How To Eat Your Vegetables

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Since I read Tamar Adler‘s book a month or so back (yes, I’m late to the party as usual), Sundays will find me, at a minimum, roasting a couple of big platters of vegetables to tuck away for the week ahead.

weekly ritual

This sort of cooking ahead is more important than ever now that Julian’s diet has shifted mostly to solids, and we want to provide him with an abundance of tasty, seasonal vegetables in a format that’s easy for him to eat – and that’s easy for both his work-at-home Daddy and office-working Mommy to prepare and eat as well.

It’s also nice to have something easy to throw together for dinner after, say, a long weekend away, when you return home to a near-empty fridge and the thought of another meal out makes you want to stab yourself with a fork.

marinated roast vegetables

Enter our trusty jar of slow-roasted vegetables, a mix of yellow and green zucchini, young eggplant, and candy-sweet golden tomatoes, caramelized and bathed in a soft marinade of cider and champagne vinegars and plenty of fruity olive oil. I’ve tossed these with pasta, layered them in a warmed pita with our favorite local hummus, served them on a bed of wheatberries, or with salty French feta alongside, and on this night, I scattered them over a base of prepared whole wheat dough spread with creme fraiche and dotted with soft goat cheese – a rustic tart, of sorts.

Dinner: August 27, 2012

Julian ate his straight, once it had cooled enough to touch, and devoured room-temperature leftovers the next day, eating crust and cheese first, then gathering up any vegetables that had dropped off and popping them into his mouth one by one. I topped the grown-ups’ portions with big handfuls of raw arugula, a drizzle of red wine vinegar, and lots of cracked black pepper.

the grown-ups' part

A meal that took a minimum of time and effort to put together, packed with vegetables and loaded with flavor, that all three of us loved? You can’t get much better than that.

The Mission

eggplants

It all started with these.

I’m not a huge fan of eggplant, and Mike’s even less so, but when I saw the big bags of tiny, shiny-skinned eggplant at the Arcadian Fields table at last Saturday’s farmers’ market, I couldn’t resist. With cold, rainy weather predicted for this week, I knew I wanted to do something similar to eggplant parmesan, though I didn’t want to fry the eggplant, and I also wanted to incorporate a bit more vegetable matter into the dish. Mostly, I wanted to come up with an eggplant dish we’d really love.

eggplant casserole

I ended up borrowing a technique from Nancy Jo’s winning Eggplant Parmesan recipe from food52, salting my eggplant slices, drying them, then tossing them with flour and oven-frying them on sheet pans. When my eggplant coins were crisp and browned, I layered them in a baking dish with a mixture of slow-roasted plum tomatoes, frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained, and the same blend of cheeses Mike’s been playing with for his pizzas.

Dinner: September 27, 2010

What we ended up with was a very unpretty, but surprisingly tasty eggplant casserole, so good, in fact, that my eggplant-averse husband went back for seconds. As did I.

I’m on a mission now: Mike and I are both generally good about eating our favorite seasonal vegetables, but as we enter into the cooler months of the year, I want to work with as many of our lesser-loved vegetables as possible and try to find at least one way to cook them that leaves us wanting more. I think we’ve found our new favorite way to eat eggplant.

Heartaches, Bellyaches

What do you cook when your heart hurts?

For us, for the last few weeks, it was a whole lot of comfort food. There was pasta, lots and lots of pasta, sauced with ragu, in skillet mac and cheese, and in Michael Ruhlman’s macaroni and beef with cheese (which is better than it has any right to be). There was chicken, pan fried and roasted, with one of those roasted birds serving to provide a very special last supper for our Kali.

If you fill in the blanks, the dinners I didn’t photograph over the last few weeks, the other meals that were part of those days, you’d see a whole bunch of crap. If we could get ourselves to eat at all, it was mostly junk food, fatty, poorly fried, the kind of stuff you grab and choke down because you realize it’s 2:30 in the afternoon and you’ve been up since 5:45 and you haven’t had it in you to eat anything yet, but your hands are shaking and you can’t focus on work, and you don’t have time to take a proper break to get something reasonably healthy or good, to sit for a moment and eat mindfully, or because you’re feeling rough around the edges in the morning and need something akin to a “hangover breakfast,” all caffeine and questionable meat on a grease-sodden breakfast pastry (don’t forget the cheese).

And your heart hurts.

Weeks of eating too much rich food, of too many “one more glass”-es of wine, of the stress and the heartache Mike and I have been feeling of late have left us both in a sad state, feeling as bad physically as we have been emotionally, and this weekend, we thought long and hard about how to pull ourselves out of this rut and get back our equilibrium.

And we made strides.

We broke out our new pressure canner and put up a total of 20 pints of crushed tomatoes, locally grown and perfectly ripe, to nourish us during the winter. I’d never canned anything before, and Mike hadn’t been part of the process since he was a kid helping his family do it, and it was an absolutely thrilling, terrifying, wonderful project to tackle with my husband, a productive activity we took on together and loved, and a very welcome distraction from our grief.

fairytale eggplants

And we came up with a plan. Vegetables.

discs

It’s harvest time, our farmers’ markets are teeming with produce, we just needed to plan, and buy, and cook. And eat. And we have, and we will continue to do so.

so-so

We started with an imperfect put delicious ratatouille, my loose interpretation of Deb’s interpretation of Remy’s/Keller’s, and imperfect as it was, it was so tasty and satisfying.

Dinner: September 20, 2010

It was a wonderful start. And now we have juices and whole grains and oily fishies and crisp apples and our favorite locally made yogurt, and the vegetables, the glorious vegetables to look forward to, and we’ll be healing our bellies, hearts, and souls with them for many weeks to come while we get our lives back into balance. And I hope to share it all with you in the days ahead.

And once again, thank you.

Eggplant Steaks Alla Pizzaiola

My do-over of this dish didn’t work out as well as the first version, so I didn’t end up submitting this to food52‘s “Your Best Eggplant Dish” contest, but since so many people have asked I figured I’d post the recipe here. I used different types of eggplant for the first version and the second, and the larger eggplant in the second version didn’t work out nearly as well in the finished dish.

Go with eggplants like the ones pictured here, in the small-to-medium range and more long than bulbous in shape. Also, keep in mind that a high-acid tomato is going to make the flavor of the chile flakes more pronounced in the Pizzaiola Relish, so choose and season accordingly.

My creation

Pizzaiola Relish

1 cup chopped fresh tomato
1 T coarsely grated fresh garlic
½ t dried marjoram or oregano, or 2 T fresh
¼ t red chile flakes (or to taste)
kosher or sea salt
1 T extra virgin olive oil

Eggplant Steaks

1½ to 2 lbs. of eggplant (not too big and seedy – a couple of medium ones will work better than one big one)
kosher or sea salt
2 T balsamic vinegar
4 T extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. good quality tomato paste (I like the San Marzano paste that comes in tubes or glass jars)
6 oz. fresh mozzarella

In a bowl, combine the chopped tomato, grated garlic, marjoram or oregano, red chile flakes and a generous pinch of salt. Toss to combine, then drizzle in the olive oil and set aside.

Wash the eggplants and trim off the tops. Slice lengthwise into “steaks” about ½- to ¾-inch thick. Salt both sides fairly heavily and place the eggplant slices on a rack for 10-15 minutes. Rinse off the salt and any bitter liquid that has leached out and pat dry.

Combine the balsamic, oil, tomato paste and a pinch of salt in a small jar, screw on the cap and shake until emulsified. Light a grill or pre-heat a grill pan, baste the eggplant slices with the balsamic mixture and grill over high heat for a few minutes per side. Continue basting until the outsides are nicely caramelized.

Remove the eggplant steaks from the heat and place on a baking sheet. Tear the mozzarella into shreds and scatter over the top of the eggplant steaks. Broil until the cheese is browned and bubbly.

Place eggplant on plates (on a bed of young arugula or spinach, if you like) and top with generous spoonfuls of the Pizzaiola Relish.

Paired Up

Femme Fatale

I got an offer I just couldn’t refuse last week, and of course it comes on the heels of me being all righteous about how I rarely accept free stuff for the blog. But it’s no secret that we’ve long been fans of Oriel wines, and they’ve been difficult to find since we moved here, so when the fine folks at Oriel asked if I’d like to receive some of the 2006 vintage of their Femme Fatale Rosé, I had to take them up on it.

Femmes Fatales

I was surprised and delighted when I arrived home on Wednesday to not one but two bottles, and as I hoped it would, the first bottle paired beautifully with the eggplant dish I’m testing to submit to a food52 contest.

Dinner:  September 3, 2009

I had a lot of fun planning a meal to pair with the second bottle for Thursday night, and ended up going with the sort of simple, unfussy fare that makes for a perfect patio dinner this time of year – a salad of fresh sweet corn from Confreda Farm, tossed with chopped tomatoes, slivers of fresh hot green chiles and a sassy lime dressing, all crowned with slices of seared fresh tuna. Mike and I both loved how the wine played with the sweet corn and the spicy chiles, and it was a perfect match for the rich, silky tuna.

Winner Winner, Smitten Dinner

artichokes + eggplants

It has looked a lot like the Smitten Kitchen here over the last couple of days, with two dinners in a row inspired by Deb’s dishes.

potatoes, sliced

I started on Monday with a potato tortilla, the first I’ve ever attempted at home. I used this recipe as a guide, but I did go the more traditional route of frying my potato slices – creamy beauties from Ledge Ends Produce, sliced thin on a mandoline slicer – low and slow in a good amount of olive oil. I used raw artichokes rather than marinated, since I had picked up some beauties from Wishing Stone Farm over the weekend, and included some of my own marinated grilled red peppers plus a little smoky pimenton.

potato tortilla, cooking

Mine didn’t come out nearly as pretty as Deb’s did, which I attribute to my choice to use our iron skillet rather than the recommended non-stick, but it still tasted delicious. The last of it made a great breakfast today, too.

crust, prepped and ready for the grill

Which brings us to the pizza.

eggplant, garlic, oil

provolone and olives

Now that Mike has mastered his grilled pizza recipe and technique, it was time to change things up a bit, so for last night’s version we went with the grilled eggplant and olive pie posted here.

grilled eggplant and olive pizza

Mike made me promise I’d include the phrase “Deb’s a genius” in this post, and how could I not? What a great combination of flavors this was. The grilled eggplant slices were tender and smoky, the olives provided deliciously briny bursts of flavor, and the melty provolone cheese was a winning counterpart to both.

sliced pie

Dinner:  August 26, 2009

Thanks for the inspiration, Deb!