Posts Tagged ‘pasta’

I have had a busy last few weeks and really not by any sort of choice. First, I found myself with a full week of jury duty, which saw me spending full days at the courthouse. While the experience was educational and informative, I am glad to once again have control over my schedule.

Unfortunately, right at the end of my jury service, my dad had an accident and broke eight ribs; two of the ribs were displaced and he also had a Hemothorax. Needless to say, I flew to be with him as soon as I could, and I spent six days visiting him. He is, unfortunately, still in the ICU, so I will likely be traveling to see him again shortly. I am hoping and praying for good news soon. It would be great to see him finally turn the corner. Yes, 2019 has not been kind to me thus far.

Coq au Vin

In an effort to distract myself and do something productive, I’m sitting down to write up a dish I actually prepared weeks ago:  Alton’s Coq au Vin. Coq au Vin is an old French dish that was originally composed as a means of cooking old, tough roosters (I was informed of this fact by both Alton and my dad). This dish certainly takes some time to prepare and you need to start a day ahead of eating. Salt pork is the first ingredient in this recipe, but you can substitute slab bacon if you are unable to find the salt pork. I lucked out and found salt pork at my local grocery store.

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Salt pork.

Cube six ounces of the salt pork and place it in a large skillet over medium heat, along with 2 T water. Cover the skillet and let the pork cook for 5-10 minutes.

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Cubed salt pork in skillet with water.

While the pork cooks, place four chicken thighs and four chicken legs on a metal rack over a sheet pan and season them liberally with Kosher salt and pepper.

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Chicken thighs and legs seasoned with Kosher salt and pepper.

Put 1/4 to 1/2 C flour in a large plastic bag and add a few pieces of the seasoned chicken at a time. Shake the bag to coat the chicken pieces with the flour until all of the chicken has been coated. Set the coated chicken pieces back on the wire rack and set them aside.

When the pork has darkened in color and has rendered some of its fat, remove the lid from the skillet and continue to cook the pork until it is crispy and brown.

Remove the pork from the pan and add 24-30 pearl onions to the pork fat. You will need to peel your pearl onions prior to using them; you can do this easily by cutting off the root end of each onion and cutting a deep V where the root was. Place the onions in boiling water for a minute and let them cool. Once cool, the skins should slide right off.

Cook the peeled onions in the pork fat until they are golden brown, and then remove them from the pan.

Next, add three or four chicken pieces to the skillet and cook the chicken until it is golden brown on all sides.

While the chicken browns, prepare a “bed” for the browned chicken by placing the following ingredients in the bottom of a Dutch oven:  two quartered ribs of celery, two quartered carrots, a quartered onion, 6-8 fresh Rosemary sprigs, three crushed garlic cloves, and one Bay leaf.

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Vegetable bed in Dutch oven: celery, carrot, onion, Rosemary, garlic, and a Bay leaf.

As the chicken pieces finish browning, place them on top of the vegetables in the Dutch oven.

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Browned chicken placed on vegetables in Dutch oven.

When all of the chicken has been browned, add 1 T butter to the skillet, along with eight ounces of quartered mushrooms. Scraping the pan, cook the mushrooms for about five minutes, or until they are golden brown.

Remove the mushrooms from the pan, let them cool, and combine them in a container with the cooled pork and onions. Set the mushroom mixture in the refrigerator until the next day. Pour any excess fat out of the pan and discard it (I had very little extra fat in my pan). Remove the pan from the burner and add 1 C Pinot Noir to deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom with a spatula.

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Pinot Noir added to deglaze pan.

Add 2 T tomato paste to the skillet, stirring to combine, and pour the liquid over the chicken in the Dutch oven.

Finally, add 2 C chicken broth to the chicken, along with the rest of the open bottle of wine and another full bottle of Pinot Noir.

Put a lid on the Dutch oven and place it in the refrigerator overnight. The following day, place the Dutch oven in a cold oven and set the oven to heat to 325 degrees. Set a kitchen timer for two hours and check the chicken a few times to be sure it is submerged in the cooking liquid. After the two hour cooking period, remove the Dutch oven from the oven and use tongs to transfer the chicken from the Dutch oven to a packet of foil. Place the foil packet of chicken in the cooling oven to keep warm.

Strain the cooking liquid into a saucier, discarding the vegetables (or you can feed them to your dog, as Alton did in the episode).

Place the saucier over high heat and reduce the liquid by one third, which should take about 30 minutes. You can check the fluid level by placing a rubber band around a long spoon handle at the initial fluid level. When that level has dropped by 1/3, you are good to go.

Once the sauce has reduced, add the onions, mushrooms, and salt pork to the saucier and cook for 15 more minutes.

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Salt pork, onions, and mushrooms added to sauce.

Serve the chicken and sauce over cooked egg noodles.

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Coq au Vin served over egg noodles.

This is a really delicious recipe, but it does take some effort and time. For me, it took two and a half hours of prep the first day, followed by the cooking time the second day. I would certainly consider this to be a special occasion dish simply because of the amount of prep. We did, however, get several meals out of this one recipe, so perhaps the time per meal is not much. The chicken in this dish comes out super moist and tender, and has a slight purple hue. The sauce has many layers of flavor, but is light in body. If you want a chicken dish that can serve a group and results in perfectly cooked chicken with lots of flavor, this is the one.

This episode of Good Eats is unique because Alton does not actually cook anything. Instead, this episode serves to prove or debunk five culinary myths. Through a series of kitchen experiments, Alton evaluates each myth and concludes whether each is true or false.

Myth #1 – The juices of meat are sealed in by searing.

For this myth, Alton weighed two steaks prior to cooking. The steaks were both oiled, but no salt was added, as salt pulls out liquid. One steak was seared on both sides in a hot skillet, while the other steak was not seared. The seared and unseared steaks were placed in a 400-degree oven at the same time, and a probe thermometer was placed in the center of each steak; the thermometers were set to beep when the steaks reached a temperature of 140 degrees. The seared steak reached 140 degrees faster than the unseared steak, so the seared steak was removed from the oven and allowed to rest for five minutes. After four additional minutes in the oven, the unseared steak reached 140 degrees, and was removed from the oven/allowed to rest.

After both steaks had rested, they were weighed a second time. The unseared steak lost 13% of its raw weight, while the seared steak lost 19% of its original weight. Based on these results, Alton concluded that searing does not seal in meat juices, and declared this myth to be “SMASHED.”

Myth #2 – Birds can be killed from the toxic fumes of nonstick pans.

In all honesty, Alton did not conduct any actual experiment for this myth. Instead, he simply talked about the conclusions that have been made by studies conducted on this topic. It has been found that nonstick pans release toxic fumes when they hit a temperature above 500 degrees, and especially when they are empty. These fumes can kill birds and can also cause humans to have flu-like symptoms. Alton opts to avoid all high-heat cooking in nonstick pans, including searing, frying, broiling, and even sautéing. This myth is “TRUE.”

Myth #3 – Mushrooms should not be washed because they absorb water.

The method for this experiment was to place four ounces of mushrooms in a hand sieve, which was then placed inside a glass bowl; four of these mushroom/sieve/bowl combos were set up. A liter of water was poured over the mushrooms in three of the four bowls, while the final bowl of mushrooms were left dry. The first bowl of mushrooms was allowed to sit in the water for 10 minutes before removing and draining the mushrooms. The second bowl of mushrooms was allowed to sit in the water for 20 minutes before removing and draining the mushrooms. The third bowl of mushrooms sat in the water for 30 minutes before removing and draining the mushrooms. The final bowl of mushrooms was rinsed thoroughly under running water and allowed to drain.

After all of the mushrooms were drained, the mushrooms from each sieve were weighed to analyze how much water they had absorbed. The mushrooms soaked for 10 minutes had gained 0.2 ounces of water, or about one teaspoon. The 20 minute mushrooms had gained 0.25 ounces of water, or about a teaspoon. Thirty minutes of soaking resulted in the mushrooms gaining 0.15 ounces of water, or about a teaspoon. The mushrooms rinsed under running water had gained 0.2 ounces of water, or about a teaspoon.

This experiment demonstrated that mushrooms absorb a small amount of water regardless of length of exposure to water. Since mushrooms tend to have a fair amount of grit and dirt on them, Alton concluded that he will thoroughly wash his mushrooms. This myth was “SMASHED.”

Myth #4 – Adding oil to pasta water keeps noodles from sticking together.

To test this myth, Alton added a gallon of water, 1 T of olive oil, and a pinch of Kosher salt to a pasta pot. The pot was covered and placed over high heat until the water reached a boil. Once the water was boiling, Alton added a half pound of pasta to the water, decreased the heat to medium-high, and cooked the pasta until it was al dente.

After cooking, Alton drained the pasta, allowing the liquid to drain into a long, clear tube beneath the strainer. After several minutes, the drained liquid had separated into its oil and liquid phases, with the oil rising to the top of the tube. Alton calculated the drained amount of oil to be 0.43 ounces, which was about 85% of the original tablespoon of oil added to the pasta water.

Since only 15% of the olive oil remained on the surface of the drained pasta, Alton concluded that not enough oil coated the pasta to prevent the noodles from adhering to each other. This myth was hereby “SMASHED.” Alton did, however, state that adding oil to pasta water can prevent the water from foaming by oiling the bonds of the starch released from the noodles. Or, you can just use a larger vessel with more water.

Myth #5 – Water can explode when microwaved.

The experiment for this myth involved placing a tall, narrow, glass bottle (picture a Snapple bottle) full of water in a microwave. The water was microwaved for three minutes on high power, which resulted in water spraying all over the inside of the microwave. This “explosion” of water is called spontaneous boiling, which occurs when the temperature rises above the boiling point without the formation of any bubbles. Since the inside of the glass bottle was perfectly smooth, there were no nucleation sites, which are spots where bubbles can form. In addition, the small opening of the bottle kept the water still, so when the heat energy built up within the bottle, one large bubble was formed and the water sprayed everywhere. To avoid this, when microwaving, use a container with a large opening and stir the contents regularly. This final myth was deemed to be “TRUE.”

I was super stoked to find that I would be making fresh pasta in the 79th episode of Good Eats. Fresh pasta is just plain delicious. Pass the gluten, please! Last year we took a pasta class, in which we made fresh noodles using a pasta machine, so I felt comfortable with the basics of making pasta dough. I had not, however, ever tried making filled pasta. First up?

Ravioli

When making Alton’s fresh pasta, you need to plan ahead a little bit because your dough will need to rest for at least an hour, and you will want to freeze your pasta prior to cooking. For Alton’s ravioli, place a mound of flour (~3 C) on a clean work surface, making a well in the center. Combine in a measuring cup:  2 eggs, 3 T water, 1/2 t salt, and 1 t olive oil.

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Ready to make fresh pasta – a mound of flour and a mixture of eggs, water, salt, and olive oil.

Pour some of the liquid into the well in the flour, and begin stirring the liquid with two fingers, gradually incorporating some of the surrounding flour; use your other hand to support the “walls” of your flour mound. When you have a paste-like consistency, you can gradually add more of the liquid mixture.

Continue the process of adding liquid and stirring in flour until the liquid is all incorporated and you have a thick paste. Using your hands, knead your dough, adding more flour, until you have a smooth, non-tacky, semi-firm dough. You will likely have a fair amount of excess flour still remaining on your counter. Roll your dough into a ball, cover it in plastic, and refrigerate it for at least an hour.

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My finished pasta dough.

While your dough rests in the refrigerator, you can make your filling, which is Alton’s Good Eats meatloaf mix plus 3 T grated Parmesan, 1 T balsamic vinegar, and 1/2 t oregano.

Once your dough has sufficiently rested, cut it in half, setting one piece aside, covered in plastic.

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My dough, after resting in the refrigerator.

Shape the piece of dough you are working with into a candy bar-sized rectangle and sprinkle it with flour, passing it through a pasta machine on the widest setting.

Fold the dough in thirds, turn it 90 degrees, and pass it through again. Follow this procedure one more time, adding flour as needed, so you pass the dough through the widest setting a total of three times.

Continue passing the dough through the machine one time at each progressive setting until your dough has gone through setting #7 (If your pasta machine is like Alton’s, it will have 9 settings. My pasta machine has fewer settings, so I stopped at #4 of 6). Regardless of how many settings your pasta machine has, you want to have a final dough that is almost translucent.

Placing your long sheet of dough on a floured surface, use a teaspoon to place rounded balls of meat filling down the center of the dough sheet, spacing them two inches apart; be sure to place the balls slightly closer to one long edge of the dough, so you have enough dough to fold over the balls.

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Balls of meat filling placed on dough sheet.

In a small bowl, combine an egg and a little bit of water, whisking to combine. Brush this egg wash down the center of the dough right next to the meat balls. Next, brush the egg wash down the outside edge of the dough – only on the side closest to the meat. Finally, brush the egg wash between the meat balls.

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Egg wash painted down the center of the dough, along the left edge, and between the meat balls.

Now you are ready to form your ravioli. Using your fingers, pull the longer side of the dough over the meat filling, using your fingertips to press excess air out around each ball of meat. Press all along the edges to ensure a good seal with the egg wash.

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Excess dough folded over filling, and pressed to remove air bubbles.

Using a pizza cutter, cut between the mounds of filling, forming individual ravioli. Carefully press around the edges of each raviolo, ensuring that there are no leaks.

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Ravioli cut with a pizza wheel.

Place your ravioli on a sheet pan and freeze them for at least three hours.

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Ravioli in the freezer.

Once your ravioli are frozen, you can keep them frozen for later use, or you can cook them. To cook Alton’s ravioli, bring a pot of salted water to a boil, adding a dash of olive oil (to decrease surface area and prevent foaming).

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A pot of salted and oiled water.

Adding about 10 ravioli at a time, cook the pasta packets until they float; since the meat mixture is raw when you fill the ravioli, you may want to test one raviolo to make sure the filling is cooked.

Toss the cooked pasta in oil to prevent them from sticking together. For this pasta, Alton recommends a browned butter sauce with sage.

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Chopped sage for the sauce.

To make this sauce, heat a skillet over medium-high heat, adding a pat of butter.

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A large pat of butter for the sauce.

Let the butter cook until it starts to brown and foam. Add the ravioli, tossing them in the butter until their edges just start to brown.

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Cooked ravioli added to browned butter in skillet.

Finish the sauce by adding some chopped sage and black pepper.

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Sage and pepper added to skillet.

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A bowl of Alton’s meat ravioli with browned butter and sage.

So, how did Alton’s ravioli turn out? I was pretty happy with my first attempt at filled pasta, though my ravioli were certainly not picture perfect. We really enjoyed the tangy meatloaf filling in this pasta, and the texture of the pasta was great – perfectly al dente. When making fresh pasta, I think you really want the pasta to be the star of the show, and Alton’s simple brown butter sauce allowed the ravioli to shine. Making fresh pasta is a fun project and is certainly worth the effort.

Tortellini

Once I had made Alton’s ravioli, it was time to tackle his tortellini. For this recipe, Alton did not use a pasta maker, opting to make the tortellini only by hand, which makes it a bit more time-consuming. The basic dough for Alton’s tortellini is made in the same way as for the ravioli above, using a mound of ~3 C of flour and a mixture of 2 eggs, 3 T water, 1/2 t salt, and 1 t olive oil. The liquid ingredients are gradually added to the flour until a firm paste is achieved, and the resulting dough is kneaded by hand until a smooth, firm dough results.

The dough will need to rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour before the tortellini are formed.

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Final dough, to be refrigerated.

While the dough rests, you can make Alton’s cheese filling by combining 1/2 C ricotta cheese, 1/4 C grated Parmesan, 2 T thawed/drained frozen spinach, 1 egg, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg.

When you are ready to form your pasta, cut your dough into four equal pieces, setting three of the pieces aside while you work with one.

Roll the piece of dough into a long, 1/2-inch thick snake. Using a pastry scraper, cut the snake into inch-long pieces, rolling each piece into a round ball.

Flatten each piece of dough into a disc, dust it with flour, and roll it out with a thin wooden dowel rod (we keep one in our kitchen window track to “lock” the window).

When you have finished rolling your dough, it should be thinner than a nickel. Next, Alton used a biscuit cutter to cut perfect dough circles, but my dough circles were round enough that I did not bother cutting them. The key with tortellini is not to overfill them, so you want to place only 1/4 t of filling in the center of each round.

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Filling placed in the center of the dough.

Brush one side only of each dough round with egg wash (1 egg plus a little bit of water), fold the dough over the filling, and press the edges to seal, forming a half-moon.

To form tortellini, pull the two pointed edges together below the filling, pinching them; if needed, add a little egg wash to keep the ends together.

Freeze the tortellini for three hours before cooking in salted/oiled water until they float.

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Formed tortellini in the freezer.

Alton did not recommend a particular sauce for his tortellini, so I served mine with a delicate tomato cream sauce with fresh basil.

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Alton’s tortellini with a tomato cream sauce.

We thought these were fantastic. The cheesy filling was light, the pasta had a great texture with just a little “bite,” and the light tomato sauce didn’t overwhelm the delicate filling of the pasta. Also, my tortellini were a little more aesthetically pleasing than my ravioli. Plus, hand forming each one of these babies made me appreciate them a little bit more! Both the recipes in this episode worked fantastically for my maiden voyage into fresh stuffed pasta, and I recommend them both highly.

 

The main star of the 60th episode of Good Eats was none other than eggplant. Eggplant, which is technically a berry, is a food that I have had limited experience with. My mom has an eggplant recipe that she still swears by, which was the only exposure I had to eggplant when I was young; I did not like it. Her version was sliced, breaded, cooked in butter, and coated with Parmesan cheese. A few years ago, I made a batch of Eggplant Parmesan for Ted and me; we did not care for it, opting for frozen pizza, or the like, instead. Still, I figured, if anyone could make me like eggplant, it likely would be Alton Brown.

Baba Ghannouj

First up in Alton’s eggplant repertoire was his take on Baba Ghannouj. For this recipe, you’ll need two eggplants.When selecting eggplants at the store, opt for ones that have a green stem and smooth skin, and that are heavy for their size. Larger eggplants tend to be more bitter than smaller ones. Also, when possible, choose male eggplants instead of females. Who knew there were male and female eggplants? Male eggplants have a small circle on their non-stemmed end, while females have a larger oval shape. Apparently, female eggplants have more seeds and are more bitter (insert bitter female joke here). Oh, and store eggplants on your kitchen counter for 1-2 days, or wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator for longer storage. To make this recipe, prick your eggplants a few times with a fork and roast them on a grill over indirect heat for about a half hour, turning them every 7-8 minutes.

Wrap the hot eggplants in plastic wrap and let sit until cool enough to touch.

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Hot eggplants wrapped in plastic wrap.

When the eggplants have cooled, keep them in their plastic wrap and cut off their stem ends with kitchen scissors. Squeezing the eggplants like a toothpaste tube, squeeze their flesh into a strainer and discard the skins. Note:  this tip sounded cool when I watched the episode, but it did not work for me at all.

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Cut the stem end off of your eggplants and squeeze out their flesh. Didn’t work for me.

I wound up cutting my eggplants completely open with shears and scraped the flesh out with my hands. You will want to have about 2 C of eggplant for this recipe. Let the eggplant drain for about 30 minutes to get rid of its bitter liquid. I also pressed on the surface of my eggplant with paper towels to absorb any excess liquid.

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My eggplant flesh, draining.

Once your eggplant is ready, combine it in a food processor with 2 cloves of sliced garlic, 3/4 t salt, 5 T lemon juice, and 4 T tahini (Alton used twice as much tahini in the episode as in the online recipe).

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Eggplant combined with garlic, salt, tahini, and lemon juice.

Process the mixture until smooth, and add salt and pepper if needed. If your dip tastes too bitter, add some honey.

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Honey, salt, and pepper added to the mixture.

Finally, add 1/2 a sprig of parsley and pulse a few times.

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Fresh parsley added.

Serve the Baba Ghannouj with pita chips.

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My Baba Ghannouj with pita chips.

Honestly, neither Ted or I expected to care for this much, but we actually quite liked it. I did have to add a little bit of honey to my dip to cut the bitterness. Sadly, I think the reason I liked this was because it really did not taste like eggplant to me. It had a bright, lemony flavor and hummus-like texture, with only the faintest hint of bitterness. Hmmm… maybe this Alton guy can make me like eggplant afterall?

Eggplant Steaks

I bravely made Alton’s eggplant steaks for dinner one night last week. Afterall, when Alton cooked them on Good Eats they looked rather appetizing. He explained in the show that eggplant is like a sponge, so it is first necessary to get the eggplant to purge its liquid. To do this, slice your eggplant into 1/2″ slices, place the slices on a rack over a sheet pan, and sprinkle the slices liberally with Kosher salt.

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Eggplant slices, sprinkled with Kosher salt and left to purge their liquid.

After 15 minutes, flip the eggplant slices over and sprinkle them with more Kosher salt. Allow the eggplant to sit for 1-3 hours. There should be quite a lot of liquid on the sheet pan after the purging period.

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Eggplant after purging for 3 hours.

Thoroughly rinse the salt from your eggplant and wring each slice with your hand, as if wringing a sponge. Finally, wrap your slices in paper towels to dry further. Alton’s eggplant slices magically remained round after he wrung them out with his hand, while mine became ugly, oblong blobs; if you want your slices to be round, I’d suggest skipping the wringing step.

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My eggplant slices after being rinsed and wrung out.

Now that the eggplant has purged, it will no longer absorb liquid, but you can get liquid to stick to its surface. Next, combine with a whisk 1/2 C olive oil, 1/4 C Worcestershire sauce, 1 T cider vinegar, 1/4 C steak sauce, and 2 T honey.

Toss the eggplant slices in the sauce mixture until thoroughly coated, and place them on a rack over a sheet pan.

Broil your eggplant “steaks” for ~3 minutes/side or until they start to char around the edges.

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Eggplant “steaks” after broiling for ~3 minutes/side.

Finally, sprinkle your eggplant slices with shredded hard cheese of your choosing (I used Parmesan) and stick them back under the broiler until the cheese has melted.

I went into this recipe pretty optimistic. It turns out my optimism was unfounded. We really did not care for this recipe at all. The eggplant steaks had a texture that sort of reminded me of mushrooms, and their skin was slightly chewy. And, quite frankly, we just didn’t like the taste of this at all. Perhaps we just don’t like eggplant?

Eggplant Pasta

The third (and final, thank God) recipe of this episode was for eggplant pasta. For this recipe, you will need one medium-large eggplant and you will want to peel it before slicing. As in the recipe above for eggplant steaks, you will need to purge the liquid from your eggplant by slicing the eggplant, sprinkling both sides of the slices with Kosher salt, and allowing them to sit for 1-3 hours.

You will then want to rinse the slices, wring them out, and dry them in paper towels.

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Wrung out eggplant slices.

You can complete this purging process ahead of time and store your eggplant slices in the refrigerator for about a week. If you do that, this recipe comes together in no time. In addition to your eggplant, you will need olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, a small tomato, cream, fresh basil, Parmesan cheese, and breadcrumbs.

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Ingredients for Alton’s eggplant pasta: red pepper flakes, tomato, Parmesan, garlic, basil, eggplant, bread crumbs, olive oil, and cream.

You will first want to cut your eggplant slices into thin strips. Next, heat 1 T olive oil in a skillet. Once the oil is hot, add 1/4 t minced garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes.

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Garlic and red pepper flakes added to olive oil in skillet.

Add your eggplant to the skillet next, followed by 1 small tomato, seeded and diced.

Stir in 3 T heavy cream and 1 T basil chiffonade.

Finally, stir in 1-2 T shredded Parmesan cheese.

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Shredded Parmesan to top it off.

Serve the eggplant with breadcrumbs, as desired.

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Alton’s eggplant pasta, topped with breadcrumbs. Even the dog is indifferent about eggplant.

I had high hopes for this recipe, but we did not like this one at all. The texture and flavor of the eggplant were completely unappealing. After completing this episode of eggplant recipes, I think it is safe to say that we just do not like eggplant. I would be curious to know what a true eggplant lover would think of the recipes from this episode, as I do not feel that I can fairly judge them. It is safe to say that this has been my least favorite episode thus far. Thank goodness for the Baba Ghannouj recipe, or this entire episode would have been a dislike in our household! On the plus side, we now know not to order eggplant at a restaurant.

 

The 24th episode of Good Eats is all about tomatoes. Specifically, Alton Brown makes a case for the value of canned tomatoes in the pantry, arguing that fresh tomatoes should really only be used when they are in their peak season and locally grown. Why would one opt for canned tomatoes when fresh tomatoes are readily available in the produce department year-round? Alton points out that “fresh” does not necessarily equal “ripe.” I see his point, as a tomato purchased in December in Washington has not ripened naturally, but rather has been artificially ripened by exposure to ethylene gas. While these tomatoes may look shiny and red, they are often rock hard and lacking flavor. In contrast, with canned tomatoes, you know you are purchasing fruit that was picked when ripe. While nothing compares to a fresh tomato from your own garden, we pretty much  always have canned tomatoes in our pantry, as we often through them in soups, pasta sauces, etc.

I happen to be married to someone who does not much care for fresh tomatoes. Bizarre, I know. While he will eat tomato sauces, salsas, etc., he will pull tomatoes off of sandwiches and salads. Even more bizarre is the fact that my brother is the same way. Tomatoes were not my favorite thing when I was a kid, but I cannot get enough of the tomatoes that come from our garden. I suppose I will have to settle for the canned variety for several more months. Sigh…

Pantry Friendly Tomato Sauce

In this episode, Alton makes an all-purpose tomato sauce, using canned tomatoes. For making a tomato sauce, it is best to use canned tomatoes that have had the least cooking, which rules out pureed and stewed tomatoes. Crushed tomatoes are also not a great option, as they have many of their seeds, which can contribute some bitterness to a sauce. That leaves diced and whole tomatoes, and Alton opts for whole tomatoes because they are less processed than diced tomatoes.

Tomato sauce ingredients:  canned whole tomatoes, sherry vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, oregano, basil, onion, carrot, celery, olive oil, garlic, capers, white wine, Kosher salt, and black pepper.

Tomato sauce ingredients: canned whole tomatoes, sherry vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, oregano, basil, onion, carrot, celery, olive oil, garlic, capers, white wine, Kosher salt, and black pepper.

To start this recipe, strain your canned tomatoes into a saucepan.

Tomatoes straining into saucepan.

Tomatoes straining into saucepan.

Split the tomatoes open with your fingers and scrape the seeds into the drain, getting rid of as many seeds as possible.

Seeded tomatoes.

Seeded tomatoes.

To the tomato juice in the pan, add sherry vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, oregano, and basil. I had trouble finding sherry vinegar, but finally found it at a natural market.

Strained tomato liquid.

Strained tomato liquid.

Tomato liquid plus sherry vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, oregano, and basil.

Tomato liquid plus sherry vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, oregano, and basil.

Heat this tomato liquid over high heat until bubbles stack up and then reduce the heat to a simmer. You will want to cook this liquid until it reduces by 50%, and then remove it from the heat.

Reducing tomato syrup.

Reducing tomato syrup.

While your tomato syrup reduces, it is time to prep the mire poix, which is the classic French combination of onion, celery, and carrot. The ideal ratio for a mire poix is two parts onion to one part carrot and celery. Chop the carrot first, as it will take the longest to cook, and add it to a roasting pan set over two burners. Coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil, and let the carrot start to sweat while you chop the onion and celery.

Chopped carrot.

Chopped carrot.

Carrot in roasting pan with olive oil.

Carrot in roasting pan with olive oil.

It is ideal to cut the vegetables uniformly, so they will cook evenly. Add the onion, celery, and four gloves of garlic to the pan.

Onion and celery.

Onion and celery.

Mire poix in the roasting pan.

Mire poix in the roasting pan.

Chopped garlic.

Chopped garlic.

Alton simply smashed his garlic with a marble slab, but I opted to chop my garlic since I knew I would not be pureeing my sauce, and therefore did not want huge chunks of garlic in the sauce. Continue sweating the mire poix for about 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. At this point, add your tomatoes and capers to the pan and put the pan under the broiler.

Tomatoes and capers added to vegetables.

Tomatoes and capers added to vegetables.

Broil the vegetable mixture until the tomatoes start to caramelize, which should take 15-20 minutes. You will want to stir the vegetables every five minutes or so. When the vegetables are done, remove the roasting pan from the oven and add some white wine.

Vegetables after broiling.

Vegetables after broiling.

White wine.

White wine.

This will serve to release some alcohol-soluble flavors from the tomatoes, giving the sauce more dimension. Combine the cooked vegetable mixture with the reduced tomato syrup, add some black pepper, and mix. You may need to add some Kosher salt too, which I did.

Reduced syrup.

Reduced syrup.

Combined syrup and vegetables, plus black pepper.

Combined syrup and vegetables, plus black pepper.

Depending on the end use of your sauce, you can leave the sauce as it is, mash it lightly with a potato masher, or puree it completely. As we were to be eating our sauce over pasta, I took Alton’s recommendation to lightly mash the sauce, leaving it with some texture.

Completed sauce after light mashing.

Completed sauce after light mashing.

For a pizza sauce, or to cook meatballs in the sauce, you would want to puree the sauce to a smooth consistency. I served my tomato sauce over penne pasta, and sprinkled a little (okay, maybe a lot) of goat cheese over the top.

Tomato sauce over penne with goat cheese.

Tomato sauce over penne with goat cheese.

Ted and I thought this was a great tomato sauce. The vegetables gave it some texture, it was slightly sweet, had some heat from the red pepper flakes, and tang from the capers. As someone who frequently throws together pantry tomato sauces, this is one I will be adding to my repertoire. I will make this again, puree it, and freeze in batches for homemade pizza. If you are looking for an easy, healthy, year-round tomato sauce that tastes much better than commercial jarred sauces, be sure to give this one a go.

As a side note, I prepped my pasta for our dinner per Alton’s newer recommended method, which I mentioned in my previous pasta post here. Alton argues that there is no reason to boil water prior to cooking pasta. Instead, cover the dry pasta with cold water and put it on the burner, cooking until the pasta is al dente.

Dry noodles in pot.

Dry noodles in pot.

Noodles in cold water.

Noodles in cold water.

Al dente penne.

Al dente penne.

Really, after cooking pasta this way (I’ve done it a few times), I have to say that Alton is right; there really is no need to boil the water first.

Pasta

Pasta is definitely a staple in our house, and it was something my mom cooked regularly when I was growing up. Thank goodness my brother and I were active bicycle racers growing up because we sure ate A LOT of carbs in our house! A typical pre (or post) bike race meal in our house was a huge bowl of pasta (often a recipe selection from a Marcella Hazan book), a loaf of bakery bread with lots of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and a salad. In the summer, antipasto pasta salad was on regular rotation for our Thursday night time trial (local bike race) nights. Due to our family’s frequent consumption of pasta, it became one of the first meals I was comfortable fixing for my family. One of my favorite pastas to make as a kid had a simple sauce of olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, rosemary, tomatoes, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and some grated hard cheese. Pasta, in my mind, is comfort food, and a great plate of pasta is one of my very favorite things.

In the 11th episode of Good Eats, Alton makes a simple pasta that uses the various ingredients you happen to have on-hand in your own pantry. To begin, he explains that the only way to properly cook pasta is in a very large volume of water. He recommends six quarts of water per pound of pasta, and of course, that the water be salted to the flavor of sea water.

Salted water.

Salted water.

Note:  I’ve listened to Alton’s recent podcast where he stated that there is a better way to cook pasta. In his own words, “I really messed up with cooking pasta in season 1. I said to bring a gallon of water to a boil before cooking dry pasta. Crap! Start in cold water and only use enough to cover the pasta.”

I have yet to try this cold water method of cooking pasta, though I did tell my brother about it and he told me he had great results. I’m sure many Italians are rolling over in their graves at the very thought of this new method of pasta cooking, but this Scottish/Irish girl is open to the idea and will be trying it the next time I cook pasta. Guess that means we have to have pasta again soon. Darn (sarcasm)!

Back to the recipe, as featured in the episode. You bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add your spaghetti, using tongs.

Spaghetti.

Spaghetti.

Alton stresses that you need to fan the pasta out, rather than dropping it into the water in a large clump. I consider this to be somewhat intuitive. I have never before used tongs when cooking pasta, as my tool of choice is the slotted spork, but I followed Alton’s recommendation and used the tongs. They were effective at separating the pasta strands in the water, but I found them to be more cumbersome than the spork. Alton tells you to cover the pot while the pasta cooks, which is something I never do, but I did it for this recipe.

While the pasta cooks to al dente, you pour some good olive oil in the bottom of your serving bowl and add some finely minced garlic.

Olive oil and garlic in the serving bowl.

Olive oil and garlic in the serving bowl.

When the pasta is cooked, you toss the hot noodles with the garlic/oil mixture until evenly coated.

Cooked to al dente.

Cooked to al dente.

Tossing the noodles with the garlic and olive oil.

Tossing the noodles with the garlic and olive oil.

Alton says the noodles will cook the garlic enough to get rid of the strong raw garlic flavor. At this point, you add whatever pantry ingredients you choose to have. I opted for orange cherry tomatoes and black tomatoes from the garden (Deer ate all of our San Marzano tomatoes on the day of this recipe!), fresh basil, pine nuts, kalamata olives, capers, red pepper flakes, black pepper, and goat cheese.

Black pepper, red pepper flakes, basil, pine nuts, capers, kalamata olives, black tomatoes, orange cherry tomatoes, and goat cheese.

Black pepper, red pepper flakes, basil, pine nuts, capers, kalamata olives, black tomatoes, orange cherry tomatoes, and goat cheese.

Final pasta with the pantry ingredients of choice.

Final pasta with the pantry ingredients of choice.

We thought this pasta was tasty, but not Earth-shattering, as it is not unlike the pastas I will throw together on a regular basis. We did find that a relatively strong flavor of garlic remained, but we love garlic, so we were okay with it. Of the recipes I have done thus far from Good Eats, I would say this was the least novel, though still good.