper towels. The eggplant then gets fried and layered in a terrine (I used a small loaf pan since I was only making half the recipe). Between each layer I drizzled a tablespoon or so of the uncooked custard. The pan gets cooked in a bain marie for about an hour. After it is cooked, I weighed the eggplant down in the pan to compress the terrine as it cooled in the fridge overnight.
When ready to serve I unmolded the terrine and sliced it with a very sharp knife. An electric knife is probably very handy here. The funny thing is I actually have one but never seem to use it. Like I said before the eggplant terrine held together perfectly due to the egg mixture of course but also I’m guessing due to the eggplant’s natural “goo”. Is that pectin? Maybe.
Vetri served his version with a few tomatoes, arugula leaves and shavings of parmesan. I made Panelle instead. Panelle are a popular Sicilian street snack made from chickpea flour and fried in olive oil. I figured their earthy flavor and rustic texture will work very well with the eggplant. Afterall, chickpeas and eggplant are a wonderful match. The other flavor component are those little cherry tomatoes from the farmer’s market called chocolate cherry tomatoes. They were quickly blanched, peeled and marinated in olive oil, salt and basil. I love how they look like peeled grapes or poached cherries…The green sauce is made from blanched arugula, basil and parsley. It is thickened with Ultratex-3 and enriched with a little olive oil and lemon juice.
I garnished the dish with basil flowers and basil leaves and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. The terrine was delicious with a full eggplant flavor and a very meaty texture. The chickpea fritters and tomatoes complemented everything perfectly. Instead of half a recipe I will be making the full one next time and will bake it in a proper terrine pan to get a perfect rectangle as well as more terrine for the next few days. The next day we used the leftovers to make the best eggplant sandwiches with some of the green sauce, arugula, ripe tomatoes on home-baked crusty sourdough bread.
Thursday, August 13, 2008
Potato gnocchi can be lumpy, doughy, stodgy and heavy or they can be as they should be, soft fluffy pillows of goodness. I’ve made both types and learned from my mistakes. They key is to use cooked potatoes that are as dry as possible, to use as little flour as possible (dry potatoes help with this), and to work the dough lightly and only as long as it takes for it to come together. You do not want to develop any gluten in there, which will make it chewy and the overworked potato turn it gummy.
I made these gnocchi using no specific recipe, just touch and feel. I boiled the potatoes and milled them. Then I spread them on a plate and allowed them to dry in a low oven for 30 minutes. To make the dough, I mixed the potatoes, about 1.5 cups, with one egg, salt, enough flour to bind it (maybe a small handful) and chopped basil. I formed the dough to ropes, cut the gnocchi and rolled them on the tines of a fork to give them the proper shape. Into boiling water they went and then into an ice cold water bath to halt the cooking. I tossed them with some olive oil in a bowl and put them in the fridge until the next day.
For the sauce I made eggplant in the style of a Sicilian Caponata. The eggplant is sautéed with onions, garlic, tomatoes and some raisins. When the sauce was ready I tossed in the pre-cooked gnocchi and served with extra Parmigiano cheese and pepper flakes. The basil in the gnocchi was a very good addition and went perfectly with the eggplant sauce. The texture was perfect as well, soft and light.
Friday, August 1, 2008
This is one of those dishes that sounded much better that it turned out. It was not bad, per se, just ok. I envisioned a light but very flavorful dish of stuffed eggplant. I’ve had similar versions that included ground beef or sausage and it was delicious. This was a bit too light on flavor. It felt like it was missing something. Maybe some cooked rice or other grain might’ve helped things.
To make it, I halved the eggplants and spooned the flesh out. I sautéed the chopped eggplant flesh along with onions, bell peppers and garlic. To finish the filling I crumbled in some farmer’s cheese, mixed in an egg and some chopped basil. The eggplant “shells” were broiled to par-cook and dry a bit. I scooped the filling into them and topped with some Parmigiano cheese and bread crumbs.
After baking at 400F for about 30 minutes I served them as is. The filling tasted pretty good but was not as satisfying as I had hoped. Unfortunately, the eggplant shells were not edible. They were leathery and not very pleasant. So, we only at the filling. You live you learn.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
I’ve never had an eggplant dish that I did not at least like and I doubt I will. IF I do, it will probably be due to pure execution or pure conception. I am sure it will in no way shape or form be the fault of this divine purple fruit. Eggplant in my book can do no wrong. So, how did this dish taste. This was nothing short of heavenly, I had it for lunch for two days after Tuesday’s dinner and I could’ve eaten more!
The recipe, Asiah’s Eggplant Curry, is from James Oseland’s wonderful book on the cuisine of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia “The Cradle of Flavor“. If you are a fan of southeast Asian cuisine, then this book is a must. The prose is well composed and the chapters make for a great read about the area, it’s people, ingredients and of course recipes. Everything I have tried has been excellent including the best satays ever (which are NOT Thai BTW). For more information, back on egullet.org the members went through the whole book and cooked every single recipe. I contributed one or two myself. You can find that thread by clicking here.
The trickiest step in the recipe is frying the eggplant, other than that it is a quick weeknight dinner. I suppose you can bake them, but I bet they won’t be as luscious. So, the eggplant is rubbed with turmeric and fried. Then it is cooked in a mixture of coconut milk (I don’t think I’ve had a coconut milk based dish that I’ve hated either), shallots, garlic, cinnamon, anise, coriander seeds and tamarind pulp. The taste clearly reflects an Indian influence with the assertive use of spice.
To serve with it, I made another one of the recipes in the book. A simple carrot, shallot and cucumber pickle (Javanese Cucumber and Carrot Pickle). The vegetables are sliced finely on the mandolin and quick pickled using salt, boiling water and vinegar. It’s a refreshing cross between a pickle and a salad. Of course there was also a dollop of sambal and steamed rice. I normally would’ve made jasmine rice, but I had a lot of regular rice already made from last night and did not want to waste it.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
A year or so ago Ratatouille was just another obscure French dish and very few would recognize what it is and what it is made of. Now, thanks to the lovely Pixar film of the same name, even my 5-year old knows that it’s a vegetables stew. The word stew immediately brings to mind winter months and tough cuts of meat braised for hours in the oven in wine and aromatics. Stews are comfort foods, rib sticking and ‘hearty’. Well, at least for me, that’s what the word stew implies.
Not Ratatouille though! It is cooked for a long time and it does contain white wine and aromatics, but it is first of all completely vegetarian. It is also summery, using those emblematic summer vegetables (zucchini, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes). Last but not least, it is light and the only fat in there is olive oil. While it tastes fantastic the minute is ready, Ratatouille, like any stew worth its cooking wine is much better the next day. So, I made this the night before and gently reheated it for dinner on Thursday.
The recipe I used is another winning one from Paula wolfert’st “Mediterranean Grains and Greens” with some alteration to reduce the amount of olive oil (not cheap) and to save me some time and effort since I was cooking on a Wednesday night. My main deviation from her recipe is the prep that goes into the zucchini and eggplant. I skipped the step where they are salted and allowed to rest and I also did not deep-fry them in olive oil. Instead I tossed them with some olive oil and roasted at 450F in the oven until nice and browned, but not mushy. These are then cooked long and slow with herbs, lots of tomatoes, bell peppers and onions and a cup or so of white wine.
To serve it I made brown rice. The best way to make brown rice is to cook it in the oven. Alton Brown has a good recipe for that. It yields a soft and fluffy rice instead of a hard or gluey mess that you sometimes get when cooking brown rice. This can easily be eaten as is or with some crusty country bread.