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Chickplantasagna is born
Aug 10th, 2016 by

Layered like lasagna, with eggplant, chicken, and zucchini, chick-plant-sagna was born out of necessity.

Layered like lasagna, with eggplant, chicken, and zucchini, chick-plant-asagna was born out of necessity.

We were hungry.

I had eggplant, zucchini, some leftover cheddar cheese and a new block of Parmesan Reggiano in the refrigerator. All day long I thought of those ingredients and asked myself what I could make for dinner. Around 4 p.m., the answer came to me.

I just needed chicken cutlets so I stopped at the supermarket on my way home and found some chicken tenders that looked better than the other cuts of chicken there. I brought them home and flattened them between two pieces of aluminum foil (I had nothing else). And that’s where our story (recipe) begins.

Ingredients:

  • Chicken tenders (About 9 or 10, flattened by pounding them with a rolling pin between two pieces of wax paper, parchment paper, plastic wrap, or aluminum foil.)
  • Eggplant (1 dark, purple — firm, but not bruised — beauty).
  • Zuchinni (1)
  • Red pepper (1)
  • Cheddar cheese (about 1/4 cup shredded)
  • Parmesan cheese (about 1/4 cup, grated)
  • Fresh salsa (about 1 cup)
  • Tomato Paste, imported and from a tube (about 3 or 4 good squirts)
  • Red wine (about 1/3 cup), and a little water too.
  • Garlic (1 clove, torn open with your fingers)
  • Olive oil, regular, not extra-virgin (about 1/2 cup)
  • Lemon pepper

Here's what the dish looks like before putting it in the oven.

Here's what the dish looks like before putting it in the oven.

The Process:

Take the skin off the eggplant by peeling off strips of it using a vegetable peeler. The eggplant will look like it has stripes as some of the skin remains.

Cut thin (about 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thick) slices of the eggplant. Brush olive oil on one side of each slice. Brush olive oil on a cookie sheet and put eggplant, dry side down. Cook in a 450 degree oven, turning over once, until both sides are brown.

Cut thin slices of zuchhini (about 1/4-inch to 1/2 inch thick). Put oil on both sides. Cut long strips of red pepper (about 1/2 inch thick) and put oil on both sides. Cook zuchhini and red pepper on a baking sheet in a 450 degree oven until done.

Fry chicken cutlets in a little olive oil and the clove of garlic. Sprinkle with lemon pepper.

When chicken is done, heat frying pan again. Add the tomato paste and the wine and water and stir. Add salt and pepper. Let the wine and water evaporate a little bit. Stir scraping the bottom of the pan. Add about 1 tablespoon of butter and stir some more. Turn off heat.

Assemble the dish by putting a little olive oil on the bottom of a ceramic baking dish, along with a few tablespoons of the fresh salsa. Add half of the chicken cutlets. Pour over half of the tomato paste sauce. Add half of the cheeses. Top with half of the zuchhini, red peppers, and eggplant slices. And then repeat this with the remaining ingredients, ending with the rest of the cheese and some fresh salsa.

Bake in a 350 degree oven until cheese melts.

The dish was delicious but it still needed a name. I posted a photo of it on Facebook and asked for suggestions. My friend Katie M. suggested Chickplantasagna. It was the perfect name for a perfect dish.

The End

Find more recipes in the Food Section.

Risotto (This time with mushrooms and eggplant)
Sep 24th, 2012 by

This is a perfect dish to welcome fall in New England.

This is a perfect dish to welcome fall in New England.

You can add many things to risotto but mushrooms (especially porcini) are my favorite. I made this dish up last night with vegetables I had on hand: crimini mushrooms and eggplant. Feel free to omit the eggplant, it’s just as good.

Making risotto is not hard, but it is an art. The key is adding small amounts of liquid to the rice, only enough for it to be absorbed a minute or two at a time. This ensures the dish will be not only flavorful but will have the correct texture: think al dente (with a little bite); never soggy or water-logged.

And of course, the main thing you do, is stir, baby, stir. (Tip: Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan while stirring and lower the heat if you think the liquid is evaporating too fast or if there is a danger of the rice burning.)

Ingredients:

  • Arborio rice (1 pound). Accept no substitutes, this is what makes risotto, risotto.
  • Chicken broth (About 44 ounces). You can use home-made stock (the best), or canned broth, or some bullion cubes with water or a mixture of all. You can also use a little white wine. Last night I used a combination of canned broth, chicken bullion cube, and a porcini bullion cube with hot water. Whatever liquid you use, be sure to heat it up before you add it to the rice.
  • Onion (1 small or a 1/2 of a large onion; chopped)
  • Olive oil (About 1/4 cup; enough to cover the bottom of a medium-sized pot; plus more to coat the eggplant and mushrooms.)
  • Mushrooms (About 8 oz.; chopped)
  • Eggplant (1 small or 3/4 of a large eggplant, sliced thin)
  • Nepitella (About 1 tablespoon. A mixture of dried basil and mint will also work).
  • Parmesan cheese (About 1/2 cup, grated; or to taste)
  • Butter (About 1-2 tablespoons)
  • Pepper (Just a sprinkle, to taste)

What I did:

Heat olive oil in a medium-sized pot over low heat. Add diced onion and cook until translucent.

Add rice and stir. Add more olive oil if needed, just enough to coat the rice. Cook for a minute or two, stirring occasionally.

Ladle in the liquid, just enough to cover the rice and stir. When liquid is absorbed, add more liquid, just enough to cover and stir. Continue doing this until risotto is done (about 45 minutes).

In between stirring the risotto, coat a cookie sheet with olive oil and salt (kosher is best). Put down a layer of eggplant and brush tops of eggplant slices with oil and salt. Bake in a 400-degree oven, turning over when bottom is brown. Do the same with the mushrooms. Add nepitella to the cooked mushrooms and set aside.

When risotto is done. Stir in eggplant and mushrooms. Stir in butter and parmesan cheese. Add pepper to taste.

This dish takes about 45 minutes to make if you work fast. Add another 15-minutes to 30 minutes if you work at a leisurely pace.

You can serve this as a main meal (serves four) with a side salad; or as a side dish. And if you’re out to impress, try serving it as a side-dish inside a parmesan basket.

Find more recipes in the Food section.

Eggplant and Mushroom Stacks
Jun 26th, 2012 by

Roasted eggplant tastes great, is low-calorie and can be used in a variety of dishes.

Roasted eggplant tastes great, is low-calorie and can be used in a variety of dishes.

I improvised this dish one night using ingredients I had on hand. The taste is savory, sweet, and comforting. And it’s something that can be whipped up in about half an hour.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Eggplant (Make sure it’s firm, shiny and a dark purple. This is key, as I don’t believe in salting eggplant and draining it to get out the bitterness. If you buy a perfectly ripe eggplant without bruises, it won’t be bitter.)
  • Mushrooms (about 8 oz.), fried in olive oil, salt and pepper. I like to also add a sprinkling of dried or fresh nepitella. But since that’s hard to come by, you could also use a combination of basil and mint.
  • Cream cheese (About 2 or three tablespoons; just enough to mix in with the cooked mushrooms).
  • Sun-dried tomatoes in oil (1 jar).
  • Arugula (About a cup)

What I did:

Wash and peel the eggplant vertically, leaving vertical, purple stripes.

Cut thin (About 1/4 of an inch) round disks of the eggplant.

Brush on olive oil and salt on both sides. Bake in a 400-degree oven on a cookie sheet. Brown on one side and then turn over. This should take about 15 minutes for each tray of eggplant. Set aside.

Mix cream cheese into cooked mushrooms.

Top an eggplant slice with a couple of tablespoons of the mushroom mixture.

Top this with a few slices of sun-dried tomatoes in oil. And then top that with a few leaves of arugula. And top it all off with another slice of eggplant.

You can serve it as is, or heat it up in a hot oven for just a minute before serving.

Serve this with roasted broccoli or other roasted vegetables if you wish to make dinner a total vegetarian treat.

Moussaka (Part 2 of the Big Fat Greek Mother’s Day Party)
May 11th, 2011 by

Maggie holds a plate of Moussaka and Greek salad.

Maggie holds a plate of Moussaka and Greek salad.

This is an untraditional moussaka recipe from Julia Child. I changed it slightly. It’s a bit time consuming to make but worth the effort. And unlike eggplant parmesan, you don’t have the tedious chore of dipping the eggplant in egg and breadcrumbs.

Ingredients:

  • Eggplant (2. Make sure they’re firm, shiny and a dark purple. This is key, as I don’t believe in salting eggplant and draining it to get out the bitterness. If you buy a perfectly ripe eggplant without bruises, it won’t be bitter.)
  • Olive oil and Salt (Enough to brush each eggplant slice.)
  • Dried herbs (I used a very small amount of oregano, thyme, and mint.)

For the lamb mixture:

  • Ground lamb (1 1/2 pounds)
  • Fresh parsley (1/2 cup, pressed down)
  • Onions (2 medium, to make about 1 1/2 cups, minced)
  • Garlic (2 cloves, minced)
  • Canned Italian plum tomatoes (2 cups, strained and drained)
  • Red wine (3/4 cup)
  • Allspice (1/8 tsp.)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
  • Egg (1 large, beaten)

For the topping:

  • Butter (3 tbsp.)
  • Flour (1/4 cup)
  • Hot milk (2 cups)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • Mozzarella cheese (1 cup, grated)
  • Nutmeg (1 small pinch)
  • Swiss cheese (1/2 cup, grated, to top the topping)

It comes out of the oven bubbling hot, but wait a few minutes until it cools a little before serving.

It comes out of the oven bubbling hot, but wait a few minutes until it cools a little before serving.

What I did:

Wash and peel the eggplant vertically, leaving vertical, purple stripes.

Cut thin (About 1/4 of an inch) round disks of the eggplant.

Brush on olive oil and salt on both sides and lightly sprinkle with the dried herbs. Bake in a 400-degree oven on a cookie sheet. Brown on one side and then turn over. You can cover the cookie sheet with aluminum foil during baking. This should take about 15 minutes for each tray of eggplant. Set aside.

Chop the parsley in a food processor, remove and reserve.

Add the onions and chop with on/off pulses; remove and saute in a frying pan with 2 tbsp. of olive oil; add the minced garlic.

When onions are tender, add the ground lamb. Brown very lightly.

Fold in tomatoes, wine, parsley and allspice, salt, pepper. Simmer over moderate heat, stirring frequently for about a half hour or until the mixture is thick enough to hold its shape in a spoon. Taste periodically and adjust seasoning.

Remove from heat and stir in the beaten egg.

Lightly oil a baking dish (one the size of a good lasagna will do) and line it with a layer of eggplant.

Spoon half the lamb mixture over it and then add another layer of eggplant. Add the rest of the lamb mixture and end with another layer of eggplant.

To make the topping, do the following:

Cook the butter and flour together for about 2 minutes without coloring, stirring with a wooden spoon.

Remove from heat and pour in all but 1/2 cup of the hot milk. Whisk vigorously to blend thoroughly.

Put it back on moderately high heat and whisk slowly until it comes to a simmer. Add in the rest of the milk in drips and drabs. Be careful to scrape the sides and bottom of the pan. The sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon.

Whisk in salt and pepper to taste.

Remove from heat and stir in mozzarella cheese.

Spoon the hot sauce over the top of the eggplant. Shake the baking dish to allow it to sink down.

Sprinkle the swiss cheese evenly on top. Bake for 45 minutes in a 350-degree oven until the top is a light brown and bubbling.

Serve warm or tepid, but not too hot. It’s good cold, too.

Check out the other “Big Fat Greek Mother’s Day Party” recipes.

Find more recipes in the Food section.

Easy Weeknight Pasta, Part Two
Nov 30th, 2010 by

My friend Michael enjoyed a plate of this updated pasta dish on a recent visit to the RootsLiving kitchen.

My friend Michael enjoyed a plate of this updated pasta dish on a recent visit to the RootsLiving kitchen.

Tweaking basic recipes with some of your favorite ingredients keeps things exciting, fresh and new.

This basic pasta recipe from the bible of classic Italian cooking, the Artusi, was featured in a post here a year ago. I recently upgraded it to include one of my favorite ingredients: eggplant.

The differences between the original recipe, called “Neapolitan-Style Macaroni II” and this updated version are as follows:

  • I added eggplant. Buy a firm, dark eggplant. Cut off the bright green top. Take a vegetable peeler and make vertical stripes from the top to the bottom of the eggplant. Cut thin slices (less than a 1/4-inch thick). Dip in an egg scambled with a splash of milk and dredge in bread crumbs. Fry in olive oil and drain on a plate with a paper towel.
  • I substituted penne for the thick macaroni that is packaged like small bird nests inside a plastic bag.

Cut up the eggplant and add with the other ingredients to the pasta.

Find more recipes in the Food section.

(Note: If you’d like to print this recipe, click on the headline on this post and then use the print button at the bottom of the post. In other words, print from the “permalink” not from the homepage.)

Little Ears Filled With Eggplant & Sausage
Feb 5th, 2010 by

You can't go wrong with impromptu pasta dishes made with fresh ingredients you already have at home..

You can't go wrong with impromptu pasta dishes made with fresh ingredients you already have at home..

I can’t pass up a good-looking eggplant. If I see one at the grocery store I buy it, regardless of my dinner plans for the week. This is because a good eggplant is not always easy to find. I’d say there’s about a 50/50 chance of finding a good one.

And what does a good one look like? It should be a deep, dark purple (nearly black with lighter highlights revealing themselves under the bright grocery store lights). The skin should be blemish free, smooth, and taut. It’s also a good sign if the stem end is a bright green or at least shows signs of recently being so. And it should be heavy when you pick it up so that when you rap it gently with a closed fist it produces a low dull thud.

I won’t buy a lesser eggplant. I’ll change my dinner plans if I can’t find one. And that’s because eggplants of a lower quality are bitter and are responsible for giving all eggplants a bad name. This has resulted in cooks doing crazy things with eggplants, such as slicing it, putting it into a colander, salting it, and letting it sit until the juices run out. In my earlier cooking days, I tried that and found it resulted in an eggplant that still is much bitter than using a fresh one without all of this nonsense.

The key is using a good, fresh eggplant, and doing what you will to it quickly after peeling and slicing it. Don’t let it sit around getting brown.

I also partially peel my eggplants before slicing them. I do this by cutting off the stem end and then using a vegetable peeler to vertically peel strips off the eggplant from stem end to the bottom. This creates an eggplant with purple stripes. And then I slice it thinly — about a 1/4 to 1/8 of an inch or less.

Since cooking eggplant is often an impromptu act for me, I often come up with interesting recipes based on what I have on hand. This recipe came about on one of those occasions.

(This is a good dish to make if you have a little leftover tomato sauce. The Italians use a sparse amount of tomato sauce on their pasta, usually only enough to color it a deep orange, not a heavy red.)

Ingredients/Shopping List

  • Orecchiette pasta (or small conchiglie, also called shells). (1 pound). Orecchiette comes from the Italian for little ears and in fact looks like little ears.
  • Eggplant (1 or 2 firm and fresh specimens; chosen, peeled and sliced as described above.)
  • Sausages (3 sweet Italian links)
  • Tomato Sauce (about 1 cup, your favorite or mine.)
  • Olive oil (enough to coat the eggplant slices and 2 cookie sheets)
  • Salt (I use Kosher salt for everything.)
  • Parmesan cheese (About 1/2 cup grated, or to your taste)

What I did:

Bring a large pot of salted water (use a good amount of salt) to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente.

While water is being brought to a boil, peel and slice an eggplant as described above. Put slices on an oiled cookie sheet and brush olive oil on top of each slice. Make sure both the tops and bottoms of each slice have a thin layer of olive oil on them. Sprinkle slices with Kosher salt and cook in a 350 degree to 400 degree oven until brown on each side. Turn slices over half-way to make sure each side is a golden or dark brown. (Don’t worry about overcooking them. The thin slices will have a crisp paper texture and will taste great. Just be sure you don’t burn them!) Cook 2 cookie sheets of eggplants in this way.

When eggplant slices are done, cut them into quarters.

Crumble the sausage links into a hot frying pan with a light coating of olive oil. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper over them. Cook until done. And then transfer to a dinner plate lined with a paper towel to drain off the excess grease.

Heat the tomato sauce up over the stove.

Drain the pasta into a colander and then pour it back into the empty pot. Add sausage and stir. Add the eggplant and stir. Add the tomato sauce and stir. Add grated parmesan cheese and stir. Serve hot.

Find more recipes in the Food section.

(Note: If you’d like to print this recipe, click here or on the headline on this post and then use the print button at the bottom of the post. In other words, print from the “permalink” not from the homepage.)

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