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.

Black Sticky Rice Pudding

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After a whirlwind of a week, I can finally sit down again and post. Summer is over, but I made this black sticky rice pudding during warmer weather when all I was craving was something slightly sweet.

Black sticky rice pudding

Ingredients:

2 cups black sticky rice
3 cups water
2 cups coconut milk
1/2 cup brown sugar sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 mango, sliced or chopped

1. Rinse rice a couple of times to remove any impurities until the water clears. Place the rice and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Let boil and stir frequently for 5 minutes, then cover, lower heat to medium-low, and cook for 10 minutes. Lower the heat to low and let cook, covered, for 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, place the coconut milk, sugar and salt in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until dissolved. Add the coconut milk to the rice and stir well, then remove from heat and set aside for 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature and top with mango slices.

Cheesy Zucchini and Red Onion Flatbread

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this recipe was almost a disaster, as i accidentally placed all the toppings before transferring it to the baking sheet, and in the process of trying to move it made a huge mess. in the end, i resurrected it and it came out wonderfully.

Ingredients:

nonstick spray
1 lb pizza dough
3/4 cup garlic and herb cheese spread
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
3 T chopped parsley
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
2 thinly sliced zucchinis
olive oil
red pepper flakes

1. preheat oven to 400 degrees and spray baking sheet with nonstick spray.
2. roll out dough to 1/2 inch thick. spread half of herb cheese over 1 long half of dough, leaving 1/2 inch border. sprinkle with half of parmesan and 2 tablespoons parsley.
3. fold plain half of dough over filled half. spread remaining herb cheese over top; sprinkle with remaining parmesan.
4. arrange 1 row of zucchini down 1 long side of the dough. arrange onion slices in row alongside zucchini. repeat with zucchini and onion until surface of dough is covered. brush vegetables with oil; sprinkle with salt and red pepper.
5. bake bread until puffed and deep brown at edges, about 24 minutes. sprinkle with 1 tablespoon parsley.

in other news, i finished reading christopher de bellaigue’s in the rose garden of the martyrs: a memoir of iran. considering that most iranian memoirs are written by iranians, it was a fresh look into a european’s take on modern iran, and namely how the revolution and iran-iraq war has shaped it. and with all the headlines about iran lately, i highly recommend rageh omaar’s bbc documentary inside iran. it’s easily one of the best documentaries i’ve seen on the subject.

Pasta and Chickpea Soup with Clams

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savory cuts of meat and hearty bowls of soup. to me that’s what fall cooking is all about. well, at least a pretty big part of it. can’t forget breads. oh, and earthy root vegetables. that too.

here’s what i’ve been cooking:

i love beets
beet and raspberry salad

this was fantastic
veal marsala

yum, anchovies!
multilayered anchovy bread

land meets sea
pasta and chickpea soup with clams

here’s the recipe for the soup:

1 cup dried garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
5 T olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 fresh rosemary spring
1/4 t dried crushed red pepper
1 1/2 lbs small clams
1 cup short hollow pasta

1. place beans in bowl. pour enough warm water over to cover; let soak at room temperature overnight. drain. place garbanzo beans in large saucepan; add enough fresh water to cover. boil 15 minutes. drain.

2. return beans to pan; add 4 cups water, 3 tablespoons oil, 2 garlic cloves, rosemary spring, and crushed red pepper. bring to boil. reduce heat and simmer uncovered until beans are tender, adding more water as needed by 1/2 cupfuls, about 2 hours. discard rosemary spring.

3. transfer 1 cup garbanzo bean mixture to processor and puree until smooth; reutrn to mixture in saucepan.

4. heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. add remaining garlic clove, saute unti golden, about 2 minutes. add clams and 1/4 water; cover and cook until clams open, about 5 minutes. cool clams slightly; reserve pan juices. working over bowl to catch juices, remove clams from shells; discard shells.

5. strain pan juices and clam juice from bowl into garbanzo bean mixture, then add 3 1/2 cups water and bring to boil. add pasta and cook until pasta is al dente, adding more water if soup is too thick and stirring occassionally, about 10 minutes. stir in clams. season to taste with salt and pepper.