Eggplant Crockpot Pasta Sauce

served with Parmesan and basil

ingeredients

The last 10 minutes of San Francisco’s Heart of the City Farmers Market are filled with vendors shouting “$1 a bag!” which is how I ended up lugging home 2 bags of eggplant and a huge bag of tomatoes home on the Bart train!

We’re in the middle of one of those rare but scorching Bay Area heat spells, so I decided to use my Crockpot to cook the eggplant and veggies instead of roasting them in the oven. Although not as toothsome as roasting, they came out tasty and ready to mix with penne or rigatoni pasta.

chopped vegetables

Ingredients:
A very large bag of tomatoes. It’s fine if they’re a little soft, and that’s what you’re going to get with bargain bag tomatoes anyway.
5 long Italian eggplants and 4 small globe eggplants
1 ½ small onions, (or one large onion)
2 bell peppers (or a bag of frozen sliced bell peppers).
5 large mushrooms
6 spicy chicken Italian sausages (you can use sweet if that’s too spicy for you)
8 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
Parmesan rind
4 bay leaves,
Sprig of rosemary
1 Tb oregano
1 ½ tsp salt
A few grinds black pepper
1 Tb of olive oil
1 Tb red wine
1 Tb of sugar

Add after cooking sauce:
1 can artichoke hearts
1 fresh bunch of basil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2/3 pound of penne or rigatoni pasta

Chop the vegetables and sausage and add the other ingredients in the first list to the Crockpot. I went to the trouble of dipping the tomatoes in boiling water and peeling them, but it’s not really necessary to do that.

in the crock pot

Cooked sauce in the Crockpot

I started the sauce after work and let it cook all night. (You can also start yours in the morning and cook it all day.) I was a little worried that there wouldn’t be enough liquid to cook it properly, but in the morning I realized that the vegetables had released plenty of liquid. I removed the Parmesan rind, which had given up its flavor to the sauce.

I added a can of chopped artichoke hearts. I chopped half the bunch of fresh basil I had bought at the farmers market and stirred it in with the freshly grated Parmesan. I let it sit in the fridge until dinner time so the flavors would develop.

At dinnertime, I boiled 2/3 of a pound box rigatoni pasta  and mixed it together with the sauce. I chopped up the rest of the fresh basil and sprinkled it on top with more Parmesan. This made 9 meals. Yay for leftovers!

layered with Parmesan

layered sauce with Parmesan

Eggplant Parmesan – Aubergine Parmigiana

???????????????????????????????Our Roman airbnb houseguest, Cinzia, kindly demonstrated her traditional Italian version of Eggplant Parmesan, called Aubergine Parmigiana in Italian. I enjoyed making it with her and it was delicious, but a bit heavy due to the fact that she deep-fried the eggplant. I lightened her recipe by baking the eggplant slices with olive oil spray instead.

I use Cinzia’s recipe for Fantastically Fresh Tomato Sauce, which she made for this Aubergine Parmigiana. It makes about a cup of sauce.

DSC03129                                                                                     Cinzia

Serves 4:

???????????????????????????????Ingredients: (We bought the meat from Genova Deli in Oakland)

1 large globe eggplant

kosher salt

olive oil spray

1 tsp olive oil

2 slices of Mortadella salami. (it looks like bologna, but is much better)

5 slices of Salami Milano

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 large ball (4 oz) of fresh mozzarella cheese

???????????????????????????????Cut ends off eggplant and peel it.

???????????????????????????????Use a large knife to slice eggplant thinly: about 1/2 inch thick.

???????????????????????????????Place slices in a colander or salad spinner basket and sprinkle with kosher salt. Layer more slices on top, sprinkling with more salt. Let sit while you make the sauce and grate the cheese, etc, for about 30 minutes. The salt will draw the bitterness from the eggplant and drops of moisture will appear on the surface.

???????????????????????????????Rinse the salt off of the eggplant and pat dry with a paper towel. Spray a couple of baking sheets with olive oil spray. Cut the larger eggplant slices in half. Place the eggplant slices on the sheet. Spray them with olive oil spray , then turn and spray the other side.

Bake at 450 degrees for about 20 minutes until soft, but not dried out.

Assembly:

???????????????????????????????Spray sides and bottom of a flat casserole pan with olive oil spray, then pour about 1 tsp of oil  on the bottom, add a bit of the tomato sauce and spread it on the bottom.

DSC03205Place about 1/2 the eggplant slices in the pan and cover them with half the tomato sauce. Cut up the fresh mozzarella and place the pieces evenly on top of the eggplant.

DSC03206Cut the sliced meat into wedges and place on top of the mozzarella. Sprinkle about 1/3 of the freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top of the meat.

???????????????????????????????Cover the meat and cheese with the rest of the eggplant slices. Spread the rest of the sauce over them. Sprinkle evenly with the rest of the Parmesan cheese.

DSC03208Bake at 350′ for 30-40 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown. Mangia!

Fantastically Fresh Tomato Sauce

DSC03130This is truly the best tomato sauce I have ever tasted. The recipe comes from our Roman airbnb house guest, Cinzia. She made it simply with fresh tomatoes, sliced onion, olive oil and a few basil leaves. I added a bit of garlic, bay leaf and fresh oregano. We used Phat Beet’s farmer’s market tomatoes along with some dry farmed tomatoes from Monterey Market here in Berkeley. But it would be good even with grocery store tomatoes.

Makes 2 cups sauce:

8 ripe medium tomatoes

1 Tb olive oil

1/3 medium onion, sliced. We used a purple onion.

½ tsp kosher salt to taste

3 cloves garlic

1 bay leaf

5 leaves of fresh oregano

10 small leaves basil (or 4 large leaves, cut up)

???????????????????????????????Fill a medium pot half-way with water and bring to a boil. Wash the tomatoes and de-stem them using a paring knife, then plop them into the boiling water. Boil for 3 minutes, and then drain in a colander to cool a few minutes.

???????????????????????????????While cooking the tomatoes, slice the onion.

???????????????????????????????

While tomatoes are cooling, pour oil into the same pot, heat a minute, and then add sliced onion and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon over medium heat until onion softens. Mince the garlic and stir in.

DSC03134Put tomatoes in a food processor with a steel blade, and pulse until the tomatoes become liquefied.

DSC03139Stir tomatoes into onions. Let sauce cook for a few minutes, and then add bay leaf and fresh basil and oregano. If you are using large basil leaves, tear them up first. Cover pot and let cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

???????????????????????????????

Kasha Varnishkes with fresh herbs, mushrooms and peas

???????????????????????????????Kasha Varnishkes is a traditional Russian-Jewish dish of kasha and farfelle (buckwheat groats and bow tie pasta). I dressed up my mom’s recipe with fresh herbs, mushrooms and freshly shelled peas.

toasting kasha

toasting kasha

Did you know that buckwheat is gluten-free because it is a fruit? Kasha is the roasted buckwheat seed (groat). Buckwheat has many health benefits including lowering blood pressure, and cholesterol, is low-glycemic, and is a good source of protein and magnesium.

Did you know that even though farfelle is called bow tie pasta, it is named for farfella, which means butterfly in Italian!

Ingredients:

1 large pot of salted water

8 oz farfelle (bow-tie pasta)

1 cup kasha (toasted buckwheat groats)

1 egg

1 Tb olive oil

1 small onion

1 ½ cups mushroom

1 tsp minced rosemary

¼ tsp minced thyme

¼ tsp dill weed

2 1/4 cups Roz’s Jewish Chicken Soup or use vegetable broth for a vegetarian version. If you want to use prepared broth, salt the kasha to taste.

½ – 1 tsp salt to taste, depending on saltiness of the broth.

A few shakes or grinds of black pepper

1 bay leaf

1 tsp lemon juice

2 cups shelled English peas (you can substitute frozen peas)

1 Tb chopped Italian parsley

Directions:

Heat a large pot of salted water to boiling

Heat broth to boiling in a heavy, medium saucepan.

While you are heating the liquids, prepare the kasha:

Sauté onion in olive oil over low heat about 10 minutes until soft,

While the onion is cooking, mix kasha with a beaten egg in a bowl until the kasha is coated. Toast kasha in a dry non-stick frying pan, stirring with a wooden spoon until the grains separate.

Toast kasha in a dry non-stick frying pan, stirring with a wooden spoon until the grains separate.

???????????????????????????????Add mushrooms to onions, cover and cook another 3 minutes until mushrooms begin to soften. Stir in herbs and cook another minute, then add the toasted kasha.

Pour kasha mixture into hot broth; add bay leaf, lemon juice and pepper.  Salt it to taste. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 12 minutes until most liquid is absorbed. Stir in fresh peas in the last 7 minutes. If you choose to use frozen peas, stir them in at the last 4 minutes.

While kasha is cooking, cook pasta for 10 minutes in salted water. Drain and Stir into cooked kasha. Extra broth from the kasha will act as gravy. Stir in chopped parsley.

Vegetable Broth

vegetable brothPerfect to make for the vegetarian cousins for my Seder’s matzo ball soup, or great as a base for Minestrone soup, mushroom barley soup, kale and white bean soup, borscht,  or other veggie soups. It smells fantastic while cooking.

vegetables3 medium leeks

1 bunch celery, outer stalks and leafy tops

1 onion

4 cloves of garlic

3 carrots

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

1 Tb thyme (fresh or dried, depending on the season)

1 tsp each dried dill weed, oregano,

4 bay leaves

1 – 2 Tb salt

several grinds black pepper

Boil 6 cups of water in a large pot.

soaking leeksDiscard root end off of leeks. Slit leeks down the middle several times, then chop crosswise. Place them in a salad spinner and fill it with water. Let soak while chopping other vegetables. Then lift basket and discard dirty water. Repeat 2 more times, rubbing leeks to loosen dirt, then rinse thoroughly.

Rinse onion, trim top and tail, then cut into large chunks, including the skin for its lovely golden color. Peel the bitter skin from carrots and chop roughly. (I sometimes use dried but edible baby carrots instead). Pull outer stalks from celery and discard the dirty bottoms. Rinse well and chop roughly. Cut leafy tops from the inner stalks and rinse and chop roughly. Smash garlic in a molcajete or mortar and pestle to remove shell, and chop.

cooking brothAdd all vegetables and seasonings to boiling water and let boil for ½ hour. Transfer to a crock pot and let cook all day or night, depending on when you begin.

Strain broth through a sieve and adjust salt. The broth freezes well, so put in several containers for future use.

Tinga de Pollo Adobado (Shredded chicken stew with adobo style chipotles)

Tinga de Pollo Adobado (Shredded chicken stew with adobo style chipotles)

chicken tostadaMy colleague, Gabriela Pingarron, brought this to our last potluck for tostadas.  I loved the flavor. It is so easy to make too, especially using boneless chicken breasts. Gaby made it with whole chicken as well, but I imagine she spent a bit more time separating the chicken from the bones and skin.

Chipotles in adobo sauce are smoky chipotle chili peppers cooked in tomato puree, onion, vinegar, garlic, spices and salt. Opening the can is easy, but I’ve also seen some recipes on the web to make it from scratch.

Ingredients:

2 Tb olive oil

1 onion, finely sliced

1 package of 6 chicken breasts

1/2 tsp salt (to taste)

2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced

7 oz can chipotles in adobo sauce

3 cups chicken soup. You can use homemade broth, such as Roz’s Jewish Chicken Soup, or commercial broth

5 bay leaves

Rinse breasts and trim any fat. Cut into quarters. Pour oil into a medium-large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir the onions with a wooden spoon until they begin to soften. Add the chicken breasts, salt, and garlic and stir until they begin to brown.

Pour the can of chipotles en adobo into a blender. Add 3 cups of broth. Blend for a few seconds. Pour the blended mixture over the chicken and add enough broth to cover it. Add bay leaves and stir to separate chicken. Bring to boil, then lower to medium and cook for 20 minutes.

Fish the chicken out of the soup with a fork. Let it cool enough to handle. Shred the chicken by hand. Discard bay leaves.

chicken in pot

Add the chicken back to broth. Stir over medium heat until chicken absorbs almost all of the broth.

Serve as tostadas, or use as filling for tacos or Enchiladas Rojas. You can add the leftover chicken and broth to tortilla soup

chicken taco

Eggplant Marinara


Rich with eggplant, mushrooms and fresh tomatoes, spicy with Italian sausage,  garlic and pepper, and fragrant with fresh herbs, this marinara sauce is ideal for pasta or Lasagna. There are two ways to make this marinara: with eggplant purée or sliced Italian eggplant. You could even use both for an extra helping of vegetables. I roasted the mushrooms to bring out their earthy flavor.

I took a tip from The Breakaway Cook Eric Gower, and added ground dried mushrooms for umami, (Japanese for savory deliciousness), which wonderfully expands and rounds out flavors.

Along with my homegrown herbs, I add a fresh bay leaf. I pick them when I get the chance to hike in the hills around Berkeley and Palo Alto. Their aroma brings me memories of my youth hiking and biking those hills. Just be careful about leaving them in too long – the fresh ones are very strong and can overpower the sauce, making it bitter. Just leave it in about 15 minutes.

Serves 8 (with pasta)

3 links turkey Italian sausage or vegetarian sausage

1 Tb olive oil

1 onion, chopped fine

1 Tb  salt (to taste)

½ tsp. red chili flakes

5 cloves garlic, crushed and minced

3 Tb minced fresh oregano OR  3 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary

1 tsp. minced fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp. minced fresh tarragon or 1/2 tsp dried tarragon

several grinds black pepper

2 bell peppers and/or red bell peppers. (can substitute 3 cups frozen or 2 cups jarred roasted red peppers)

1 small (6 oz) can tomato paste

¼ cup red wine

2 lbs or 14 large soft Roma tomatoes (substitute 24 oz can of crushed tomatoes and 24 oz diced tomatoes

1 Tb sugar to taste

1 bay leaf

3 dried mushrooms

1 roasted globe eggplant  and/or  4 Italian eggplants, cut in rounds and quartered

1 cup quartered mushrooms

1  14-oz can artichoke hearts, quartered

I bunch (1/4 cup minced) fresh basil

Italian eggplant method: Roast or barbecue eggplant and peppers. Discarding ends, slice eggplant into rounds, then quarter the rounds.

Globe Eggplant Method: Pierce globe eggplant with a fork, and roast in a heavy oiled baking pan in 400’ oven for 1 hour until it collapses.  Roast red peppers and mushrooms for the last ½ hour alongside the eggplant. You can roast the vegetables a day ahead of time.

You can also barbecue the eggplant peppers and mushrooms.

While eggplant is roasting and cooling, make the rest of the sauce.

Slice, quarter and brown sausages and drain the fat.

Sauté onion and salt in olive oil until it begins to soften, about 2 minutes Add sausage, chopped fresh or frozen bell peppers (if not roasting them), chili flakes, garlic, oregano, rosemary, thyme and black pepper. Sauté another couple of minutes until herbs release their fragrance.

Add tomato paste, then fill tomato paste can with water then stir in the tomato paste that has stuck to the can.

Halve Roma tomatoes and scoop out seeds and fibrous ribs.

Pulse tomatoes in food processor until desired consistency is reached. I did mine on the chunky side. (If you are using canned tomatoes, add them instead.) Stir into tomato paste and herb mixture. Add sugar to balance the acidity of the tomatoes.

If using chopped Italian eggplant, add it to sauce.

If using globe eggplant, scrape it out from the peel and mince it. Stir it into the sauce.

Quarter mushrooms and mix in sauce.

Grind the dried mushrooms until pulverized in a clean coffee grinder or spice grinder. Stir into sauce.

Add 1/4 cup wine and sip some on the side…

If using roasted bell peppers, stir them into the sauce.

Stir well and let simmer for an hour. You can make this in a crock pot and let it simmer for several hours.

Add quartered artichoke hearts and tarragon for last 10 minutes of cooking. Just before serving over pasta or making lasagna, stir in basil and cook a couple of minutes.