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Blueberries

I recently got my hands on 20 pounds of frozen organic blueberries from one of my co-workers. I had to remove them from the box they came in so I could fit the bag into my freezer. So far I haven’t done much with them besides add them to my granola, to my ice cream and to a bottle of vodka. This weekend though, big plans are ahead – blueberry ice cream!

After that, blueberry cobbler and then gallons of smoothies. The funny thing is when I got them I was so excited to have some delicious berries around the house, but now that California strawberries are in season I’m a bit less excited. I almost added strawberries and rhubarb to my box for next week so I could make my favorite all-time pie. But one look in my freezer put that idea to rest; I never thought a bag of blueberries would take such dedication.

I mean they are frozen, so it’s not like I’m cheating. They’ll be as good a month from now as they are today, but I at least have to make a dent in them before I go carousing around with other berries.

In an effort to keep my tropical theme rolling I’ve added mangos back in again this week, as well as keeping in the tangelos and grapefruit, which are both super tasty and nearing the end of their peak season. Especially grapefruit which is winding down. Neither one of these really goes with blueberries too well, but I’ll give it a try anyway. This is what my box is looking like:

Cucumbers
Bunched Carrots
Eggplant
White Onions
Zucchini
Red Radishes
Red Leaf Lettuce
Kale Raab
Minneola Tangelos
Ataulfo Mangos
Ruby Grapefruit
Braising Mix (Cut Greens)

I also ditched my apples for some more braising mix. I love Full Circle braising mix! It really is one of my favorite things. I made some the other day with pan-seared halibut, pan roasted potatoes and mango salsa (recipe from last week’s post). It was the perfect bedding for the fish, great flavor and quickly finished.

Another great thing that’s in the box this week is kale raab. Cook the same way as kale or chard and add to stir fry, braising greens or just a simple side. Kale raab is easily dressed in lemon juice, shoyu or a bit of vinegar and olive oil after lightly wilting. Try mixing it into white bean soup or vegetable soup at the end, letting the heat of the soup wilt it softly.

Eggplant is finally back in the box and slated for a coconut green curry mix I got at Viet Wah. The zucchini and carrots will also get sliced thin and go in there over a bed of jasmine rice. The rest looks like the makings of a salad to accompany on or two of the meals. Hopefully the weather will turn around soon and we won’t have to barbecue in the rain for much longer.

Next week I’ll talk a little more about one pan cooking methods, including the pan-sear and easy stove top tandoori chicken. Until then have a great weekend and eat well.

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Mango Lassi

I have to admit that mangos, though one of my favorite treats, are on my permanent exemptions list. Initially I made this decision while in an ‘eating local’ phase, and thought it best to substitute other more-local fare for these Mexico-grown goodies. But the more I thought about it, the more my decision seemed to be about preserving a memory rather than eating in a locality.

I personally believe that organically grown foods are far superior to conventionally grown and GMO foods. I want to support all organic farms, big and small, and especially those in developing neighbor countries that have far less environmental regulation than we do. The abundance and over dependence on pesticides, herbicides and other -cides pollute water resources, harm peoples health and make farming dangerous.

There are great organic farms in Mexico and other countries that are leading the way in organic agriculture and showing other farmers that growing food can be safer, healthier and more cost-effective when done organically, and they deserve my support. The only way the culture will change is if there’s market demand and it is arguably as important for developing countries to learn the benefits of organics as it is for farmers here to realize the same.

So eating from our southern neighbor wasn’t really the issue for me, what I realized was that I have a specific association with mangos, and I rarely eat them for fear of diluting that association.

The first time I ever tried one I was about 12 years-old and vacationing with my parents in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. My dad bought me a mango, which the street vendor then stuck on a stick and in deft swipes removed the peel, sprinkled it with chili powder and topped it with a squeeze of lime juice.

Ataulfo mangoSliced mango

I soon had mango juice running down my face, over my hands and had tossed the stick aside to finish by gnawing on the hairy seed, salvaging the last vestiges of the fruity flesh. I’ll never forget that first mango, the exotic scent, the smooth, slippery flesh and the floral, bright, sweet taste. All other mangos have paled in comparison.

Initially, when I joined Full Circle and had not yet mastered the subtle art of substituting, recipe planning and adding Green Grocery items, I got a mango. It came as a default item in my order and I really had no idea what to do with it. Sure, I’d cooked with mangos in the past, used them in sauces, dressing, and salsas, but the culinary mango craze had ended years before and I hadn’t had one since.

So I went back to the basics—peeled, sliced, a dash of chili powder and a squeeze of lime. It was delicious indeed, but paled in comparison to my memory. So I added them to my exemptions list. Just recently, my co-worker, our Farm Foodie and Product Manager, told me that mangos were in season and if there was ever a time to try them again, it was now.

Ingredients for Mango Lassi

So I doubled my order of Ataulfo mangos. I ate one, straight up, no nothing and it was awesome.  It wasn’t the mango of my memory, but it was enough to give me a flash of salty shores, hot sun and the pure joy of adventurous eating. I’m glad I did it.

Here are a couple of other things to do with your mangos. Although my favorite is still briefly grilling them, dashing them with smoked paprika and a squeeze of lime. Perfect with flank steak or pork chops.

Mango Lassi

2 ripe mangos, peeled and cubed
1 cup honey yogurt
1/2 cup non-fat milk
1/2 orange, juiced

If you don’t have honey yogurt, just add one tablespoon of honey to the mixture. Place into blender and blend until smooth. Some recipe call for sugar, but I find the mixture of ripe mangos and just a little honey enough to sweeten it perfectly. If you feel you’d like yours a little sweeter, add a bit more honey. If it’s too sweet for you a touch of salt and a bit more orange juice should do the trick.

Mango salsa

Mango Salsa

2 ripe mangos, peeled and cubed
1/2 cup shallots, green onion or red onion, minced
2 jalapenos, minced
3 T cilantro, chopped
1 lime, juiced
Salt
Chili powder or smoked paprika

Combine ingredients in a bowl. Salt to taste. Let sit for one-half hour for flavors to blend. Dust with chili powder or paprika before serving.  You can also add avocado, strawberries or red bell pepper for a variety of flavors.

Quick Soba Noodle Soup

My winter crossover to spring soup

 

The couple hours of daylight really makes a difference. It’s nice to be able to leave for work in the light as well as come home with a bit of waning daylight left. I can almost feel my body revving up and getting ready to shift out of hibernation mode and start stretching, moving an d getting ready for long warm days.

I know, it’s a bit early for such talk, but it’s hard to to be a little anxious once the spring change happens. All around trees are starting to bud, flowers to bloom and though Mother Nature has been less than kind lately, it feels that some relief is on the way. I for one have been using the extra daylight to repair and clean my grill.

Much maligned in the cold dark months – though not unused I assure you – it has started to rust and shed peels of paint onto the deck. I think maybe one more good year is left before a replacement is absolutely necessary. I hate to give up on it too soon – such good times we’ve had!

Although the box has yet to fill up with spring’s bounty, there are a few items that hint at good things to come. And I plan to make the most of it. Here’s what my default box is looking like this coming week:

Celery
Bunched Carrots
Snap Peas
Yellow Onions
Spinach
Broccoli
Red Leaf Lettuce
Red Chard
Navel Oranges
Minneola Tangelos
Ruby Grapefruit
Braeburn Apples

Seriously this box says one to me – it screams stir fry! I already added some shrimp from Surfin’ Seafood to my order just for this purpose. Their shrimp are huge, and tasty and best on the grill, but a quick flip in a hot walk with some sesame oil, shoyu and fish sauce makes them delicious.

Beyond that, we’re just going to wing it. Next week we’ll talk about some various dipping sauces for accenting everything from tempura battered veggies to steak and scallops. Have a great weekend!

Unfortunately we weren’t one of the few that managed to order Full Circle’s Good Food Combination this week. Luckily, our local butcher in Columbia City makes a wonderful Corned beef and we did manage to add some cabbage to our box. Corned beef and cabbage is an annual favorite around here. An easy meal that makes wonderful leftovers, especially for breakfast.

I also added some Italian sausages to our order to taste my new batch of sauerkraut on. I added some fennel and mustard seed to this one and though the mustard seed didn’t come through as strong as I’d hoped the fennel seed did, giving it a slightly anise flavor mixed with the slight acidic and tart flavor of the fermented cabbage.

Homemade Sauerkraut

It was way easier than I thought it would be and can’t wait to try it with different varieties of cabbage, since my last batches were all made with green cabbage.

If you want to try making your own kraut their are many recipes on-line, but basically you just shred a head of cabbage and toss in two heaping tablespoons of salt. Place the cabbage in a large bowl and put a plate on top. Cover that with a clean dish towel and then put something heavy on top of that. The plate should be smaller than the bowl so it can press on the cabbage and help the salt extract liquid from the cabbage. This will allow the cabbage to create its own juices to ferment in. Leave it some place warm for a day or two. After that place into clean jars with loose lids and put them into a cupboard for about two weeks.

You are seriously well on your way. Just taste it every few days and when it gets to how you like it, as far as acidity and tenderness, put it in the fridge. It will last this way for a couple months at least due to the cabbages natural production of lactic acid which acts both as a preservative and a digestive aid. You can also mix in shredded carrots or various spices or other vegetables – beets, radishes, turnips, all make good additions.

Next week’s box has a few things in it I might use for the next batch. It also has a few things we have already, as we haven’t been as diligent with our salad eating these days as usual and the lettuce is building up. Also I’m just not ready to eat tomatoes, at least not until I have some sun on my windowsill to set them in. Mangos often are not as appreciated as the tangelos, especially since tangelos are delicious right now.

So that makes next week’s box look like this –

Roma Tomatoes – Purple Top Turnips
Bunched Orange Carrots
Broccolette
Shallots
Baby Spinach
Cremini Mushrooms
Green Leaf Lettuce – Austrian Crescent Fingerling Potatoes
Green Kale
Navel Oranges
Mangos – Minneola Tangelos
D’anjou Pears
Braeburn Apples

It’s been awhile since homemade pizza graced our table, and the mushrooms, spinach and shallots seem perfect toppings for this meal. The potatoes are going to be roasted along with some spare ribs, which if you haven’t order any yet, you have to. I’ll take some pictures of them after they’ve been dry-rubbed, oven-roasted and grilled – you won’t be able to resist.

The fruit these days, I admit are going straight into the juicer for morning drinks, or eaten with lunch. I haven’t been baking for some time and need to as I made someone a promise to make a French apple tart I found in the 100 Best issue of Saveur. I’ll wait till Granny Smith’s are in season, that will give me some time to prepare <wink>.

I’m going to use the turnips either for roasting, my personal favorite, or sliced thin, raw on toasted bread with a bit of aioli, pureed avocado and watercress. A transition snack from winter to spring. In the meantime, I’m going to start looking up some pesto recipes, ones that use things other than basil to create a tasty pesto for my pizza – like chimichurri – and some dough recipes, both healthy and delicious to create my fresh veggie pizzas.

Talk to you next week then. Eat well, be happy.

I didn’t realize that my last post was missing something until I looked at the box list for this coming week – blood oranges. Now we’re talking. Oranges with a hint of raspberry, blueberry action. Plus just the obvious macabre of them – it just sounds gruesome. So I’m planning on making something delicious out of them, even if it is just a Blood orange sorbet or some simple salad. Too good to pass up.

I also realize I don’t have any pictures for you of our turkey. It is unjust, as it was an appreciated bird, lovely and delicious and deserved to be seen – if not worshiped and devoured with massive quantities of roasted garlic mashers and oyster stuffing – as it was. My only excuse was that I was hungry, my lovely guests were hungry and the camera, not being at hand, was forfeit to the glory of the moment. But it was glorious, believe me.

I couldn’t get the whole grill smoking thing going, or could have but it would have involved cutting the bird in half due to its gargantuan size. This, I just could not bring myself to do, no matter my insatiable craving for smoked meats. It turns out my barbecue is too small and they don’t make an attachable expander ring with optional rotisserie for my model, or at least they didn’t at my local hardware store.

Regardless, it was triumphant and had many happy returns throughout the week in various delectable guises. Like the turkey between two slices of whole grain with cranberry mustard and Swiss cheese or the turkey tetrazzini with brown butter breadcrumbs (my personal favorite). In fact, it was so thoroughly enjoyed I’ve decided that twice a year is not enough and plan on a summer turkey party as well. We’ll see how that goes over.

As far as next week’s bounty goes, here’s what I’m looking at:

Tomatoes
Red Potatoes
Baby Spinach
Yellow Onions
Green Cabbage
Arugula
Red Leaf Lettuce
Collard Greens
Blood Oranges
Avocados
D’anjou Pears
Gala Apples

I’m leaving in my apples and pears because even without my juicer I’ve managed to work my way through about two weeks worth of fruit by myself, as my better half has been out of town most of this week. How did I do it you ask? I ate one piece of fruit for breakfast and took at least two pieces with me to work. It was actually amazing. I’ve never eaten so much fruit. But it is also delicious, and I had a lot of citrus – which is at its prime right now. So even though it seems like a lot it wasn’t and I thoroughly enjoyed how it made me feel.

I might sub out the tomatoes, as I’m a bit of a stickler for the delish ones in the summer, but everything else is well appreciated. The Baked Potato Soup recipe coming with the box is awesome and will well accommodate my russets. The spinach and arugula will either adorn our homemade pie (by that I mean pizza) or compose some lovely peppery salads, most likely with avocados and blood oranges!

For the green cabbage I’m thinking of trying my hand at some homemade sauerkraut. Julie from Firefly Kitchens has been using Full Circle’s red cabbage to make kraut and it sounds delicious, so I think this might be my next experiment in fermented foods. Though I am feeling another kimchi binge coming up.

The collards will go per usual, wilted, lemon juiced, a touch of garlic and shallot, olive oil, my favorite side. And for the pears and apples? Salads as well, or mixed in with the collards. All manner of eating awaits them and I’m hungry for their vitamin rich goodness. Hopefully it doesn’t snow and we continue to get these sunny, if cold, breaks in the rain and clouds.

For next week – Sauerkraut. Eat well, be happy.

The mountains up near Winthrop, Washington

Here’s a shot of where we were last week. That’s what took us out of town and left our bird in the freezer. But now, finally it’s turkey time. I’ve got it all, including a wonderful order of green beans, shallots, stuffing mix, carrots, celery and oysters. Not to mention a turkey from Abundant Acres Farm in Toledo, Washington. Not only is my family coming over, but it’s one of my best friend’s birthdays. Not that celebration really needs an occasion, but it helps.

Next week’s box is full of fresh farm goodness –

Avocados
Russet Potatoes
Spinach
Cilantro
Broccolini
Arugula
Romaine Lettuce
Rainbow Chard
Navel Oranges
Honey Tangerines
D’anjou Pears
Braeburn Apples

I’m thinking of things that will go with turkey leftovers, so a Mexican hominy soup sounds tasty, especially with the cilantro and avocados. Organically grown cilantro has a stronger flavor, which for a coriander lover, such as myself is great. Though others that may not be so disposed may want to lessen the amount some.

Another thing I’d like to do is an arugula and citrus salad, maybe with one of the tangerines and the other avocado. Arugula has such a great peppery flavor that pairs well with the slight sweetness and tartness of citrus, especially when tempered by a bit of honey.

Russet potatoes mean I might just need to take another swing at gnocci. The last ones I made were good, especially with the spinach, but were still dense. This time I’m going to put them through a food mill and use rainbow chard that has been steamed quickly but well drained and see if I can get another, lighter version.

Broccolini is great just sauteed as a side or tossed on the grill and seared. This may just have to share a plate with straight up turkey leftovers, mashed potatoes and gravy. I’m hungry already.

I’ve got quite a build up of fruit lately, so might trade out my apples and pears for more greens. I seriously cannot eat enough kales, chards, and now that arugula is back it’s time for some pie – and by that I mean pizza!

I was going to take a picture of my turkey in brine this morning, but I was running late. So instead I’ll share my brine recipe. It’s extremely simple, as brining should be, and can basically evolve to match any wild flavors you feel inclined to throw at it.

1 gallon water
1 cup salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 T molasses
3 bay leaves
2 T peppercorns, whole
1/2 t cloves
1/2 t coriander, whole
1/2 t allspice, whole
2 apples, cut in chunks
2 T truffle salt (optional)

Put half the water in a large pot, add salt, sugar and molasses. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt. When boiling add all spices and remove from heat. Let sit and cool for 30 minutes. While you prep your turkey. Add remainder of water, I used half water and half ice to help it cool the brine quickly. The brine should be tepid by this point, add truffle salt. Place turkey in a large pot, breast side down, fill with brine and place in refrigerator. Brine for 8-16 hours depending on size. This will make enough brine for a 14-16 pound bird. For larger or smaller amounts keep the ratio of salt to water, but everything else can be approximated.

Wish me luck. I should have some great pictures for you next week!

I’ve been sort of slacking on the whole turkey thing. We are going out of town this weekend so I’m postponing until next. Which means I’ll need a good three day thaw time and a good 24 hr brine before the big day next Saturday. In the meantime I’ve created the meat monstrosity above. Blue cheese and bacon meatloaf thanks to our partners at Heritage Meats and Fine Cooking and their handy meatloaf machine, which they also have online and is less useful than the magazine directions, but cool nonetheless. The little brown piles on top are melted blue cheese. I realized post broil that I should have put them on afterward, but alas, live and learn. Though they tasted great, it sort of ruined the aesthetic of the bacon slices. At least this will hold off the turkey cravings for a day or so – and make some awesome sandwiches!

By the way – for any of you readers in Thurston County, as well as anyone in Spokane, I just found out that Full Circle is now ready to take members for their community pick-up sites in both areas. No home delivery yet, but once the members come rolling in – it won’t be far behind. So let any friends and family living in those areas know that they now have access to the good food life!

As for next week’s box –

Cucumbers                Green Leaf Lettuce
Purple Top Turnips      Lacinato Kale
Broccoli                      Navel Oranges
Yellow Onions             Mangos
Spinach                      D’anjou Pears
Cremini Mushrooms    Gala Apples

I’m pretty happy with everything as it is, though I might lose the mangos for something else. Not that I have anything against them, they just don’t seem to fit into my meal plan until it warms up a bit more. True barbecue times. There’s nothing like grilled mangos. I think what I’m most excited about in this box is the turnips. With a culinary heritage both lengthy and diverse there are plenty of recipes out there, but I’d like to find something different than my usual roasted turnips, turnip au gratin or turnip potato mashers.

I’ve seen a few crunchy style turnip and apple, as well as turnip and radish salads. I’m interested to try a citrus based turnip dish, but we’ll see how that goes. The broccoli is going into the Cheesy Broccoli and Rice dish, and the Lacinato will make some wild rice salad or braised kale and apple dish. I’ve been really enjoying my pan roasted mushroom lately, especially as an appetizer. With the spinach in the box I might add them to a spinach and mushroom quiche, which is quick, easy and can be breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Also, remember that Full Circle’s Farm-to-Table Box Challenge begins Monday, February 7th at 9am. Check out the events tab on our Facebook page for details. Have a great weekend. Eat well, feel good.

The sunrise this morning was amazing. Crimson streaks across the bluebird sky, the Cascade Mountains nestled purple in dark shadows beyond. And now as I write this I swear I’m seeing blue skies and actual – gasp – sunlight! Can you believe it? In these dark months we better not waste these bright moments.

In a quiet celebration of this brief interlude I’m going to fire up the grill tonight, slow cook some country style ribs in my very own kahlua pork sauce and make some pulled pork sandwiches (either that or I’ll just stop by Bob’s Meats and get some sausages). Partially inspired by the sunshine, but really a reason to make one of my favorite and quickest slaws. This variety goes well with any tangy teriyaki sauce or soy-based marinated meats.

Cabbage salad, or really coleslaw, is a must have with any barbecue and most are a slimy concoction of mayonnaise and mustard. This version is light and quick. Most of the prep is in cutting the vegetables, the rest is in the wait. Although you can eat it immediately, the cabbage will soften as it sits and the flavors will meld together.

It’s best to make at least an hour or two ahead to give the slaw enough time to soften and meld. Add the sesame seeds before serving to retain their crunch. You can easily adjust this slaw to meet any flavors in your accompanying dishes. Going for a lemon tandoori chicken? Try adding some Meyer lemon zest and a lemon juice instead of vinegar to the dressing and peanut oil instead of sesame oil. Aiming more for a Thai flavor in your curried shish kabobs? Mix some mint in with the cilantro and leave out the sesame seeds, try mixing in a little tahini and olive oil instead of sesame oil. Want more of a Korean flavor? Try making a batch of kimchi style slaw with radish, hot chili powder, ginger, fermented bean paste and garlic.

A simple, crunchy and light salad to match all of your grilling ambitions.

1/2 green cabbage, thinly shredded
2 carrots, peeled and julienned
5 scallions, thinly sliced
1 T ginger, minced
3 T sesame oil
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 T black sesame seeds

In a large bowl, toss cabbage, carrots and scallions. In a small bowl mix ginger, oil, vinegar and pepper flakes. Add dressing to cabbage mixture and toss to coat. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover lightly and let sit for 1-2 hours. Before serving toss with cilantro and sesame seeds. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

I was thumbing through one of the many cooking magazines I have recently and I came across an article in Fine Cooking on meatloaf. As we’d been trying to come up with a simple, basic, yet delicious meatloaf recipe for our Good Food Combination for this week, I couldn’t help but to get excited when I saw it. They had basically broken up meatloaf preparation into a few steps with seemingly endless choices.

You soaked your bread in milk, you picked your aromatics, what I have always termed my mirepoix – a mixture of base vegetables, usually celery, carrots and onion, though it could consist of anything from shallots and leeks, to ginger and garlic – and then you chose your meats, your accents, your spices, your glazes and sauces and that’s it, your done.

And it really is that easy. Where cooks get lost, where I tend to get lost anyhow, is starting without a plan. Not even a plan so much as a path, a flavor profile for lack of a better term. I tend to think of it as regional – though even this mindset can be limiting. Do I want a Mediterranean flavor, an island flavor, Asian influence, Latin, French or just hints of one or the other. It doesn’t get me all the way, but it tells me which direction to go at least.

A really good chef sees all this and can grasp those minute, simple flavors that bind those variant paths together, the Malaysian influence that brings the Thai and Chinese cooking together. Or the Moroccan flavor that can blend the West African spices with the Spanish flavors. But for us, the daily home chefs, the family cooks, the foodie turned kitchen scientist, it’s hard to know where to start.

Like the meatloaf, there are a few dishes that combine the best of what nature has to offer in one hardy dish. Meals that follow what the season brings, but have basic flavors that can be gently molded to fit any world flavor you care to test. Lately for me, this dish has been a mixture of grains, squash and greens.

Winter squashes are easily interchangeable, and even though they have their various subtleties they all have one thing in common – they all taste great roasted. So that’s where I start, roast squash. Last time I tossed them in a variety of fresh herbs, savory, thyme, and tarragon, dusted them with smoked paprika and honey, a little olive oil and that was it, roast to a nice soft brown.

The second step is the grain. I’ve used farro, barley, quinoa, short grain brown rice, wild rice,  and even millet. A pilaf of different kinds of grains is also a great way to go. These too can be flavored using spices or sauteed briefly with a mirepoix. The last step, the greens, is the easiest. Just a large skillet, some butter or oil and a brief saute of onion, shallots, leeks or other alliums along with ginger or garlic and then a quick toss of the greens and finish with vinegar, stock or citrus juice. Between the wide variety of different ingredients and the choice of spices and herbs, there are countless preparations. All easy, quick and amazingly different. I haven’t found one I didn’t like yet.

Here’s what my box looks like this week:

Cucumbers
Parsnips
Spinach
Red Onions
Eggplant
Bunched Carrots
Green Leaf Lettuce
Green Kale
Fairchild Tangerines
White turnips
D’anjou Pears
Cameo Apples

I think you know where the greens are going. And I switched out the kiwis for more white turnips. I plan to make a salad out of them with the tangerines. I can’t wait. I think it’s almost time to get the grill going again. I made some burgers last weekend and they were so good i might just have to grill up some eggplant this week. Although, i found a great recipe for an eggplant curry I’d like to try. The rest really says salads to me, I’ve been craving some different styles. And I might try my hand at creamed spinach come next week too.

I’m excited to try out some new recipes, and look for some new ways to bring old favorites back to life. Have a great weekend and I’ll talk to you next week.

Oh eggplant. Such a delicious yet misunderstood vegetable – actually classifies as a berry, but we won’t go into that. For years it stayed on my ‘dislike’ list with the company of lima beans, escargot, and celery. Maligned and sullen it would lift its head at times, making hasty appearances in a bitter and slimy state surrounded with tomatoes and carrots in a melange of colors and textures. Never given its chance to shine through, it was often passed by.

That was until a young chef at an old family Italian restaurant made me eggplant parmesan. The sauce was rich, but not overpowering, the fresh basil popped through and just twisted the eggplant somehow into something new. It wasn’t bitter, nor was it slimy. Crunchy, flavorful, chewy and layered with fresh mozzarella and aged Parmigiano. It was simply delicious.

I found the trick to making this veggie shine was a quick, dry brine. Just enough to get the sauce going and leach out about one cupful of bitter juice from each bulbous fruit. This enough in itself to enjoy it grilled, roasted, pan fried or blended up in baba ganoush. With the bitterness gone the gentle rich and exotic flavor comes through.

In fact, many varieties, like the Japanese eggplant and smaller fruits don’t need this treatment, called “degorging,” instead they can be roasted whole and chopped into various dishes like curries or stir fries. Although I’ve learned to love the gentle abergine in all its varieties and forms, I still crave the original dish that turned me around.

Though I generally make my own parmesan sauce, you can easily substitute any marinara, and if without fresh basil leaves, dry will do just fine. Try to let your eggplant slices rest for at least a half hour covered in salt, enough time to leach out some of the bitter liquid, especially if on the large side. When it comes to frying or baking the breaded slices I tried it both ways and liked the drier, crisper baked version better, though it takes a little longer to brown up than frying.

For eggplant:

1 eggplant, cut into1/2 inch rounds, brined as above then rinsed and patted dry

2 eggs

1/4 cup milk

2 cups flour for dredging

4 cups light breadcrumbs

1 t salt

1/2 t pepper

8 whole basil leaves

4 balls fresh mozzarella

3 T shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano

For sauce:

2 T olive oil

1/2 large white onion

4 cloves garlic

1 t anchovies, minced or anchovy paste (optional)

1 t red pepper flakes

2 T fresh basil or 1 T dry basil

3 T tomato paste

1 cup red wine

14.5 oz can of tomato sauce

14.5 oz can of stewed tomatoes

pepper

Salt to taste (omit if using anchovies)

1/2 T Italian parsley, minced

While your eggplant is degorging get your sauce started. That way it can cook while you bread and bake the eggplant. Heat olive oil in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat. Saute onions until translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and cook briefly, about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add anchovies if using, red pepper flakes and basil, saute for another 3-4 minutes, mixing thoroughly with onions and garlic. Add tomato paste and saute for another 4-5 minutes, or until it darkens and begins to brown. This will give it a rich depth of flavor. Deglaze with red wine and let reduce by half. Add tomatoes and season to taste. Let simmer for about one half hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. After you have rinsed off the eggplant pat it dry lightly. Mix eggs and milk in a small bowl. Mix breadcrumbs with salt and pepper. Dredge each slice in flour, dip it into the egg mixture letting the excess drip off, then press into the breadcrumbs until both sides are well covered. Place in a foil-lined pan. Continue with remaining slices until all are breaded. Bake until light brown and crisp, about 20 minutes.

To ready dish for baking, ladle a small amount of sauce into an 8×8 baking dish to cover the bottom. Place a layer of eggplant, a leaf of basil on each slice, then cover with mozzarella, then sauce and finally Parmigiano. Repeat another layer but with cheeses on top. Bake until cheese has melted and sauce bubbles, about 15-20 minutes. Let stand for ten minutes, plate and garnish with parsley. Makes 4 servings.