Thursday, August 9, 2012

Eggplant in Disguise

Has it really been almost a week since I appeared here?  No wonder I was missing writing and pulling over on the side of the road to jot down ideas.

This is progress.  I used to be compelled but afraid.  Now that I've decided to simply enjoy what I want to do on my own terms, I can feel a positive lack of writing, if you follow me.  I'll take that.

I've been absent for a while because of the busyness--well, I prefer the term fullness--that was already building last week and is quickly moving toward next week's crescendo.  It's going to be so challenging next week that I'm not even planning to cook our dinners.  In this weekend's calm before, I'll be looking for pantry throw-togethers (like this one maybe?) and simple sandwiches.  I've learned, or am learning, to go with it, as my friend Dee said many years ago, but without sacrificing my beloved repast. Creativity can rule the day still.

Thankfully this week did contain real cooked dinners.  Like that lovely up there. You need to taste it to be as enthused as I am.  I've said this before: anything that I repeat out of preference is notable.  Perhaps you've noticed that I'm on a roll of recording my personal winners?  This is another one.

Beef and Eggplant Ragu gave me a way that I could happily eat the latter half of that title.  Even diehard foodies have their limits.  Mine are usually textural, and eggplant is one of my offenders.  Many ways I've tried it--and there have been several, especially in International cuisine during Middle East week in culinary school--have turned me off with the slimy, gushy-mushy mess that eggplant can become.  I believe others interpret it as velvety or silky.  I wish I did.

The trick here is cooking it only until tender and not melting, pairing it with beef for substance, and swathing it in tomato and red wine sauce.  If the eggplant were diced small enough, it might be virtually invisible.  It's eggplant almost in disguise, or at least spared from offense by really good company.  And the dish still has the virtue of being more vegetable than meat.  I love healthy and delicious as dinner companions.

The only adaptations I made of the recipe I found in Eating Well magazine were omission of the pricey pine nuts and a reduction of the red wine called for.  I have no objection to a little vino, and red wine and tomato make excellent partners, but the wine was a little forward for my tastes.  You can of course suit your own.

On the other hand, I have always said an enthusiastic yes to their suggestion of a feta garnish. But this last rendezvous I was almost convinced that it was better without the cheese.  I have not said that about many dishes.  I may not ever say it again.  That's how good this ragu is.  It doesn't even need cheese to make it complete.

Well, I'm glad I got that down.  It may be another week before I have the time and brain power to word play again.  School is starting, my program is re-locating, and I have a major civic event to be part of that involves five visiting chefs, but also 200 school kids.  Therein lies proof of the theory of punctuated equilibrium.

Now, if I can just figure out how that one friend made such excellent grilled eggplant, I might be a friend of the aubergine for more than this reason.

Beef and Eggplant Ragu
Adapted from Eating Well 
Serves 4 plentifully

8 ounces penne, rigatoni, or rotini
8 ounces ground beef
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
3 cups diced eggplant, about 1/2 a medium or 2 baby
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 8-ounce cans no-salt-added tomato sauce
3/4 cup red wine
1/4 water
1 teaspoon dried oregano or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup crumbled feta, optional

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Cook pasta until tender, following package directions.

Meanwhile, cook beef, garlic, and fennel seeds in a large skillet over medium heat until the beef is browned.  Add eggplant and oil.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant browns, adding a little more oil if necessary to prevent sticking. Add tomato sauce, wine, water, and dried oregano if using; cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens. Stir in salt and pepper, and fresh oregano if using.

Drain the pasta.  Serve topped with the sauce and feta if using.

Nutrition info: 399 calories, 7 g fat (1 g sat, 3 g mono), 30 mg cholesterol, 57 g carbohydrates, 22 g protein, 11 g fiber, 345 mg sodium, 788 mg potassium. 

No comments: