Thursday, September 23, 2010

Eggplant Overload

With 20 pounds of tomatoes that I've been getting every week lately, one might assume that I might be overwhelmed by all those tomatoes. And although that is starting to be true, it's really the eggplant that's getting to me. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that tomatoes can be processed in bulk: you can easily throw ten pounds of tomatoes into a pot or into the oven and make sauce. But eggplant?  Not really.  At least not in this household.  But at least I've come up with four dishes that, in theory, people might eat. These include Baba Ganoush, Eggplant Caviar, Eggplant in Garlic Sauce, and Eggplant Parmesan.

I am crazy for baba ganoush and I've gotten some other family members into it too, including my mother who doesn't like eggplant at all. There is a middle eastern restaurant somewhere in Brooklyn (wish I remembered its name) that serves the most delicious baba ganoush. It is super smoky and intense. You either love it or you hate it. I happen to love anything really smoky so this eggplant dish is like catnip to me. The more I smell and taste it, the more I crave it. So the minute I first got eggplant, I wanted to try making my own. The most promising recipe for super smoky baba ganoush comes from David Lebovitz, whom I admire. So I tried it. The first batch came out so well that there was no time to photograph it before it disappeared.  The only problem with it was that it was not smoky at all.

This is what happened: I am blessed with a gas stove so I turned it on and set my eggplants on top of the flame. The eggplant just sat there, not really charring while flames jumped and singed the cap part of the eggplant. I turned it and tried to do other sides. Ten minutes later, there was hardly any char on the outside of it. I got impatient and also began to worry about burning down my house so I stuck the eggplant under the broiler instead. That charred it much faster. But here's the thing: how is the smoke flavor supposed to get into the eggplant dish? Once you char it, you take the skin off and you're left with the soft interior that is not smoky. If I owned a grill, I would most likely char the eggplant on the grill to get the effect I'm after but without it, I just have the stove and oven.

For the second batch (pictured here), I skipped the charring step altogether. The taste was different but good in its own way. I also reduced the amount of parsley as it was overwhelming in the first batch. The reduction of parsley was still not enough so if I make this again, I might even drop the parsley altogether. I also reduced the amount of garlic and skipped the chile powder. You want the taste of the eggplant to come through and not the other ingredients. If you try this recipe, let me know if you can get it smoky (if that is what you like).

Baba Ganoush
(Adapted from David Lebovitz)
(Print this recipe)

3 medium eggplants
1/2 cup tahini paste
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 cloves garlic
1-2 tsp. salt (to taste)
1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
1-2 sprigs of parsley, finely chopped (optional)

1. Wash, dry and prick the eggplant all over. Place it under the broiler for 10 minutes or so until the outside is charred. You can turn it midway through cooking. Turn off the broiler and heat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Move the eggplant to a baking dish and roast in the oven for 30 minutes or so until soft. Pull out and let cool.

3. Once cool enough to handle, split the eggplants open and scrape the pulp into a food processor. Puree together with the other ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings. Refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors mix. Serve with pita, on bread, or even as a dip for veggies.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


You know the old saying, "When life gives you tomatoes, make tomato sauce."

Well, maybe not quite.

But that is what I've been doing with the pounds and pounds of tomatoes from the farm. There are slicing tomatoes--eight pounds today, and heirloom tomatoes--another eight pounds, and plum tomatoes, and grape tomatoes, and itty bitty yellow tomatoes the size of currants. They are all so good. And even though they are overflowing my counters--thank goodness they don't need refrigeration--I am not one to turn tomatoes away. Most of the large tomatoes have been sliced and used on burgers and sandwiches. The heirloom tomatoes have been chopped and made into salads; the itty bitty tomatoes have been consumed by my son who was tickled pink that they were so tiny and delicious.

But that still leaves, oh, about 30 more pounds of tomatoes. And they just keep coming. So. There is only one thing to do with so much goodness: make tomato sauce. I've never made tomato sauce before because frankly, jarred tomato sauce is cheap and requires so little work. And even if you don't like prepared tomato sauce, regular canned tomatoes cooked with some herbs and spices are cheaper than buying fresh tomatoes by the pound and making your own. If I weren't receiving pounds and pounds of tomatoes from my CSA, I wouldn't spend $20 on tomatoes just to make one quart of sauce.

But here I am, making sauce. Last week, before I went on vacation, I had about six pounds of grape tomatoes. Now, grape tomatoes aren't normally used for making sauce since you usually blanch the tomatoes and then peel the skin. Can you imagine peeling 300 grape tomatoes? I think not. There is a different way and I found it in a book called, Can I Freeze It?. It's so easy and comes out really well.

Tomato Sauce
(adapted from Can I Freeze It? by Susie Theodorou)

6-8 pounds of tomatoes (cherry or grape)
6 Tbsp. water

1. Put the cherry or grape tomatoes in a big pot. Add 6 tablespoons of water. Take a piece of parchment paper, crumple it and wet it. Smooth is out a bit and place directly on top of the tomatoes so that it's touching them. Cover. Set the heat to low and let them simmer for 30-60 minutes. They're done when a bunch of them have split. Drain and let cool a bit.

2. Puree in a blender or food processor.

3. Take a fine-meshed sieve and set it over a bowl. Working in small batches, pour the puree into the sieve and use a large spoon to force the puree through the sieve. I started doing this with a spoon but then switched to a ladle and the work went much faster. A regular spoon is fairly useless so get something really big. After pressing a bit, scrape the tomato sauce from underneath the sieve periodically to get as much as possible. After there's no more left to press, what you will have left in the sieve are the skins and seeds. You can dump those out.

4. Use immediately or freeze for later use. You can freeze in two-cup batches in quart-sized freezer bags or in larger batches in gallon bags. If you use it immediately, put the sauce in a pot and simmer with herbs and spices of your choice.

Since all I've done is freeze my sauce, I haven't yet tried making a pasta sauce out of it. I'm sure I will soon though!