Archives for category: Eggplant

IMG_3543

You know when it’s hot and muggy and you can’t decide if you want cold food or hot food or no food at all? Real food or just, like, watermelon for dinner? It wasn’t even that hot last night here in NYC but I had dark chocolate sorbet for dinner (the kind from Ciao Bella Gelato—it’s dairy free and has this weird chalky texture I like).

But the thing I like about this dish—adapted from Plenty/Yotam Ottolenghi—is it’s excellent cold, warm, or room temperature. It’s the perfect dish to pack up for lunch, bring on a picnic, or eat in front of your computer (where, let’s be honest, I eat more of my meals than on a picnic blanket). Now, it does require a little bit of heat because you broil the eggplants in your oven or char them on your gas burner. Of course, if you have a real grill (but I live in an apartment in Brooklyn with no such luxury) you could probably put the eggplants right in the coals to do this. Whether you grill over your burner or broil in your oven remember to prick the eggplant multiple times with a knife to prevent the flesh from popping through the skin when it gets hot.

In addition to the lentils and the eggplant you can toss in any number of vegetables you may have, adapting to what’s in season. I picked up some beautiful radishes at the farmer’s market on Saturday that would be great in this, or any combination of fresh herbs.

Lentils with Broiled Eggplant
adapted from Plenty

2 thin, long eggplants
2 tbsp lemon juice
salt and black pepper
1 cup small dark lentils (small green or Puy), rinsed
3 small carrots, peeled
2 celery stalks
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs (or 1 tsp dried thyme)
1 small onion, white or yellow
3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish
2/3 c cherry tomatoes, halved (about 12-15)
1/3 tsp brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped herbs (such as parsley, chervil, chives, cilantro, dill)
1 cup chopped salad greens or spinach (optional)
2 tbsp yogurt or crème fraîche

Cook the eggplants: the best way to really char the eggplants is to grill over the open flame on your burner, rotating with metal tongs and taking care to ensure they don’t catch on fire. I put the vent on high to trap any smoke that’s produced. You may want to first line the area around two burners of your stove with aluminum foil to protect them from splatters. Now it’s key that you buy thin eggplants as opposed to the more common fatter eggplants you see in American grocery stores. These wider ones (I learned the hard way) don’t cook through all the way. So if you have the thin kind they should blacken on your stove in 12 to 15 minutes. If you only have the standard wide ones, like I did, grill over the burner for 12–15 minutes and then transfer to your oven on a baking sheet or in a casserole dish, set the broiler on high, and cook for additional 10–15 minutes to cook all the way through. Alternatively you can broil them like this in your oven for the entire time, approximately 1 hour for wide ones, turning them a few times. The eggplants should deflate completely and the skin should burn and break.

Remove the eggplants from the heat. If you used your oven change the setting from broil to 275F. Cut the eggplants in half and let the steam escape. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh (avoiding the blackened skin) into a colander and let any liquid drain off for about 15 minutes. Then season with salt and pepper and 1 tbsp of fresh lemon juice.

While the eggplants are broiling, place the lentils in a medium saucepan. Cut one carrot, one celery stalk, and the onion each in half and toss in the saucepan. Cover with plenty of cold water, and add the bay leaf and thyme, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the lentils are cooked but not mushy. Drain the lentils and discard the onion, carrot, celery, and herbs. Transfer the lentils to a mixing bowl and add the remaining lemon juice, 2 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper.

Cut the remaining carrot and celery into small pieces and mix with the halved tomatoes, remaining oil, sugar, and some salt. Spread in an ovenproof dish and cook for about 20 minutes, until the carrot is tender but firm. Add the cooked vegetables to the lentils, followed by the herbs and greens (if using). Taste and adjust for seasoning (I had to use quite a bit of salt to get it just right). Spoon the lentils into your serving dish, followed by a spoonful of eggplant, then the yogurt or crème fraîche, and a drizzle of olive oil.

IMG_3523

Back in 2009, while I was still at Phaidon, I worked on a cookbook called Coco, which I’ve probably mentioned here before. It was part of the 10×10 series Phaidon publishes, whereby ten heavy hitters in their field (be it architecture, graphic design, fashion, etc.) each select ten emerging talents in that field. Coco was the first food book in that series, and the curators selecting the underlings included Ferran Adrià, Mario Batali, Alice Walters, and René Redzepi.

For his selection of up-and-comers, Batali stuck to his coterie of former chefs and sous chefs, and among the emerging talent he chose was Mario Carbone. Truth be told, I hadn’t heard of Carbone before then, even though he had cooked at Del Posto, Babbo, WD-50, Café Boulud, and a personal favorite, Lupa, in the West Village. Quite the pedigree for someone not even thirty years old. (That’s his spread in Coco, below.)

The funny thing is, Carbone was somewhat between restaurants at the time. And to be featured in Coco, each chef needed to be currently head chef at a restaurant. Carbone was technically heading up Aeronuova, a new Italian restaurant in Terminal 5 at JFK. It was a little unusual, but my guess is he was brought on to put together their menu and do initial recipe consulting. When I was compiling the directory of restaurants I didn’t even know what address to publish: Terminal 5, JFK Airport, Queens, New York? But I knew something was up his sleeve, and Batali’s sleeve, because they seemed to suggest a new restaurant was in Carbone’s future, but it just wasn’t open yet.

And sure enough, as Coco hit the bookstores, a little red-sauce joint known as Torrisi Italian Specialities opened on Mulberry Street, near Prince Street, in December 2009, serving Italian-American staples like meatball subs and eggplant parm at the counter. Carbone and his co-chef and co-owner, and former Boulud colleague, Rich Torrisi, have created a kind of post-postmodern mecca of ziti and antipasti in Little Italy. Amidst all the fading tourist-trap pasta joints and clam bars on Mott and Mulberry Street. It’s a throwback to your Italian grandma’s Sunday suppers in Queens (or New Jersey, or Long Island), gravy and all. But the ingredients are good. Really good. Not imported from Italy, but all domestic and/or made in-house, like mozzarella made to order and house-cured olives. Olive oil from California that’s so good they should serve it in a demitasse cup for dessert, sprinkled with sea salt from Coney Island.

All this time I’ve been wanting to see what the buzz is about. In the meantime, Torrisi and Carbone opened Parm next door to Torrisi, a more casual restaurant serving some of the old favorites (like the subs), without the long waits and hard-to-get reservations of Torrisi, which now only serves a tasting menu or prix fixe but no more a al carte at dinner.

Good thing my friend Daniela came to town. Super foodie, blogger for Eater LA, trained pastry chef, food writer, this woman eats professionally. It was the perfect opportunity to try both Torrisi and Parm. So within a span of a few nights we dined at each place, allowing for a side-by-side comparison of the more upscale Torrisi, and low-brow Parm. (In the photo up top, Torrisi is on the left, Parm on the right.)

At Torrisi we were greeted with four antipasti for the table, including the famed mozzarella, hand-pulled to order, drizzled in that delicious, fruity olive oil and crunchy sea salt. When left to rest at the table, the mozzarella became more enjoyable, softer, and more buttery, then when it was first set down. It was served with four small perfect pieces of garlic bread: saltier, crunchier, cheesier, more garlicky than you’re expecting. When our busser cleared the empty plate we both nearly lept to keep the dish so we could lick the crumbs. We stopped ourselves. As part of our antipasti, a warmed parsnip cider was served in an espresso cup with a cool apple foam on top. Raw fluke Americain provided a clean, fresh bite between all the cheese and dough. Lastly, for the antipasti, was a rustic rabbit terrine served with pickled vegetables.

The pasta course, spicy sea shells di mare, was solid—the fish and shellfish were all cooked well, the pasta al dente, the sauce salty and spicy. It didn’t knock my socks off but it was darn tasty. For our main courses we were served skate giardinia and local duck with mulberry mustard. But by the time these mains came we were, well, stuffed like shells. I thought the main successes of the night were served at the bookends, our antipasti and the pastry: butternut squash custard, pizzelle cannoli, almond rainbow cookies, celery cake with green jelly and peanuts (a take on ants on a log), and a chocolate-mint truffle.

We arrived at Parm a few nights later (shot of the bar above), rain-soaked, hungry, and in need of some comfort food. We had come to the right place. We only waited twenty minutes at the bar for a table, then ordered up what seemed to be the must-haves: eggplant parmesan with a “Sunday salad”—iceberg lettuce, hot pickled peppers, cucumber, and red onions, served with a vinegary dressing—a veal-and-pork meatball platter served with ziti and meat gravy; Brussels sprouts; cauliflower; and the plate-licking garlic bread we’d had on Tuesday. (Brussels sprouts in the shot below.)

The favorites were the eggplant parmesan, which really did taste like my Italian (step) grandmother used to make when I was little, the Brussels sprouts, and the cauliflower. The sprouts were caramelized and served with thin crunchy slivers of red onion, parmesan, sea salt, and garlic. The cauliflower was nicely browned and seasoned and honestly tasted like candy in that way that only really good cauliflower can. Again, like my Italian grandma used to make. These guys are good.

The only sore spot in the evening at Parm came with the meatballs. First off, they were served flattened, and stacked, like a double hamburger. Maybe this is typical in some nonna’s kitchens but I know them to be rounded, and sized somewhere between a golf ball and baseball. The main issue, however, was that they were not properly cooked. The meat was verging on rare, cold in the center even. Our server argued with us, saying he was sure they were cooked through and that’s how they do it here. Minus two points.

Using the four-star system of the Times, I’d give Torrisi two stars and Parm one star. Two to Torrisi for the service, atmosphere, antipasti, and pastries. One to Parm for the tasty eggplant, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, garlic bread, and friendly hostess. Tell your nonna, Little Italy is back.

I had to cheat and use this photo below from the Torrisi website, so I could show you two of my favorite dishes, the mozzarella and the garlic bread, since my shots came out too dark. Buon appetito!

What do you make in August, peak of the summer harvest, when stands at the farmers market overflow with zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes?

Ratatouille! Traditionally a French Provençal dish of stewed vegetables and herbs, ratatouille is a meal on its own, makes for a great lunch, or can be paired with grilled meats. Yuji suggested preparing it with lamb in the same pot which actually sounds quite good. Next time. Variations on the recipe abound, and my own changes include the addition of chickpeas and a garnish of grated Parmesan (or Ricotta Salata, as I used last night).

The first time I tried something like ratatouille was about twelve years ago, when my step-mom Bonnie made a quick dinner of whole canned tomatoes, eggplant, and chickpeas. I believe she didn’t even use garlic or an onion. To my young taste buds this dish was a revelation.

Since then I’ve tinkered and tweaked, and like the recipe below. I sometimes make more of a sauce to serve over pasta (more tomatoes, more olive oil), but no longer make the variation that included tofu. (Hey, you learn by making mistakes.)

Julia Child’s ratatouille recipe will probably produce good results but seemed overly fussy to me, too many steps for what is essentially simple, peasant fare. (Yuji thought I described the dish as “prison” food instead of “peasant” food. Who knows, maybe they do serve ratatouille in French prisons.)

Here is my version, which makes enough for lots of leftovers, and is hard to mess up.

As an aside I just have to say I miss playing with my friends’ Canon 7D Digital SLR camera on Long Island. That’s what took the photos of my blog posts from out there and it’s hard to go back to the ole iPhone so I’m saving up for a serious upgrade.

Summer Ratatouille

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 medium to large eggplants or 3 small, chopped in roughly 1/2-inch pieces
salt and pepper
2 zucchinis, roughly chopped
1 large red or white onion, or 2 smaller
2 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped, plus a few stems with leaves still on
2 tbsp minced garlic
2 large tomatoes, chopped, or 1 pint Sun Golds, halved, or 4 plum tomatoes, chopped
3/4 c dried chick peas, soaked and cooked, or 1 12-oz can, rinsed and drained
3/4 cup basil leaves, roughly chopped, for garnish
Parmesan or Ricotta Salata, for garnish

Serves 4-5 as a main, 6-7 as a side

1. Heat the oil in a large sautée pan over medium heat. Add the eggplant and season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook over medium heat until the eggplant becomes soft and golden, about 10-15 minutes.

2. Then add the zucchini, stirring occasionally, until mostly softened, 5 minutes. Add the onion and cook an additional few minutes, stirring. Next add the chopped thyme and a couple stems, which you will discard later. After a few minutes add the garlic.

3. Add the tomatoes, cook until they begin to fall apart, then add the chickpeas. Let this cook for another 5-10 minutes then remove from heat and fish out the thyme stems and discard. Garnish with basil and grated cheese. Serve on its own, with nice crusty bread and butter, or with grilled chicken or lamb.

%d bloggers like this: