Saturday, October 22, 2011

Eggplant Parmesan

I was at the Farmer's Market in South Pasadena on Thursday evening.  One of my favorite places.  I decided to make something I never made before by getting an inspiration from the produce.  So I picked up my usual large heirloom tomatoes, and a beautiful large eggplant.  The inspiration came to make an eggplant parmesan.  I am so glad I made that choice - it was delicious.

I made my usual tomato sauce with roasted garlic, the ripe tomatoes and basil in olive oil.  Seasoned it with chili pepper flakes and a good salt.

For the eggplant, first I peeled strips off the outside and cut into round quarter inch slices.  I placed the slices in a strainer and liberally sprinkled both sides with salt.  Place the strainer over a bowl or plate.  The salt will draw out the bitter juices from the seeds.  Leave there while you make the sauce.  Then rinse thoroughly and pat dry.  The next step made a big difference in the texture.  I heated a panini pan and brushed it with olive oil.  Then I placed the eggplant slices on it and cooked both sides.  Remove from the pan and salt and pepper each side.  Then I breaded it first in a light dusting of fine flour all over it, then in an egg wash (a lightly beaten egg with a little water), then into some Italian Panko bread crumbs, and into some hot peanut oil.

I also picked up some lamb sausage from my favorite Bistro, Nicole's, which is also at the Farmer's Market.  I cooked the sausages and sliced on a bias.  

To assemble the Parm, I used Raclette cheese that I also got at Nicole's and some smoked fontina, and of course grated parmesan cheese. Put a spoonful of the tomato sauce on the serving plate.  Then place one slice of the breaded eggplant on top of the sauce.  Layer with the raclette (you can use any melting cheese such as mozzarella).  Add another spoon of the sauce, a fresh basil leaf, a layer of the sausage and another layer of the eggplant.  Now a layer of the smoked fontina, another spoon of sauce and a generous sprinkling of the parmesan cheese.  Microwave the dish until the cheese is melted.  You can also place the whole thing into a casserole dish and place under the broiler for a few minutes. 

Serve and enjoy!  :)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Spanish Rice

I made this rice with some of the ingredients from the Chili Rellenos sauce. First, I minced about a tablespoon of a shallot, then sauteed that in a pan with about two tablespoons of olive oil. I also sliced a serreno chili, also from the Farmers Market, and added that to the shallot. Then I added a cup of Texmati rice and one a a fourth cups of water then stirred and covered with the lid. After it boiled, I placed on the lowest temperature for about 20 minutes and fluffed the rice with a fork then added about half a cup of the sauce along with a half a lime juiced and about a teaspoon of salt to the rice. Stir and adjust seasonings.  You can also add a tablespoon of chili powder to taste.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Chili Rellenos II

In this second version, I am going to make a fresh tomato sauce, using most of the steps of the first version, but this time won't grill the tomatoes or chilis. I still will peel the tomatoes and use the Farmers Market heirlooms.

To peel the tomatoes, boil a large pot of water and have a large bowl of water and ice ready. Core the tomatoes and cut an "X" on the bottom of the tomatoes. Place the tomatoes in the boiling water, top side down, for a few seconds until the "X" on the bottom of the tomatoes starts to curl the skin. Remove the tomatoes from the boiling water and place them in the icy water. Now you can easily peel the skins off the tomatoes.

Proceed to make the sauce just like the first recipe, except cut the tomatoes in cubes before cooking and add the juice they lost while cutting them.

I also have a variety of peppers from the Farmers Market that I'm eager to try. I will "grill" them on the stove top over an open flame until they blister, then steam them like before to remove their skins.

There was a longish gap from when I started this post about a month ago. So from looking back at the recipe, I can say that the sauce and the variety of peppers were a hit.  I have successfully made the Rellenos several times now.  The first time, I used the smoked fontina cheese.  The second time, a lamb sausage and habernero cheddar cheese.  This past weekend, I used a spicy turkey sausage and a mix of smoked mozerella, habernero and aged cheddar cheeses.  The result was delicious.

The first time I made the batter, I looked up several recipes on line and chose one that had about a cup of flour, and half a cup of corn meal.  I was not impressed with the batter, and rather than try other people's recipes, I created my own.  The result was an amazing batter that is very forgiving.

For a large relleno, the portion that I have found to work is one egg white for a large chili, or 2-3 small chilis (such as jalapenos).  In a large bowl, whisk the egg white to a soft peaked merengue.  Add a dash of cayenne pepper (about 1/4 teaspoon), a dash of fine flour (about a tablespoon or less) and a pinch of salt.  I have been using a smoked chardonnay salt - but use any good salt.  Incorporate together and that's the batter!

Stuff the cleaned peppers with your filling - and I found that squeezing the pepper around the cheese will help to hold the shape.  Heat about 1/4 - 1/2 inch peanut oil in a frying pan.  Dip the stuffed peppers in the batter and mound the batter around the pepper.  Place in the hot oil.  You can mound more batter on top and around sides.  The batter will shape as you work with it.  Gently fry on all sides until the batter is GBD - Golden Brown and Delicious.  Remove from the pan and serve with the sauce.

Chili Rellenos

I decided to become a little obsessed with Chili Rellenos. I love this time of year at the Farmers Market. Recently, I bought some ancho chilis and a variety of heirloom tomatoes. Then, I fired up the charcoal grill (not gas for ultimate flavor), and grilled the tomatoes and chilis, along with a couple of whole heads of garlic, which I wrapped in aluminum foil, first sprayed with an olive oil.

A quick aside about the garlic. I love roasted garlic, and if you have a grill going anyway, I like to roast a couple of heads. The reason for the spray inside the foil is to prevent the cloves from sticking to the foil in they get too soft and start to ooze. I leave the foil wrapped heads on the grill the entire time that I am grilling, so the cloves get nice and soft. Then, when I remove them from the grill, I place the foil wrapped garlic in a plastic bag and place in the refrigerator to use in recipes.

I also discovered that if you are buying ripe tomatoes in season, if you cook them right away, they last longer so you can use them throughout the week in various recipes.

So to create my sauce for the Rellenos, after grilling the tomatoes, I removed the skins, which are very easy to peel off, and retained the juices. If you aren't going to make the sauce right away, you can store the tomatoes in freezer bags in your refrigerator, if you plan to make the sauce in the next day or so, or you can freeze them until you are ready to cook with the tomatoes.

When I was a child growing up on a farm in Tivy Valley, we grew our own tomatoes. There is nothing like a vine ripened tomato, which is why I'm so excited about Farmers Market tomatoes, and I've been buying all sorts of heirloom varieties. I usually buy them from my favorite vendor, who also sells sweet peas in the spring. My grandmother and mother would either can or freeze the ripe tomatoes, and we would use them all winter in pasta sauces or chili dishes or stews. They are absolutely delicious.

Back to the Rellenos. I heated about 2 tablespoons of a good olive oil in a large non-stick pan and added 2 very large cloves of the roasted garlic. Stir them around with a wooden spoon for a couple of minutes, then added the grilled tomatoes to the pan. I threw in a small handful of a variety of herbs from my garden, rosemary, thyme, oregano and a leaf of sage. I don't take the herbs off their stalks, because after cooking the sauce, I discard the herbs as they have rendered their flavor.

Stirring often, let the sauce reduce until it becomes thick, then add about a cup of good white or red wine. I usually use the wine I drink, for me it's Chardonnay. Let the sauce simmer for about 15 minutes or so until it reduces to a nice consistency. At this point, taste your sauce and add some salt and red pepper flakes as desired. Then using either an emolsyfier or blender, blend the sauce until smooth.

I will get back to sauce soon. I want do address the chilis for a moment. After I removed the chilis from the grill, I placed them in a large bowl and put a clean towel over the bowl. The idea is to let the hot chilis steam inside the bowl. As they cool off, I carefully remove their skins and seeds. The juice from the chilis is part of the flavor process of the sauce, so I try to put as much of that juice in the tomato sauce, without adding the seeds from the chilis. I know this isn't a traditional way to make the Rellenos, but if you know me, I always try to make something my way - fresh in flavors. The next step is to stuff the chilis with a good cheese - you can use whatever you fancy: cheddar, gouda, jack, mozzarella, whatever you prefer. I just would recommend not using too strong a cheese such as a blue. Today, I'm using a smoked fontina cheese. Another point, my chilis came apart, but I was able to piece the large sections together, put the cheese in the middle and cover it with another piece of the chili.

Back to the sauce. I took a break in writing this to finish the sauce. After blending the sauce, I tasted it and pondered. I added the juice of half a fresh lime, a pinch of good sea salt and a couple drops of sherry vinegar to balance out the sweetness. I also added
The remaining bits of my chilis to the sauce before I blended it, so there was a little back of the throat heat. When I tasted the sauce again (always use a clean spoon each time), I wanted to add to the heat a little, so I added about a quarter teaspoon of cayenne and about two teaspoons of chili powder. Tasted a last time, and this sauce now has what my friend calls the "Wow" factor.

So the sauce is done, now on to the batter.