Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sweet and sour eggplant with sausage

This is one of those things that I make so often that it's kind of automatic--I had to really stop and think about what quantities actually go into it. It's really not eggplant season anymore so you might end up filing this one away for next summer when there's tons of eggplant that needs using up. And since eggplant season overlaps so nicely with pepper season, feel free to add a chopped red bell pepper and a few hot peppers to the sauté as well. Start with a nice medium sized eggplant and a medium onion. Chop them! Let them know who's boss. And sausage! This is, as it usually is in my house, Georgia Boy smoked hot sausage. You can leave it out if you're vegetarian and you'll have a perfectly delicious vegetable sauté on your hands. But I love Georgia Boy sausage. Love. It. I use two links--it's about 1 cup, sliced. This is also my preferred sausage for low country boil and the like. I think the phrase "preferred sausage" is funny.Start the sausage in a big probably won't be needing any olive oil or anything because it is surely fatty enough as it is.
Add your onion and sauté over medium heat with the sausage for 3 minutes or so, until it is beginning to soften. If you're not using sausage, you will need a tablespoon or so of olive oil heating up in the pan to keep everything slick. And in go your eggplant chunks! The savvy among you will note that I do not salt and drain my eggplant ahead of time. This is because I am lazy and I have omitted that step from my life and never looked back. Don't tell my mom.
Let the eggplant and onion cook up for about 4 minutes over medium heat, stirring often. You want the onion to be golden-colored and tender but not crisping out. The eggplant should shrink in size and be getting pretty soft. Now add in 1 1/2 cups tomato something. I used tomato puree this time because that's what I had on hand. Tomato sauce would be just fine too. I most often use whole, peeled tomatoes and sort of break them up with a spoon in the pan as I stir. But this time it was tomato puree. The amount isn't too important--you can add as much as 2 cups or so and just let it cook down if you want.
Turn down the heat to medium-low and stir occasionally. Let it bubble away happily for about 8 - 10 minutes, then add in 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1 teaspoon capers and a splash of worcestershire sauce. You can add about 1/4 cup or more of red wine as well, if you have it handy. It probably won't need any salt but you should taste to be sure. At this point it smells so good that if you don't guard vigilantly, somebody probably will sneak in there and grab a bite. I also usually add 1 can of drained, well-rinsed red kidney beans at this point. Let them cook in the sauce for about 5 minutes, then turn off the heat. I add in several healthy shakes of tabasco at the very end, but that's just because we like it hot. It adds more tang too, so you might need to adjust the balance of sweet with a bit more sugar.
This is great over orzo, cous cous or any small pasta. Fast and easy! Make it tonight.
By the way--I accidentally deleted all my comments while I was housekeeping and trying to get rid of spam. I feel like a chump because there were some really nice ones in there! Not intentional--just clumsiness :(

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Gnocchi di zucca with fried sage leaves

This is an all-time classic! My mom makes these gnocchi all the time and taught us how some years ago. This is a really easy fresh pasta that is much easier to work with than the classic potato gnocchi which can get starchy and gummy pretty easily and cause all kinds of tears and heartache. Squash gnocchi will never break your heart! Finish them off with fried sage and butter and you're in for fall. After a few years of making these, I have settled on kabocha squash as the best kind of sweet winter squash for this recipe. Don't let that dissuade you though, if you happen to have a nice butternut or acorn squash hanging around! But if you're going out to get one specially, look for the round, green kabocha. Also known as Japanese pumpkin! They are super sweet, low-moisture and just about perfect. Slice it in half and scoop out the seeds. Roast it at 400 until soft or microwave it if that's how you usually do. Scoop out the soft, yellow good stuff into your food mill.If you happen to have a food mill, anyway. I do. I got it from my mother. You just crank the handle until whatever you are milling comes out smooth, getting out any extra fibers and seeds that might be in there. It's particularly great for potatoes and squashes because it doesn't over-compress the natural starches, which can turn everything gummy. If you don't have one, don't worry about it. Just pick out any stray seeds and kind of mush it all up until smooth with a fork instead. Add one egg, salt, pepper, and about 1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese to your squash and mix it all up together.Now you need to add flour. This is where it gets unique and personal. If your squash was on the bigger side (or if you used one of the more watery types), you'll be needing more flour. If you had a little bitty squash, maybe you don't need so much. I add 1/2 cup at a time, mix to incorporate, then add another 1/2 cup and so on. I used about 2 cups total this time in particular.It should all come together into a lumpy ball of dough with a pretty, pale orangey-yellow color. I'd like to paint a wall in that color actually. It's very cheerful/soothing. Now I'm going to show you how I made these gnocchi for most of my adult life. It's definitely the most tedious part of the process--and if your dough is sticky, you might find it better to let it rest in the fridge for an hour or so first so that it is easier to work with. We'll call this Method One. First get a coating of flour on your counter top...
Pinch off a piece of dough and roll a snake, like this is play-doh time and you're riding high in kindergarten.
Lay out your snake... And slice into one inch pieces. Tine each piece with your fork.And voila! One gnocchi. OK, now for Method Two. Bring your big pot of salted water to a boil...Pinch off a tiny piece of the dough, about the size of the tip of your thumb.And drop it in the boiling water. Voila. One gnocchi.Guess which method I'm utilizing more frequently these days? For a special occasion dinner, I will certainly roll-and-slice via Method One because they do look nicer that way...but of course, they taste the same. Now, no matter what method you use, they'll need to boil but it doesn't take long (maybe 5 minutes, tops?) so let's hurry up and fry our sage leaves for on top.Get some olive oil and butter (about 1 1/2 tablespoons of each) going over high heat.Toss in your sage leaves and spread them out so they can crisp up. Yes. Gorgeous. They sort of absorb the butter/oil and become velvety but crunchy. Does that make sense? Anyway--they delicious. Shut off the heat and go check on your gnocchi. When they're done, they float up to the surface. Like I said, takes about 5 minutes at most.Drain the gnocchi and dump them into your butter-sage pan to roll around a bit. Then put them all out on a big platter, turning over a couple of the pretty sage leaves for on top. Shave a few thin slices of parmesean cheese over the top as well. This is an amazing fall meal! Make it for your friends and enjoy.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Happy birthday!!

Il Piatto Blu is 4 years old today! For a birthday present, we built a brand new kitchen.It's not quite done yet...still needs floors and a backsplash. But neither of those things are technically essential for cooking so I'm ready to get back into it! Here's where all the new magic will happen:Can't wait. Happy birthday!