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 medium eggplant, ends trimmed; peeled

1 egg

1 teaspoon salt; plus more to taste

½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

3 cups Italian-seasoned panko crumbs or bread crumbs

Olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups whole milk

½ cup grated Asiago cheese

1 pound cooked pasta shells or spirals

1 cup marinara sauce

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/

orecchiette cacio e pepe with parsnips

orecchiette, parsnips cacio e pepe recipe

When I first made classic pasta cacio e pepe - with cheese and pepper – I referred to a recipe by Mario Batali in Molto Gusto, which calls for 1/4 cup black pepper to sauce one pound of spaghetti.

Whoa, baby! I like it hot, but turns out that was too much pepper for me. It felt harsh; like my tongue was sweating and my throat burning like a white hot piece of smoldering charcoal.

While I was moving things around on my spice shelves in search of black pepper, an avalanche of other containers came raining down. I started to put everything back when my hand landed on a jar of green peppercorns. They’re such a pretty color, unlike the color you usually find in a basic black peppercorn, and I rarely find myself needing to put green peppercorns in anything.

Why not? It was one small Eureka! moment in a sea of not so many. I located some whole white pepper to make a trio of color, along with fennel seeds. The mix turned out much more palatable; perfect for the pasta I was planning to make with roasted parsnips.

parsnips-cacio e pepe-recipe

I love orecchiette pasta, “little ears’ in Italian. Their cute shape serves as a cup to hold whatever they’re sauced with; in this case chunks of crusty, caramelized parsnips in peppery-sharp, creamy sauce.

The fennel seeds in my peppercorn rainbow remind me a little of the crunchy pepper biscuits I find in bakeries when I visit home in Rhode Island. I’ve made taralli that came close to duplicating their flavor; minus the black pepper. I always find myself packing bags of pepper biscuits to take back with me, stashed in the freezer to tide me over until my next visit.

tre-pepe orecchiette-little ears

Cacio e pepe is a dish with deep roots in ancient Rome; the production of Pecorino Romano cheese dates back more than 2,000 years and black pepper was a commodity in the early days of the spice trade.

Fun fact: It’s said that Attila the Hun demanded over one ton of black pepper as ransom while he ransacked the city of Rome. You kind of get the feeling he’d have gladly tucked into a super-sized plate of spaghetti, seasoned with a pound of pepper. If only spaghetti had existed yet.

orecchiette-parsnip-cacio-e-pepe-recipe

orecchiette cacio e pepe with parsnips

Serving Size: serves 4

Ingredients

2 or 3 small parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt

½ pound orecchiette pasta

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

½ teaspoon each whole green and white peppercorns (or use an additional teaspoon black pepper)

1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus additional for serving

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano cheese

Lacinato or Tuscan kale leaves; about a handful, torn into pieces

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Put the parsnips on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Roast until tender and lightly browned, 15 -20 minutes.
  3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add 1 or 2 tablespoons salt and the orecchiette; cook until al dente.
  4. While the pasta is cooking, put all the peppercorns in an electric spice or coffee grinder and pulse until coarsely ground (if you don’t have a coffee grinder dedicated to spices, crush the pepper in a manual pepper grinder or a mortar and pestle – it will build up some muscles).
  5. Place a large sauté pan over medium-high heat; when the pan is hot, add the peppercorns and whole fennel seeds and toast until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the butter and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Stir together until the butter melts, then remove from the heat.
  6. Drain the pasta, reserving 3/4 cup of the cooking water in a heatproof measuring cup. Add the pasta to the sauté pan along with the parsnips and both cheeses; toss it all together. Add some of the reserved water, a few tablespoons at a time, until the cheese melts into a creamy sauce; you might not use it all.
  7. Stir the kale leaves into the hot pasta to wilt them. Serve with additional cheese on the side.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/01/orecchiette-cacio-e-pepe-with-parsnips/

spaghetti and meatballs: familystyle

Spagetti and meatballs, familystyle

I experience New Year’s Day with mixed emotion. As much as I love holding a new calendar fresh with possibilities for the year ahead, at the same time my head is spinning trying to process the one that just sped by, seemingly faster every time. What’s up with that?

I can only think it’s what happens when we’re living a full life – each day a series of events that unfolds onto the next. But in the middle of the daily process of work and school; relationships with family, friends, dog…it becomes like a monotonous ride. Some mornings I feel like a character in Groundhog Day.

Italian parsley and Parmigiano cheese

spaghetti

Which is why I’m grateful for the few weeks in December when I can make a plan to unplug; to spend time to nourish myself and my family, with things like mornings without an alarm clock and a schedule with absolutely nothing on it.

And food, of course. There aren’t many things that connect us like time shared around the table, especially when a large platter of spaghetti and meatballs is sitting on top of it.

I’ve shared my personal attempt at my mother’s meatball recipe on this blog before, but this latest version has become all my own. If my mom were here to sit at my table, I think she’d approve.

spaghetti and meatballs familystyle

Spaghetti and meatballs: familystyle

Serving Size: Serves a table of 6

Ingredients

Meatballs:

1 ½ pounds ground beef

1 ½ pounds ground pork

1 onion

3 garlic cloves, crushed

½ cup fresh bread crumbs *

1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano, Romano or Asiago cheese

2 eggs

3 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Large pinch crushed red pepper

Olive oil

Gravy:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

Salt

2 or 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced or finely chopped

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 container Pomi strained tomatoes

Pinch sugar

Fresh ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. To make the meatballs, put the ground meats into a large bowl. Grate the onion over the bowl on the side of a large box grater. Add the remaining ingredients (except the olive oil) and mix together with your hands or a large fork until thoroughly combined. Form into 2-inch diameter balls and arrange on a large baking sheet.
  2. Heat a large, deep sauté pan (12 – 14-inches in diameter) over moderate heat. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan completely and heat for a minute or two before adding the meatballs. Cook until nicely browned on one side; carefully turn the meatballs with tongs or a spatula to brown the other side. Transfer the meatballs to a platter.
  3. Drain the fat from the pan. (Note – if you don’t have a large sauté pan with at least 3 inch sides, fry the meatballs in a sauté pan, in batches if necessary so you don’t crowd the pan. Make the sauce in a separate wide saucepan or soup pot.)
  4. To make the gravy, place the pan back over moderate heat. Add the olive oil, onion and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook the onions until they become very soft. If they begin to brown, add a few tablespoons of water, lower the heat and cover the pan until they’re ready.
  5. Stir in the garlic and cook for a minute, until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, sugar and more salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook 15 minutes.
  6. Put the meatballs into the pan, cover and continue simmering for another 10 minutes or so.
  7. Serve the sauce and meatballs over hot spaghetti or pasta, with plenty of cheese grated over.

Notes

*To make fresh bread crumbs, trim the crust from a large hunk of crusty peasant bread. Cut the bread into large pieces and toast 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Grind in a food processor to form fine crumbs. Keep extra crumbs in a covered container in the refrigerator or freezer.

http://familystylefood.com/2013/01/spaghetti-and-meatballs-familystyle/