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.”
To be clear, when I said “it’ll be just like Iron Chef” I wasn’t suggesting I make a five-course meal while a similarly-abled amateur gourmet preps his or her own five-course meal on the other side of the kitchen. I just meant that because the contents of the C.S.A. box would be a surprise, I’d have to cook dinner on the fly. So maybe this was more like “Top Chef.” Or “Master Chef.” Or “Chopped.”
As you can see in the lead photo, Patty and Lauren presented me with bowlfuls of skinny Japanese eggplants, cucumbers, green peppers and bright red tomatoes. I paused a moment, considered my options, and quickly got cooking. The first thing that I did was cut the eggplant into pieces:
I could have salted them and let them strain (to remove any bitterness), but I skipped that step. To the stove I went; I heated a Dutch oven on medium heat, added a good glug of olive oil and then added some of the eggplant:
While that was browning (I also sprinkled the eggplant with salt, once in the pan), I went back to the cutting board and cut up 3 or 4 bright red tomatoes (removing the cores first). When all of the eggplant had browned on both sides (and again, I did this in batches using lots of olive oil) I added all the eggplant back to the pan and then added the tomatoes with 3 cloves of chopped garlic and another pinch of salt.
The mixture came to a boil; I lowered it to a simmer. (10 minutes later, when it had thickened but was still somewhat liquidy, I took it off the heat, not wanting the tomatoes to lose their fresh summery flavor.) And then I went to see about a salad.
Patty had made mention of a goat cheese that she’d brought back from San Francisco’s Cowgirl Creamery. I looked at the raw vegetables again and decided to create a riff on a Greek Salad. I cut the tomato, red onion, cucumber and green pepper into big chunks, tossed them with red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and then scooped them into bowls with some of the goat cheese on top. Voilà!
Once that course was done, I heated a big pot of water (ok, Lauren helped me fill a big pot with water; she also, along with Patty, did all of the dishes!). When it came to a boil, I aggressively seasoned it, added a box of penne and allowed that to cook.
And when it had cooked the length of time it says on the side of the box, I used a spider-like tool to lift the penne directly into the pot with the sauce. I stirred it all around and then added big chunks of fresh mozzarella, which Patty and Lauren also had in their fridge.
By the time it was plated, it was a quirky take on Pasta alla Norma:
We even sprinkled the top with fresh basil that Patty and Lauren grow on their windowsill:
My judges were quite pleased with the food overall:
Did I try to make a dessert with eggplant, tomatoes, cucumbers and green peppers? No, instead Patty made espresso and poured it over caramel ice cream; her take on the classic affogato (which is normally done over vanilla ice cream). They served that up with some cookies from Dean & Deluca:
If you have an espresso maker, you need to start making affogatos for dessert. The espresso melts the ice cream just enough and the combination of the bitter coffee against the sweet cream tastes a bit like heaven.
But don’t think that Patty or Lauren stole my thunder. As I proved with my hastily assembled Greek Salad and my rather improvised Pasta Alla Norma I am and will forever be…The Iron Chef of Ditmas Park!