September 2, 2009

I haven’t written much about Food52, and now seems like a good time. Because it’s come at an interesting moment in my life.

Food52 is a fascinating concept – a website started by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, that will seek out recipes from cooks around the country – some pros and some, like me, just enthusiastic home cooks – and collect them into a cookbook after 52 weeks. There are weekly contests (and anyone who knows me knows how I feel about a competition!) with great topics – best summer cocktail, best frozen dessert, and so on. It’s lively and fun and I’m delighted to be part of the community. Learn more about Food52 here.

I’ve been participating for about a month. I’ve made at least a dozen of the posted recipes – liked some, loved others, shrugged off a couple. Commented. Voted. Been a member of the community. Last week was thrilling – I was actually selected as a finalist for my Plum Sauced Pork Tenderloin recipe. Totally amazing. It gave me great hope for this, the next stage in my life. My life in food.

For the last decade, it’s been all about gardens, although I never stopped cooking. With the downturn in the economy, the landscape design biz has definitely fallen off, and I’m wondering whether there is something in this food thing I’ve been doing all my life. Something that will engage me.

This fall, I’m going to try holding some cooking classes, just to see how I like it, and whether anyone will come. And I’ll just keep blogging (and wondering if anyone is reading) and entering recipes at Food52. Wish me luck. I’m older than the last time I reinvented myself and I’m hoping it’s still possible.

Here’s the recipe I entered in the Best Eggplant Recipe contest.

Swearing Like A Sailor Stuffed Eggplant

The eggplant are first boiled, then stuffed with rice, toasted nuts, currants, herbs and cheese, then quickly sauteed (that’s where the swearing comes in), and then baked in a rich tomato sauce. I’ve frozen this very successfully, pre-baking, both in individual serving dishes and as a large casserole. It makes a great dish for a crowd and I’ve served it at Thanksgiving, as it’s a little something different from the regular eggplant parm that is a buffet staple for vegetarians. Without the cheese, it’s a vegan dish. The technique for this recipe first appeared in Gourmet magazine.

Serves 6, but doubles or triples easily

Stuffed Eggplant:

  • 6 smallish eggplant – I prefer the white round types, or the paler purple oblong variety
  • 1.5 cups cooked rice (white, brown, basmati, leftover Chinese takeout all work)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesian
  • .5 cups toasted pine nuts
  • .5 cups currants, plumped
  • 1/2 cup toasted bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup mixed fresh herbs – basil & parsley & chervil work nicely
  • fresh or dried thyme and oregano
  • salt & pepper
  • canola oil

Tomato Sauce:

  • 2 quarts whole tomatoes, drained and rough chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1/3-1/2 cup olive oil

  1. Pierce eggplant all over with a fork.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add eggplant and boil for 20-30 minutes, depending on their size, or until fork tender. Remove from the water and cool slightly.
  3. When cool enough to handle, slice eggplant in half lengthwise, preserving the skin (and half the stem on each half, if possible.) This is a good time to start swearing.
  4. Scoop out the flesh of the eggplant, rough chop, and put it in a large bowl. Continue swearing a blue streak. They’re unbelievably hot and the skin splits. Don’t worry. You’ll be able to fix this.
  5. Add the rest of the ingredients to the eggplant and stir well. Taste and correct for seasoning.
  6. Scooping some of the mixture in your hand, (really – use your hands) form it into a large egg shape and stuff the eggplant skins, piecing them together as necessary. Place them on a parchment lined sheet pan as you complete them.

  7. Heat 1.5″-2″ of canola oil in a deep saute pan. I use a cast iron pan. Send the kids out of the room. This is when the swearing really starts.
  8. When the oil is hot, place two or three halves in the oil, skin side down. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Using two slotted spoons or a slotted spoon and a spatula, turn the whole blasted thing over without losing the stuffing. Yes, seriously. Cook another 2-3 minutes, until browned on the stuffing side. Remove to a rack lined with paper towels, stuffing side up.
  9. When you have successfully browned all the eggplant, have a glass of wine. Really, that was a huge pain, wasn’t it? Don’t worry. It’s worth it.
  10. Preheat the oven to 375
  11. Now, make the sauce. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan, add the garlic until starting to turn golden, then add the tomatoes, some salt and pepper, and cook for 20-25 minutes until it’s good and saucy. (You can also use fresh tomatoes – about 5 lbs., peeled and chopped.)
  12. Either use individual serving dishes large enough to hold two eggplant or a large rectangular baker. Pour the sauce in the bottom of the baking dish and place eggplant on top of the sauce. Cover with foil.
  13. Bake 30 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly.
  14. Take a deep breath. Stop your swearing. Serve and enjoy.

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