Spaghettini with Fried Eggplant and Capers

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If I had to choose, eggplant may very well be my favorite vegetable. When undercooked, it tastes terrible, but when cooked properly it becomes sublime, buttery perfection. I’m no stranger to eggplant and pasta dishes, so when Food and Wine ran a Sardinian-inspired version, I had to try it. I adapted the original version to my own tastes, using less oil, substuting the Pecorino for Parmesan, using brined capers in place of salted ones, and omitting the homemade croutons altogether.

This version might just replace my standard southern Italian-style pasta and eggplant recipe, which includes tomatoes and ricotta salata. That’s the thing with eggplant dishes – you can never have enough.

Spaghetti with eggplant and capers

Ingredients:
1/4 cup brined capers
1 lb spaghettini
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice
Salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Large pinch of crushed red pepper
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Place the eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with salt an let stand for 15 minutes. Lightly pat with a paper towel to absorb excess moisture. In a bowl, rinse the capers and squeeze dry. Meanwhile, in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the spaghettini until just al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 3/4 cup of the cooking water.

2. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1/4 cup of the oil until shimmering. Add the eggplant, season with salt and pepper and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the sliced garlic and crushed red pepper and cook until the garlic is softened, about 2 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a small pan, heat the remaining 1/4 cup of oil until shimmering. Add the capers and fry over high heat, shaking the pan slightly, until the capers are golden and puffed, 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the capers to a paper towel–lined plate.

4. Add the pasta to the eggplant. Add the Parmesan and the reserved cooking water and simmer, tossing, just until the water is nearly absorbed, about 2 minutes. Serve the pasta in bowls, sprinkled with the fried capers.

Pappardelle with Mascarpone-Porcini Sauce

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I’ve been cooking with dried porcini mushrooms a lot lately. I used them liberally in two Thanksgiving dishes: baked pasta shells with cheese, porcini, pancetta and radicchio; and porcini-potato gratin.

But we’ll get to those later. One of my favorite uses of this super-flavorful mushroom is in a pasta sauce, made even richer with the addition of creamy mascarpone cheese. Stirring in a classic tomato sauce at the end helps balance things out with a bit of acidity, making for a wholly satsifying dish.

Pappardelle with mascarpone-porcini sauce

Ingredients:

2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cans whole plum tomoates (preferably San Marzano)
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 handful basil, coarsely chopped
3 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
3 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
1 package pappardelle pasta
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In medium pot, gently saute the garlic with one tablespoon olive oil, and then add the chilli, oregano and tomatoes. Mix gently, taking care to not break up the tomatoes (this makes the sauce slightly bitter).

2. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for an hour. Add the vinegar, then stir and break up the tomatoes in the sauce with the back of a stirring spoon. Add basil, season well to taste, and add one tablespoon olive oil. Cover and set aside.

3. Place the dried porcini mushrooms in a small bowl and add 1 cup boiling water for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil and garlic in a medium pan and saute over low heat for 5 minutes. 

4. Pick out the soaked porcini, reserving the porcini broth, and add porcini to the pan. Saute for 5 minutes. Pour in half a cup of the reserved porcini broth and discard the remainder. Simmer the mushroom mixture until the liquid is absorbed and then add the tomato sauce. Add the mascarpone and season to taste.

5. Meanwhile, cook the papardelle in salted wated until al dente and drain. Add pasta to sauce and toss. Serve warm.

Endive Salad with Anchovy and Caper Dressing

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It can be hard to get enough greens in my diet during the winter, but that doesn’t mean I don’t stop craving them. Endives are in season at this time of year though, and this anchovy and caper dressing stand up perfectly to offset the endives’ mild bitterness.

This easy recipe is adapted from Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef, which I adore, even though I feel like I shouldn’t, because Anthony Bourdain doesn’t. But hey, the man can cook!

Endive salad with anchovy and caper dressing

Ingredients:

4 endives, cut into eighths
8 anchovy fillets packed in olive oil, drained and minced
1 tablespoon capers, minced
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Black pepper

1. In a bowl, whisk minced anchovies, capers, olive oil, lemon juice and pepper to taste.

2. Add endives to bowl and toss with dressing.

Lentil Salad with Browned Sausages

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Lentils have always been a comfort food for me. Adas polo, an Iranian lentil and rice pilaf topped with fried onions, was a dish frequently requested by my sister and I when we were kids. Adasi, or soupy lentils served with olive oil and lemon juice and sprinkled with golpar, is one of my favorite meals when I’m feeling under the weather.

A dish of lentil salad with browned sausages that I made recently is French-inspired rather than Iranian, but the comfort factor is still there. With the days getting shorter, darker and rainier, a bowl of well-seasoned lentils couldn’t be a better antidote to the autumn blues.

Lentil salad with browned sausages

Ingredients:

2-3 cups cooked brown lentils
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 small carrot, peeled and chopped
1 lb smoked sausage, sliced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
5 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the sausages and saute, turning ocassionally until browned, about 10 minutes.

2. In another saucepan, heat one tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and carrots and saute until the onions are translucent, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and remove from heat.

3. While the sausages cook, make the vinaigrette: In a bowl, whisk one tablespoon vinegar with the mustard and a pinch of salt. Whisk in two tablespoons olive oil. Season to taste with salt.

4. If lentils are not warm, reheat them. In a large bowl, toss the lentils with a little salt and remaining vinegar and olive oil. Drain the sausages and add sausages and vinaigrette to the lentils, tossing to coat. Stir in the parsley, onions and carrots and add salt and pepper to taste.

Roasted Red Pepper Salad

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I don’t like bell peppers. I never have, but lately I’ve been trying to make dishes in new ways that feature ingredients I’m usually not so fond of. So when I made a vinegar-heavy bell pepper salad a few weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised at how well it came out. So much so that I think I’ll be making this one over and over again:

Roasted red pepper salad

Ingredients:

2 red bell peppers
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons drained capers in brine
2 tablespoons basil

1. Preheat broiler. Meanwhile, half peppers lengthwise, discard stems and seeds, and put peppers in an oiled shallow baking pan.

2. Broil until charred and softened, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cover and let steam for 15 minutes. Cool and peel peppers.

3. Toss together all ingredients and let stand for 1 hour to let flavors develop.