Sometimes you make dinner, and everyone nods in approval, eating pleasantly and saying, “This is very good. Nice job.” That’s most of the time. Then, every so often, you make a dinner that has people piping up a bit more enthusiastically. “Ooooh this is delicious,” they say. “Where did you get the recipe?” But only once in a blue moon you make a dinner that has people eating in stunned silence, taking their time to process the glory that is happening in their mouths, only to mutter–after a several minutes have gone by–“This is incredible.”
Ladies and gentlemen, this is that dinner.
Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem is so popular Julia Moskin of The New York Times did an article about “Jerusalem fever.” Do I have Jerusalem fever? Well, I’ve been cooking from it gradually, making that fattoush a few months ago, and that beet dip I posted about yesterday. The beet dip was for this week’s Clean Plate Club and the entree, also from Jerusalem, is the one you see above: eggplant stuffed with lamb and pine nuts.
Remember that time I made a stovetop-charred eggplant dip (aka baba ganoush)? Really? You don’t remember that? Because that was like a week or two ago. You really ought to have your memory checked.
Anyhoo, I realize that many of you may have been intimidated by the idea of stovetop charring. “Put an eggplant on my stovetop?” said an old granny who reads my blog. “Not in my house!” Here, granny, is a smart alternative.
Sometimes you don’t want to cook, you just want to play with fire. I bet many chefs would admit as much (see: guys and grilling, for example). The other day, still on the hunt for our next apartment (a tedious hunt, by the way) I found myself, in a trance, wandering into my kitchen, turning on the gas stove, and holding a skinny Japanese eggplant over the flame with tongs. Was I having a serial killer moment? Maybe. But I’d learned this technique from Chef Anita Lo while writing my cookbook.
There’s salad. There’s pasta sauce. Those are things you can do with heirloom tomatoes in the summertime to make dinner.
But try this: get a loaf of really good bread. Slice the bread thickly and set it aside. Now take an eggplant (preferably purchased from the farmer’s market) and cut it into rings; cut a red heirloom tomato into rings too. Place those rings on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper…
Mario Batali’s recipe for Eggplant Parmesan–which I consider, in my humble opinion, to be the Ultimate Eggplant Parmesan–does something most Eggplant Parmesan recipes don’t: it honors the eggplant.
Instead of coating slices of eggplant in egg and breadcrumbs, frying them in a skillet, and piling them up with tomato sauce and cheese until you have a gloppy mess, here you roast the eggplant slices first–concentrating their natural flavor–and you pile those pieces up in a baking dish with tomato sauce and cheese, but because they’re not pan-fried, you don’t get a greasy, muddy cacophony; you get a harmonious whole topped with a gentle layer of breadcrumbs that crisps up in the oven. Again: The Ultimate Eggplant Parmesan.
After the movers whisked my stuff away to California on Saturday, it occurred to me: “I won’t be able to cook for several weeks!”
That’s a problem for a food blogger. So while making plans with my friends Patty and Lauren, who live in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, they made mention of their C.S.A. box. (For those not in the know, C.S.A. stands for Community Supported Agriculture. You pay a set price and get a box of goodies from a farmer each week.) “I have an idea!” I said, suddenly excited. “What if I come over and cook you both dinner based on whatever’s in the box? It’ll be just like Iron Chef!” I’m sure pretty Patty and Lauren exchanged nervous glances at this point (this was over I.M.) but before I knew it, Patty wrote: “Sure.”
In September, I shared with you a picture of the Avocado Sandwich I ate at Prune for lunch (link here.) The response was enthusiastic: “Ohmgosh that looks so beautiful,” wrote Shannon. “Oh, PRETTY!” wrote Hannah. “That sandwich is a work of art!” wrote Kathryn. Again, it was a very enthusiastic response.
Last week I took Molly Orangette to Prune for lunch (I felt it was a very Orangette-like selection) and the avocado sandwich had been replaced with a ratatouille sandwich. When it arrived I snapped the picture you see above; and when I took a bite, I knew I had to do a post about it.