Monday, January 14, 2008

Psyche!

(Pretend it's December 20th)

You thought we were on the road out of Boston, didn’t you?

Unfortunately, the morning of December 20th Philari arose to a massive New England snowstorm.

There was just no way we were going to be able to make the 613 mile, 10 hours 3 minutes trip from Boston to Ohio in such conditions in our humble 1993 Volvo 240, especially since our snow tires were in storage 40 miles away. So we decided to take advantage of an extra day in the city. We stuffed said Volvo with all of our worldly possessions. It felt like a stolen day since it was unplanned, and we felt invisible since our friends thought we’d left bright and early. Because our internet connection was turned off, we felt oddly disconnected. Our phones didn’t ring all day. These factors combined, along with the falling snow, gave the day a magical feel and I embarked on a winter photo expedition in our neighborhood.

Phil and I decided we’d do dinner one last time in the North End, Boston’s quaint Italian district, to celebrate our last night in the city that had provided us with such wonderful friends and memories in our six years there. Antico Forno has always been his favorite of the many eateries in the neighborhood, so we went with tradition and enjoyed a quiet dinner. Bostonians don’t tend to venture out to restaurants on freezing, snowy Thursdays, so we got the best seat in the house and thoroughly enjoyed our meals. We started off with an involtini di melanzane, eggplant stuffed with ricotta cheese and baked in tomato sauce until the eggplant is melt-in-your-mouth tender. It was a winner, but I still have yet to find an eggplant dish that lives up to my Silky Summer Eggplant Gratin so I thought I’d provide the recipe for you. I look forward to this dish more than any other when the tomatoes are just beginning to ripen in my garden and the eggplants are merely purple pinky fingers.

I know Boston is the furthest from summer it could possibly be, but as you all know I’ll be moving to Australia soon and it’s summer there now so as you can see the recipe is completely appropriate from my point of view. I got the idea of using Swiss cheese for this dish, instead of the typical mozzarella or ricotta, from a Wolfgang Puck recipe, and I love the stringy cheesy texture and flavor it imparts. Wolfgang is the man!

Silky Summer Eggplant Gratin

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves chopped garlic
Red pepper flakes (to taste – I like the sauce spicy!)
2 pounds summer tomatoes, cut into 1 to 2 inch chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chopped fresh summer basil
2 pounds small eggplants
¾ cup shredded Swiss cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 2-quart baking dish.

Place the tomatoes in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, partly covered, until the tomatoes release their juices and begin to break down, about 10 minutes. Run tomatoes through a food mill fitted with the smallest blade. This will peel, seed, and puree the tomatoes for you so you don’t have to do all the extra work!

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat and add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Saute 30 seconds then add the pureed tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until tomatoes cook down slightly, about 15 minutes. Taste the sauce – if it’s too bitter, add a pinch of sugar – and correct seasonings. Stir in the basil and set aside.

Meanwhile, slice the stem and flower ends from the eggplant and peel the skin lengthwise in alternating strips about ½ inch wide. Slice the eggplants on the bias into rounds ¼ to ½ inch thick. With the heel of your palm, press down on the eggplant slices to slightly flatten them (this way, they won’t absorb too much oil and make the casserole a big oily mess).

Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a large sauté pan and heat over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the eggplant slices in an even layer. Brown on both sides, about 5 minutes per side, adding more oil as necessary. Drain eggplant on paper towels.

Arrange half the eggplant slices in slightly overlapping concentric circles in the bottom of your baking dish. Season with salt and pepper and add half the tomato sauce. Add the next layer of eggplant, topped with the rest of the tomato sauce, then layer on the shredded cheese.

Bake casserole for 45 minutes, or until eggplant is meltingly tender and cheese is brown. If the cheese begins to brown too quickly, cover the dish with aluminum foil. Serve gratin with fresh chopped basil and garnish with olive oil, if desired.

No comments: