Tuesday, October 22, 2013

eggplant confit

99 times out of 100, Caitlin and I are on the same page when it comes to food - we both love uni, oxtail, pig tails, broccoli raab, sour cream and onion flavored anything, and fennel, for instance. The other one percent of the time, there are a handful of things one of us likes and the other doesn't. I tend to like things more bitter and especially more tart. She's not crazy about the combination of sweet and savory, like honey on cheese, and doesn't like Buffalo wings. I'm very picky about two of her favorite vegetables, eggplant and summer squash.

It's not that I don't like either of them at all, but eggplant is a flavor I usually get tired of quickly or find distracting, while squash and zucchini are often too watery for me. I've talked about squash and zucchini in that context before - my solution is to put them in the dehydrator before cooking them, so get the excess water out. I'm perfectly happy with it in soups or on pasta at that point.

This summer we found a way that I love eggplant. We've gone through quarts of this stuff: eggplant confit.

It started with a recipe in ... Food and Wine? Epicurious? I forget, but it was for fairy tale eggplant covered in olive oil and garlic and slow-cooked until it shrivels up. My mother grows regular and Japanese eggplant, but not fairy tale eggplant, so I cut the eggplant into pieces and went from there. Most of the time we also add tomato - that's key for me, I've found, I need the acidity of tomato with eggplant.

The technique is simple: cut your eggplant into wedges or chunks (we've done both), salt, let sit for thirty minutes, pat dry, put in an oven dish and cover or mostly cover with olive oil, throw some garlic cloves or herbs in, and bake at a low temperature like 275 for at least two hours, and maybe four or five, until the eggplant is noticeably shrunken. There have been times when we've put tomatoes or sun-dried tomatoes in with the eggplant too, sort of like a variation on ratatouille (the other way I like eggplant). But the first few times, we cooked the eggplant by itself, and served it with tomatoes put under the broiler with cheese and tarragon, and fresh-baked bread dipped in the oil the eggplant had cooked in. We had this exact same meal like five times during tomato season.

Broiled tomatoes, bread, eggplant confit

The eggplant also works well as a pasta sauce, again preferably with the addition of tomato. We used up some of the squid ink spaghetti (which tastes disappointingly like plain spaghetti, but looks striking) with eggplant confit, fresh fava beans, some roasted tomato, Pecorino Romano, and a barely-fried egg:

Squid ink pasta with favas, tomato, eggplant, fried egg

Thursday, October 10, 2013

mushroom and pistachio stew with mint and fried onions

Marx Foods' latest cook-off challenge is Shrooms For Soup, for which they sent me one-ounce samples of dried mushrooms: matsutake, porcini, and black trumpet. I used matsutake and porcini because they're two of my favorite mushrooms - and I think the matsutake work especially well here - but this recipe would work with any dried mushrooms you enjoy.

Obviously I have fall flavors on the brain, and mushrooms work perfectly there, so my first thoughts were of parsnips, carrots, celery and celery root, and grains. I wound up avoiding all of that except the grains. This is a stew more than a soup, and is loosely based on Persian soups/stews called khoreshes. I say loosely because although I've read several Persian cookbooks, I've only had Persian dishes I either made myself or had at some pan-Middle-Eastern restaurant - I don't really trust my judgment as to what does or doesn't taste authentically Persian. The mint, for one thing, is dialed way down from what you'd find in a Persian recipe, but my American palate isn't used to large quantities of mint in savory dishes, and I didn't want to drown everything else out.

The pistachio butter is nothing but ground pistachios, from Fastachi, which I recommend highly. If you have access to some other brand of unsweetened pistachio butter or paste, it'll do fine. Blending up some roasted salted pistachios would probably work too. I know it's inconvenient calling for an obscure ingredient in a small quantity, but it's a very different dish without it. (Pistachio is a frequent ingredient in Persian food, but not in this form, so far as I know. This is my touch.)

A khoresh often has a little bit of a acidity from something like lemon juice or pomegranate. I used tomato because we've been lucky enough to avoid a frost and still have fresh ripe tomatoes available.

1/4 cup diced onion plus additional thin onion slices for frying
butter for sauteing
1 oz dried porcini mushrooms
1 oz dried matsutake mushrooms
2-3 cups water blended with 1 tablespoon pistachio butter or paste
dash cumin, dash salt
1 cup chopped parsley leaves
1/4 cup chopped mint leaves
1 medium very ripe tomato, chopped

Pour boiling water over the dried mushrooms and let sit for just a minute or two while stirring - this knocks any dirt off, and makes it easier to cut them up. Discard washing water and chop partially reconstituted mushrooms.

Cook diced onion in a little butter until translucent; reserve thin slices of onion for later. Add partially reconstituted mushrooms, water, pistachio butter, cumin, and salt to cooked onion and simmer on a low heat for about an hour. It will depend on your mushrooms - you want them fully reconstituted. Add a little more water if needed to maintain a stew-like consistency.

Cook your chosen grain separately.  I served it over a scoop of cooked wild rice, much as gumbo is served over white rice. Any other grain would do, really. Wild rice and other whole grains are especially good with mushrooms - this would be a good time for farro, wheatberries, rye berries, et cetera.

When almost ready to serve, add parsley, mint, and tomato, and continue simmering while frying onion slices in butter in a separate pan. You want the onion slightly browned - butter is important here because it develops a nutty taste as it browns, from the milk solids. (We also grilled some fresh bread in the butter left in the pan after frying the onions.)

Serve over grains, with fried onions added at the last minute.

Mushroom and pistachio stew