Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Onions and Potatoes and Eggs, Oh My!

How’s this for bold? This morning my mom called to talk about a few things, as we do most days. When we each got through our a.m. agenda, I asked: “So, what are you doing today? Want to make us lunch?” She jumped at the chance — we don’t have a lot of time alone-together these days, with my work and the kids and all. I suggested she make frittata. Thankfully, she bit.

This is a recipe Mom’s been making for years. Take one onion and two potatoes. Peel and chop the onion, peel and dice the potato, and sauté them together in a large frying pan with canola oil and salt & pepper until the onion and potatoes are tender. Talk about a great smell when I walked in her house!

Next, beat five eggs and add them to the pan. Allow to cook over medium heat, moving the eggs around (as you would for an omelet) until almost cooked through to the top.

At this point, some people may simply put the pan under the broiler to finish off the top, but not Mom. She does this thing: she slides the frittata onto a dinner plate, then flips it back into the pan, which she returns to the stovetop to finish cooking. Cut into triangles, and enjoy!

frittata




Mom’s Frittata
(Click here to view
and print recipe)

 

 

 

 

Relatively quick, easy … and a staple in my mom’s house for as long as I can remember. Today she served a little homemade ratatouille on the side (that’s what she did with that Sicilian eggplant from last week), I brought some fresh Portuguese rolls which we buttered, and we had a nice leisurely lunch, mother and daughter. A cool breeze was blowing in the kitchen window, and the food was oh-so-good, as was the conversation. Talk about comfort food … it was perfect!

Grazie, mamma. Io ti amo.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Thing of Beauty

The last couple weeks have been crazy-busy with paid work, which trumps the fun of blogging every time. I hope you’ll excuse my absence last week. There just weren’t enough hours to get everything done. But I’m back this week, hopefully strong, with a classic. Let’s begin … cominciamo.

The end is near yet again. Summer, you say? Nope … that was on Tuesday. September? It’s true … my favorite month of the year, with its beautiful blue skies and warm sun, is quickly coming to a close. But that’s not what I’m talking about either. Of particular interest to Mangia, Figlie’s creator is that eggplant season, which begins in July here in the Mid-Atlantic states, is almost over for yet another year. So many recipes, so little time…

Just take a look at this thing of beauty that my mom’s friend dropped off at her house the other day:

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It’s a Sicilian eggplant, described on Wikia.com as: “characterized by a tender flavor and a sweet taste.” I’ve never in my life seen one of these, or if I have, I didn’t notice. And I can’t imagine I didn’t notice. Mom says she isn’t sure what she’s doing with it yet, but if she doesn’t do something soon, I’ll have to go steal it from her. Don’t want to see that lovely specimen go to waste.

This thing of beauty arrived from our produce co-op last week:

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It’s a Japanese eggplant, if you aren’t familiar. Thin-skinned, its flavor is described as “delicate” and “sweet.”

Throw in a couple American eggplants and an Italian eggplant (already peeled)…

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….and we’ve been feasting for a couple of weeks now. On what, you ask? Here are a few ideas:

1. Joe Ambrosino, of Queens, New York, aptly “channels” his grandmother when he blogs at Your Italian Grandma. About a month ago, he posted a recipe for caponata, which is a cooked eggplant salad that can be served hot or cold, as an appetizer, side dish, or over a nice plate of pasta. As soon as I saw the recipe, I knew I had to mention it here!

The ingredients, though numerous, are fairly basic in an Italian pantry: eggplant, garlic, onion, celery, olives, capers, raisins, tomato paste/sauce, red pepper flakes, red wine vinegar, and granulated sugar or honey. But what really caught my eye was his secret ingredient: cocoa! Joe says the cocoa will “darken the color and deepen the taste of the dish.” Having followed his blog for quite some time now, I trust his dishes. Click here to read Joe’s full caponata post and find his recipe.

2. On Wednesday night I sautéed an eggplant and some veggies in a pan and served it as a side dish at dinner. I took one Japanese eggplant, one zucchini, and one red onion. I peeled and chopped each, put them in a pan with butter and olive oil, salt and pepper, and slowly cooked them over low heat on top of the stove. Stirring occasionally, I allowed them to sauté for about an hour. This was the result:

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I sprinkled a little grated Romano cheese over the top and called it done. My husband gave the dish a thumbs-up (“You can make this again, hunny.”), commenting that he liked the “greasiness” with the veggies. I coupled it with my grilled flank steak, which was a flavorful combination, but I couldn’t help thinking how nicely this would go over a plate of pasta as well.

3. Of course, my favorite thing to do with eggplant is to make parmesan. We vacationed in the Outer Banks of North Carolina with a group of friends and their families several summers ago, and when it was my night to cook, I chose this dish. Not only does it easily feed a crowd (we numbered 17 that trip, if I’m counting correctly), but it’s a Montesano favorite … meaning dinner guests always seem to enjoy it when we make it for them.

The recipe is simple. First, make a pot of Mom’s tomato sauce:

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Peel and thinly slice an eggplant or two (or three, in this case):

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In a bowl, mix together 4 eggs and 1/4 cup of flour, to resemble a pancake batter. Dip each slice of eggplant into the batter and fry in oil, turning once, until fork-tender and lightly browned on each side. Move fried eggplant to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet to absorb the excess oil:

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Once the sauce and eggplant are prepared, grab some shredded mozzarella cheese out of the “icebox” and layer the ingredients in this order, from bottom to top:

Sauce (to cover the bottom of the glass dish)
Eggplant
Mozzarella
Sauce
Eggplant
Mozzarella
Sauce
Eggplant
Sauce

Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes at 325 degrees, and this is what you’ll get:

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Mom’s Eggplant Parmesan
(Click here to print recipe)

4. There is one more recipe I must mention — one I make fairly often — a bit of a different take on eggplant parmesan. It by no means takes the place of Mom’s recipe, and it really isn’t as efficient to make for a crowd, but Mario Batali offers an amazing parm recipe, focusing more on the eggplant itself (cutting it lengthwise) and using fresh mozzarella. It’s a light and refreshing dish, perfect for a hot July night, and it’s great if serving just a few people. Click here to view and print Mario’s recipe.

I realize now I should’ve posted these recipes earlier in eggplant season … it’s just the way it worked out, I suppose. But I’m taking no excuses. I’ve offered four tasty eggplant recipes and you have at least one week left till the eggplants leave the building. Go get yourself one, give one of these recipes a try, and let me know how it goes!

Sauteed Eggplant, Zucchini, and Onions on Foodista

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Toast to the Special Ones

Meet my friend, Anne:

 anne

Anne was the mother-of-the-bride when we took our road trip to Charleston this past spring for a wedding. You may remember I wrote about Shrimp & Grits after that trip, but the true draw of Charleston for me wasn’t really the Hominy Grill; it was the chance to spend time with Anne and her family.

I first met Anne in January 1989. I tried to put in writing the circumstances of our initial meeting, but truthfully, it all sounded rather kinky, though it honestly was not. Suffice it to say, I caught her in the bathtub. (You’ll be relieved to know, however, we didn’t meet face to face until later that day.)

Anne and her husband, Randy, have four beautiful children. When I first met the kids, they were little, ranging in age from 13 to 3. Today, they are all grown up, and each is a gem in their own right … because Anne and Randy are some of the coolest parents you’ll ever meet. Here’s some cool stuff specific to Anne:

  • She went back to college for her teaching degree when her oldest child was a teenager. It was during those years as an Education major that she taught me the importance of positively reinforcing children for positive behavior. She won’t remember she put that in my head, but I know it is there because of her.
  • Anne taught me to clean shrimp with a fork. Being from Louisiana makes her an expert on this one, trust me. Simply place the end tine of the fork underneath the top of the shrimp shell, then in one smooth motion from front to back, push the shell off with the fork while also cleaning out all the “gook.” Once you master her technique (if these instructions are at all clear), you realize just how genius it is.
  • I’m not a dog person, but when we visited Anne and Randy in North Carolina several years ago, she told me she trained her dogs by tying their leashes to her jeans belt loops. She spent entire days with the dogs literally at her side. That sounds like a nightmare to me, but there’s certainly a lesson in patience and persistence there. And it’s a testament to Anne’s ability to be present in the lives of everyone around her. I wonder if I’ll ever learn that.
  • And finally, Anne taught me how important it is to let your children be who they are. Truly, she and Randy have the most amazing children.

These days, we don’t see each other much more than once every few years, but thanks to Facebook, I feel closer to Anne than ever. Like the time she posted a picture of herself holding a huge artichoke, and she said it reminded her of me … because she remembers, as I do, the time I completely pigged out on steamed artichokes at her kitchen counter many years ago. She made some of the best garlic butter I have tasted in my whole life, and I sat and ate and ate and ate. I can only imagine that I made quite a spectacle of myself.

We’ve both aged since our first meeting almost 22 years ago. I’ve since married and had two children of my own. She is now a grandmother … though she still doesn’t seem old enough.

Many people touch our souls on the road of life. My mother — my family — obviously played an important role in who I am today, as this blog shows week after week. But along the way, select non-relatives leave a mark as well. Anne’s mark on my life has been positive from the get-go. She’s taught me by example about beauty and patience and individuality and acceptance … more than she will ever know. And I’ve still so much to learn from her.

She recently forwarded a recipe to me for Frozen Peach Dessert, which was passed down to her from a non-relative who left a similar mark on her life. Here, Anne talks about the recipe and “Mother Hart”:

This recipe comes from Margaret Hart, who recently passed away. She was the precious mother of an old boyfriend, but even after I was married to someone else and had children, she showed such love to me. I would often go to her house with [my boys] when they were little and she seemed to love them as if she were their grandmother. She had many great recipes and would share a bite with me and then give me a handwritten card so I could make it myself. This peach dessert is a great one to share if you have 10 or 12 people. It is perfect when it has just thawed — even better than any peach ice cream you can name. Margaret was called "Mother Hart" by my boys, and I will never forget her love and care for them and me.

This week at Mangia, Figlie, I offer a toast to the Annes and Mother Harts of the world: Chin chin! Who in your life are you toasting?

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Mother Hart’s
Frozen Peach Dessert
(Click here to view
and print recipe)





Mother Hart's Frozen Peach Dessert on Foodista

Friday, September 3, 2010

Purple Bell

When it’s as hot outside as it was this summer (and this week), the last thing I want to do at 5:00 p.m. is turn on the oven to bake something for dinner. But I still do, and here’s why:
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These lovely bell peppers were part of our weekly share from our produce co-op, and a stuffed purple bell pepper just sounded like something I couldn’t pass up.

(For my home-decorating blog friends, the tablecloth is a recent purchase from a newly opened antique store here in town. I just love that the blue of a 25-plus-year-old tablecloth can match the blue of my kitchen walls so perfectly!)

My journey with stuffed peppers is ever changing. When I was a young girl and my mother made the dish, I did eat the meat inside, but refused to eat the peppers. That slowly evolved over the years, as did my recipe of choice. My mother didn’t use any fillers, but once I tried stuffed peppers with rice, I never went back; these days I prefer the brown kind.

My recipe derives from Betty Crocker’s Cookbook (©1986). Funny … when I went to look it up in the index, I saw it was on page 214. “I knew that,” I thought. “Page 214.” The wrinkled, stained page reminded me of all the times I’ve referenced this page throughout the years (because, of course, I can’t cook or bake without a recipe).

Betty’s ingredients include bell peppers, ground beef, onion, rice, salt, garlic salt, tomato sauce, and mozzarella cheese. In past years, based on our garden crop, I have substituted sweet banana peppers, which work rather nicely, bringing a sweeter and more mild pepper flavor to the dish. I’ve also used turkey in place of the beef, and meatloaf mix works as well. And every time, I switch out the mozzarella cheese with a nice colby-jack, for added flavor.

This is a relatively easy dish to prepare, and great if you need something to put in the oven before guests come for dinner. It also cuts up nicely for leftovers for lunch the next day … my husband will attest to that.

The impending storm promises cooler weather, at least for a few days, so it’s a good time to find some fresh peppers at your favorite local market, turn on that oven, and give this dish a try. Your kids don’t like peppers, you say? Then I suggest this route:P8120010








 

But for my grown-up friends with grown-up palates, let me suggest the classic route. I don’t know the Italian translation for that — l'itinerario classico seems a little too literal but who cares? What matters is this:

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Stuffed Peppers
(Click here to view
and print recipe)

 

 

 

 

Lean Turkey Stuffed Peppers on Foodista