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From the Seasonal Kitchen (08/22/2010)
It is eggplant time again! If this is not exactly the high point of your summer, just be patient; I have a treat for you at the end of the column. But if you love eggplant the way I do, this set of recipes is pitched directly at your home plate.

First, what do you do with an eggplant to make it firm and juicy? You salt it. Just peel it and slice it about ½ inch thick, and then put it in a strainer or colander. Toss it with a teaspoon or so of salt and leave it for up to an hour, depending on how large an eggplant you are dealing with. If you are making spaghetti sauce, cube the eggplant instead of slicing; make your cubes about an inch thick and wide. When the hour is up, rinse the eggplant and squeeze it gently with your hands to remove excess liquid; pat it dry with paper towels.

Then, continue with any of the recipes below.

Eggplant Spaghetti Sauce

Actually, I have to credit my older son for this one. He came up with it on his own just to add another Italian recipe to his repertoire. You can do it as is or maybe add sliced pepperoni or Genoa sausage if your menu needs meat. Feta or some other goat cheese also makes a nice protein addition.

Cubed and salted eggplant

Tomato sauce (recipe follows, or buy your favorite brand)

Optional: goat cheese, feta cheese, pepperoni or Genoa salami

Right, no complicated directions here. Simmer your eggplant cubes very very gently for a couple of hours in the tomato sauce. If it seems to be boiling away, turn the heat down – never a problem in summer kitchens – and add more tomatoes as needed. When your eggplant cubes are tender and juicy, serve over cooked spaghetti, garnished with whatever cheese or meat you choose. Give your cheese a minute or two to soften before serving.

Tomato Sauce (this one came from the very Italian mother of a very dear friend)

Start with two or three really big ripe tomatoes; a couple of pounds, at least. Dip them in boiling water, then in cold water; the skins should slip right off. Or (and thanks to a column colleague for this tip) freeze your tomatoes and thaw them in hot water. They will shuck their skins either way. Or use the skins and all if you don’t mind them.

Then cut the tomatoes in pieces and smash them down in the bottom of a heavy saucepan with high sides. (Your sauce is going to burp and bubble and make splashes – best to keep them in the pan.) You could strain out the seeds and skins at this point.

Heat the tomatoes very gently, adding fennel seeds and freshly ground black pepper to taste when they start to bubble. A half teaspoon or so of sugar will reduce the acidity of the sauce.

Let the sauce cook down for about 90 minutes, keeping the heat low. At the end of that time you can add some tomato paste and water in a one-third/two thirds mixture. You would use a full 6 oz can of paste for about 5 lbs of tomatoes, so adjust your quantities as needed. After you add the tomato paste and water, let the sauce simmer gently for another hour or so.

Add salt if needed only when you consider the sauce done. If you cook it down any further after salting, the salt will concentrate and may become way too noticeable. You should have a nice thick sauce that coats a wooden spoon. If you made a lot more sauce than you need, you could can it at this point. Sometime in December when you are wondering what’s for dinner, you’ll thank yourself.

If you’d like to know more about canning, there’s a workshop coming up from the U of M Extension: Preserving Food Safely will teach you the safest way to preserve by canning, freezing or pickling, and Winona Master Gardeners will answer questions on food drying and so forth.

Date/Time:  August 24th, 2-4:00pm with a fee of $10.00

Preregistration by  AUGUST 20TH - call to register or for info:  507-457-6440

And now for something completely different, from the other side of the Mediterranean.

Baba Ghanoush – delicious with pita chips or as a dip for cold raw veggies

(From Cook’s Illustrated July-August 2001)

2 lbs eggplant, roasted whole in a 500-degree oven for about 60 minutes for large globe eggplants

For smaller varieties, remove when uniformly soft when pressed with tongs. No need to salt.

1 T lemon juice

1 garlic clove minced (or to taste)

2 T tahini paste (sesame seed paste, available at many supermarkets and co-ops

Salt and ground black pepper

1 T extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving

2 t chopped fresh parsley leaves

Slit roasted eggplants lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the pulp; place pulp in colander, discard skins. Let pulp drain 3 minutes.

Transfer pulp to food processor (or blender). Add lemon juice, garlic, tahini, ¼ t salt, and ¼ t pepper; process to coarse texture.

Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper; transfer to serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap flush with surface of dip, and refrigerate 45-60 minutes.

To serve, use spoon to make trough in center of dip and spoon olive oil into it; sprinkle with parsley and serve.

And now, as a reward for your patience with my eggplant mania, here is a recipe for all those pickles you want to make but don’t have any dill for. This very strange season let the dill go to seed before the cucumber vines started to produce, so now along with a lot of other people, I’m wondering what to do with all these cucumbers. Here’s a recipe that doesn’t heat up the kitchen and doesn’t require dill.

French Cornichons

2 lb (1 kilo) cornichons

1 cup coarse sea salt

several sprigs fresh tarragon and thyme

1 bay leaf

4-6 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole

a small handful of whole peppercorns

1-2 small hot red peppers

2-3 quarts (2-3 l) white vinegar, enough to cover pickles completely in jars

1/2 inch (15 mm) slice lemon, one for each jar

Wash cornichons rubbing briskly a few at a time to remove the furry edges. Put in a large colander and sprinkle liberally with salt. Let sit overnight in the sink or over a bowl to collect the liquid. Drain & dry the cornichons with a clean dry towel. (Rubbing is preferable to rinsing as some salt remains.)

Place cornichons in any sized clean jars with tight-sealing lids. Place herbs around the pickles, adding slivers of peeled garlic cloves, several peppercorns, and a hot pepper, if desired, per jar.

Fill the jars to the top with cold vinegar straight from the bottle.

Lay a lemon slice on top and close the lid tightly. Shake once or twice and put on the back of a shelf or in the corner of a counter for a week or so. Taste the pickles as often as you like. They change in crunch and piquancy as they absorb the brine. They will be done in about a month or two. (I would process small jars of these in a water bath canner like ordinary pickles when they get to the flavor and consistency you like.)

This column of good eating is brought to you by members and friends of the Winona County EDA Local Foods Committee and UM Master Gardeners.  Questions or comments?  Contact us: “mailto:elrs2626@hotmail.com” elrs2626@hotmail.com . 


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