Wee Little Eggplants

I am a sucker for eggplants. When I was living on my own, I would make a gratin of eggplants and tomatoes and it would feed me for a week. By the fifth day, I would be so tired of it that I could barely take another bite. But somehow I would do it all over again a few weeks later. Eggplants have a cast a spell on me. Maybe it's that lovely aubergine color? So when I saw these cute little specimens at the Yuno's Farm stand, I had to snap them up. They were so slender, they made zucchini look chubby in comparison, and each one was barely longer than my hand.

Chopping these guys up would make them indistinguishable from their larger cousins (aside from the their less bitter flavor), so slicing and roasting seemed like a good way to preserve their character. And I had bushels of kale in the fridge, so I made a quick little pesto to brighten the flavor up a bit and add some nutritional punch. Unlike my earlier encounters with eggplant, there weren't any leftovers.

Roasted Eggplant with Kale Pesto

This is hardly a recipe, but it's a great way to let stellar produce shine. Roasting the eggplant requires little oil, but you could also saute it on the stove. Beware adding too much fat though, or it can become greasy.

5 small eggplants (substitute 1 large), thinly sliced
1 clove garlic
1 bunch kale leaves, stems removed
olive oil
pecorino cheese, grated

Place eggplant on a Silpat lined baking sheet (or a bare sheet brushed with oil) and sprinkle with coarse salt. Roast in a 350 degree oven until the vegetables have softened and colored a bit -- about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop garlic in a food processor with a little salt. Add kale and process until you have a course puree. Start drizzling in olive oil until you have a consistency you like (I would've added more to make a sauce, but I ran out of oil). Stir in the grated cheese and salt to taste.

Remove eggplant from oven, and drizzle pesto over the slices. Serve hot or at room temperature.


Basic Recipes: Pizza

People who know me are well-acquainted with my variety problem. Given the choice between a tried and true recipe or a new one, I'll nearly always go with the novel option. It only makes sense when you have piles and piles of new things to try! But this also means that without special requests for dinner, I would probably never make the same dish twice. Basics like pizza serve as a good compromise -- we have it often enough that I've had time to perfect the recipe, and the toppings can be varied to keep me from getting bored.

The pie in the photograph, which is rather unfortunately colored, was topped with Gruyere cheese, pancetta and leek confit. It was a great combination of creamy cheese, salty meat and slightly sweet caramelized leeks. Still, the pièce de résistance is always the crust. The Italian 00 flour is very easy to stretch extra thin, and it crisps up brown in spots on the pizza stone. It's so good, even I would happily eat it on a weekly basis.

Pizza Dough

Our local, specialty food store has started to carry Italian 00 flour, which I think produces superior dough. It's not as springy as all-purpose flour in this application, and it results in a very crispy, cracker-like crust. If you do use ordinary flour, just be sure to let the dough rest where noted.

Also, you can make this dough without a stand-mixer, using a wooden spoon. I used to do it this way, but the stirring required gives quite a work-out.

20.5 oz. high-gluten flour (preferably chilled)
0.5 oz. salt
0.1 oz. instant yeast (about half a packet)
2 oz. olive oil
14 oz. cold water

Stir together the flour, salt and instant yeast using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer. Add the oil and water and mix until just combined. Switch to the dough hook attachment, and knead on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes. The dough should look smooth and evenly mixed. It will be rather sticky, but it should mostly clear the sides of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour. Or if the dough clears the bottom of the bowl, and is too dry, add a few drops of cold water.

Prepare a sheet pan by lining it with oiled parchment or a Silpat. Transfer the dough to a floured board or countertop. Using a dough scraper or a knife, cut the dough into four equal pieces. Sprinkle flour over the top of each piece, and shape each one into a ball. Transfer the balls to the sheet plan, and spray with oil. Either slip the whole pan into a food-grade plastic bag or cover with plastic wrap.

Put the pan into the refrigerator to rest overnight (or up to three days, but check to make sure it's not drying out). Bring dough to room temperature before you begin to make the pizza, about 2 hours. (At this point, I usually put the remaining balls in the freezer in individual Ziploc bags.) Sprinkle a pizza paddle or the back of a cookie sheet with cornmeal. Gently press the dough balls to about 1/2 inch thick. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rest for 2 hours (this seems less crucial with the 00 flour).

At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, preheat a baking stone in the oven as hot as it will go. To stretch the dough, gently stretch it across your fists and bouncing it gently in a circular motion. If the dough sticks to your hands, dust them with a little flour. If the dough keeps springing back, let it rest for a few minutes before continuing.

When the dough is stretch to your satisfaction, about 12 to 14 inches, lay it back on the peel, making sure there is enough cornmeal to allow it to slide. Top as desired, keeping in mind that a heavy pie will be difficult to release from the peel.

Slide the topped pizza onto the stone and bake until starting to brown lightly on the edges, five to eight minutes. Remove the pizza from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Wait a few minutes before slicing, then serve.

Makes four medium size crusts.

First Signs of Autumn

Sunday seems so long ago -- I barely recall what has happened between now and then. Time flies when you're having fun, or maybe I'm just getting old. But I do remember that last weekend I went to the local greenmarket, enjoyed the warm weather and tried to manage both Annabella and armloads of produce with only moderate success. And then we drove upstate with our neighbor in his convertible, with the top down. I came home with as much of a tan as I can hope to get and quickly threw dinner together.

In just a few days, fall seems to have arrived. The mercury today has not passed 60 degrees, and I wore a scarf and jacket to work. Despite the change, I would still be happy to eat this meal. The earthy bitterness of the chard and just a hint of brightness from the oranges don't seem too summery for the weather. I'm not quite ready to eat cabbage and butternut squash, but maybe next week...

Chard Stuffed With Risotto and Mozzarella
Adapted from Mark Bittman in The New York Times

3-4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup arborio rice
pinch of saffron
1 orange, zested and juiced
lump of butter
1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese
salt and pepper
6 chard leaves
6 1/2 inch chunks of soft pecorino cheese
1/2 cup white wine

Cook rice in vegetable broth, starting with one cup; add broth in stages, using about 3 cups total, until rice is barely tender. Dissolve saffron in juice of the orange. Add to rice, along with butter, hard cheese, orange zest, salt and pepper to taste. Allow rice to cool a bit.

Poach chard leaves in about 2 cups water just until pliable -- about 30 seconds. Drain and cut out the hardest part of central stem.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Form 6 balls of rice 2 to 3 inches across. Dig a hole in ball and insert a piece of soft cheese. Wrap each ball in a chard leaf.

Put balls in a close-fitting oven dish and add wine. Bake 15 minutes. Serve balls topped with cooking juices, more zest, hard cheese and olive oil.

Yield: 6 servings.

Saffron Carrots
Adapted from David Tanis in The New York Times

lump butter
pinch of saffron, crumbled
2 cloves garlic, grated
zest from one orange
bunch carrots, sliced into thin coins
salt and pepper

In a large skillet fitted with a lid, melt the butter over medium heat. When hot, add the saffron, garlic, lemon zest and carrots. Seasons with salt and pepper. Toss the carrots in the butter to coat. Add 1/2 cup of water, bring to a boil and simmer, covered, until the carrots are tender -- about 5 minutes.


Chez AAA is Closed for the Summer Season

Ordinarily, no one wants to come to New York in August and September. People complain of humidity, the subway is gross and window air-conditioning units can't stand a chance when matched against soaring temperatures. But this year a series of visitors and house-guests decided to buck convention, and fortunately, they brought lovely weather with them. For three weeks we had a great time seeing the city and eating delicious meals out. But such fun is a bit tiring, and this past Sunday I was ready for a quiet meal at home.

Tropical storm Hanna unkindly paid us a visit on Saturday and rained out my green market shopping trip, so the refrigerator was looking rather bare. There was a bunch of dandelion greens from the Urban Organic box, semi-hard pecorino from an earlier market shopping trip (yum -- I will write down the producer this week from Valley Shepherd Creamery) and some thyme that was nearing the end of its serviceable life. These are the results of a hastily cobbled together meal that was both simple and satisfying.

So many of the recipes I come across use dandelion greens as a soup component, but I really wanted to showcase the greens on their own. I thought a quick toss in a hot dressing would cook the greens just enough to wilt them a little and salty pancetta and cheese would be a good foil to the bitter leaves.

And A wanted some beans, so a twist on the ricotta crostini in the in the NY Times a while ago addressed that craving. The ricotta served to glue the lentils to little rounds of a crusty baguette. So we could dress the crostini to our own liking, I served the components separately.

Wilted Dandelion Greens with Pancetta and Pecorino

I tossed the greens with the hot dressing to wilt them, but unless you really like the bitter bite of dandelion greens, like I do, or if the greens are large and tough, I would recommend sauteing them with the dressing for a few minutes to mellow the flavor.

olive oil
small chunk of pancetta (about 1/4 lb), minced
cider vinegar
dry vermouth (but white wine would likely be better)
bunch of dandelion greens, stems removed and chopped
semi-hard pecorino

Warm a teeny bit of oil in a saute pan or skillet over medium-low heat. Add the pancetta and saute until crispy. Remove the pancetta from the pan with a slotted spoon or spider to drain. Add a few tablespoons of cider vinegar and about 1/4 cup of vermouth to the pan. Raise the heat to high and reduce the mixture by three-quarters. Drizzle over the greens and toss until greens are wilted. Shave pecorino over the top and sprinkle with reserved pancetta.

Lentil and Ricotta Crostini

There are no measurements here, and the ingredients are just a formula. Combine to your own taste and preferences.

lentils du puy
sherry vinegar
thinned ricotta
dried oregano
coarse salt
crusty baguette
olive oil

Put lentils in a saucepan and cover with water -- a ratio of two parts water to one part lentils. Bring lentils to a boil and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain if necessary and stir in some sherry vinegar.

Meanwhile, thin ricotta with some milk to make it a bit more spreadable. The amount will vary depending upon the dryness of your ricotta, but aim for the texture of slightly thick yogurt (not strained). Stir in a spoonful of oregano and the leaves from a few sprigs of thyme. Salt to taste, and drizzle with olive oil.

Slice a baguette into rounds. Brush with olive oil and toast under the broiler or in a toaster oven until lightly brown. Slather a bit of ricotta mixture on each toast and top with lentils.


The Omnivore's Hundred

The blogosphere has been buzzing about a list posted by Andrew Wheeler at Very Good Taste, a UK food blog. It includes 100 foods that he thinks "every good omnivore should have tried at least once in their life." There are 37 items I have not experienced, so apparently I have some work to do.

To check a few more items off my list, it looks like a trip to the cheese monger will be on the agenda for Saturday, and bagna cauda may be on the menu at our house soon (sorry A, I can't leave the anchovies out of this one).

Here are the suggested guidelines for the game:
  • Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
  • Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
  • Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
  • Optional extra: Post a comment at Very Good Taste linking to your results.
My Version of the VGT Omnivore's Hundred:
  1. Venison
  2. Nettle tea
  3. Huevos rancheros
  4. Steak tartare
  5. Crocodile
  6. Black pudding
  7. Cheese fondue (Christmas Eve is not complete without this)
  8. Carp
  9. Borscht
  10. Baba ghanoush
  11. Calamari
  12. Pho
  13. PB&J sandwich
  14. Aloo gobi
  15. Hot dog from a street cart (one is probably enough)
  16. Epoisses
  17. Black truffle
  18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
  19. Steamed pork buns
  20. Pistachio ice cream
  21. Heirloom tomatoes
  22. Fresh wild berries
  23. Foie gras
  24. Rice and beans
  25. Brawn, or head cheese (maybe on the next trip to the UK)
  26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper (I'm a baby about spicy things)
  27. Dulce de leche
  28. Oysters
  29. Baklava
  30. Bagna cauda
  31. Wasabi peas
  32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
  33. Salted lassi
  34. Sauerkraut (I've finally gotten over my hatred of this)
  35. Root beer float
  36. Cognac with a fat cigar
  37. Clotted cream tea
  38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O (not sure I want to admit this one)
  39. Gumbo
  40. Oxtail
  41. Curried goat
  42. Whole insects
  43. Phaal
  44. Goat’s milk (but yes, if cheese counts)
  45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
  46. Fugu (doesn't seem worth the risk)
  47. Chicken tikka masala
  48. Eel
  49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
  50. Sea urchin
  51. Prickly pear
  52. Umeboshi
  53. Abalone (maybe if the supply is controlled)
  54. Paneer
  55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
  56. Spaetzle
  57. Dirty gin martini
  58. Beer above 8% ABV
  59. Poutine (but Quebec is on the short list of places to visit)
  60. Carob chips
  61. S’mores
  62. Sweetbreads
  63. Kaolin (this doesn't qualify as a food to me)
  64. Currywurst
  65. Durian
  66. Frogs’ legs
  67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
  68. Haggis
  69. Fried plantain
  70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
  71. Gazpacho
  72. Caviar and blini
  73. Louche absinthe (more likely now that it's easier to get)
  74. Gjetost, or brunost
  75. Roadkill (no thanks)
  76. Baijiu
  77. Hostess Fruit Pie (the middle school snack bar was not known for its cuisine)
  78. Snail
  79. Lapsang souchong (a staple at our office)
  80. Bellini
  81. Tom yum
  82. Eggs Benedict
  83. Pocky
  84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant (maybe if I get a raise!)
  85. Kobe beef
  86. Hare
  87. Goulash
  88. Flowers
  89. Horse (the American in me is showing)
  90. Criollo chocolate
  91. Spam (that real food problem again)
  92. Soft shell crab
  93. Rose harissa
  94. Catfish
  95. Mole poblano
  96. Bagel and lox
  97. Lobster Thermidor
  98. Polenta
  99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
  100. Snake