Monday, August 15, 2011

The Urban Chef Plants Roots

First, a big sorry to all my urban cheff-ers & cheff-ettes—I know it’s been awhile since we last posted, but never fear, we are back and better than ever!  The urban chef has big news, we bought an apartment!  We have brand new digs with a bigger and better kitchen to aid in the urban chef’s culinary adventures. 

Like many new homeowners, we are eager to make the space our own.  I want everything put away, cleaned and functional—that instant “perfect” home feeling.  I was in nesting mode all the way this weekend—unpacking, decorating, etc (I left all major home repairs to the Urban Chef!)  This weekend—our first in the apt, we had our CSA pickup.  This week’s bounty was fabulous as we got our first batch of tomatoes!!!!  I love tomatoes and you will always find them in our fridge!  I put them on everything and really to me, nothing is complete without a slice of tomato. I look forward to this time of year because the true sweetness and delicacy of a tomato can be tasted.  My favorite thing on a summer day is a tomato sandwich, two slices of sourdough bread, lightly toasted, a smear of mayo and a ripe tomato with salt.  YUM!   But, since I was in a nesting mood, I wanted something more savory to fill the new house with that home cooking smell (you know, change the air and the feeling in the house, make it our own...)  In addition to tomatoes, we also received 3 fresh eggplant, and the first thing that popped into my head was my recipe for eggplant parmesan.   I love the big baked Italian favorites (ok, feaux American-Italian favorites, please, you know you love them) as they are savory and comforting, and keep well and reheat perfectly.

If you are in the mood for a bit of a heartier meal using fresh veggies—check out the below!  Perfect for a dreary day like today in New York…

Eggplant Parmesan
Time: 1 hour 45 min
Prep time: 45min
Cooking Time: 45min plus 15 min resting before serving
Serves 8 (or six hungry adults)
This recipe also works with veal or chicken cutlets. I would suggest making it with meat in the winter.

Tomato Sauce:
5 cloves garlic
3 large shallots
1 package plum tomatoes
3T olive oil
3 large vine ripe tomatoes
¼ cup wine or wine vinegar
¼ cup basil
¼ cup parsley
1 T oregano
1 T Salt (or more to taste)
1 t Pepper (or more to tast
Crushed red pepper (optional)
1 T sugar (optional, if tomatoes are in season, not needed)

2 T oil
1 package mushrooms (mini Portobello or Shitake)
6 cups baby spinach

3 Medium Eggplant (I like the long skinny ones)
2 eggs
½ cup breadcrumbs
½ oil (for frying)

10oz mozzarella cheese (part-skim)
½ cup pecorino Romano cheese


Begin by making your tomato sauce.  Pour package of plum tomatoes into a blender and coarsely chop.  Pour into a bowl.  Add the 3 large tomatoes (cored) and coarsely chop, add to bowl with plum tomatoes.  Peal and dice shallots.  Crush garlic, peal off skin, and chop (medium fine).  Heat a large saucepan on medium high with the 3T oil, sauté shallot until fragrant, add garlic and sauté 1-2min longer.   Add tomatoes and stir, you should have extra liquid given off from the tomatoes.  Add the vinegar, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper.  Bring to a soft boil, stir, reduce liquid just a bit (2-3min), then turn heat to low add basil, parsley, and oregano, stir, and cover.

Then, prepare the spinach filing.  Chop mushrooms, peal, crush, and chop garlic.  Heat the olive oil in a nonstick skillet, add mushrooms when hot.  Sauté 3-4min, add garlic, sauté for 1min, add spinach .  Stir with wooden spoon until spinach is wilted.  Add salt pepper.  Turn heat off and set aside. 

Slice the eggplant about 1/2 inch thick. Throw away both ends of eggplant; don't eat.
Beat the eggs together in a flat bowl (cereal bowl; salad plate). Use another bowl (same type) and fill about 1/4 inch with breadcrumbs.  Cover a slice of the eggplant, one at a time, with the egg and let excess drip off. Then lay the slice in the breadcrumbs, covering both sides. Repeat this process, adding more breadcrumbs as needed. If you fill the bowl with too many crumbs at on time, the crumbs will get sticky and chunky.

Add oil to a medium fry pan on medium high heat; add just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Brown each slice; you can brown about 4-5 slices at a time. Don't overcook; just let them get crispy on the outside (2 min a side). Add oil as necessary; don't let the pan dry out or burn.  Transfer slices to a paper towel.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Begin to combine ingredients in a large circular casserole pan.  To start, put a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom.  Arrange circles of eggplant on top, place them tight together.  Add a layer of the spinach and mushrooms on top of that (thin).  Add a thin layer of mozzarella cheese.  Repeat the process. Ideally, there should be 3 layers of eggplant with 2 layers of spinach sandwiched in-between.  Top the remaining eggplant with the rest of the tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and the Pecorino Romano cheese. 

Bake at 350 for 45 min.  This give you a crispy crust (which in the Urban Chef house, goes first!!!)  Let rest 15 min before serving. 

This recipe keeps very well—although in our house it goes fast—perfect for taking to work for lunch or a fast easy left-over dinner. I am excited by our new place and cannot wait to share all the new recipes that take shape there-- I know there are delicious things to come.

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