Parmigiana di Melanzane – Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant Parmesan

 

I adore eggplant.  I love it’s versatility, it’s meatiness, the way it soaks up the surrounding flavors.  I love that you can even make desserts with eggplant! (Just ask the Sicilians).  Parmigiana has been a staple in my household for years.  When I was vegetarian, I used to prepare this all the time.  And, lucky for me, my sweetie Paolo, makes an amazing parmigiana.  Unfortunately, he is in Madrid, so I had to make this myself.

My daughter, also, absolutely adored this.  I didn’t tell her what was inside.  When she asked what was for dinner and I said Melanzane alla Parmigiana, she just nodded and life was ok for her.  Italian food is her passion.  I should probably start translating all of my dishes in Italian so she’ll eat them.  The best bit was when she tried the first bite and told me it was delicious.  Score!  Another veggie consumed happily by the picky teen!

Parmigiana can be served as a main meal, or as an appetizer.  But I like to eat it as a main, since every bite is amazing.  Oh, and this recipe I changed up a bit, to make it a little more heart and calorie friendly.  Instead of frying the eggplant, I baked them in the oven.   Let me tell you, I think I am going to make it like this all the time.  The flavors of the tomato sauce and the eggplant really came out, instead of the heaviness of the oil.  But hey, if you ain’t watchin’ your weight, go ahead and fry!

It is a very simple dish to prepare.  It has a few steps, but once that is done, you can just sit back and wait until it comes out of the oven.  And it’s even better the day after!

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 4 (as a meal) or 8 (appetizer)

2 medium eggplants, sliced and sprinkled with salt, and place in a colander for about 1 hour, then rinsed.

1 tbsp olive oil, more for tray and eggplants.

1/2 onion, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

Salt and black pepper, to taste

2 small cans diced tomatoes, if you can, use italian tomatoes.  You WILL notice the difference.

2 fresh mozzarella, sliced

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 425F (220C).   On a large baking tray, place a layer of aluminum, and paint with a layer of olive oil.  Place all the eggplant slices on the tray, and then paint them with another layer of oil.

photo (99)

 

Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes, or until starting to brown.  Take out of the oven and lower the heat to 400F (200C).

Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan over medium low heat, add the tbsp of olive oil.  Add the onion, garlic, salt and pepper and sauté until translucent and softened, about 6-8 minutes.   Add the two cans of tomatoes and cook for about 20 minutes.

In a small baking dish, add a scant layer of tomato sauce.  Top with the slices of eggplant, then mozzarella, and finally the parmesan cheese.

photo 101

 

Repeat, adding, in order, tomato sauce, eggplant, mozzarella and parmesan until you have no more.  The last layer should be the mozzarella and parmesan.  Cover with foil and bake for about 20 minutes.   Uncover and continue to bake until the cheese is golden brown and most of the water from the tomatoes has evaporated.    Take out of the oven and let rest 15 minutes before serving.

photo 103

 

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

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Shiitake Croquetas

Shiitake Croquetas

 

I LOVE CROQUETAS.  Croquetas are croquettes, usually made with leftover ham, but now a days, you can find them filled with anything your heart desires.  I have had cheese, spinach, pine nuts and raisins, beef, onion, fish…..the list goes on.

I have eaten croquetas since I was a kid, and I think my obsession started because my parents really didn’t buy or make them.  In Miami it is a Cuban thing, and the only time I would get to eat them is when I went to sleep at my Uncle Ernest and Aunt Myra’s house.  We used to have them for breakfast.  Sooooo good.

Now, call me stupid, but I had no idea that croquetas was a Spanish thing.  When I first landed in Spain, and saw that every single restaurant had a croqueta on the menu, I had an “A-ha!” moment.  Croquetas originally are made with left over chicken or pieces of Jamon mixed with a thick béchamel, then coated with breadcrumbs and fried.  The ham ones are still my favorites.  I’m not so sure about the chicken.  I decided to make them with some shiitake, because I had some dried in my fridge, kind of just staring at me every day.

Croquetas are fairly easy to make, but they are laborious and time-consuming.  This is probably something you might want to do on a rainy Sunday, (as I did) and make a lot.  They freeze really well, and as all things, the home-made versions are much better than store-bought, which usually has a very low ham to béchamel ratio, favoring the latter.  And once you get the knack, then the possibilities are endless!

So here’s what you’re going to need:

2 handfuls (sorry, I didn’t measure other than that) dried Shiitake mushrooms, soaked and strained, reserving 1 cup soaking liquid, then minced

1 tbsp olive oil

1 small onion, finely minced

4 tbsp butter

4 tbsp flour, more for dusting

2 cups milk

Salt and Pepper to taste

2 eggs, beaten

Breadcrumbs, for coating.  In this recipe, I used Panko (Japanese Style Breadcrumbs)

In a sauté pan over medium heat, add the olive oil, shiitake and onion.  Saute until the mushrooms and onions are softened, about 20 minutes.  Make sure all the water from the mushrooms has evaporated too.  Take off heat and set aside.

In a stockpot over low heat, melt the butter and add your flour and mix well, to make a roux.  Cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes.  Mix the milk with the cup of soaking liquid, and in a slow stream add to the roux, whisking constantly.  Stir until very thick, about 25 minutes.  Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper and mix well.  Spread out on a plate, and let it cool to thicken even more.

Now, on your counter line up the plate with the filling, the bowl with the beaten egg, the bowl with the breadcrumbs, and a baking pan to place them on.  Dust your hands with flour, and grab a bit of the mushroom filling, roll into a ball or a log shape, dip them in the eggs, and then roll them in the breadcrumbs.  Continue to do that in order until all your filling is gone.  If needed wash your hands in between.  If you are not using immediately, you can freeze them in an airtight container for up to a month.

Heat a large non-stick frying pan with olive oil, when it is hot but not smoking, fry your croquetas about 4-5 minutes on each side, or until golden brown.  Turn over and repeat.  Place on a plate lined with paper to soak the excess oil.  Serve hot.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

 

 

Creamy Scrambled Eggs and Truffle oil with “Migas de Chorizo” (Chorizo Breadcrumbs)

I apologize for not posting anything yesterday, but I had a huge team building event that I was catering.  It was a huge success, but working all day yesterday took its toll on everything else in my life.

I wanted to share one of our most popular tapas, “Huevos revuelto con Aceite de Trufa y Migas de Chorizo”.  This is such a playful dish, and a huge crowd pleaser.  It’s incredibly fun to eat, right out of the shell, and with a few tips you can easily re-create this at home and serve it just as we did, on the egg crate.

Eggs are divine, and they are so easy to pair with other ingredients.  We wanted to play with the whole “Eggs and Bacon” Bit, but make it more accessible to our Spanish clients by adding Chorizo instead of bacon, which is undoubtedly a very Anglo-Saxon food.

To keep the eggs creamy, and to be able to prepare them before hand and then re-heat them and still be creamy, we made a light béchamel sauce, mixed with the scrambled egg and spooned them back into their shells.  Then with a light drizzle of olive oil, and the addition of the chorizo breadcrumbs, you just plonk it in a 375 F oven for three to four minutes, and serve immediately.

Serving them on the egg crate is not only fun, but super useful.  It allows you to make up to 30 at a time, and then place the whole thing in the oven and take it out again easily.

Migas is a typical dish of central Spain, which was originally made by sheep herders.  It was a way to re-use stale bread, and make it into a filling meal.  We added the chorizo sausage, because of its high content of paprika, it gives the bread crumbs this beautiful red hue that you can see here.

The addition of truffle oil elevates it from a very humble dish to a more sophisticated tapa.

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 30 as an appetizer

30 farm fresh eggs

4 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

4 cups cold milk

6 tbsp butter

6 tbsp flour

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

2 stale baguettes

2 pieces of cured chorizo sausage

White or Black truffle oil, for drizzling

If you don’t have an egg cutter, then lay the egg sideways on top of a tea towel, and with a serrated knife slice the wider end of the egg in a quick sawing motion until half way through or less, and then with your fingers take the top off carefully.  Place the egg in a bowl, and your shell back on its crate.  Once you’ve opened all the shells, wash the inside of the egg shells in warm water, and place upside down on the crate to dry.

Meanwhile, in a large heavy bottomed sauce pan, melt your 6 tbsp of butter.  Add the flour, and cook over very low heat, stirring constantly, for 5-6 minutes.  Add the cold milk, whisking vigorously so no lumps form.  Continue to cook, for about 10-15 minutes, until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon.  You don’t want it too thick though.  So a key to make sure it isn’t that thick, is when you coat the back of the spoon, blow on it, and if it makes a slight flower pattern and then returns back to normal, you’re done.  Too thick would be that it stays as a flower pattern.  Take off heat and add the nutmeg, salt and pepper.

In a large non-stick skillet, heat your olive oil.  Whisk the eggs, and cook until done but still juicy.  Add the béchamel, a large spoonful at a time, whisking, until soft and creamy, but still tastes very eggy.  Make sure you don’t add too much, just enough so that it stays creamy when it cools, but not so much that you lose the egg flavor.  I can’t give you exact details, because each egg is different size, and it really has to do with more of the texture you want.  Cover and set aside.

To make the migas, slice the baguette into rounds, and with a food processor, pulse to make bread crumbs.  Set aside.
Then slice the chorizo, and in a food processor, pulse until it is finely chopped.  In a large skillet or sauté pan, place the breadcrumbs and chorizo, and over medium heat, cook until all the bread is coated with chorizo and slightly fried.

To assemble, spoon the scrambled eggs back into their shells until 3/4 full, drizzle with a little of the olive oil, and top with a spoonful of the chorizo breadcrumbs.  Place them back on the crate, and place in a 375 F oven.  Re-heat for 3 to 4 minutes.

Let cool slightly (the shell will be quite hot) and serve on the crate!

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

 

 

Sicilian Street Food: Arancini di Ragu

Ten years ago exactly we celebrated our 10 year high school reunion in Taormina, Sicily.  I fell so in love with the island; the smells of flowers and ocean air.  Its rocky cliffs dipping vertically into the clear, azure Ionic Sea.  The cobblestone streets with the outdoor cafes, bustling with ultra-cool Sicilians having Gelato con la Brioche, (incredible ice cream sandwiches) and Granita con la Panna, (italian ice with whipped cream).  The weather was perfect, mildly warm during the day, and cool and breezy at night.  I didn’t want to leave.

After this vacation, I moved to Barcelona.  And I decided that I wanted to bring back all of those glorious things I tasted on my trip.  So, I started traveling extensively throughout Sicily, took many cooking lessons, visited wineries, cheese producers, cured meat purveyors, all in hopes of soaking up what they do best in Sicily, cook and eat.

One of my favorite things I discovered, besides the gelato con la brioche, was Arancini.  The name means “small oranges”, obviously because of their color and shape.  But inside….it was a surprise that I was quite happy to discover.  Arancini are stuffed rice croquettes.  The ones that I like the best contain a ragu, or meat sauce, in the center.  But they can be as simple as plain mozzarella, or with spinach and cheese, or just vegetables.  The time I spent there, I met many Mamma’s, Nonna’s and chefs.  And each one of them imparted their unique technique’s from all over the island.  Here is my recipe for Arancini, mind you, it takes a bit of practice, and it definitely requires some patience since the process has quite a few steps.  But I wouldn’t hesitate to make them.  They are beyond delicious, and you will be very happy when your guests or family gobbles them up with huge smiles.

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Makes about 8 arancini

For the rice:

3 cups water

1.5 cups arborio rice

2 tsp of salt

1 egg, beaten

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

For the ragu:

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 large onion, finely minced

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tbsp tomato paste

125g ground beef and pork

1/2 cup white wine

1 can of pureed tomatoes, 400g

1 cup beef stock

1/2 cup peas

Salt and Pepper to taste

Grated Nutmeg

1/4 cup mozzarella, diced

2 eggs, beaten

Lots of bread crumbs

Vegetable oil, for frying

In a saucepan, add the water, salt and bring to a boil.  When it is boiling, add the rice and turn the heat to low, cover and let simmer for about 15-20 minutes until it evaporates.

Let it cool a bit, and add your egg and parmesan cheese and mix well.  Spread out on a baking sheet and let cool in the fridge.

In the meantime, make the sauce.  In a large sauté pan over low heat, add the onion and garlic,cook for about 10 minutes.  Add the tomato paste, and raise the heat to high, cook for about 2 minutes, stirring continuously so your onions and garlic won’t burn.  Add the beef/pork mixture, and sauté until cooked through, stirring the whole time.  When it is completely cooked, add the white wine and let it evaporate completely.

Add the tomato purée, and the vegetable stock.  Bring to a boil, and lower the heat to medium low.  Add the peas and let simmer for about 20 minutes, just enough so that you have more meat to sauce, but it is still quite moist.

When done, add the salt, pepper, nutmeg and mozzarella.  Mix well.  Let cool.

Now here comes the tricky part.  It is useful to have everything ready on your countertop before you begin to make the arancini.  In a deep, non stick frying pan, fill half full with the vegetable oil.  Place it over high heat.

Crack your eggs into a shallow bowl, and put the bread crumbs in another shallow bowl.  Place them side by side, and have your rice and ragu in a row so you can work easily.  It also helps to have a large bowl of water to rinse your hands with in between making the arancini, because it becomes a sticky mess, and of course, a kitchen towel over your shoulder to dry your hands with!

Now grab a bit of your rice, and place it in your other hand, and cup your hand.  Start molding the rice to your hand, creating a sort of pocket, like this:

Then place a generous tsp full of your sauce into the pocket.

Now, start closing your hand around the sauce, using your free hand to help you close up the hole.  Grab a little bit more rice and place it on top, pressing the rice to create a nice tight seam.  It takes a bit of artistry, but by the second or third one, you will get the hang of it.  Once the sauce is completely covered with the rice, mold into a ball shape.

Now roll in the beaten eggs, and then in the breadcrumbs, making sure that it is completely covered.  Then with a slotted spoon, place in the hot oil, and fry until the bottom half is golden brown, then flip it over and fry on the other side.  You can do a few at a time, just remember the order you put them in.

Strain on paper towels to take off the excess oil, and serve immediately.  You can also make them ahead, and before frying refrigerate for a few days.  Just bring them to room temperature before frying.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla