Monday: Eggplant Parmesan / Salad
Wednesday: Stewed Cannellini with chilies and thyme
Thursday: Dunnings at Cioppino / Ancient dough pizza for Beez
Friday: Smoked Oysters / Seared Trout with Trout Roe and Crème Fraiche
Saturday: Starter of spicy mackerel and sardines in olive oil with baguette / Red Wine Chicken with Cabernet Barbecue Sauce / Salad / Semolina Cake with Oranges
Sunday: Pasta with Sausage, Beans, and Greens / Salad
Exactly one of the many millions who follow “Whatwewookedwastweek,” noticed that I repeated a recipe (not quite exactly) in the last two posts. Apparently, the rest of you just look at the pictures, if that. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Lest you be tempted to attribute my forgetfulness to age, I will confess that I used to do things like this (misplace keys, lose library books, leave the children at the playground) regularly when I was much younger. In fact, I see it as an affirmation that I have yet to acquire that attention to detail which is, so often, accompanied by an inflated ego, a stuffed shirt and a large belly. (The belly is coming along, alas.) When it comes to growing up, I stand with Peter Pan. We refuse.
Here is a more psycho-theological reference which rhymes with what I’m trying to say: Malraux in his Antimémoirs writes about the answer of an old priest when he asked, “Father, what have you learned after a lifetime of listening to confessions?” Answer: “No one ever grows up.”
Well – I’m glad I got that off my chest. And now, in what I hope is a child-like (filled with wonder) and innocent (I am not being paid by eggplant producers or fresh-water fish farms) manner, I want to share with you two of last week’s outstanding dinners. The first, a traditional Eggplant Parmesan, is full-body-contact cooking and will take a good half-day of your time. It is entirely worth it. And consider how much time you fritter away in less socially productive pursuits. The second, a quick preparation of trout – an abundant, sustainable, local fish* – is perfect for lapsed, practicing and wannabe Catholics to get into their repertoire for Fridays.**
*Apparently, political correctness and a nod to current group-think have invaded my consciousness. But then, you certainly didn’t think I was as childlike and innocent as implied above.
**I know that there is no requirement of obedience to eat fish on Friday. But, I confess to missing the old ways and traditions of the church (and of my family). There is a virtue to doing good or even harmless things that your people have done for generations. [Please don’t get me started on the changes in the liturgy]. Then again, we just love eating fish.
If I had more time, I’d blog during the week, since there is a lot more I’d like to share with. Just last week, this included the semolina cake with oranges, and the best dish of the week, the Red Wine Chicken with Cabernet Sauvignon Barbecue Sauce, and the finale – the Pasta with greens, beans and sausage with which Billy, UFR and I consoled ourselves after the Steelers loss to the Patriots. With sufficient quantities of Scotch and Gin, it did the trick.
Eggplant Parmesan [from a recipe in Bon Apétit, October, 2016]
Serves 8 people or so
Hortatory Note: This recipe involves five distinct activities – Making the marinara sauce, Prepping the Eggplant, Sautéing the eggplant, assembling the dish, and cooking. You can make the marinara sauce and assemble it up to two days ahead of cooking, but that would be strangely organized for a modern American life. You can, of course, buy marinara sauce, but it will be nowhere as good as the sauce you’ll make in this recipe. In short – either go all-in or just don’t cook eggplant parmesan. The world will keep turning. But you will have denied yourself, family and friends a real treat.
Time: Minimum of 4 ¾ hours
Ingredients for the Marinara:
¼ cup olive oil
1 Head of Garlic, cloves crushed (I used about ½ head)
1 large red onion, chopped
3 anchovy fillets (oil packed)
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
¼ cup of white wine
2×28 oz. cans of whole tomatoes (I used 1 of these and 1 of crushed tomatoes, since that was what we had in the pantry)
¼ cup torn basil leaves
½ teaspoon dried oregano (I used more)
Cooking the Marinara:
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Heat oil in a large ovenproof pot over medium
Cook garlic, stirring often, until golden (3-4 minutes – don’t let it burn – don’t leave the stove – it’s only 3 minutes or so – don’t check your e-mail)
Add onion, anchovies and red pepper flakes and cook, still stirring often, until onion softens – 5 minutes or so.
Stir in tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or so.
Add wine, bring to a boil and cook until wine is almost evaporated – 1 minute or so.
Add tomatoes, breaking them up with your hand or kitchen shears, then add basil and oregano and stir.
Add 1 ½ cups water – swirl this in the tomato cans to get the last bit of tomato and juice out – and salt and put pot into oven to roast the sauce for 2 to 2 ½ hours, stirring about half-way through. (I can hear some of you saying, who the heck has the time to cook this? Well, I told you it was a half-day affair and full-contact-body cooking. The result is superb, but if you only have time for mediocre, buy industrial vat made marinara.)
Let sauce cool and process in a food processor or through a food mill until fairly smooth. Correct seasoning with salt.
Cover and chill
Note: You can make sauce up to 2 days ahead and refrigerate
Ingredients for Eggplant and Assembly:
4 lbs. Italian eggplants (about 4 medium-small), peeled, sliced lengthwise about ½” thick)
3 cups panko breadcrumbs
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups finely grated parmesan divided into two ¾ cup batches
5 large eggs beaten
1 1/3 cups low-moisture mozzarella grated (about 6 oz.)
8 0z. fresh mozzarella, thinkly sliced
½ cup finely chopped basil and parsley, plus basil leaves for garnishing dish
1 1/3 cups olive oil
1 ½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Season eggplant slices all over with salt and place in one layer on several layers of paper towels placed inside a rimmed baking sheet, repeat with more layers and paper towels as needed and top with a final layer of paper towels, then another rimmed baking sheets weighed down with a heavy pot. Let stand 45-60 minutes. (“Can I skip this?” – Well, this is what gives the eggplant a creamy texture when baked. So – NO, you can’t skip it.)
Sautéing the Eggplant
Preheat oven to 350 F
While eggplant is being cured, pulse panko, oregano, pepper and ¾ cup of Parmesan in a food processor until very finely ground and place into a shallow bowl for dredging the eggplant.
Place flour in another bowl
Place eggs in a third bowl
One at a time, dredge eggplant slices in flour, then egg (allow excess to drip off) and coat in breadcrumbs, packing them all the way round and shaking off the excess. Place dredged pieces on a wire rack (I used a roast pan rack).
Heat 2/3 cup oil in a large skillet (cast iron works the best) over medium-high. (If you have a fancy range or high-btu burner, you’ll want the heat just a little below medium-high. Look, you’ll have to adjust the temperature and add oil, and maybe even wipe out the pan to avoid excess burning of the eggplant – a little will not hurt at all, since the charring tastes good)
Cook as many eggplant slices as fit, with a little space, in a single layer in the pan, turning once, for about 5 minutes. You want to achieve a deep golden brown. Transfer to paper towels and keep sautéing until all the eggplant slices are cooked. You will need to add at least the other ¾ cup of oil to keep the pan hot and wet.
Let the eggplant slices cool, then taste and season with more salt if necessary.
Assembling the Dish
Toss the chopped herbs, the low-moisture mozzarella and the other ¾ cup of parmeson to mix in a medium bowl.
Spread 1 cup of marinara over the bottom of a 13×9” casserole or baking pan (we used a nifty red ceramic gratin pan)
Top this with a layer of eggplant slices, trimmed as needed – you really want a fairly complete layer of eggplant with few gaps.
Sprinkle 1/3 of the cheese mixture over this, then add another layer of eggplant and another 1 cup of the sauce, and another 1/3 of the cheese mixture. Repeat, ending with cheese mixture.
Cover with foil and place on a rimmed baking sheet.
Cooking the Dish and Serving:
Cook for 45-60 minutes (the eggplant should be creamy or custardy).
Remove from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 425 F.
Remove foil and cover dish with fresh mozzarella slices.
Put back in oven and bake until cheese is bubbling and browned (15-20 minutes more)
Let rest for 30 minutes. Then top with basil leaves and serve.
Note: You can cook dish 2 days ahead of time – just let it cool, cover with foil and refrigerate. Reheat at 350 F, uncovering after a bit and cooking until it is bubbling at the edges.
Seared Trout with Braised Spinach style=”text-align: center;”
[Adapted from Lenny Russon’s “Seared Trout with Trout-Roe Crème Fraîche: WSJ]
Timing 30 minutes Serves 4
4 x 6 oz. trout fillets, skin-on, deboned (Use Salmon as an alternative – but a very different flavor)
6 Cups spinach leaves
1 cup plus 3-5 tablespoons of vegetable stock (you can substitute chx stock, but the taste won’t be as clean)
2 garlic cloves finely grated (i.e., use a microplane)
1 tablespoon butter
Pinch of fresh ground nutmeg
1 ½ tablespoons grapeseed or olive oil
Note: Chef Russo tops his dish with trout-roe crème fraîche. I think that this can make the dish taste a bit fishy, which I like, but I don’t think it’s what people are looking for with trout. Of course, the chef may have access to fresher and better roe than I did. If you want to add this, simply mix a cup of crème fraîche with about 3 tablespoons of trout roe and refrigerate until serving.
Prepare the Spinach
Put the vegetable stock into a small pan and heat it to a low simmer
Heat butter in a lidded pan (about medium size – not a Dutch oven) over medium-low. Add the garlic and cook about 1 minute to soften. Add 3 tablespoons of simmering vegetable stock and the spinach. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and braise until wilted and bright green – about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and adjust seasoning.
Cook the Fish
Slick a large, nonstick pan with grapeseed or olive oil and set over medium-high (a little lower if you have a luxury range or are using a high-btu burner). Season fish all over with salt (be a little aggressive here). When pan is hot, lay fillets in skin-side down. Sear until skin crisps (about 4 minutes). You will need to turn on the fan – you want a good sear here and may generate some smoke.
Flip and sear for about 1 minute more (when you press on the fish it should flake).
Set the fish aside.
Into hot serving bowls, ladle ¼ cup or so of the broth. Divide the spinach among the bowls and top with the seared fillets. Garnish with the trout-roe crème fraîche if using. A dollop of sour cream would work here by complimenting the fish and spinach without tasting fishy.