Italian eggplant

This dish was my first attempt at Ottolenghi’s “Tamara’s Ratatouille” from his marvelous book, Plenty. He promises that by following all the steps, the veggies will retain their shape and when done the dish will not become excessively mushy or wet, like the typical ratatouille everyone’s used to. I like wet, but Steven struggles with the squishiness of the common one, so I was particularly drawn to the recipe and accompanying picture in the book, which clearly demonstrated all that he claimed.

Fall-inspired kabocha and parsnip ratatouille

Fall-inspired kabocha and parsnip ratatouille

Well, men are fickle creatures indeed! Or perhaps my veggies were too water-logged? Whatever the reason, my ratatouille, or perhaps I should say caponata, was beyond moist. It was positively swimming.

Aside from photographing less well than I had hoped and despite the appearance of false advertizing, the dish itself was fantastic. I like that it calls for the use of some Fall vegetables. I had a beautiful kabocha pumpkin ready to be eaten, which was perfect.

Next time, in search of the crispy ratatouille holy-grail, I’m going to use less water and actually cut the veggies into the actual size Ottolenghi recommends (1¼ inch, I think mine were ¾ inch) and bake them slightly differently. The recipe calls for tomatoes but I forgot them.

Fall-inspired kabocha and parsnip ratatouille

½ medium kabocha squash, cubed in ¾ inch size
2 white onions, cut ¾ inch size
8 garlic cloves
1 Anaheim chile pepper, seed and ribs removed minced
2 red bell peppers, cubed ¾ inch size
1 medium sized parsnip, peeled and cubed ¾ inch size
1½ cup green beans
1 medium Italian zucchini, cut into ¾ inch dice
1 medium yellow zucchini, cut into ¾ inch dice
1 medium yellow potato, peeled, cut into ¾ inch cubes
¾ large Italian eggplant, peeled and cubed ¾ inch size
½ tsp sugar
2 tbsp tomato paste
Kosher salt
Black pepper
1½ cup warm water
8 tbsp canola oil

Place 3 tbsp of oil in a large sauce pan. Add onions and cook for about 5 minutes until they become translucent, add garlic, Anaheim and bell peppers and cook for another 5 minutes. Next add parsnip and squash and keep on sautéing for additional 5 minutes.

Transfer vegetables to a bowl. Return pan to stovetop. Add remaining oil followed by green beans, eggplant and zucchini. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring intermittently.

Return first batch of veggies back to pan. Add potato, sugar, salt and pepper. Next, dissolve tomato paste in water and pour it over vegetables. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 400F. Place pan in the oven and roast for about 30 minutes. (Here’s where my ratatouille got mushy.) I let mine stay piled up all together, but Ottolenghi recommends removing them from the pan to a baking dish in a single layer then covering them with the pan juices. That would probably have worked. Alas. The outcome was delicious, wet, or I’d imagine, dry.

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Heavenly Housewife has been singing the praises of Yotam Ottolenghi lately. She’s even taken an Ottolenghi cooking class in London after waiting forever to get in. Yes, that’s how popular this chef has become in the UK. She posted some delicious treats from the class and then, good heavens, she made some of his salads! That’s a sure sign that she truly adores this chef. I wish we were in London taking Yotam’s classes together. Wouldn’t that be fun? London, Heavenly, Steven, Yotam and me: who could ask for anything more?

Yotam Ottolenghi-style roasted eggplant with labneh, za’atar and pomegranate molasses

Yotam Ottolenghi-style roasted eggplant with labneh, za’atar and pomegranate molasses

Last week while browsing in some colorful Mission Neighborhood shops before it was time for our table at Locanda, I spotted a gorgeous cookbook graced by this eggplant dish. It looked like an objet d’art, a jewel! As you might already guess, the book was Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi. The American version is published by Chronicle Books LLC, right here in San Francisco, very cool! It is packed with a whole lot of exciting vegetarian dishes. I like it so well, that I’ve already prepared four of them, so more to come. The photography in the book is mind-blowing. Our compliments to the photographer, Jonathan Lovekin, and to Yotam Ottolenghi, of course.

I had to adapt the recipe because I didn’t have all the ingredients. Pomegranates are not in season right now, so I used small drops of pomegranate molasses instead. The sauce calls for buttermilk and Greek yogurt, but I used labneh, since we had some already. I prepared my own za’atar, as we have all the individual ingredients in our pantry. The lemon thyme, I’m thrilled to say, comes from my own community garden plot. This is the first recipe that calls for it that I’ve made since planting that lovely herb.

Lastly, the recipe calls for roasting the eggplant at 200F for 35-40 minutes. I think that must be an error. Surely it was supposed to be 200C. The publisher must have forgotten to convert to Fahrenheit. It should have been at least 400F. I waited about 35 minutes before cranking up the heat and only then did my eggplant really start to brown and cook.

Otherwise, this dish was sublime. Thanks, Heavenly Housewife, for introducing Yotam Ottolenghi’s cooking to our table!

Yotam Ottolenghi-style roasted eggplant with labneh, za’atar and pomegranate molasses

For the eggplant:

3 medium to large Italian eggplant, cut in half the long way, stems on
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp fresh lemon thyme, minced; plus several sprigs lemon thyme
½ tsp pomegranate molasses
Black pepper to taste
Pinch Aleppo pepper
Kosher salt
2 tsp za’atar*

For labneh sauce:

2 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed
3 tbsp extra virgin arbequina olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
1 cup labneh
½ cup water or more

*For the za’atar :

3 tbsp sumac
1 tsp dried Greek oregano
1 tbsp pan dry-roasted sesame seeds, cooled to room temperature and ground
Pinch savory
½ tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Pre heat oven to 400F.

Place eggplant halves, cut side up, on a baking dish. Use a sharp knife to make incisions in eggplant flesh in the shape of diamonds/ lozenges without piecing the skin. Brush halves with equal amounts of olive oil. Repeat until all olive oil is absorbed. Add salt, peppers and minced thyme. Tuck some of the seasonings in the little crevices of the eggplant. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes, or until flesh is soft. Broil eggplant for few minutes towards the end, just to give them some color. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile prepare za’atar by mixing all ingredients together, set aside.

Place labneh in a bowl. Whisk in ½ cup of water, olive oil, salt and mashed garlic. The sauce should be fairly thin. Add more water here if needed. Set aside.

Arrange eggplant halves on a serving platter. Spoon over some labneh sauce, top with a few drops of pomegranate molasses, sprinkle za’atar over that, followed by a few flowers of lemon thyme

Store leftover za’atar in a tight container in the refrigerator for up to a month. Sprinkle it liberally on salads, rice, humus, yogurt.

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This recipe is based upon one from Marcella Hazan’s Marcella Cucina. I really love her food. And she sounds like quite a firecracker too. I’ve read somewhere that she’s a big fan of bourbon. Anyone who can cook that well and loves bourbon is alright in my book. I’ve a copy of her autobiography, Amarcord: Marcella Remembers, somewhere around here. I really need to find it soon.

poblano peppers stuffed with Italian eggplant, anchovy and pepitas

poblano peppers stuffed with Italian eggplant, anchovy and pepitas

Her recipe uses yellow or red bell peppers and she makes a big point of having you char and remove the outer membrane. I’ve done that several times, but it is a nightmare. Though I have to agree, it makes the final dish more tender, I don’t think that the effort is worth it. Instead, I’ve steamed my peppers, like I did for the poblanos and reds stuffed with saffron rice.

As to the poblano versus the bell, I remain of the opinion that poblanos simply taste better whereas bells just taste sweet. To each cook his or her own, I suppose. I added pepitas for a bit of crunch and it seems to match the peppers well. I did have two small reds, which I also stuffed. Oddly, these two ended up being leftovers after Hegui and I gorged on the smokier Mexican peppers.

key ingredients for poblano peppers stuffed with Italian eggplant, anchovy and pepitas

key ingredients for poblano peppers stuffed with Italian eggplant, anchovy and pepitas

poblano peppers stuffed with Italian eggplant, anchovy and pepitas

4 to 6 poblano or red bell peppers
1 medium Italian eggplant (about a pound)
salt
2 tbsp pepitas
6 anchovy fillets
2 tbsp Italian parsley
1 tbsp capers
1 garlic clove, peeled
3 tbsp panko breadcrumbs
¼ tsp oregano
2 tbsp olive oil
1 Roma tomato, peeled and chopped
vegetable oil
black pepper to taste

Cut eggplant into about ½ inch dice. Toss with ample salt in a colander. Let sit for about 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry. Fry in vegetable oil until translucent and soft. Remove from oil to large bowl.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Cut poblano peppers in half and remove seeds and ribs. If using bell peppers, carefully cut tops off and remove seeds and ribs. Steam for ten minutes. Remove from heat and run under cold water to cool.

Toast pepitas in dry pan until slightly browned and popping. Set aside.

Coarsely chop garlic, capers, Italian parsley, and anchovies together. Add to eggplant. Add tomato, oregano, olive oil, pepitas, black pepper, and 2 tbsp panko to eggplant. Fold together.

Using two tablespoons, stuff peppers with filling, about one tbsp each. Place in a baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining panko. Bake 15 to 20 minutes.

Allow peppers to cool to room temperature before serving.



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