9.02.2017

Taking on The New York Times

In the past several months, The NY Times has posted quite a few eggplant recipes. Being an avid eggplant fan, I buy some every week from Larry's Veggies at the farmers market, and have now made three of the Times' recipes.

Each time, though, the eggplant quantities have been way off. By at least half. Do they not like eggplant? Are they just pretending because they know it's the “hot” vegetable now?

Strangely, the three recipes are all by different author/cooks. And all three recipes have received multiple comments that say, “Double the eggplant.” or “I ran out of eggplant in the middle of the second [of three] layer.” This is exactly what happened to me. Luckily, today, I had another eggplant on hand to finish the dish.

Thus, I have taken on this one of the three, and resized and edited it for you. I’m not coming from the point of view that if something is good, excess must be great. I’m just proposing a rational ratio of ingredients.

Don't you love this towel? Friends Laura and Arch brought it from Greece.
This includes a few adjustments, such as adding specific weights for some ingredients (eggplant and onion), while deleting quantities from others (olive oil and salt).

Why these changes? Weights can really help to ensure you have the right ratio of flavors. However, saying to brush the eggplant with a tablespoon of oil means only one thing: you will run out of oil less than halfway through. And salt? Well, that's getting a bit personal…

I also recommend peeling the eggplant. While I like the skins, I look at this from the serving perspective. Eggplant skins make eggplant casseroles hard to cut and serve.

While I read the recipe through to the end before starting, I almost missed the fleeting phrase “serve over rice.” There was no rice in the ingredients list. It is mentioned only in the last sentence. In addition to adding the rice to the ingredients list, I also suggest starting the rice at the same time the casserole is uncovered to add the cheese and finish the cooking. This way, the rice and casserole end up being done at the same time.

We absolutely love this dish, and - I tell you with complete and utter embarrassment - we ate the entire casserole that night, just the two of us. Any sense of regret was overpowered by euphoria.

We served a Côtes du Rhône rosé that worked nicely with this Mediterranean-inspired dish, and afterwards sliced fresh peaches into our leftover wine for a light and flavorful dessert. To read more about the pairing, visit the Provence WineZine.

Is it Greek? Italian? French? For us, it doesn't matter - it is a simply wonderful combination of sunny Mediterranean flavors.

~ David

Baked Eggplant and Lamb with Tomatoes and Pine Nuts

2 large firm eggplants, about 1 pound each, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices
extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt
1 small yellow onion, about 4 ounces, finely diced
1 pound ground lamb
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 cups strained or crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup warm chicken stock
6 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
rice, for serving

Heat broiler with the rack positioned 4-5 inches from the element, and line two baking sheets with foil or parchment.

Brush both sides of eggplant slices with olive oil and sprinkle liberally with salt. Arrange slices on prepared baking sheets and broil - one sheet at a time - until eggplant slices are a deep mahogany brown, turning once halfway through, 5 to 7 minutes per side.

Adjust the oven to 375°F, and position rack in the center.

In a 10-inch skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, but not browned, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add ground lamb, stirring frequently, breaking up meat into very small pieces with the side of a wooden spoon. Season with salt, cinnamon, and pepper. Sauté until meat is just cooked through, then taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly.

In a small skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add pine nuts, stir to coat with the butter, and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring frequently, until nuts are golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Keep a close watch over the nuts; they can burn quickly once they begin to brown. Transfer nuts to a bowl while still warm and salt them lightly.

Brush a medium oval baking dish - approximately 6-inch by 10-inches - with olive oil. Spread 1/4 cup of tomato sauce in the bottom of the dish. Lay 1/3 of the eggplant slices in a single layer over the sauce, covering as much surface area of the bottom of the dish as possible. Spoon 1/2 the meat evenly over eggplant. Pour 1/3 of the remaining tomato sauce evenly over meat. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the pine nuts. Layer again with eggplant, meat, tomato sauce and pine nuts. Finish with a third layer of eggplant and cover with the remaining tomato sauce, sprinkling remaining pine nuts on top.

Pour warm chicken stock around the perimeter of the baking dish. (Sauce will thicken as it bakes.) Cover pan with foil and bake for 90 minutes. Remove foil and top eggplant evenly with mozzarella. Start cooking the rice; bake casserole uncovered for approximately 20 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling and golden. It should be done about the same time as the rice. Serve warm in deep bowls over fluffed rice.

Serves 4.


25 comments:

  1. You know you've arrived as a cook when you can look at a recipe and just know where it will fail you! GREG

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    1. And that you prepared by having extra eggplant on hand!

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  2. I can see why you ate the whole thing, I would too but my husband will not touch eggplants so I rarely make them. I agree when it comes to adjusting recipes. I have so many recipes with notes scribbled all over.

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    1. I feel for you, Gerlinde. I am so lucky that Mark eats everything! He even ordered trip on his 50th birthday! This makes me think of cookbooks. I love buying old ones so I can see the cook's scribbles within!

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  3. I love them in any dish, though I tend to favour dishes that can rest overnight: I find the flavor gets better
    do u think this dish is equally good the next day? (maybe minus the mozzarella, to be added at reheating time??)
    on oiling aubergines: you can get away (just, very just) with 1 tbsp olive oil/1 kg eggplant by using a silicon brush, lightly
    dipped in water first... just: I have tried few times and it is possible, but on the stingy side.
    ciao, stefano

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    1. Stefano - this would work beautifully made in advance, adding the cheese and liquid at the end. Funny - I have tried the water-dipping method but I miss the olive oil!

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  4. ps: ciao, david: stefano here: check your email :)

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  5. I will definitely try this tonight—thanks!

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  6. Strolling down the post, each pictures showed an ingredient I love, so this is definitely my type of recipe. I LOVE eggplants, one of my fave ingredients for sure! Gorgeous dish David, and no wonder it lasted one meal.

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    1. Thanks, Paula - I can assure you it's wonderful! I am so glad you are back in the blogosphere - I have missed you!

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  7. David, you're a man after my own heart in the way you do your measurements. Yes, weight makes so much more sense than volume for most ingredients. And who really needs measurements for things like oil and salt? Measurements just give a false sense of "precision" when what you really need is some common sense as you're cooking.

    And I love eggplant, too. It may be my favorite vegetable.

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    1. I find that sometimes, precise weights doesn't matter. When I make caponata, "one large eggplant" is all I need to know. But when layering. Sheesh! I need more details! You are right about the false sense of precision... and the need for common sense. What I don't understand is how frightened people get when no exact measurements are given!

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  8. Eggplant and pine nuts - two of my favorite things! My family would devour this in a heartbeat and there would be no leftovers. We have a couple of eggplants in the fridge...and some pine nuts in the freezer...just need the ground lamb and we will be good for dinner tonight. Thanks for sharing, I'm always game for a new way to prepare eggplant.

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    1. Cali - I remember my mother telling me - when I was young in the 60s - how wonderful pine nuts were on an ice cream sundae... You couldn't find a pine nut anywhere back then. Nut stores thought we were nuts! Thankfully, there are everywhere now! Hope you like the eggplant!

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  9. Love any Chapoutier wine, especially after my visit last year to his tasting room in Tain L'Hermitage. The rosés are especially delightful as a well-priced summer quaff! Ken@SippitySup

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    1. Thanks, Ken - I learned a good lesson with this one. So hard to live in a town with limited wine resources. We have some good ones, but nothing like LA!

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  10. Typos can occasionally slip into recipes, I know, but it is indeed irritating when you know something isn't going to work.

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    1. You raise a good question, Liz - was it a typo or a careless cook? I can't tell sometimes, but glad my instincts are good!

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  11. This is my kind of food, David, and eggplant is a vegetable I'd never shy away from. We're in the Greek Islands now, so stuffed eggplant appears on every taverna menu. Any guesses what I've been eating a lot of, lately? Can't get enough!

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    1. I bet the Greek food is amazing! This dish reminded me of your lamb-stuffed eggplant!

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  12. Oh yum, David! We love eggplant and I'm always looking for different ways to serve it. Lamb is another meat we don't eat often, so this will be a welcome change for us. It really looks super comforting!

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  13. David, I'm convinced many of these recipe problems are neither a typo nor a careless cook; I think it's a recipe writer who hasn't actually made the recipe! I've read entire cookbooks with such problems in every single recipe in the book. Anyway ... this is one I'll be making soon (*your* way) - looks delectable!

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  14. Goes to show you can never have too many eggplants! I agree with Jean (above) that I swear some of the recipe writers have never tried what they are posting. I usually read at least some of the comments for early feedback (and I also like weighing things).

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Thank you for taking the time to leave me a note - I really appreciate hearing from you and welcome any ideas you may have for future posts, too. Happy Cooking!

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