Posts Tagged ‘eggplants’

Crisis luncheon – tomato and eggplant tart

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Being a freelancer has its ups and downs. One of the ups is that you can have a mid-week break from reporting on the effects of the financial crisis on a small European country and cook lunch for a friend who lost her job because of the very same crisis. As she is one of the most cheerful people I know, I decided to make an equally cheerful savory tart, with tomatoes and grilled eggplants topped with goat’s cheese. It was accompanied by one of my favorite salads – Lebanese tabbouleh, to bring the spring back to our recession-ravaged lives.

By now I’ve learned how to navigate my sorry excuse for a kitchen and on that sunny March morning even the temperamental gas oven wasn’t a match for me. Tart crust is easy if you don’t panic, and is ready in a breeze. This tart calls for a pre-baked shell so you can make it ahead of time.

I used small Sicilian eggplants, which are extremely beautiful with their light purple and white stripes. I don’t salt the eggplants and don’t wait for 20 minutes when they don’t have many brown seeds – it’s a waste of time. The bitterness is in the seeds. The tomato sauce I use for pizza and spaghetti with meatballs, which I usually make in batches and freeze afterwards, made the whole operation faster. I wish I could have served it all with a crisp and fruity Portuguese Vinho Verde, but didn’t have time to get any that day.

Tomato tart with eggplants and goat’s cheese

For the tart crust see my cranberry tart recipe. Keep the remaining part of the dough in the freezer for future use. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Pierce the shell with a fork to keep the crust from rising. Place aluminum foil on top of the tart shell, weigh it down with dry beans or tart weights if you have some and bake for 15 minutes on racks positioned in the middle. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes or until the shell is golden brown. Take out and leave to cool.

Filling

  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • ¾ cups tomato sauce
  • 3 small Sicilian eggplants, cut in half lengthwise and then quartered – you should have eight strips (or 1 medium size Italian eggplant – cut in ¼ inch rounds)
  • 1/8 pound fresh goat’s cheese (or feta)
  • salt, freshly ground black pepper
  • chopped parsley (or dill) for garnish
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium heat, add the eggplants in batches if they don’t fit in single layer and saute until soft and slightly brown. Transfer to a plate covered with a paper towel to soak up the extra oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss.

Spread the Dijon mustard over the bottom of the tart – it gives a nice sharp bite to the sweet tomato-and-eggplant filling. Spoon in the tomato sauce and spread it evenly. Arrange the eggplant strips in a fan (or if using rounds – starting from the outside lay them in overlapping circles). Crumble the cheese on top, sprinkle with more black pepper and bake for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese starts melting and the eggplants are warmed through. Serve warm with a salad and a nice crisp white wine. It will really make a difference to your mid week or light weekend lunch.

Monday Breakfast

Monday, January 26th, 2009

I’m not a morning person. Before I have my first cup of coffee you better stay away. Mondays are the hardest – the weekend fast gone, school back again, and with it the rush, the kids’ cereal, the lunch boxes, the heavy backpacks and the inevitable “Why do we have to go to school?” – and freezing Chicago weather on top of that. I do hate Mondays.

Yet I love breakfast, but not before 10 am and not in a hurry. I was never one for a quick fix of a typical workday morning. I loathe cereal, any resemblance of porridge, granola, muesli, fruit yogurt or a boring slice of bread with ham or cheese. I would rather go hungry than eat that. For me, breakfast is something to be enjoyed and not forget right away. I’m way more of an English breakfast than a weak continental affair person, even though I wouldn’t be able to do this every day. I tried heavy morning fare during a six-day trip to Scotland last spring, but got overwhelmed. Besides, the sausages were horrible.

Brunches were invented for me, but since I can’t have them every day, I try to keep the feeling throughout the week by taking care with what I make myself after dumping the kids at school – and the husband, for that matter. And here a well stock pantry comes in handy. You can do miracles if you have few essentials, well essentials for me anyway, like cans of hummus and baba ghanoush – the smoky eggplant dip popular in the Middle East – jars of mixed pickles and marinated peperoncini – medium spicy peppers often used in Southern Italy and Greece – black olives and some cheese. I always buy the olives with pits and preferably cured in brine or olive oil. Never buy them pitted – huge mistake. They are dry, tasteless and usually too salty. My new favorites are tiny Lebanese black olives, very similar in shape and taste to the overpriced Provençal ones, but much cheaper. You can find all of the above in Middle Eastern grocery stores. As for cheese – nothing fancy – Bulgarian sheep feta, simple fresh goat cheese or strong, creamy cheddar. I’ll stop here, as I can go on and on about cheese – but more about that some other time. Finally the bread, which is quite a pain in this country. Even my local Polish deli has mediocre bread, which came as a surprise, as in Poland it is generally very decent. The Sicilian bakery next door specializes in sweets and has no crusty Italian ciabatta. I still wonder how something so basic as bread could be done so wrong here. Thank God again for the Middle Eastern bakeries and Trader Joe’s. The first cater great flat breads, usually baked at the premises, the second is the source of my family’s much-loved bagels and English muffins, as well extraordinary sourdough breads.

This Monday it was a dense chewy bagel for me, toasted and spread with baba ghanoush, topped with smoky cured ham, a slice of feta and peperoncini for extra bite. I made a small side salad with mixed baby greens, cherry tomatoes and scallions, sprinkled with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. A big latte and the BBC News web site rounded the perfect breakfast for me. I was ready to face yet another day of financial crises, big presidential plans and small domestic accidents.

For those who are not as lucky as me to have a great Middle Eastern grocery only two bus rides away, here is a recipe for baba ghanoush. This delicious smoky dip will get you hooked.

Ingredients:

  • two medium plum eggplants; look for deep purple ones without brown spots
  • 2 garlic cloves – peeled, smashed to paste with ½ tsp salt in a mortar (you can use less, but eggplants love garlic)
  • 1 ½ tbsp tahini paste
  • juice of half lemon
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt
  • handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped (optional)

Preparation:

Back home I had an old thin metal pan that I used only for grilling peppers and eggplant. I would put it on the gas hob over high heat and grill the vegetables, turning them until the skin was charred all over. You can use a grill or very hot oven – 425°F/220°C. Pierce the skins of the eggplants to prevent them from bursting and place in the oven for at least 45 minutes. The skin should be black and crisp and the meat soft. Put them in a plastic bag or bowl with a tight cover for 15 minutes. This will help with the peeling – the skin will slide off easily. Mash the flesh in a bowl, add the garlic, lemon, tahini and oil – mix well and try for seasoning. Add more salt, lemon juice or olive oil if desired. The dip will hold well in the fridge for a week. I like to add chopped parsley. You can spread it on sandwiches, or use it as a dip for raw vegetables, as part of a meze platter for a light supper or a starter for a dinner party.


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