Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Of Eggplants and Parmesan

Since we are heading full throttle towards the beginning of a new year, I have started working on a couple of early resolutions. For one, after much hemming and hawing, I have decided to get over my need to have perfect photos to go with every entry, and just focus on writing more. I am not a photographer and do not foresee an expertise in this realm any time soon.

As you might be able to tell from my new running head, I was also craving a new look for the site. This gorgeous ode to cheese was taken at what is undoubtedly one of my all time favorite restaurants, Gramercy Tavern in New York City. It is a photo of their renowned cheese station, and though I took this picture several months ago, I am still amazed that I was able to capture this image. Gramercy Tavern is a New York institution, the place where Tom Colicchio got his start, and a place that never fails to delight me with consistently excellent food and an ambiance that is at once intimate and rollicking. This photo reminds me how absolutely beautiful a table of nothing but cheese in all its artful simplicity can be.

Cheeeeeesse. I would not want to imagine my world without it. When I recently discovered that I had a sensitivity to wheat, my first thought was, “Thank God its not dairy.” I was of course fazed by the news, but truth be told, I feel so much better after cutting wheat out of my diet that it’s hard to get too worked up about it. And many of my favorite recipes don’t have anything to do with wheat. After a few crestfallen moments realizing that I would have to eat less pasta (I refuse to give it up entirely!), I began to account for all the wheat free foods I could come up with. The first recipe that came to mind was Jamie Oliver’s Eggplant Parmesan. Before trying Oliver’s recipe, I was not at all a fan of this Italian-American classic. Somehow, being battered and fried and smothered in tomato sauce is something I think best left to the mozzarella sticks of my youth.

This recipe is light, even airy, and is delightful with a salad and crusty bread (if you are so inclined). If I want a couple extra portions leftover, I add in lasagna noodles* to make it more substantial. I also tend to add a bit of fresh mozzarella to the top, but it is lovely with or without it...

*For gluten-free readers: I recently discovered the joy of Tinkyada’s brown rice pasta. Try theirs if you want to opt for the lasagna option.

Eggplant Parmesan

Adapted from “Jamie’s Italy” by Jamie Oliver (Hyperion, 2006)
3 medium-large eggplants, cut crosswise into ½-inch slices
Olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
1½ teaspoons dried oregano
1 28-ounce can no-salt plum tomatoes or crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
½ cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, or as needed
1/3 cup fine dry bread crumbs, optional.
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves, optional.

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Brush both sides of eggplant slices with oil, and place in a single layer on two or more baking sheets. Bake until undersides are golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes, then turn and bake until other sides are lightly browned. Set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.

2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and add onion. Sauté until soft: about 10 minutes. Add garlic and dried oregano and sauté another 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and their juices, breaking up whole tomatoes with your hands. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 15 to 20 minutes.

3. Add vinegar, basil and salt and pepper to taste. Into a 9-by-9-inch, 10-by-5-inch or 10-by-6-inch baking pan, spoon a small amount of tomato sauce, then add a thin scattering of parmigiano, then a single layer of eggplant. Repeat until all ingredients are used, ending with a little sauce and a sprinkling of parmigiano. In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs and oregano, if using, with just enough olive oil to moisten. Sprinkle on top. If desired, recipe can be made to this point and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before baking.

4. Bake until eggplant mixture is bubbly and center is hot, 30 to 45 minutes depending on size of pan and thickness of layers. Remove from heat and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving. Recipe can also be reheated.

Yield: 4 main dish servings.
Time: About an hour 45 minutes- 1 hour

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Season of Short Ribs

I feel as though I have spent the last year trying to disavow my love of meat. I think it is fair to say that I’m quite conflicted. Some months have been more successful than others – July and August were a breeze. Particularly if I discount the dinner my brother and I spent at the delicious meat-intensive restaurant Beast in 105 degree weather—consuming 5 courses as we did our best not to melt.

Summer was blissfully spent with corn, tomatoes, arugula, and peaches, but being the anticipatory eater that I am, I was already plotting my braised meat dishes for fall. Fortunately, I have a like-minded friend who not only loves to plot meals months ahead of time with me, but also insists on wearing a nubby sweater while eating braised meat and drinking red wine for the total autumn experience. And so it came to pass this October, that we wore nubby sweaters on a perfect crisp fall day, and made what might just be one of the most delicious of all fall dishes— mushroom braised short ribs

I have frequently made this dish in the dead of winter— most often for Christmas dinner. One of the reasons I love this dish so much on Christmas is that, after a modest amount of chopping and seasoning, you can leave the meat to its own devices for a good four hours. In my family, this means that our championship Trivial Pursuit game can continue without interruption. I love to serve this with egg noodles and a crisp salad beforehand. I won’t lie to you, it is a rich meal, and one that might inspire you to take a nap, but it is just so goooood.

* Note: Unless I’m preparing for 6-8 people, I often half the recipe.


* This is adapted from “Tom Valenti’s Soups, Stews and One-Pot
Meals” by Tom Valenti and Andrew Friedman.

Total time: 4 1/2 hours after overnight seasoning
Yield: 6 servings
6 pounds short ribs (about 6 pieces)
Coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Garlic powder
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium Spanish onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
8 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
2 cups dry white wine
1/3 cup distilled white vinegar
9 cups store-bought, reduced-sodium beef broth
3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1 cup dried morel or porcini mushrooms, rinsed under running water to
remove grit

1. Day before cooking, season ribs with salt, pepper and garlic powder.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
3. Heat olive oil in roasting pan over medium-high heat until hot but
not smoking. Add ribs and brown on all sides, about 1 minute per side.
Remove from pan and set aside.
4. Discard all but 2 tablespoons fat from pan. Add onion, celery,
carrot and garlic to pan. Cook, stirring often, until lightly browned,
about 8 minutes. Add wine, vinegar, broth, thyme and bay leaf. Stir in
mushrooms. Bring to a boil over high heat.
5. Return ribs to pan, cover with foil and braise in oven for 1 hour.
Remove foil and cook 3 more hours, or until meat is very tender and
falling off bone.
6. To serve, remove ribs from braising liquid and divide among 6 warm,
shallow bowls. (Leave bones for dramatic presentation.) Strain braising
liquid, reserving morels and discarding other solids. Skim off and discard fat from liquid and pass as a sauce at the table.