Sunday, September 27, 2009

Melanzana Marinata (Marinated Eggplant)

The fall season is finally here...and now is the perfect time to put all of your harvest (or whatever veggies you purchase at the store) to good use! I would always look forward to this time of year, when my grandmother would marinate and jar eggplants. It would be put to especially good use around the holidays when my grandfather would add it to his famous hot pepper salad. I decided to start marinating and jarring eggplant myself a few years back and have now made it a tradition that I look forward to every year. It’s not nearly as labor intensive and time consuming as jarring your own tomato sauce (something I still haven’t done yet!), but there is still some quality time and effort involved. As a time-saver, I now shred the eggplant in the food processor instead of slicing. I also think it makes for easier serving. Whatever method of slicing you prefer will work well. However, after all of the slicing, shredding, straining, boiling and packing (and a few precious months of aging), you will be guaranteed instant gratification. The eggplant works great as a topper on eggs, pizza, sandwiches, cutlets, pasta, name it! It also makes for a nice, from-the-heart holiday gift, as the jars will be ready for serving just after Thanksgiving, if you decide to do the jarring by mid-late September. Give it a’ll be sure to impress!

Melanzana Marinata (Marinated Eggplant)

6 lb. eggplants
2 1/2 tbsp. salt
3 c. white vinegar
2 c extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for topping off jars
6 cloves garlic, peeled & sliced
2 tbsp. dried oregano
1/4 tspn red pepper flakes
4 pint-size glass canning jars (often called mason jars) and 2-piece metal canning lids

Rinse and peel eggplant. Either a) shred the eggplant in a food processor, or b) cut into 1/4 inch lengthwise vertical slices, then cut slices into lengthwise 1/4 inch french fry-size strips. Place the shredded/sliced eggplant into a nonreactive (plastic or stainless) colander and toss with salt. Place a plate on the eggplant and place a weight (several large cans of tomato sauce works well) on the plate. Let colander stand in the sink for 2 hours, so that bitter eggplant juices drain away. Place colander under running cold water and rinse eggplant quickly. After rinsing the eggplant, take a handful at a time and squeeze out all the excess water from it.

Put the eggplant in a bowl with the vinegar and marinate it for 30 minutes (it will return to shape like a wet sponge). Drain the vinegar from the eggplant and squeeze it dry again. Put the eggplant into a bowl with 2 cups olive oil and remaining combined ingredients.

Wash 4 pint jars with hot, soapy water and rinse thoroughly. Then, gently immerse the jars into a large pot of boiling water, turn down heat and let simmer for 10 minutes. Carefully remove jars with tongs. Fill jar with eggplant mixture to within 1 inch of top. Ladle oil into jars, filling them to within 1/2 inch of the top. Wipe rims of jars with a clean, damp cloth, as residue may not allow for lids to seal properly. Immerse lids (flat disc portion only - not the ring part) into hot, but not boiling, water. Remove and press lids onto top of jars. (NOTE: Some lids have different preparation steps, so closely follow the lid manufacturer’s directions for heating time). Screw rings onto cool jars.

Allow jars to cool undisturbed for 24 hours. During cooling, you might hear a soft "ping" when the lids seal tightly. Once the jars are cool, test for vacuum seals by tapping the top of the jar with a spoon. You should hear a bell-like tone, not a "clunk." Also, the lids should be concave; a convex lid is a sign of a bad seal. Finally, the lids should not move when you press on them with your finger. Refrigerate the jars that did not seal properly. (Resealing jars after they have cooled isn’t safe.)

Store the jars in a cool, dark place, such as a cupboard or a basement for at least two months prior to opening. Once the jar has been opened, keep it in the refrigerator.

For complete tips on jarring, please visit

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Quick Tip on Butternut Squash!

I picked up a butternut squash yesterday at the supermarket, not sure what direction I was going to go with it. Not quite feeling like a soup today, we decided to do the traditional baked - splitting it length-wise, seasoning with butter, nutmeg, cinnamon and brown sugar. To give it a little kick, I threw in a bit of vanilla extract. Worked great...even my 5 year old loved it! Next time I plan to get some toasted pecans in the mix.

I tend to follow the baking instructions that come with the squash. There should be a sticker on the squash with both baking and microwave instructions - the microwave option actually works very well and only takes about 8-10 minutes.

Here's a link to a basic butternut squash recipe that would work well. I just added my own favorite fall spices to the mix.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Calamari e Piselli (Sauteed Calamari and Peas)

I recently picked up a frozen bag of calamari (squid) pieces at the supermarket. I
wanted to try something other than fried calamari, so I went with an old
world-style, rustic dish. Gotta say that I was very impressed with the end
results. We first served it over some penne, but I decided to have a second
helping on it’s own with a nice, thick slice of Italian bread. Works great
either way! Would also make a nice option if you celebrate the Seven Fish
Christmas Eve Dinner.

Calamari e Piselli (Sauteed Calamari and Peas)

Calamari pieces, fresh or frozen* (I used about 1/2 pound of rings and tentacles from a 2-1/2 pound frozen bag)
2 tblspn Olive oil
1 Garlic clove; crushed
1 small Onion; diced
1 15-oz can tomato sauce
1 teaspoon fresh Basil, chopped
splash of red wine
Salt & pepper to taste
1/8 tspn crushed red pepper (optional for some heat)
1 cup frozen peas

*Note - if you are using frozen calamari, be sure to defrost it first. Running it under water in a colander for a few minutes works well

In a large saucepan, heat the oil. Sautee the garlic and onion in the oil
until soft and translucent. Add the calamari pieces and sautee until
slightly brown and tender. The sauteed calamari will create it’s own juice
that blends well with the tomato sauce. Add the tomato sauce, basil, splash
of red wine, crushed red pepper,salt & pepper. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add
the peas and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Serve as a
sauce over pasta or as a stand-alone stew.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Grillfest 2009, What's Serving Up Next and Beer!

Today I entered my version of Bobby Flay's Grilled Open Face Cheesesteaks into our street's annual Grillfest competition, adding some caramelized onions as a finishing touch. While I was very happy with the way that my entry turned out (even though the onions still have my house smelling like the corner of 9th and Passyunk), the coveted 'Golden Spatula' award went to our neighbor, Brian, for his incredible Pulled Pork, and rightfully so. However, everyone stepped up to the challenge and brought some amazing dishes. All entries had to be prepared on the grill, and they were all fantastic: Sesame Chicken, Salmon with Watermelon Salsa, Cheesesteak Stromboli, Peppers and Sausage, and Pork with Grilled Peaches. My neighbors really know how to cook, and it made for a great, fun day with lots of excellent food, screaming kids, and plenty of beer. A perfect way to end the summer!

With the grilling season coming to an unofficial close, I've been putting together a bunch of recipes to post on the blog over the next few months that I look forward to sharing with you. Along with Calamari and Peas, Lasagna Roll-Ups, Marinated Eggplant, Empanadas, and Steamed Dumplings I'm also planning to try out some recipes using some of my favorite fall spices and ingredients (pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc). So be sure to check back often!

Another sign for me that autumn is in the air is the arrival of the fall seasonal beers. I've really grown to enjoy the Oktoberfests, Pumpkin beers and various other harvest brews that make their way onto the shelves (and into my refrigerator) this time of year. In fact, I just stocked up on a nice variety of seasonals just the other day to hold me through the season. While I do not consider myself a connoisseur of beer in any way, I will attempt to post a quick recap on whatever new brews I get to try out this season. If you are interested in reading up on some good beer talk, be sure to visit Joe Sixpack's or the Philadelphia Exbeeriment's website. Great sites, great info, great beer.

Happy fall, y'all!