Tag Archives: Italian

Eggplant Parmesan (for Snobs)

“A true snob never rests; there is always a higher goal to attain…”  – J. Russell Lynes, editor of Harper’s Magazine

So as you know, I like to stick to the traditional versions of the food on my list. My whole schtick is to  get a feel for the classic flavors and methods.

Well so much for that.

I’ve had eggplant parmesan.  Or rather, I’ve had “eggplant parmesan” (quotes intentional) which was pretty much breading covered in sauce and cheese.  OOhhh, someone’s feeling a little snobby!

I was hoping that when I tackled this recipe it would be better than the restaurant versions I’d had in the past.  More flavorful and more interesting.  (Seriously, so snobby!) So I had an open mind when I found this non-traditional but still authentic recipe from Mario Batali: Parmigiana di Melanzane.

Step one with any eggplant recipe is to remove the bitterness from the eggplant.  This is done with a mixture of white wine and group therapy.  Or maybe just salt.  Slice the eggplant, sprinkle with salt, and let sit for 30 minutes while the bitter juices weep out of the eggplant.  For real, it’s called “weeping”.

Letting the eggplant "weep". I couldn't tell if it was weeping out of joy or sadness...eggplant are tricky like that.

While the eggplant was weeping, quietly thank goodness, I made the basic tomato sauce, which is really simple.  Saute your onions and garlic in olive oil. Add fresh thyme and chopped carrots.  Then add your can of whole tomatoes and cook for 30 minutes.  Simple!

So our sauce is cooking and we’re done weeping (for now).  Rinse and dry the eggplant…maybe with a few words of encouragement since its probably still emotional.  The eggplant now gets dipped in egg and pressed into the breadcrumbs to coat.

eggplant in breadcrumbs

Now that the eggplant has wept, it gets a coat of breadcrumbs. After I weep, I usually just get ice cream.

Mario’s recipe doesn’t call for dipping in egg, but all the reviews stated that it was hard to adhere the breadcrumbs without it.  So, I went with my instinct and dipped the eggplant first.

The coated rounds of eggplant go into a saute pan of heated olive oil for a few minutes on each side:

sauted eggplant

The eggplant was no longer weeping, but rather was rejoicing, because what isn't happier when breaded and fried!?

Now comes the biggest divergence with our traditional recipe.  As you fry the rounds of eggplant, they get placed on a large baking sheet:

breaded and fried eggplant

Breaded, fried eggplant...not a tear in sight!

As you can tell, there are varying sizes of eggplant.  Choose the largest ones to be the “base” of each of your stacks.

The eggplant parmesan now gets layered in the following order:

1. eggplant

2. spoonful of tomato sauce (mmmmm)

3. slice of fresh mozzarella (double mmmmm)

4. Parmesan cheese

5. Another slice of eggplant

Repeat for each of your stacks ending with a sprinkle of Parmesan on the top of each.  They are now little towers of Italian goodness:

eggplant parmesan ready for oven

Towers of eggplant. And yes, I'm cooking in a pure white button down shirt....I like to live dangerously.

So now our stacks are ready for the 350° oven.   They go in for a brief 15 minutes to melt the cheese into the warm loveliness that pretty much equals Eggplant Parmesan.

And then:

eggplant parmesan

Ready to be served/devoured depending on your mood

GORGEOUS!  Melty, crispy and a little sweet.  I hate to say it, but they were way better than your typical restaurant “eggplant parmesan”.  Actually…I don’t hate to say it, because it was really good.

eggplant parmesan

Seriously...don't these look SO much better than the stuff hidden under the blanket of cheese!?

So as you can tell by my enthusiastic captioning, they were delicious.  The eggplant was al dente, the sauce was light and a little sweet and they still had the appeal of frying and cheese.  Because I’ll readily admit…its still about the frying and the cheese.

UNFORESEEN BONUS(ES): 1. The sauce: make it.  Simple, fast and delicious.  A PERFECT topping. This Batali guy might really catch on. 2.  No meat!!  I usually have to think ahead to cook vegetarian, but this was perfect for Friday meal when meat was verboten for us and our house guests.  Totally had them convinced I was a pro.

Dinner was light and satisfying, the snobs guests were happy, no one wept except for the eggplant.

AND my white shirt remained spotlessly white.  (Cue tears of joy)

xoxo Flyover Foodie

p.s. Things are slowing down in the Flyover house after an extended busy season at work.  More posts at a much quicker rate.  HUZZAH!

Pasta Bolognese

“Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.” – Sophia Loren

If you like carbs like I like carbs, you’re going to be hungry by the end of this post.  And it’s a little lengthy…so you might need a snack. Or a glass of wine. Or both.  I’ll wait a minute….

……

….All set?  Here we go:

FIRST: the dough.  Since I was making homemade pasta, I started the pasta before the sauce.  Homemade pasta needs time to rest and dry slightly after being formed and before being cooked.

I made my dough in a the food processor.  TO BE FAIR: I have seen many chefs do this.  AND- the processor even has a “Dough” button, so you kind of have to use it.  Your basic pasta dough is flour, eggs, a pinch of salt and a little drizzle of olive oil.

Dough formed into a ball post-processor

Next the dough gets kneaded by hand for about 5 minutes until its stretchy and shiny.   Cover with a bowl and let it rest for 20 minutes.  Now roll out the dough to about 1/4-1/8 inch thickness.  Because I did not (yet!!) have a pasta roller,  I used a rolling pin and tried to get it as thin as possible.  Which took some work.  I told myself that having thicker pasta would just add to its charm.

Cutting the dough into tagliatelle

I cut the dough into wide strips which makes it, I think, tagliatelle.  Tagliatelle of random, inconsistent lengths, but tagliatelle nonetheless.  I separated the pieces and left them to dry on the counter while I made the sauce.  Other than the difficulty of rolling, this was pretty simple.

Drying tagliatelle. Charmingly rustic. Right?

NOW: hitting the sauce.

I used the basics of two different Italian recipes to make my Bolognese sauce.  First, this recipe from Mario Batali and this recipe as well.   By this point you’ve probably noticed that I almost always look at more than one recipe.  I like to find the commonalities that make a true Bolognese sauce versus the individual spin a chef may put on a recipe of their own.

In this case you find the common ingredients: bacon, red wine, onion, celery, carrots, ground meat.  And the basic steps: saute, sweat, deglaze, simmer.   Get it?

Start by sauteing and sweating the veggies:

Cooking the veggies til soft

Next add the meats and brown, then the milk:

Browned meat plus milk

Now you add tomatoes, wine, and cook for as long as you can stand it. I think I lasted a little over an hour, then it just smelled TOO GOOD.  You can also consult your sous chef, lingering veeeeerrrrry closely:

Continue reading

I Think You Can in Europe

I have had different reactions to the recipes I’ve checked off the list thus far.  In some cases I’ve been underwhelmed,  (I’m looking at you, curry chicken).  In other cases, I have been pleasantly overwhelmed by the results (beef wellington!  Chicago Pizza!).

But polenta left me just whelmed.

In part, I blame Giada.  Her Everyday Italian cookbook has three different recipes for polenta.  So I figured, it has to be great.  At the same time, I knew it was simple, so it wasn’t going to blow my mind or anything.

Cornmeal and a Whisk...about all you need

Polenta is made by continuously whisking cornmeal and water over heat until its soft and thickened.   I remember watching this special episode of Iron Chef America where Mario Batali was on a team with Rachel Ray.  One of their menu items was polenta and Rachel Ray was confined to a single burner, endlessly stirring for the better part of the episode.  I found this strangely gratifying.

I love this picture....maybe the cornmeal was haunted!! OOOOooooOOOO

Anyway, you stir and stir and stir and cook until the cornmeal is tender.  Once cooked, I added cream, butter, and Gorgonzola cheese since I was serving as sort of a potato substitute alongside steaks with balsamic vinegar.  Stir to melt the cheese and that’s it.

The polenta was, well, fine.  The cheese was sharp and it was creamy and filling.  But Giada just seemed to promise me so much more which her description of the warm comforting goodness of an Italian staple.    Handsome Husband responded with a “It’s cornmeal…what were you expecting.” (shrugs shoulders)

Hence, I was whelmed.

UNFORESEEN BONUS: Meh.

We did determine that my polenta undertaking cost about $1.00, so I guess polenta has that going for it.  The low cost endeavor is a sharp contrast to this weekend’s Crown Roast Affair  (ahh, a clue!!), which requires some investment.   Apparently I also decided that investment = a title: A Crown Roast Affair.  Sounds very cosmopolitan.

See you on Monday,

xoxo The Flyover Foodie

p.s. Bonus points if you know the movie source of today’s blog title!

Polenta on FoodistaPolenta

The Polenta Search or “How I learned about an Italian staple”

“She did not so much cook as assassinate food.” – Author (Margaret) Storm Jameson

DISCLAIMER: If you are an experienced Italian chef, or have traveled Italy extensively,  or (just to be safe) if you are a part Italian, it’s probably best if you do not read the following post, lest you lose all faith in me.

A Healthy Reminder

A Healthy Reminder

Last night I was writing a grocery list while standing in front of the list of 30 Before 30 list taped on our fridge.  I have fallen slightly behind, so I wanted to buy ingredients for several dishes.  One of those dishes being polenta.

I had a basic idea of what polenta was and I’ve eaten it once.  Strangely enough, I do feel like it shows up on “Molto Mario” or even “Top Chef”  more often than it shows up on the average menu in flyover country .  Hence, my knowledge is limited.  That being said,  I couldn’t  find polenta at the grocery store.  I looked in the Italian section. Nothing. Then I looked by the grains and flours.  Nothing. I even asked the assistant manager where it was, saying, “Polenta….it’s like cornmeal”.

(Some of you are now shaking your heads.  I told you!)

Not only is polenta “like cornmeal” , um, it IS cornmeal. Riiiiiight.  Teachable moment: do your research.

Polenta is made from cooking cornmeal slowly with liquid until it becomes creamy.  It is very clear from even this (questionable) source and is pretty damn obvious from a cursory glance at this basic recipe.  (Shakes head).  Seriously.  I bet even the “Jersey Shore” kids know how to make polenta.

Ok, now I’m being hard on myself.

The elusive Polenta

SO: The good news is that I already have all the ingredients, so I can make polenta without further embarrassment (I hope).

The bad news is that I didn’t even make it 6 months on this blog without a Jersey Shore reference.

xoxo The Flyover Foodie