THE BEST-EVER EGGPLANT PARMIGIANA

Am I breaking my own rule of never ever stating that a recipe is the best ever? Apologies for the convoluted phrase. But to answer my own question, no I am not. Because I was NOT the one who chose the name. It was published as such in Saveur magazine. You can read the interesting article clicking here. My beloved husband found it, showed it to me and said “we should probably give it a try.” Even though we alternate cooking dinner – one day he cooks, next day I do – he thinks I should be the one venturing in new territories. Which is totally fine with me. The problem with this recipe is that it will have you fry countless slices of breaded eggplant. It seemed like an ordeal and with a high chance of disappointment in the end: a heavy portion of greasy eggplant loaded with cheese. But after reading the article, I decided to humor the husband and give it a go. I tell you one thing: I was wrong. This was one OUTSTANDING eggplant parmigiana, and worth all the work.

SAVEUR EGGPLAN PARMIGIANA
(from Saveur magazine)

For the sauce:
2 (28-oz.) cans plum tomatoes with their juices
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
6 large garlic cloves, peeled (I used finely minced celery in its place)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the eggplant:
3 large eggs
Kosher salt
1¼ cups dried plain fine bread crumbs
1 Tbsp. dried Italian seasoning, or equal parts dried basil, dried rosemary, and dried oregano
3 medium eggplants (about 3 lb. total), mostly peeled except for a few strips of skin, sliced into thin rounds slightly thinner than ¼ in.
About 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1½ cups (about 10½ oz.) shredded mozzarella cheese (not fresh)
3 Tbsp. finely grated Pecorino Romano

Make the sauce: In a blender, pulse the toma­toes and their juices until just slightly chunky. In a pot over medium-low heat, add the oil and garlic (or celery), and cook, stirring occasion­ally, for a couple of minutes. Pour in the puréed tomato mixture and season with a generous pinch each of salt and pepper. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened slightly, at least 1 to 1½ hours. The sauce can be cooled and refrigerated for up to 2 days.


Bread the eggplant: In a wide shallow bowl, beat the eggs with 1 tablespoon water. Season with a generous pinch of salt. In a second baking dish or bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, Italian seasoning, and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt. Working with one or two at a time, dredge the eggplant slices in the egg wash and let the excess drip back into the bowl. Transfer to the bread crumbs and coat very lightly on each side. Line a large baking sheet with a few layers of paper towels and set by the stove. In a large high-sided skillet over medium-high heat, heat ½ cup oil until shimmering. Turn the heat down to medium and add some eggplant slices in a single layer until the skillet is full. Cook, turning once, until well browned on each side, about 6 minutes total. Transfer to the pre­pared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining eggplant, working in batches as needed and adding a little more oil every other batch, or as needed.


In a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, ladle ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sauce into the bottom. Cover the sauce with a single layer of eggplant (start with the thickest ones on the bottom and save the prettiest slices for the top). Ladle another ½ cup sauce on top, spread­ing it evenly. Sprinkle with about 1⁄3 cup plus 2 tablespoons mozzarella and 1 tablespoon Pecorino. Add another layer of eggplant and repeat this process until you’ve reached the final layer of eggplant. Top this layer only with ½ cup sauce, a final thin layer of mozzarella, and some Pecorino. (Reserve any remaining sauce for another use.) At this point, the eggplant parmigiana can be refrigerated, covered, for up to 1 day.


Bake, uncovered, until the cheese is melted and bronzed in places and the sauce is bubbling around the edges, about 20 min­utes (add about 10 minutes if your dish was previously assembled and chilled). Remove and let cool slightly. Slice into squares and serve warm.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I am normally a lot more lax when I follow a recipe, and don’t worry about careful measurements (unless it is baking). But in this particular case I decided to follow it to a T and measured every component. Once the baking dish was fully assembled with the eggplant, sauce and cheese, I was quite skeptical about the outcome, because it did not look luscious enough. But I have to agree, when you follow the recommended amounts of sauce and cheese, and deal with the eggplant slices exactly as advised, the final dish is pretty amazing. The taste of the eggplant comes through without being “suffocated” by sauce and cheese. It is satisfying but not heavy. We are still talking about how good it was. Added bonus: leftovers kept frozen for a week tasted almost better with a slow defrost in the fridge and a brief warming in a low oven…

If you have a vegetarian friend to entertain, look no further. The main dish of your menu is decided!

ONE YEAR AGO: Roasted Butternut Squash and Grapes with Maple Pomegranate Glaze

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NINE YEARS AGO: Chicken Parmigiana, the Thriller

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PASTA WITH CREMINI MUSHROOM RAGU

I could have added the denomination VEGAN to the title of this post, but was afraid to cause The Great Bewitching Exodus of 2021. So, yes, it is a vegan recipe but will please any omnivore around. Phil and I included. It is hearty, satisfying and with a depth of flavor that will surprise you. I started from a recipe published by America’s Test Kitchen, but I am a lot happier with my considerably modified version.

VEGAN MUSHROOM RAGU
(from The Bewitching Kitchen)

2 pounds cremini mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
1/4 pound shiitake mushrooms
2 large carrots, peeled
2 large stalks celery
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup texturized soy protein (I used this one)
1/2 cup vegetable broth or water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Reserve about 1 cup of cremini mushrooms whole. Working in batches, pulse the remaining cremini and shiitake mushrooms in food processor until pieces are about 1/2 inch in size. Transfer to a bowl. Pulse the carrots and celery in the food processor, add them to the bowl with the mushrooms. Add the can of tomatoes with the juices to the processor and run it until smooth. Reserve.

Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add processed vegetables, season with salt and pepper. Mushrooms will release liquid, so keep cooking until it seems dry. Stir tomato paste, cook for a minute or so, stirring constantly. Add the wine and simmer gently for 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, texturized soy protein, vegetable broth, soy sauce, and more salt and pepper (about 1/2 tsp each). Simmer for 5 minutes, quarter the reserved cremini mushrooms and add to the sauce. Simmer everything together gently for about 10 minutes.

Adjust seasoning, and serve over cooked pasta of your choice.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: You are probably not very thrilled about the texturized soy protein, as it is one exotic ingredient to buy, but I’ve made this recipe without it and the difference in texture is quite striking. I highly recommend you include it. If you want to omit it, add a little water to the sauce and simmer it longer. I also recommend that you get the brand I bought because it is apparently the best one out there.

It is tempting to compare it with Bolognese sauce, but I rather not go there. Let me just say you won’t be disappointed if you try this version, and it’s something that might come in handy if you want to entertain a person who is vegetarian or vegan. I’ve made it three times so far, and it will show up again at our table, maybe as a lasagna version.

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ROASTED BROCCOLI AND APPLE SALAD WITH TAHINI DRESSING

Easily makes it into the OMG FILES. Everything goes together in perfect harmony, so my advice is not to skip any of the ingredients. Broccoli has that funky nature that people love or hate, but even if you are in the latter group, the apples act as the perfect partner. Like couples that make each other shine a little brighter. I don’t really have a broccoli issue, but maybe some of my readers do, so don’t let that stop you from trying this recipe.

ROASTED BROCCOLI AND APPLE SALAD WITH TAHINI DRESSING
(from the Bewitching Kitchen, adapted from several sources)

for the broccoli:
Broccoli florets, enough to cover a quarter-sheet pan
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon maple syrup
salt and pepper to taste

for the dressing:
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 to 2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 teaspoons Dijon mustard

for the salad:
greens of your choice (baby spinach, spring mix, baby arugula)
apples, cored and diced (I used Honeycrisp)

Heat the oven to 420°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or non-stick aluminum foil. Place the broccoli in a bowl, toss with the soy sauce and maple syrup, season with salt and pepper. Spread on the baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes, moving them around half-way through roasting. Remove from the oven and let it cool still spread out, so they don’t steam and get mushy.

In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. Set aside. Assemble the salad: add all the ingredients to a large bowl, drizzle the dressing and toss gently. Adjust seasoning with salt, if needed.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: We had this salad twice already, the second time I’ve added roasted slivered almonds and dried cranberries, and it was even better, so I recommend you include them if you like. The inclusion of broccoli makes it more substantial and if you are vegetarian or vegan, a hearty piece of bread will be all you need to call it dinner. Sourdough dipped in balsamic vinegar plus olive oil would be a match made in Vegan Heaven.

ONE YEAR AGO: A Different Kind of Cookie Swap

TWO YEARS AGO: Scary Good Recipes for your next Halloween

THREE YEARS AGO: Pumpkin Sourdough

FOUR YEARS AGO: First Monday Favorite

FIVE YEARS AGO: Secret Recipe Club: Paalak Paneer, a Farewell Post

SIX YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, November 2015

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Helen Fletcher’s Oatmeal Cookies

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Thai-Style Pesto with Brown Rice Pasta

NINE YEARS AGO: Shrimp with Spicy Orange Sauce

TEN YEARS AGO:  A Simple Appetizer (Baked Ricotta)

ELEVEN YEARS AGO: Sour Cream Sandwich Bread

TWELVE YEARS AGO: Pasta with Zucchini Strands and Shrimp

ASPARAGUS WITH GUNPOWDER MASALA

Impossible to ignore the Indian vibes in our kitchen lately. Of all cuisines, I believe that is the one bringing the most out of veggies. This recipe will blow your mind, and I am certain of it. The gunpowder masala is nutty, with the perfect level of heat and complex mixture of flavors. As my friend Joanne said in her blog post, it will be good on pretty much anything. I urge you to make it, even if finding curry leaves could be a bit tricky.

BLISTERED ASPARAGUS WITH GUNPOWDER MASALA
(from Joanne’s blog Eats well with Others)

for the Masala:
100 g raw cashews
35 g raw pepitas
30 g dried red chilies de arbol (or to taste)
20-25 fresh curry leaves (I used 10 dried leaves)
2 tbsp white or black sesame seeds (I used a mixture)
½ tsp asafetida

for the asparagus:
4 tbsp olive oil
1 lb asparagus, woody ends trimmed
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
sea salt flakes
1-2 tbsp gunpowder masala (or to taste)

Make the masala: Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Once it is hot, add the cashews, pepitas, dried chilies, curry leaves, and sesame seeds. Toast them, stirring occasionally, until the seeds are starting to brown. Transfer to a bowl and cool to room temperature. Once cool, grind in a food processor or blender along with the asafetida to a coarse powder. Pour into an airtight container and store in the refrigerator.

Make the asparagus: Heat a cast iron skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat. In a large bowl or on a sheet pan, toss the asparagus with 1 tbsp of the olive oil. Add the asparagus to the pan and cook for 5-6 minutes, turning occasionally, until blistered on at least 2 sides. Transfer the cooked asparagus to a serving platter. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil and lime juice. Sprinkle with the salt flakes and gunpowder masala. Serve immediately, and swoon!

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: The other day I was part of a conversation about food blogging and how tiring it is the over-use of certain adjectives to describe a dish. Life-changing, fantastic, mind-blowing (guilty as charged)… So let’s stop going there. This is a great masala that I can see being paired with many veggies and even animal protein. I envision a beautiful piece of salmon, grilled to perfection and topped with this crunchy concoction, with a nice squeeze of lemon juice. It does need a bit of moisture to shine, so that final drizzle of oil and citric juice is a must.

If you cannot find curry leaves, I’d say make it without. It does have enough going on, and it will still be mighty tasty. The recipe makes more than you’ll need, so keep it in the fridge and find new uses for it. Just yesterday I paired it with sweet potatoes and garbanzo beans, drizzled with a tahini-yogurt sauce.

Joanne, thank you for yet another perfect recipe that will go into our regular rotation for sure!

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THREE YEAR AGO: Uzbek Flatbread

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ELEVEN YEARS AGO: Bite-sized Chocolate Pleasure

ASPARAGUS AND SNOW PEAS WITH WALNUT CRUMBS

Do you follow Lisa is Cooking? She writes cookbook reviews and is the person I blame for quite a few of my acquisitions, which are usually Kindle versions, so I feel less guilty. Her latest post centered on a book called East: 120 Vegan and Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Beijing, by Meera Sodha. I ordered it within minutes of reading the blog post. I modified one of the recipes quite a bit, and share my version with you today.

ASPARAGUS AND SNOW PEAS WITH WALNUT CRUMBS
(adapted from Meera Sodha’s East)

1 bunch thin asparagus, tough ends trimmed
Snow peas (about 1/4 pound)
1/4 cup grapeseed oil, divided
1/3 cup walnuts, coarsely ground
1/2 cup bread crumbs, preferably homemade (Panko works too)
1 Serrano pepper, very finely minced
salt and pepper to taste
zest and juice of 1 lemon (I used Meyer Lemon)

Start by making the crumb component. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large non-stick skillet and add the walnuts and Serrano pepper, season lightly with salt and pepper. Stir-fry for a minute or two, add the bread crumbs, cook until fragrant and getting toasted. Immediately squirt the juice of 1/2 lemon, mix well and transfer to a bowl. Reserve.

Add one tablespoon of oil to the skillet, and cook the asparagus, making sure they form a single layer in the pan with not much overlapping. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook in high heat for a couple of minutes, cover the pan, reduce the heat and allow it to cook in its own steam for another minute or so. Transfer to a bowl, and add a little more oil to the skillet. Now add the snow peas and cook in high heat for a couple of minutes. Add the asparagus and the reserved crumbs to the skillet, warm everything together moving it often. Squirt the juice of the remaining half of the lemon, adjust seasoning, and serve.

ENJOY!


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: If you need inspiration to prepare vegetables in creative, unusual ways, this book is a must-have. But Lisa reviewed it in the best possible way, so just jump to her blog for details. I made the original version of this recipe that used peanuts and quite a bit more of the crumb component, but to my taste it was a bit much. I toned it down and also liked it better using walnuts in place of peanuts. I think a drizzle of walnut oil to finish the dish could be excellent, and I am kicking myself because I did not try it, as I do have walnut oil in the fridge. Best laid plans.

The book is full vegetarian and vegan, but I will use it mainly as a source for side-dishes. This delicious salad (she calls it a salad, although it is served warm), was enjoyed with juicy grilled chicken breasts, a recipe that quickly became a regular in our kitchen. It was a bonus recipe featured in this post from my recent past.


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TWO YEARS AGO: Extreme Chocolate Cupcakes

THREE YEARS AGO: Sunflower Seed Kamut Sourdough

FOUR YEARS AGO: The Joys of Grating Squash

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