Sunday, June 15, 2014

Eggplant, The Perfect Way -- Calabria

I have returned to A Mediterranean Feast by Clifford Wright.  I suspect it will become a favorite because of its diversity of recipes, and I've only read the first hundred pages!
ISBN 0-688-15305-4
In Part I:  An Algebra of Mediterranean Gastronomy, Chapter 2:  Harvest of Sorrow, Food of Dreams (page 77), I came across Melanzane alla Finitese, with an accompanying paragraph of:
Arab agriculturists brought the eggplant to the Mediterranean from Persia, or perhaps even from the Arabian peninsula, in the ninth or tenth century.  The eggplant was treated with suspicion at first, but soon became a favorite vegetable. ... Calabrians have seemingly hundreds of different preparations for eggplant and many might agree that this is the perfect way. The late American food writer Waverly Root claimed that this dish is so called because it is a specialty of San Martino di Finita.
Eggplant, The Perfect Way

8 baby eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds)
Salt to taste
2/3 cup freshly grated pecorino cheese
1/4 finely chopped fresh basil leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Basil doesn't get any fresher than this!
1.  Slit each eggplant open in the middle, slicing it lengthwise and making sure you do not cut all the way through.  Hollow out a small amount of pulp with a small spoon such as a demitasse or baby spoon.  Save the pulp for making the recipe on page 531.* Open the eggplant with your fingers and salt the inside.  Leave them on a plate to drain of their bitter juices for 30 minutes, then pat dry the insides with paper towels.

2. In a small bowl, mix the pecorino, basil, and pepper.  Using your fingers, stuff each eggplant with the cheese mixture.  Close each eggplant with a toothpick if necessary so very little stuffing escapes.

3.  In a medium-size skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat and cook the eggplant until soft, about 25 minutes.  Transfer to a serving platter, drizzle with a little olive oil, and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

* Eggplant Omelette Fritters

My Notes

I used only two baby eggplants so I reduced the cheese mixture quantities to match (about one fourth of the recommended amounts).

They didn't say anything about the stem end, so I cut it off as close to the stem as I could.  This turned out to be convenient for hollowing out the pulp.  I was careful to open the eggplants only enough for the work that needed to be done so the uncut part would not split.

Slit, scooped, and salted
Since I was only using two eggplants, I did not save the pulp to make the recipe on page 531. 

For each eggplant, I used about 1/2 tsp of salt which I poured into my hand then gently poured into the eggplant.  Closing and shaking the eggplant helped distribute the salt. They were placed cut-side down on the plate to make the draining easier.

The cheese mixture had a bit more than 1/8 tsp. of pepper, which I thought was too much but my guest taster liked.

The toothpicks went in at a slant to the cut.

The olive oil was heated until it started to smoke, then I turned the heat down until it was barely smoking.  Then I put in the stuffed eggplants.  My concern was knowing when they were done -- nothing happened for about 7 to 8 minutes after they sat in the hot oil.  Then some sizzling occurred and I felt like they were actually cooking!
See the toothpicks?
I turned the eggplants four times, letting them sit at least five minutes on each side before turning.  The skin turned dark and the flesh slumped, showing me it was getting soft.  It was pretty easy to see they were getting done. 

To serve them, I pulled out the toothpicks and opened them up, trying to get some of the stuffing on both halves.  That was hard; one half had most, if not all, of the stuffing.  I didn't drizzle more oil on them because they had oil on them still from the pan.  I did let them rest ten minutes, as directed.

The Verdict

This was very good!  At first I thought I should avoid eating the skin but it tasted fine -- not burnt or scorched or bitter.  Parts of it did slide off the flesh so you can look for that if you don't want to eat it.

The flesh was tender and mild; the cheese, basil, and pepper combination is tasty in its own right but a good accompaniment for the flesh -- the pecorino was strong but the basil was in enough quantity that their flavors blended and complimented each other.  No one flavor dominated even though I thought there was too much pepper.

I sincerely wished for more of the tasty stuffing.  I used all that I made but I felt the eggplants were modestly stuffed; I think the next time around I would fill them full.  Next time, too, I would consider serving them unopened (but without the toothpick) because I expect it to be easier to get the stuffing in every bite.

Success!  I would do this again and especially for company.  It is unique, simple, and impressive.  My guest taster was very suspicious of eggplant yet liked it enough to eat the whole thing.  I served it with broiled steak; fresh tomatoes dressed with balsamic vinegar, pepper, and basil strips; and pine nut couscous.  A very satisfying meal.
Hot enough to steam up the camera lens

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Baked Cottage Cheese Pudding -- Take 2

This is an update on the Russian dish, "Baked Cottage Cheese Pudding", originally posted on 1 June 2014.  

I tried this recipe again, doubling it because the size of the cottage cheese carton makes that convenient.  I used only finely grated orange zest and some extra sugar as the flavoring.  The entire batch went into the pie pan.

It took longer to cook, as I expected: about 45 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit in a ceramic pan.  I liked that the top browned and did not get rubbery at all, that the filling was thicker and therefore more tender, the flavor was great, and the overall look was more substantial.

The only problem was that the mixture was very watery after baking.  I am not certain but I think the different brand of cottage cheese was wetter than in the first attempt.  So my solution would be to either add more semolina to absorb the water or drain the cheese before adding it to the mix.

This is really a tasty dish!  I had it for breakfast with some grapes and poached eggs.  Excellent with sour cream and a bit of key lime marmalade.  Success, again!

Addendum:  I had the leftovers a few days later and I still think it tastes better cold.  

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Baked Cottage Cheese Pudding -- A Russian "Twofer"

Many (but not too many) years ago some friends went to Russia to adopt a daughter.  While they were gone, I helped out with some of their responsibilities.  When they returned, they brought me this book, Russian Cuisine, by Lydia Lyakhovskaya:

ISBN 5-8194-0010-0
It is a charming book with a lot of great pictures, some cute illustrations, and interesting authentic recipes. 

The recipe that drew my attention was Baked Cottage Cheese Pudding (page 66). It is in the category of "Cereals, Pasta Poaches, and Omelettes" and is presented as a lovely dish to serve when having tea or coffee. 

Baked Cottage Cheese Pudding

1 cup cottage cheese
1 egg
1 tsp. sugar
a dint each of salt and soda
1 tbsp. semolina
1 tbsp. candied orange peel or a handful of raisins
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. bread crumbs

Ready to be doubled.
Rub cottage cheese with salt, sugar and egg, add semolina and soda, stir until well blended and spread as an even coat in a buttered mould or pan sprinkled with bread crumbs.  Bake in a 356 to 392 degree oven until brown.  Serve the fritter with sour cream, honey, jam, cranberry or currants ground with sugar, for tea and coffee.

My Notes

Notice there are no directions for what to do with the orange peel or raisins.  The picture looked like the orange peel may have been scattered across the top but it was hard to tell if it was before or after baking. 

I was having trouble deciding if I wanted to use the orange peel or the raisins and then I realized one container of cottage cheese was big enough for a double recipe! 

I wasn't sure how much a "dint" was, much less doubling a dint, so I treated it like a "pinch" and made the doubled measure about 1/8 teaspoon.

The soda was baking soda and it made the mixture bubble just a little bit.

After I made the doubled recipe but before I spread it into the pan, I split the mixture into two bowls.  Two and half cups split into one and a quarter cups per bowl.  Then I mixed in a handful of raisins into one and about 1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest and 1 teaspoon of extra sugar into the other.  (Candied orange peel does not last long around my house!)

Each flavor went into a buttered pie pan.  My bread crumbs were homemade and rather large.  Some would compare them to Panko crumbs.  They kept the pudding from sticking to the pan, as desired, but also formed a nice crunchy crust on the finished product.  That really added to the overall texture.

Ready for the oven.
 The two pans baked at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes.  They smelled delicious and the crumbs browned. 

Ready for eating.
The Verdict

Taking the advice of the recipe, I served the puddings with hot tea in a clear glass cup.  The cup has a map of the world on it, so I enjoyed looking at Russia while I dined.

Ready to please.
I tried the puddings both hot and cool.  I liked the cool best because the flavors came through clearly.  My first reaction was that I absolutely loved the orange peel one and imagined that the raisin one wouldn't be as good.  As it turned out, the raisin pudding was very good, too. 

The puddings were each very thin.  The surface was a little rubbery and the inside was soft and creamy.  The rubbery did not detract from the flavor or texture.   The orange flavor with the cheese was outstanding.  The raisins added a bit of sweet chewiness.  I think it might be tasty to put both orange peel and raisins some time!

After the initial taste as they were out of the pan, I tried them with sour cream -- an excellent accompaniment, especially with the raisins -- and with strawberry jam and orange marmalade.  The jams were good, too, but I thought they overwhelmed the flavor of the orange peel.  My guest taste tester thought everything was good and loved both the sour cream and jam on them. 

I declare it a success!  This was so easy to do and very tasty.  I think it would make a good breakfast or brunch dish, along with some grapes and perhaps a croissant or a bagel.  It was quite excellent with tea.

I called this a "twofer" because I got two flavors from one recipe.  I'll add in another twofer by mentioning that the next page talked about "Cottage Cheese Fritters" which is this recipe except use 2 tbsp. wheat flour instead of semolina.  Roll the batter into a round strip, cut into pieces, shape them into an oval or round shape, then saute' in butter on both sides until brown.  Sounds like a good camping recipe to me.