Baked Pasta with Eggplant and Mushrooms

Baked Pasta with Eggplant and Mushrooms

It’s the inaugural post of Things Made with Stuff from the Garden! This week, we have Too Much Eggplant and Herbs That Are Starting to Flower. Later this summer, I’ll probably be featuring What Do I Do With All This Zucchini and Holy Crap Why Did We Plant So Many Tomatoes Again.

The tomato sauce for this dish doesn’t use fresh tomatoes; the first time I made it, I was trying to use up one of those huge 28 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes, and it was easy and turned out well. (For those of you who, like me, want to curse recipes that call for a 15 oz. can of crushed tomatoes because you swear they only exist in 28 oz. cans—I finally found 15 oz. cans. Furmano’s brand.) The crushed tomatoes are reduced until they’re nice and concentrated, and then vinegar, fish sauce (yes, the kind you see in lots of Thai recipes—I thought it would be easier than opening a can of anchovies…), fresh oregano, and fresh thyme get added; pasta water finishes it up so it’s spoonable but not thin.

I have to tell you, I’m not an eggplant expert. This is the first year I’ve grown it, thanks to a coworker who also gardens and graciously offered to get me some Japanese varietals from a farmer she buys plants from. She told me that she often uses eggplant in pasta dishes, so that sounded like a good place to start from. Mushrooms and eggplant pizza is a favorite of mine, so portobellos became the second veg.

I didn’t peel the eggplant because I read that it’s unnecessary, especially for the smaller kinds that don’t have tough skin. I did soak the eggplant in salted water before sautéing it because that’s what my hairdresser suggested. Seriously—she loves eggplant and prepares it a lot, and she said that the salt water soak prevents it from absorbing too much oil when you cook it. I did some research and it looks like it’s more common just to salt the eggplant, let it sit, and then rinse off the salt. This is also supposed to help remove the bitter flavor, which apparently is only an issue with larger, older eggplants. I did the salt water soak anyway because it sounded fun. (And it worked well the first time I tried it, so why not stick with it?)

The finished product is sort of like lasagna, but without lasagna noodles: pasta is layered with veggies, cheeses, and tomato sauce, with a sprinkle of fresh basil to top it off. I am not a huge fan of ricotta cheese, so I used goat cheese.  Normally I would balk at turning on the oven for a baked pasta dish in the middle of the summer, but I think this is worth the 30 minutes of oven time. It has made it into the dinner rotation twice in the past couple of weeks, and it will probably be a regular as long as the eggplant keeps coming in.



Note:  This isn’t 100% vegetarian because of the fish sauce.

Also, I used 2 huge (6″) portobello caps, which yielded about 5 cups of chopped mushrooms. You could substitute an equivalent amount of baby bellas / creminis.


Baked Pasta with Eggplant and Mushrooms

serves 4 people who aren’t super hungry

  • 4 oz. dried pasta; I used medium shells but I bet any smallish shape would work
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup pasta water
  • one 15-oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 2 tsp. red vine vinegar
  • 1/2 Tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 1/2 – 3 cups chopped eggplant (1/2″ dice)
  • ≈ 10 oz. portobello caps
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 oz. soft goat cheese, crumbled
  • 3 oz. fontina cheese, coarsely grated
  • about 8 large basil leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain, saving a cup of the pasta water. Set aside the water and the pasta.

For the tomato sauce:

  1. Heat 1/2 Tbsp. of the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. The tomatoes are going to splatter and bubble, so go for one that has high sides.
  2. Add the can of crushed tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until thick and pasty, about 25-30 minutes. (I used this time to prep the eggplant and mushrooms.) You might need to lower the heat or stir more often as the tomatoes cook down.
  3. Remove the tomatoes from heat and add the vinegar, fish sauce, oregano, thyme, and 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water. If you want the sauce thinner, add more pasta water by the tablespoon until you get the consistency you desire. I added 2 additional tablespoons.
  4. Season to taste—be careful with the salt because fish cause is salty—and set aside.

For the eggplant and mushrooms:

  1. Soak the eggplant in a bowl of salted water while you cook the mushrooms.
  2. Heat 1 Tbsp. of the olive oil in a 10″ sauté pan over medium heat.
  3. Remove the stems and scrape the gills from the portobello caps. Chop into 1/2″ cubes.
  4. Add the mushrooms and a healthy pinch or two of kosher salt to the pan. (They barely fit in my pan at first but shrunk down to about a cup.) Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms release their juices, about 3 minutes. Continuing sautéing until most of the juices evaporate and the mushrooms are cooked through, about 5 more minutes.
  5. Add the minced garlic and continuing cooking just until the garlic is fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute more.
  6. Scrape the mushrooms into a bowl and set aside.
  7. Set the same pan back over medium-high heat and add the last Tbsp. of olive oil.
  8. Remove the eggplant from the soaking water and squeeze it dry in a kitchen towel.
  9. Add the eggplant and a pinch or two of kosher salt to the pan and cook until nicely browned and completely cooked through, about 12 minutes. Think of it like making hashbrowns but with eggplant. Turn the heat down to medium if the eggplant is browning too quickly.

Layering it together:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350º.
  2. Lightly oil an 8×8″ baking dish.
  3. Build it up like this and make your layers as even as possible:
    • eggplant
    • half of the pasta
    • mushrooms
    • goat cheese
    • the rest of the pasta
    • tomato sauce (dollop on top and smooth it out with the back of a spoon)
    • fontina
  4. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until it’s warmed through and the cheese on top is melty.
  5. Chiffonade the basil leaves and sprinkle over the top before serving.

Chicken and Vegetable Soup with Butter Beans

It’s time for a recipe that uses the Twizzler-celery I mentioned in the About section.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted because I’ve been out of town. I spent most of the week of Christmas at my parents’ house, and I helped my family make and eat deliciously unhealthy holiday food, but we left all the extras with my parents. I also went to California for a friend’s (3-day Indian-American celebratory extravaganza that was simply called their) wedding, where the guests were all generously fed the most amazing Indian food for 3 different meals.

Dinner on the night of the sangeet ceremony.

So when I got home for good about a week ago, the cupboard was pretty much bare, except for some 2+ week old celery. I thought I should cook it since it obviously wouldn’t be bringing any crunch to anything if I left it raw. Soup sounded good because yes, like pretty much everyone else, I’m motivated to be a little healthier after the holidays. Also, the polar vortex has come back in full force, and I am refusing to consume anything that will make me feel even colder. Soup instead of a sandwich, red wine instead of white… You might even find me drinking lukewarm water.

That's right. I'm going to cook with this.

That’s right. I’m going to cook with this.

This soup is one that we had regularly when I was growing up. When I was in college and asked my mom to send me the recipe, the answer she gave me on the phone was something like, “Uhhh…well…(imagine a genuinely concerned sigh of stress here)…I don’t really have a recipe but I can tell you what I generally do.” So, this is the first time I’ve ever actually measured out the ingredients while making this soup. In any case, these are the elements that absolutely have to be a part of it if we’re going to refer to it as the chicken and vegetable soup that I grew up with:

  1. Homemade chicken broth.
  2. No pasta. This is not chicken noodle soup.
  3. The vegetables must be onion, carrot, celery, tomato, potato, corn, and….
  4. …lima beans. But who wants to eat lima beans? They sound so unappetizing, right? Whoever did the marketing to get people to start using the term “dried plums” instead of “prunes” needs to jump on the lima beans goldmine ASAP because they really should be called butter beans. Or, if you’re my grandma, “buttah beans.” Mmmm…butter beans…doesn’t that make it sound like they’re going to be rich-tasting and creamy and savory? (Which they are.) I like the bigger ones, but you could use the small ones. They will probably be in a bag labeled “lima beans,” but don’t let that turn you off.

The broth of this soup is really important because it’s where most of the flavor comes from. It will take a while to make because you will need to leave it on the stove for a long time if you want it to end up tasting really good. I usually make it a day or two ahead of time, or sometimes I just freeze it and then it’s ready to go when I want to make soup.

When I make broth, my goal is to have something I could drink a cup of plain and enjoy. I want it to be herby and garlicky and salty. And most of all, I want it to congeal so much after I put it in the fridge to cool down that it is scoopable instead of pourable.

After the broth is done, the rest of the soup comes together pretty easily. You just have to chop, sauté, and simmer. I would highly recommend serving this soup with fresh homemade biscuits topped with a warm pat of salted butter and then a spoonful of apple butter, but maybe that’s just nostalgia talking.



Note: You can freeze this soup, as long as you don’t mind that the potatoes will probably break down a little bit when you defrost it. Also, for the broth, you might notice that the photos don’t look like they have the same amounts of garlic and celery that I listed below. I used more garlic because my cloves were quite small, and I used the celery heart and the leafy tops for the broth because I didn’t have a ton of celery and wanted to save the stalks for the soup. For the broth, I like to put the crushed peppercorns and allspice in a metal tea infuser ball, which works like a cheesecloth but is easier to use. Lastly, I cooked this in a bigger pot than I normally do, and it made 3 1/2 quarts, which is about 1 quart more than usual. When I cook it in my smaller soup pot, I think I use 2 potatoes, maybe 2 cups of butter beans, and about 3 cups of chicken. Probably a little less stock, too. 


Chicken and Vegetable Soup

For the broth:

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 14 c. cold water
  • 1 medium yellow or white onion, root end left intact, peeled and quartered
  • 4-5 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed with the flat side of a knife
  • 2 medium carrots, cut once lengthwise and once crosswise
  • 3 celery stalks, cut into about 4″ lengths
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp. peppercorns, lightly crushed
  • 1/2 tsp. whole allspice, lightly crushed
  • a few springs of whatever fresh herbs you have on hand. I used rosemary, thyme, and sage because that’s what was still alive in the garden. Parsley and oregano would work well too.
  1. Rinse the chicken and remove the gizzard/organs. If you have a dog and want to make her an especially happy puppy, boil those innards and then chop them up and mix them into her dog food.
  2. Put the chicken, water, and all other ingredients in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a bare simmer. Simmer gently for about 2 hours. Flip the chicken after an hour or so if it’s not fully submerged.
  3. After about 2 hours, the chicken should be falling-off-the-bones tender. Use a pairs of tongs to remove the chicken from the stockpot, but keep the stock simmering. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, pick all of the meat off of it, but don’t throw away the bones and skin. Set the meat aside—put it in container and stick it in the fridge or freezer. You’re going to put some of it back in the soup later.
  4. Add the chicken bones and skin back to the stockpot. Partially cover the pot with a lid and keep it at a bare simmer for another 3 hours or so.
  5. Strain the broth into a bowl or large container. I ended up with a scant 8 cups of stock. Let it cool for a little while, and then refrigerate it overnight, or until the fat on top has congealed. Remove as much or as little of the congealed fat as you want. The broth can now be used or frozen.

For the soup:

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 c. chopped yellow or white onion
  • 2 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • 3 celery stalks, trimmed and sliced about 1/4″ thick
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and diagonally sliced about 1/4″ thick
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 tsp. dried oregano
  • 14 oz. whole tomatoes in juice
  • 8 c. of the broth you made
  • 1 16-oz. package frozen butter beans
  • 3 medium Yukon Gold or other boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 15-oz. can whole kernel corn, drained
  • about 4 c. shredded or diced meat from the chicken you made the broth with. I like a combination of light and dark meat, but use whatever you like.
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, divided
  • freshly ground pepper
  1. In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add the onion, garlic, celery, carrots, 1/4 tsp. of the kosher salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and translucent but not brown, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the oregano, tomatoes, and the remaining 1/4 tsp. kosher salt. Break the tomatoes up with the back of a wooden spoon.
  4. Add the bay leaves and stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook 10 minutes.
  5. Add the butter beans and simmer another 10 minutes.
  6. Add the potatoes and simmer until almost tender, about 10 more minutes.
  7. Add the corn and chicken and simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes.
  8. Before serving, remove the bay leaves and adjust seasoning season to taste.

(Mostly) Egg White (Sort of) Frittata

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I did not make this (sort of) frittata from (mostly) egg whites because I wanted it to be healthier and threw away all the yolks. (That will happen after I enjoy holiday food.) No, it has mostly egg whites because I had a ton of them leftover after making lemon curd, pastry cream, and tart crusts. Why the glut of decadent desserts? Well, I’m not above bribing my students, so every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I give them raffle tickets when they participate, and then we have a drawing for prizes on the last day of class before winter break. This year, tartlets, eclairs, madeleines, and—the most prized possession of all—homework passes were in the mix.

After the frenzy of baking, I made a mental note to collect money from my classes next year and buy treats from a local bakery in order to maintain my sanity. And then I tried to figure out what to make with the 7 egg whites and 1 whole egg (it didn’t want to separate nicely) that I had. Anything sweet was out of the question because I was on a sugar overload after all those bowls and beaters that I had licked, so a frittata seemed like the best way to go. And, as the title says, it’s not really a “frittata” because it’s cooked entirely in the oven and not at all on the stovetop. I supposed you could call it a “crustless quiche,” but “crustless quiche” makes me feel the same way a lot of people do when they hear the word “moist,” so I’d prefer to misname it a frittata. Also, it’s cooked in a cast iron pan, which is not nearly dainty enough for anything that calls itself a quiche.

I make frittatas pretty frequently; I usually use whole eggs and keep it vegetarian. I was afraid that the egg whites would make it bland, though, so I fancied it up a little more than I usually would. First, I found some Trader Joe’s chicken breakfast sausage links in the freezer, so I browned up a couple of them to add. Next, I harvested all the kale in the garden that’s threatening to die every time a frost comes around. It’s Red Russian kale, which supposed to be very cold tolerant, but it looked like it might be on its last leg.

I like my frittatas with a lot—and I do mean a lot—of vegetables. Even though my pile of kale was overflowing the salad spinner, it barely weighed 8 ounces, so I decided to use all of it.

Next, I usually just toss in some raw onion, but I caramelized half of a yellow onion instead. Finally, for the cheese, we had provolone but, oddly enough, it was a really nice provolone that was quite strong, and I found it to be almost overwhelming. So, I used just a bit of it and added some mozzarella for gooeyness and to let the other flavors come through.

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Note: I was double-checking the size of the skillet I used, and it says 5 on it, but it was about 7″ in diameter. And so I learned that the numbers on cast iron skillets correspond to certain standard pan sizes, not the actual diameter in inches of the pan.

You could make this in the same size pan with 4 whole eggs instead of egg whites. Also, my 8 oz. of kale didn’t need to be de-stemmed. If you have to de-stem your greens, you might want to start out with more than 8 oz., or just weigh them after you stem them instead of before. For the sausage,  I used 2 links of  breakfast sausage, and they weighed about 2 1/2 oz. before I cooked them. Lastly, this frittata reheats nicely in the microwave and will keep well for a day, but after much longer than that, the cheese will start to take on an unpleasant texture.


(Mostly) Egg White (Sort of) Frittata

serves 2-3

  • 1 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 8 oz. kale or other cooking greens
  • 1 tsp. butter
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion
  • 7 egg whites and 1 whole egg
  • 2-3 oz. sausage, cooked and then cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 oz. provolone or mozzarella, or a combination of both
  • kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Add 1 tsp. of the olive oil to a #5 (6.75″) cast iron skillet, and put it in the oven to warm up while you prep everything else.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a stock pot over medium heat. When it’s warm, add the minced garlic and stir until just fragrant, 30 seconds or so. Add a handful of the greens and a couple of healthy pinches of kosher salt and stir until the greens start to wilt. Keep adding greens by the handful until they’re all in the pot and are completely wilted. Remove from heat and let cool. This will happen faster if you put them in a different bowl instead of leaving them in the pot.
  3. While the greens are cooling, caramelize the onion. First, heat 1 more tsp. of the olive oil with the 1 tsp. of butter in a small pan over over medium-high heat. Slice the onion thinly crosswise. When the pan is hot, add the onion and a pinch of kosher salt and cook, stirring constantly, until the onion is soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium low and keep cooking, stirring regularly, until well-browned, about 10-15 minutes more. Remove from heat.
  4. Dice the cheese into 1/4″ to 1/3″ cubes. You could grate it, but I like how it doesn’t disappear into the frittata if you leave it chunkier.
  5. By this time, your greens should be cool. Squeeze them out as much as you can. Seriously, put some muscle into it and get them as dry as you can; otherwise, it while make your eggs gross and watery. Chop up the squeezed-out greens.
  6. Whisk the egg whites and egg in a medium bowl. Add the sausage, greens, onion, and cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste, but keep in mind that you’ve already salted the greens and the onion, and that the sausage has salt too.
  7. Use an oven mitt ! to remove your hot cast-iron skillet from the oven. The oil should be nice and shimmery. Swirl the oil around or use a spatula spread it out until it evenly coats the bottom of the pan, and then add the egg mixture and smooth the top. Cook for about 25 minutes, or until the eggs are done.
  8. Remove from the oven and run a rubber spatula around the edges of the pan to loosen up the frittata a little. Let it cool for 5-10 minutes, then use the rubber spatula to slide the whole thing out of the pan. Enjoy immediately, or wait until it cools completely and then refrigerate it for later.

Smoky Roasted Broccoli

 

Lesson learned: It's hard to make cooked broccoli look appealing.

Lesson learned: It’s hard to make cooked broccoli look appealing.

I consider myself lucky to have a husband who likes cooking and is good at it. We take turns cooking dinner on a weekly basis, and sometimes we argue about whose week it is because we both have recipes picked out that we want to try. But I can’t really get annoyed because my husband is insisting that it’s his turn to cook. Or complain if we eat late because he’s perfecting his pepperoni pan pizza with a home-made crust. Or get grumbly because I have to fit into a dress for a friend’s wedding in a couple of weeks and he made some amazing short ribs and mashed potatoes that I’m having a hard time resisting seconds of. Unfortunately, not whining has never been my strong suit, but honestly, our sharing of dinner duty is a pretty great situation.

The only real problem happens if one of us doesn’t check the fridge very well before we go grocery shopping, because sometimes we buy produce that we already have. This is how we ended up with two large bunches of broccoli this past week. Fortunately, I have a new favorite way to prepare broccoli.

I first tried making broccoli like this after having a something similar in a restaurant while traveling over the summer. It was tender but still had some tooth, and it was a little charred—in the good way— in some spots. I think only the florets were served in the restaurant, but in my version, I use the whole broccoli: both the crowns and the stems.

IMG_2835

I haven’t fully embraced the “crisp-tender” phenomenon for vegetable cooking, because sometimes they still taste raw to me. If I want that sort of flavor, I’ll probably just eat the raw vegetable. And I’ll admit I’m not averse to Southern-style, cooked-til-they’re-army-green vegetables. For this recipe, I wouldn’t call anything crisp, but nothing is mushy. The stems are first cooked separately from (and for significantly longer than) the florets, so that they take on a texture like most any other roasted winter vegetable. The florets are steamed/boiled for a very short time, and then seasoned. I use powdered onion and garlic, which I tend to avoid, but they work well here, plus they’re simple. Smoked paprika is also added, and let’s be honest, smoked paprika makes everything better. It is like the bacon of spices. Finally, everything gets put under the broiler for a few minutes, until the florets get just a little bit blackened.


 

Note: My bunch of broccoli yielded about 1 1/2 cups of stems and 5 cups of florets. You might want to add more or less seasoning and/or olive oil depending on how big your bunch is. Also, I cook the florets in a small amount of water in a covered pan because it’s quick, easy, and there are fewer dishes to wash, but you could also steam them in a steamer basket. 

 

Smoky Roasted Broccoli

serves 3-4

  • 1 large bunch broccoli
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, divided
  • 1/8 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/8 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 400º.
  2. Trim and peel the broccoli stems, then chop into about 1/3″ chunks, discarding any tough or woody pieces. I start cutting from the part of the stem that was closest to the crown, and if I reach a part where my knife stops slicing easily, I don’t use the rest. Toss the chopped stems with 1 Tbsp. of the olive oil and 1/4 tsp. of the kosher salt. Add fresh pepper to taste. Spread onto a baking pan and roast in the middle rack for about 20 minutes, or until nicely browned. Stir every 5 minutes or so. While the stems roast, prepare the broccoli crowns.
  3. Cut the crowns into florets. Fill a medium saucepan with water to about 1/2″ depth and bring it to a boil. Add the florets, cover, shake a couple of times, and cook until tender. This will happen very quickly, in only about 3 minutes, maybe fewer if you like your broccoli on the crisper side. Drain the broccoli well, then place it in a bowl and toss it with the onion powder, garlic powder, smoked paprika, remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil, and remaining 1/4 tsp. kosher salt. Add freshly ground pepper to taste.
  4. After the stems have finished roasting, remove the pan from the oven, crank the heat up to broil, and put a rack directly under the broiler. Spread the seasoned florets in the pan with the stems. Once the broiler has preheated, place the pan back in the oven for a few minutes, until the florets have just started to blacken. This took about 6 minutes in my oven. Remove from the oven and adjust seasoning if needed. Serve hot.