Making Mushrooms Sexy

Well, not really.  But you know what I mean, don’t you?  Mushrooms, ordinary button mushrooms, that are called “champignons” in Italian (which is of course a French word actually), aren’t exactly thriling now are they.  I can’t imagine people getting all excited about eating a plate of these mushrooms.  They seem to have gone out of fashion – I don’t even see them on Italian menus in family-run restaurants any more.  Sometimes as part of a pizza topping but that’s about it.  I wonder why, poor things.  They are quite tasty after all and surely, unless you hate mushrooms or are allergic to them, you don’t mind having them as a side dish, sautéed in olive oil and garlic and finely minced parsely.  But again, the operative word is “don’t mind” (which of course are two words but let’s not quibble here) as opposed to “hanker after” or “crave”.  Mmmmm.

As my children were growing up, I had to account for differing tastes when it came to vegetables and since I love vegetables myself – all of them I hasten to add – I did not mind putting at least two and usually three vegetable side dishes on the dinner table every evening. (potatoes often being the common denominator).  Favourite daughter can’t bear mushrooms, and might even be slightly allergic to them.  Whereas favourite son likes them, even the lowly button-mushroom kind.  Favourite husband is usually easy to please but he has never waxed lyrical over them.  So the bottom line, now that both kids have left home, is that I rarely cook mushrooms (except for the porcini kind, when they are in season).

I have been boycotting supermarkets for over ten years, a decision I came to after reading the book “Not on the Label – What Really Goes into the Food in your Plate” by British journalist Felicity  Lawrence.  I have been guiding tours around Frascati for almost two years and this piece of information pops into the tour when I show our clients my shopping street and the town’s market.  And I tell them, the way I write to you now, that I cannot get on my moral high horse about this – because food shopping is incredibly easy to do in Frascati and I have access within walking distance to everything I could possibly want (except for fresh coriander – for that I have to go into Rome.  Coriander/cilantro still not big in these parts).  As life would ironically have it,  however, it turns out that I have had to  frequent supermarkets on a regular basis (weekly!) ever since my mother stopped driving last year and I have to take her shopping (she turns 93 in December bless her).  I kid you not, I have been more often to the supermarket this past year than I have all together in the previous ten or more.  Oh – and by the way it’s not the idea of a supermarket that I am against.  It’s the fact that they don’t pay the producers well.  That and lots more but let’s drop the subject now and get back to the recipe for today’s post.

So there I was looking at the fresh foods at the supermarket with her the other day and turning my nose up disdainfully.  The aubergines/eggplants looked okay, I suppose.  The salads all came in plastic bags.  I’ll admit the cucumber looked good.  But for the rest I was really underwhelmed.  I went for the button mushrooms in a desultory bid to avoid coming home empty-handed.  I had to make dinner after all.

By the time I did get home, my husband told me he’d be late that night … so it was a case of my being on my own.  And that’s when I decided I would make a pasta dish with these champignons and let’s see if I could raise the bar here, and make them a bit special?

In the fridge I had some fresh tomatoes that I had cooked down in order to make a tomato sauce, and which I had put through a food mill.  A home-made tomato sauce is always good for adding ooomph to a recipe.  For the rest it was a case of the usual suspects: olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs.

On the other hand, since I WAS trying to make this a bit special, I knew I had to bring out some big guns.  Follow me.

 

0

The pasta brand. This pasta brand.  Verrigni.  One of the best in Italy, full stop.  From Abbruzzo.

3A secret ingredient – dried porcini mushrooms.  Please ignore that lovely onion from Tropea in the foreground.  I used that to cook something else.

4I poured boiling water over the funghi porcini and let them soak until they were tender.

5Once they were totally rehydrated, I used a pair of scissors to cut them up.  And don’t even think about throwing away that porcini-infused water!  That’s what was to give the dish a bit of ooomph.

6

Not too shabby either was this home-made tomato salsa I had prepared the day before. I skinned the tomatoes, chopped them up very roughly, and just cooked them down for about 15 minutes.  Afterwards I put them through a food mill and added salt and olive oil (extra virgin olive oil, naturally).

1

The mushrooms soaking in a bowl of water.  They needed a good soak, it was very hot that day.

2

The same mushrooms, a little later, roughly cut up and ready to be cooked.

TIME TO COOK

I put the water onto the boil for the pasta.

7

I am recently very much ‘into’ this big frying pan – don’t ask me why.  I certainly didn’t need anything this big for my recipe but for some reason this was the only pan that ‘spoke’ to me that evening.   Made me feel a little cheffy, I suppose.  As you can see there is plenty of garlic, and plenty of olive oil.  There are, also, a few pepper corns (no, they are not mouse droppings).  And the green herb that you see is what we call “mentuccia” and which, I think is what is known as “calamint” in English (the official name in Latin is Clinopodium nepeta).  It is very strong, very.  Think mint on steroids.  And it goes wonderfully well with mushrooms. You could always substitute with marjoram, or tarragon, or thyme, or mint or even plain parsely.  Mentuccia is very easy to grow (I grow don’t have green fingers, trust me).

8I had the garlic cooking on a stronger heat that I would normally use.

9The minute the garlic started to turn golden, I added the mushrooms.

10And shortly after I added the porcini mushrooms and the water in which they had been soaking.

11Here you see everything bubbling away over a high heat.

12Time to cook the pasta too.

13I now added my tomato salsa.

14A thick slice of a beautiful lemon from the Amalfi Coast (they are famous for their lemons there).

15I tasted the sauce, added some salt, a bit more mentuccia and … yes … even some freshly squeezed lemon juice.  A little at a time.  A little goes a long way.

16I added a little bit of freshly grated pecorino cheese and switched the heat off.   The cheese melted easily even with the heat switched off.

17When the pasta was ready, I drained it directly  into my beefy saucepan and turned on the heat to a fierce temperature as I mixed in the sauce with the pasta.  I even did a bit of showing-off tossing – but couldn’t photograph that of course.

18I served it with some freshly grated parmigiano (parmesan).

19I added some chilli flakes just after I took this photo because I like a bit of heat.

I thought it was rather nice, thank you very much.  See?  There WAS  a way to make button mushrooms sexy after all.  Or so I thought.

The next day, while I was away, my husband had some leftovers for lunch.  When I got back, I enquired as to his liking of the dish.  He scrunched up his nose, took in a deep breath and pronounced it “unconvincing”.  I mean, he ate a whole plate of the stuff but it wasn’t exactly ‘good’ according to him.  He wasn’t being mean, by the way, just offering an honest opinion.

Yet.  You can imagine how crestfallen I felt.

“Did you add freshly grated parmigiano to it?” I asked.  He answered that no, he had not.

That must have been it then, I said to myself, trying to cheer myself up.  Ah well, you win some, you lose some.

PS – if you leave the cheese out, this recipe is fit for vegans.

PPS – It’s always a good idea to add some lemon juice to mushroom soup too.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/mushroom-soup-for-parties/

PPPS – Here is a little background on Mint (https://www.summerdownmint.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Food-Wine-Sept-2011.pdf)

More Mint Mythology
In Roman mythology Minthe was a
lovely young nymph who caught
the eye of Pluto, the ruler of the
underworld. When his wife Persephone found out about his love
for the beautiful nymph, she was
enraged and changed Minthe into
a lowly plant, to be trodden underfoot. Pluto couldn’t reverse Persephone’s curse, but he did soften
the spell somewhat by making the
smell that Minthe gave off all the
sweeter when she was trodden
upon. The name Minthe has
changed to Mentha and become
the name of the herb, mint.
In ancient Greece, mint was used
in funerary rites, together with
rosemary and myrtle, not simply
to offset the smell of decay but
mint was an element in the fermented barley drink called the
kykeon that was an essential brew
for participants in the Eleusinian
mysteries, which offered hope in
the afterlife for initiates.

 

 

Cynthia Bertelson on French Food and Why I fear the Demise of the Contorno

I usually aim to make my posts light-hearted.  There’s too much gloom and doom in the world as it is so why would anyone want to read anything ‘heavy’ when it comes to a food blog.  There is a writer I very  much admire called Cynthia Bertelson; she knows so much about the history of food and I love reading her articles.  Recently she posted one entitled  “Speaking of France” in which she poses the question “Why is traditional French food so terribly unpopular at the moment?”  

IMG_4550

If you are interested in food in general, and how it affects our society, our cultures, our habits, I would urge you to read it.  It’s very interesting and not that long.  My comment on it I think is actually longer, tee hee!

I know that the only constant is change as the Eastern philosophies have been telling us for thousands of years but I’m not one for change for change’s sake.  If you are on my blog, right now, reading this … it must mean that you have even a passing interest in good food and eating well.  I want to encourage people to cook at home more, which is why I go to the trouble of taking so many photos, step by step, as I cook the dish.  Home cooking should not be difficult! or take too long! Or cost an arm and a leg!  Don’t let all those TV programmes and Instgram-sham hoodwink you into thinking otherwise.  Presentation is of course a beautiful thing but the content of the food is always more important.  End of Sermon.

Here is the link to Cynthia’s article and below is how I commented on it: https://gherkinstomatoes.com/2019/02/23/speaking-of-france

QUOTE: “I think that people now forget that nearly all cooking techniques we use in European countries and North America do indeed stem from France. Wealthy people and nobles from these countries did not eat the same way as their poorer fellow people and their chefs were either French or trained in French cuisine (the Russians too). In the region of Campania and the island of Sicily, which were under Spanish inspired aristocratic rule for a while, one of the kings married Marie Antoinette’s sister Caroline. This inspired a sortie of French chefs to this part of Italy, and their name was prefaced by the title “Monsieur”. The Italian pronounciation in the kitchen had a bit of trouble getting it just right and in the end it turned into “Monzù”. And the more learned Italians know of and still speak of the “Cucina dei Monzu”. Ironically, historically previous to all this, it was the Italian Caterina de Medici who brought Italian cooking skills to France. But the modern cooking techniques that are vital for good results in the kitchen were definitely developed in France. Personally, I have seen Italian cuisine morph into something that I have no trouble admitting is culinarily of a higher quality … but at the same time worries me. It’s turning into what I call French-style cuisine using Italian ingredients – could be dangerous in the long run because the whole point of traditional Italian cuisine is that it be simple, easy to prepare on the whole, and with few ingredients – which is why it has been handed down from generation to generation no problem. Now that the standards in terms of ‘technique’ keep rising, with restaurants presenting food more and more in what I call the instagram-obsessive-compulsive-disorder way, and TV food programmes aiding and abetting the trend, it may be that people in Italy will cook less, meaning find cooking more time consuming. And this might well lead to less home cooking, sigh. One of the saddest thing I notice in Italian restaurants now is the demise of the vegetable side plate, the “contorno”, which had to be ordered separately, giving the customer the choice of what he or she preferred. The vegetables are now increasingly presented on the same plate as the main course, the way I’ve always seen it done in the UK and in North America. The word for jazzing up a traditional dish in Italian is “rivisitato”, translated literally this means “revisited”, meaning ‘updated’. The reason for ‘updating’ many traditional Italian dishes is that they relied on a heavier fat content, I presume, or overcooked the ingredients – so the idea of improving on the original is not a bad thing per se. It’s all the other frills that bother me, the lengthier gilding-the-lily procedures and the disappearance of an actual name for the dish. Nowadays, the dish has to be described, listing all the ingredients. Who the hell is going to remember it ten months from now, let along ten years from now? “Rivisitato” is the Italian answer to yesteryear’s Nouvelle Cuisine.

We all know of the dangers of fast food … we should now start awakening our senses to the danger of haute cuisine techniques muscling its way into the kitchens in our homes.

Fennels for Phyllis – A Tart

No, no no, Phyllis is not a tart.  She’s a friend of mine.

And when it comes to fennel – well, I say, fennels for anybody who likes fennel, and not just Phyllis.

I, however? If fennel were to disappear from the world, I would not miss it.  I feel the same way about cauliflower.  I will and do eat both vegetables, weirdly enough, it’s just that I don’t gush over them.  True, fennel can be eaten on its own, raw, dunked in olive oil with salt and pepper.  Otherwise, just as with cauliflower, it always requires some kind tarting up.  Raw cauliflower? Yikes, no amount of over-seasoned dip can take away its horribleness for me.

I was having this conversation with Phyllis Knudsen, a former chef from Vancouver and author of oracibo.com, whose experience and outlook on food I greatly admire.  That and she cracks me up, she’s really funny and, you will agree, we all need cart loads of humour just now the way the world is going.  I read an article a couple of weeks ago that maintains we are living in a golden age, with statistics to prove the point.  It was written in 2016 and has immense merits (here’s a link if you want to read it: https://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/08/why-cant-we-see-that-were-living-in-a-golden-age/) – it’s just that it doesn’t often FEEL as though we are living in a golden age, I don’t know about you.  Whatever.  Hats off to all those who make life lighter for us, and that means you too Phyllis.

But back to tarting up and a recipe that turns fennel into a tart with surprisingly good results.  Take a look.

 

Slice the fennel in rounds, quite thick ones at that and cook them in a pan with olive oil and butter over quite a strong heat.

IMG_1439

Turn the fennel rounds over just the once, and sprinkle some salt too.

IMG_1440Silly me, I didn’t take a photo first but … if you look closely on the right hand side above, you will see an amber-coloured goo underneath the cooked fennel.  That goo is gorgeous honey.  So, avail yourself of a 26cm baking tray and enjoy the zen-like activity of trickling honey over the tray (not too much honey, however!).

Turn the oven on at 200° Celsius.

IMG_1442Scatter a good amount of grated parmesan cheese over the fennel.  Add some thyme if you have any.  I didn’t and had to make do with oregano.

IMG_1443Cover the fennel with pastry.  This was store bought, so easy peasy.  Use a fork to make some holes in the pastry.  And bake for about 30-35 minutes.

IMG_1449The pastry has puffed up beautifully.

Get hold of a plate that will cover the baking tray and turn the tart over, onto the plate/dish.

IMG_1451Add some fennel fronds to the tart, to add freshness.

IMG_1454IMG_1453And was it good, you might wonder?

Indeed it was.  And I shall definitely make this again.  And I still  maintain that fennel needs pampering, bla bla bla, droning on and on and on ….

 

How to Put Some Bling into Sad Green Beans

There are many hospitals in Rome and quite a few,  just like in London, named after a saint.  One of these is called the San Camillo hospital.  Now, we all know what hospital food is like, hardly ‘food’ at all, nothing to look at, tasteless and egregiously unappetising. And it is moreover very very very very plain, bland,   So for some reason completely unbeknownst to me, perhaps some wicked finger pointing dating back to goodness knows when, when conversation veers towards the topic of uninteresting food in Rome, very often people will make reference to San Camillo.  “Gosh, this is so tasteless, just the sort of fare you’d get at the San Camillo” might be one such comment.  Or: “Tell your mother that this wouldn’t do even at the San Camillo”.  Or yet again: “Oi! I’m going to add plenty of pancetta, we’re not at the San Camillo you know!”.  You get the picture.

And thus it is amongst some members of my family with regard to green beans.  They can so easily slide into the San Camillo slot when I serve them, just simmered and then seasoned with olive oil and lemon juice.  Some will refuse to eat them altogether.  Others will take the tiniest of portions and squeeze more lemon juice over them.  I happen to like them that way, so there, mneah.   It’s not as if I lose sleep over green beans.  I just happen to like them.

But I did have second thoughts over some leftovers in the fridge last week.

IMG_9485

When I took it in the ‘look’ of that cold glass bowl, I had a San Camillo  moment, I have to confess.  It looked thoroughly underwhelming.  Sad even.  And so after a little head scratching, I went about ways of making these green beans a bit more interesting. Tell me what you think.  Here we go.

IMG_9486

Lardo di Colonnata.   Lard.  Mmmm. Always good.

IMG_9487Some olive oil, chilli and garlic – classic concoction.

IMG_9488Rosemary needle, chopped very fine.  Now that’s different where green beans are concerned.

IMG_9489And though I am not a huge lover of balsamic vinegar (not in salads, that is), why not? I thought to myself.

So much for othe ingredients.  The cooking part was easy, for obvious reasons.

IMG_9490IMG_9491IMG_9492IMG_9493Don’t forget the salt too.

The balsamic vinegar last.

IMG_9495

I think next time I will add less balsamic vinegar.  Probably the best thing is to add a little at a time.

IMG_9496I’m not sure I would bend over backwards to serve green beans this way every time but I think the final result was pretty good.

IMG_9497Nothing “San Camillo” about this whatsoever.  Tee hee.

How to Hack a Caponata di Melanzane: Sweet and Sour Aubergine Recipe

I think the best way to hack a caponata is to get someone else to make one for you but he or she has to be trustworthy.  A caponata made without love can be a very disappointing affair.  I am not a goody goody, by the way, and rely on tricks and tips and short-cuts to make life run more smoothly, but when it comes to certain dishes there can be no cutting of corners.

I started out well enough, in an Eiffel Tower kind of way.

IMG_9474I cut up some aubergines/eggplant into chunks, sprinkled salt over them and placed a plate and weight over them to help their inner liquid demon ooze out more readily. By the way, the Le Creuset-type cast iron saucepan you see?  Slightly battered.  So sad, I dropped it the other day and was on the brink of throwing it away but just couldn’t find the heart to do so because it had belonged to my Swedish grandmother and so it is easily close to being 100 years old.  It can continue to be used in other ways.

IMG_9476IMG_9477I had left the aubergines to sweat for at least an hour and this is how much ‘stuff’ they released.

 

Time to rince the aubergine chunks thoroughly, to rid them of the salt.

IMG_9480Time to squeeze the water out of them.  This can be a bit of a pallaver so another good hack is to find an obliging husband to do this manly job for you.

Now the whole point of salting the aubergines is to make frying them a happy affair: they will not absorb too much oil and their texture will be more pleasing.  So, give yourself brownie points for not skipping this important step.

Off I went out then and did whatever it was I went out to do BUT I took an awful long time doing it.  Hence,  when I came home, it was late and supper had to be made and I was tired and was in no mood for frying these aubergines. Which is what is required of a true, proper Caponata di Melanzane. After a bit of head scratching and huffing and puffing and chiding myself for wanting to attempt a caponata on a busy day, I decided to go maverick.  Be a caponata iconoclast! I told myself.

IMG_9481I lay the chunks on a pyrex dish and dribbled some nice olive oil and sprinkled a little bit of  salt and … yes, you guessed it.  I put them in the oven to cook.  (Where’s that icon for the palms of both hands resting on both cheeks in a show of amazement?).  UNHEARD OF!

IMG_9484They cooked in the oven at 180°C for about 40 minutes.

IMG_9504When they cooled down, I covered them in plastic wrap and put them in the fridge.  I was exhausted and went to bed.

THE NEXT DAY

img_9584.jpgI placed 4 tablespoons of sugar in a small pan and poured white wine vinegar to cover it by more than 1 inch.  Cook the vinegar until the sugar melts and set aside.

img_9581.jpgChop up some onions and cook over a low heat.  Add a bit of salt as well as sugar.IMG_9585When the onions have gone golden ..

IMG_9586Add some very good-quality Italian plum tomatoes.  A caponata is best made with sweet fresh tomatoes but I didn’t have any on me.  I used a pair of scissors to chop ’em directly in the saucepan.  This is the ‘salsa’ that we are preparing, and it should cook for about 15-20 minutes.

IMG_9587Celery.  Celery is an integral part.  Pare the celery stalks, cut them up and blanch them in some salted boiling water. Drain and set aside.

img_9588.jpgAlso – but I don’t have any photo – rinse some salt dried capers over and over again, and have them at the ready.

IT ALL COMES TOGETHER

Add the celery and cook for a couple of minutes.

IMG_9590IMG_9591The sauce was getting a little thick and now was the right time to pour in the sweetened vinegar.  Sorry, no photo of me pouring it in.

IMG_9592Then in go the baked aubergines.

IMG_9593Lots of fresh basil.  Combine all the ingredients.  Job done, the heat can be turned off.

IMG_9594One last thing.  Toast some pine kernels.

img_9595.jpgOnce it had all cooled down, I put the caponata in a glass container in the fridge.  So the great thing about this recipe is that it can be prepared in advance.

IMG_9652We were getting ready for an outdoor grill with family, at my in-laws’ house in the Marche and the caponata took pride of place where the vegetable side dishes were concernerd.

IMG_9653I stuck some more fresh basil in the middle.

SSSI9783And everyone said the caponata tasted lovely.

I, being a fusspot, continue to prefer the fried version.  But it’s good to know that the next best thing is the oven approach.

I don’t know whether you are acquainted with Frank Fariello? If not, you should definitely check out his super blog “Memorie di Angelina”.  Bless him, he wrote the following comment on a recent post I had written:

“Lighter it may be but never as good.” Amen, I say, to that. I’ve tried various light version of parmigiana and they’re invariably disappointing. Nothing like the original recipe, heavy as it may be. I remember my grandmother dipped her eggplant slices in flour and egg as well. Made the dish even heartier but boy was it heavenly!

 

We’re on the same page Frank and I … I am a fried-food-fanatic! But, if you don’t like the idea of frying, this oven cooked aubergine caponata will do very well indeed, I promise.

Patience Permitting, a Parmigiana di Melanzane Most Fitting

My friend Libby, with help from our friend Sandy, prepared a wonderful aubergine/eggplant gratin for our lunch in the Umbrian countryside towards the end of last September (i.e. in 2017).  It was a lovely sunny day, one that allowed us to enjoy the al fresco backdrop to it all, served over what was once an olive millstone.

IMG_0598As we tucked into the dish, we commented appreciatingly about it and drew similarities to the classic Parmigiana di Melanzane.

IMG_0600

Sandy was quite amazed at how much oil the sliced rounds of aubergine guzzled as she pan fried them.  For the rest, it was a fairly simple dish to prepare.  The sauce was made with chopped fresh tomatoes, garlic and olive oil, and the layers were showered with grated parmesan.  They are then cooked in the oven until done. Fresh basil added at the very end.  And more parmesan can be added to the serving on the individual dish.

Instead, a Parmigiana di Melanzane, a proper one that is, ranks top of the list in the High Maintenance Category of summer recipes.  Which is why it is so highly appreciated at the dinner table when a friend or family member serves it and, also, why it can be the cause of much gustatory disappointment when it doesn’t live up to its standards.  There can be no cheating when it comes to a good Parmigiana di Melanzane, although variations are admitted (see two links at the bottome of this post).  And that means that the slices must be fried in olive oil and not ‘cooked’ in the oven (roasted).  When I overhear comments like “Oh, the roasted/grilled version is much lighter and just as good”, I turn my eyes heavenwards or allow myself an inward groan.  Lighter it may be but never as good.

The parmigiana di melanzane comes with not a little baggage when it comes to both historical fact and conjecture (not to mention nonsense).  Dishes were cooked “alla parmigiana” (i.e. cooked with parmesan and inside a dish that could be placed in an oven) well before aubergines even arrived in Italy.  The Latin word “parma” means a shield – and the way the sliced aubergines are set out in the dish does indeed resemble a short of ‘shield’ – so much so that an emiment Italian food historian, Massimo Montanari, reckons that could  be behind the naming of the dish.  The recipe most likely originated in Naples whose rulers were also those of Sicily until Italy became a nation in 1861 – and that would explain why both lay claim to the orgin of this recipe.

I think I’ll just get on with it now and leave history behind for a bit.

1This is how I prepped the aubergines/eggplants – I took a lot of skin off.34I sliced them length-wise and sprinkled plenty of salt over them.

5I placed the slices between two large plates.7I put a heavy saucepan over the plates, to squeeze the aubergine slices and help rid them of whatever liquid in them makes them slightly bitter.9This was quite the tower I created in the kitchen, eh!, what do you think!10It didn’t take long for the aubergines to start ‘perspiring’.11So much so, that quite a lot of liquid started trickling out.121314I had left (if I remember correctly) the aubergines to sweat away for one hour – and then threw away the liquid and put the slices of aubergine to rinse in a tub of cold water.  I then patted them dry, or as dry as I could.

While all that was going on, in the meantime, I was making the tomato sauce, with fresh tomatoes.  It was the  height of Summer after all when tomatoes are at their best.

1516Get hold of the sweetest tomatoes you can lay your  hands on, cut them in half, cut an onion in  half, sprinkle plenty of salt and add a few basil leaves.

17Turn the heat on and cook for about 20 minutes.

18

19Use a food mill to strain the tomatoes.19aDon’t throw the watery bit away – you can use it in another sauce. Or make a Bloody Mary with it!20Our sauce can be cooked down now.  Add some olive oil.21Cook away, add some salt, taste, add a pinch of sugar if you think it needs it.  Set aside.

Time to start frying.

22Pour plenty of olive oil into your frying pan.

23.jpg24.jpgDry the slices of aubergine as much as you can – and then get frying.252627This is the busy bit: the aubergines being fried in batches, then left to drain on a colander.  But it gets exciting too!  Notice how little oil drips off the fried aubergines? See below.

27a

Time to start assembling.  The hard part is over.

28.jpgSpoon some sauce onto the bottom of a baking dish – not a lot.

29

Place one layer of aubergines, some mozzarella, plenty of grated parmesan.  Regarding the mozzarella: cut it up and put it in a colander/sieve for about one hour before use.  That will help to dry it out.30

31Add some tomato sauce: not too much.32Repeat until you finish all the aubergines.  Add one last dolloping of the tomato sauce on top, as well as some more olive oil.  Bake in an oven at 200°C for about an 40-45 minutes (maybe less? I can’t remember, sorry – but you’ll see when it’s ready).

33

A parmigiana di melanzane is best eaten at room temperature.

Yes, it does take a lot of time and there is quite a lot of fuss.  But, maybe, once a year? Is it worth it?  Of course it is.

Below are the links I  mentioned earlier on, that are a variation on the theme … These other two recipes were also good, by all means, but this one ranks highest in my opinion. And I suppose I can put that down to the salting of these nightshades, these shady aubergines/eggplants.

(1)  https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/08/27/window-slats-and-the-naming-of-a-dish-la-parmigiana-di-melanzane/

(2) https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/03/01/seasonally-incorrect/

Bugs Bunny Braised Carrots

Bugs Bunny comes to mind because this naughty little cartoon film protagonist loves his carrots, only he eats his raw and mine were braised.  I like carrots both raw and cooked – so old school, so old fashioned, so ‘ordinaire’, what’s to gush about – and yet we still eat carrots with gusto, even though we may not rave about them.

When we lived in Lebanon many decades ago now, we would often be served carrots sliced lengthwise, seasoned with lemon juice and salt.  My grandmother’s comment was that she had noticed how very few  Lebanse wore spectacles and she was sure that was due to all the carrots they ate.  The arbitrariness of her conclusion continues to made smile within every time I serve carrots as a ‘proper’ vegetable side dish at the table, as opposed to a mere component in a salad.  Have you ever tried cooking carrots with a little bit of butter and a hint of grated fresh ginger? Or, the French way, with plenty of butter and maybe some garlic and definitely plenty of finely chopped parsely?  Carrots and oranges (my invention) ?

Whatever.  The other evening, as mentioned in my last post, I had a big bunch of carrots in the fridge and decided to make them the star attraction of the evening.  Basically what I did was braise them.  Carrots take longer to cook than one would think, in order to extract the right amount of sweetness from them.  So this does not constitute a last-minute preparation.  That said, there is definitely nothing difficult about the recipe.

INGREDIENTS: Olive oil, butter, pepper corns, garlic, a sprig of rosemary, half a glass of fortified wine (port or sherry, I used marsala ), carrots, water, salt

1

2I don’t know about you but I like my carrots peeled.

Start by cooking the garlic in some butter and olive oil, including the sprig of rosemary and some pepper corns.

5Then add the carrits, whole, and sprinkle plenty of salt.  (I had to cut one carrot in half because it wouldn’t fit in the pan).

6Toss or shove the pan around vigorously so that the carrots get coated all over in the melted butter and olive oil.

7Add half a glass of Marsala (or other sweet or fortified wine of your choice).

8Raise the heat and allow the alcohol to evaporate.

9Remove the sprig of rosemary.  Now add about half a glass of plain water.

10Cover with a lid and cook over a low heat for about 15 minutes.

11When I removed the lid, I pierced one carrot with a sharp knife to check on how ‘done’ it was.  I was surprised to find it still too ‘hard’.  So I plopped the lid back on and cooked the carrots for another 15 minutes.

12Or so I seem to remember.  Maybe a little longer?  In the event, do keep an eye on the carrots because, although we do want them to sort of caramelise, we don’t want them to burn.  I caught mine in the nick of time.

1314Mini hamburgers/meatballs, a hipster salad, and an old-fashioned bunch of carrots.  Crazy dinner.  But yes, the carrots were very nice.  I’ll be making these again.