eggplant parm mac and cheese

eggplant-parm-mac-and-cheese-recipe

Eggplants are to Sicilians what potatoes are to the Irish. - Fabrizia Lanza

However you personally define comfort food, somewhere down the line it all comes down to memories of being cooked for and fed before you were able to do so on your own. I can’t help guessing what would trigger my food cravings if I hadn’t grown up in the United States during the sixties and seventies, but rather in a completely different culture; like Japan or India.

Or, a hundred years ago in the areas of Italy where my ancestors lived.

Instead of the sweet, white and starchy things that my generation learned to want as kids (and probably what lots of 21st century ones do, too) my taste buds might have been formed by a another set of flavors and textures. And if I had been a child during my Italian ancestors’ time, those things would have been the stuff of peasant cooking; la cucina povera.

baked-eggplant-parmesan-recipe

I’m drawn to those humble, earthy foods so completely that I wonder if it’s somehow coded in DNA. How else do I have a taste – and even a sense of nostalgia for – a way of eating and living I never experienced? A plain explanation must be just that it TASTES GOOD.  No matter the origins of any person’s family tree, we can all relate to satisfying our hungers with recipes that are grounded in peasant cooking.

I can’t know for sure that my great, great, great grandmothers prepared something similar to what Americans know as Eggplant Parmesan, but it’s safe to say that Neapolitans and Sicilians have definitely been eating eggplant, tomatoes and fresh cheeses like mozzarella for thousands of years.

I was thinking about my take on comfort food when the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board asked me to contribute a macaroni and cheese recipe to the blog 30 Days, 30 Ways with Macaroni and Cheese. Eggplant Parm plus any kind of pasta with cheese are right at the top of my list of favorites.

My everyday style of cooking doesn’t usually mean deep-frying, which is often a step in classic recipes. So I’ve come up with an oven-roasted method for crusty eggplant  – not exactly old school, but somehow it brings the old world and 21st century comfortably together.

eggplant-parm-mac-and-cheese-recipe

eggplant parm mac and cheese

Serving Size: Serves a table of 6

I make my own marinara sauce, but feel free to use your favorite.

Ingredients

  1. 1 medium eggplant, ends trimmed; peeled
  2. 1 egg
  3. 1 teaspoon salt; plus more to taste
  4. ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  5. 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  6. 3 cups Italian-seasoned panko crumbs or bread crumbs
  7. Olive oil
  8. 2 tablespoons butter
  9. 2 tablespoons flour
  10. 2 cups whole milk
  11. ½ cup grated Asiago cheese
  12. 1 pound cooked pasta shells or spirals
  13. 1 cup marinara sauce
  14. 3/4 cup grated Fontina cheese

Instructions

  1. Place a large rimmed baking sheet on an oven rack and turn oven to 450 degrees to preheat.
  2. Slice eggplant in half lengthwise and then into ½-inch wide half-moons.
  3. Whisk together egg, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper and garlic in a large bowl; add eggplant and toss to coat. Dredge eggplant in crumbs on a cookie sheet.
  4. Pour enough olive oil over the bottom of the preheated baking sheet to cover to a depth of 1/8-inch. Lay eggplant on pan and roast 10 minutes; flip eggplant slices over and roast an additional 10 minutes or until eggplant is tender and crust is golden. Lower oven temperature to 400 degrees.
  5. Meanwhile, heat a medium saucepan over moderate heat; add butter and heat until foaming subsides and butter is melted. Whisk in flour; cook 1 minute. Slowly pour in milk while whisking. Bring to a simmer; lower heat and cook 5 – 10 minutes, whisking occasionally, until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in Asiago cheese; season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Combine the pasta with the milk mixture and transfer to a large casserole or baking dish. Top with the eggplant, marinara and Fontina cheese. Bake 15 minutes, until hot and cheese is melted.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/01/eggplant-parm-mac-and-cheese/

red chili rapini aglio e olio

red chili rapini aglio e olio

Green Superfoods – especially kale – have been “trending” for a while. Now, it seems like there’s a kale salad on the menu of every restaurant I’ve visited over the past six months. I couldn’t be happier. I LOVE me a plate of Tuscan kale, raw or cooked.

But I’m thinking that maybe kale is the gateway green to other dark and mysterious vegetables…….like rapini.

I’ve been familiar with rapini (also called broccoli raab or rabe) since I was a kid, when I knew it as “robbie”. My grandmother would occasionally put a bowl of slow-cooked robbie on the Sunday table. I’m pretty sure I was seriously afraid of it back then. After the long braising, the greens would go very limp and turn dusky, blackish-green, the same texture and color of the seaweed that got tangled in my feet at the beach. Not very appealing to a little girl who was just looking forward to a plate of macaroni and a meatball.

red chili rapini brushetta

In parts of New England and especially in Rhode Island where I grew up, broccoli rabe is still very familiar. It’s on the menu of mom-and-pop Italian delis, generously piled in grinder sandwiches with or without grilled sausage and provolone cheese.

Rapini is classified as a brassica, the same family as cabbage and broccoli, but it’s more closely related to turnip greens than it is to broccoli. When I’m shopping, I look for leaves that are uniformly dark green, with lots of tight little flower buds. Sometimes I find a bunch of rapini with its buds about to open to yellow flowers; a sign that it’s over the hill. I pass it by.

The lower stems can be tough and fibrous; I trim off about a third of the bunch, keeping the thin upper leafy stems and buds. Rapini has a slightly bitter bite, tempered by briefly blanching it in boiling salty water, which also preserves its beautiful emerald green color. I say briefly because unlike the way my mama made it, rapini doesn’t take very long to cook at all.

rapini

After blanching, I like to toss the greens with chili, garlic and olive oil (aglio e olio); they are delicious tossed with pasta, over creamy, cheesy polenta or piled on crusty toasted bread as a bruschetta.

red chili rapini agio e olio polenta and bruschetta

I enjoyed reading my friend Susan from Food Blogga’s post about broccoli rabe – we come from the same neck of RI.

Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for pasta with garlickly broccoli rabe makes me hungry, too.

Red chili rapini with olive oil and garlic

Serving Size: serves 4 - 6

Serve the rapini as a side dish, over creamy polenta, or as a bruschetta on toasted, crusty bread.

Ingredients

  1. 1 bunch rapini (broccoli rabe)
  2. 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  3. 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  4. 1 fresh red chili pepper, thinly sliced
  5. Pinch dried red chile flakes
  6. Fresh ground black pepper
  7. Grated fresh Pecorino Romano cheese

Instructions

  1. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil with 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  2. Trim off the lower, thick stems of the rapini; cut the remaining green leafy tops and buds into smaller pieces, drop into the boiling water and blanch 30 seconds. Drain and gently squeeze out any excess water.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, fresh and dried chili and cook for a minute or so, until sizzling and fragrant (but don't brown the garlic).
  4. Add the rapini to the pan and toss to coat with the garlicky oil. Remove from heat and season with salt and black pepper. Sprinkle with the pecorino.
  5. Serve as a topping for polenta, pasta, or bruschetta.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/01/red-chili-rapini-aglio-e-olio/

egg drop soup with kale and potato

Egg drop soup with kale and potato

Soup is in these days (yes, you might rightfully ask: when was it ever out?) If cool cities like Portland are an indication, soup is having a moment. I’ve seen hardy entrepreneurs load homemade soup into specially crafted thermal boxes fitted on the racks of their bicycles for delivery to hungry people around downtown Portland, sometimes with freshly baked bread on the side. I know there are lots of other cool cities with soup carts and bicycles but I’m just speaking from my personal experience in that particular one.

My sister-in-law lives in Portland, which is arguably the food truck capital of the world. And also maybe the rainy day capital of the world, so it makes a lot of sense that the demand for warm, comforting bowls of soup would be higher given the situation. When she was visiting recently, we talked about how we don’t seem to treat soup as a full meal. Or rather, I realized that I don’t. She goes out to the soup cart for lunch, after all.

It’s something I mean to change. I might even call it a New Year’s resolution – to make more soup! My son loves nothing more than eating soup, with the very strong exception of soup containing any form of seafood; so I know I have at least one taker.

egg drop soup egg drop soup with kale

This homey egg drop soup - stracciatella - is as Italian-grandma as it gets. Except for I don’t remember either of my Italian grandmothers making it –  a loss I can easily get over now that I’m a big girl.

You might know what happens to eggs when mixed with hot liquids, but the magic of this soup is that combined with fine semolina, they turn a basic broth into a creamy soup filled with “tiny shreds” of egg, the stracciatelle. I added some potato and kale to my soup to make it even more of a nourishing meal. It must be the Italian mama in me or something.

Egg drop soup with kale and potato

Egg drop soup with kale and potato

Serving Size: Serves 4

The semolina flour swells as it cooks, giving the soup a creamy consistency. I like Asiago here; it's like a combination of Parmesan and Pecorino Romano, but Parmesan will be delicious that's all you have.

Ingredients

  1. 1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
  2. 2 small Yukon Gold potatoes, diced (about 1 cup)
  3. Salt
  4. 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  5. 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  6. 2 eggs
  7. 2 tablespoons semolina flour
  8. 2 tablespoons freshly grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese
  9. 1 1/2 cups finely shredded kale

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil or butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the potato and cook for 2 minutes; stir in the onion with 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook for a few more minutes.
  2. Pour in 1 cup of the broth, lower the heat, cover the pan and cook until the potato is soft.
  3. Whisk together 1 cup broth in a bowl with the eggs, flour and cheese.
  4. Add the remaining 2 cups broth to the pan and bring to a boil.
  5. Slowly add the egg mixture to pan, whisking constantly; turn the heat down to low and continue whisking for 2 minutes, until the soup thickens.
  6. Stir in the kale. Serve in bowls with additional cheese, if you like.

Notes

inspired by Mario Batali

http://familystylefood.com/2013/01/egg-drop-soup-with-kale-and-potato/