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

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Spanakopita and Tiropetes with phyllo or puff pastry

These Greek spinach and cheese pies have a complex taste: sharp bite of feta, green spinach, explosion of herbs: mint, dill, oregano, basil, garlic, and green onion, wrapped in a crispy filo dough or buttery puff pastry. My recipe was inspired by my Greek-American friend Margret’s delicious version.

You can make these traditionally with flaky phyllo (filo) dough. I use olive oil spray on the phyllo instead of spreading oil or butter with a pastry brush, to cut down on the fat. I also make tiropetes, which are phyllo filled with feta and ricotta cheese. They are great for breakfast.

On the other end of the calorie range, I recently tried these at a Greek restaurant made from puff pastry. They were rich and delicious! So I made them at home. It’s much less fuss than phyllo, although it has quite a few more fat and calories from the buttery pastry.

Makes 3 logs (about 18 triangles) of phyllo wrapped spanakopita or 8 triangles of puff pastry spanakopita

3/4  package defrosted phyllo dough OR 1 package (2 sheets) puff pastry (defrost for only 10 minutes at room temperature)

Olive oil spray for phyllo dough

Spinach filling: You can make this a day ahead of time.

2 heads fresh spinach, well washed, stems removed and chopped (use a food processor to chop it) OR 1 lb bag of frozen chopped spinach – about 3 cups.

1 tsp olive oil

2 scallions

2 cloves garlic

¼ cup pine nuts

1 Tb finely chopped mint leaves OR 1 tsp dried mint

½ Tb finely chopped fresh dill weed OR ½ tsp dried dill weed

1 Tb finely chopped fresh oregano leaves OR 1 tsp dried oregano

1 Tb finely chopped fresh basil OR 1 tsp dried basil OR 1 cube frozen basil

Several grinds pepper (about ¼ tsp)

1 egg for filling. Another egg if using puff pastry.

6 oz (about 1 cup) crumbled feta cheese

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375’ for filo, or 400’ for puff pastry

Microwave frozen or fresh spinach in a covered casserole bowl about 2 minutes (longer for frozen spinach) until soft. Drain in fine mesh sieve over a bowl.

I place a bowl with a few cans in it on top of the sieve while preparing the other ingredients. Afterward, press on the spinach with a tablespoon for several minutes to squeeze out the liquid. You should have 1 1/2  cups drained spinach.

While spinach is draining, finely mince white and green parts of scallions, garlic, and mint leaves and other fresh herbs, salt and pepper Sauté onion, garlic and pine nuts in olive oil in a heavy skillet. After a couple of minutes, stir in the herbs and heat for another minute.

Finish squeezing the last liquid from the spinach and discard the liquid. Stir the spinach into the onion and herbs.

Beat the first egg and add feta and Parmesan cheeses. Stir in the spinach mixture until well blended.

Tiropetes

1 cup feta cheese

3/4 cup ricotta cheese

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

1 egg, beaten

2 Tb minced fresh parsley

Mix ingredients together. Spread on puff pastry or phyllo dough as below.

Assembling Puff Pastry (I used Trader Joe’s), cut both sheets in two. Beat the second egg. Using a pastry brush, paint the egg on each piece. Spoon filling o to fill exactly half the pastry, leaving about 1/2 inch border of dough on the edges. Fold the pastry over the filling, then seal the edges with the back of a teaspoon.

Place on a cookie sheet that you have sprayed with olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes at 400’ Let cool, then cut in half diagonally, to make triangles.

Phyllo Dough directions:

For phyllo dough pastries: spread one sheet of defrosted dough on a large wooden board or cutting board. Spray olive oil on top. Spread another sheet on top of it and spray and repeat for a 3rd sheet. Spread a 2 inch line of spinach or cheese filling about 3 inches from the edge of the shorter side of the rectangle. Leave a one inch space between the filling and the sides of the phyllo.

Roll the dough up over the filling, then tuck in the sides, and continue rolling until the end. Spray a little of the oil on the edge to seal it. Place the roll seam side down on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Spray a little oil on top of the roll.

Bake at 375’ for 40 minutes until browned.

Let cool, then slice the logs diagonally in each direction into triangle shapes.

Roasted Chicken Breasts with Meyer Lemon and Italian Herbs

This is quick and easy. The chicken is fragrant and juicy. A good way to use those chicken breasts on sale. Use roasted bones and skin for Roz’s Jewish Chicken Soup  ; perfect to make broth for Minestrone Soup on a rainy day.

5 bone-in chicken breasts with skin attached
Olive oil, about 3 Tb
5  garlic cloves, chopped
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
2 Tb fresh thyme, minced
About 1 Tb each dried oregano and thyme
About 1 tsp chili flakes
Sea salt and pepper
Fresh basil leaves
2 lemons: ½  sliced and 1 ½  juiced and zest grated
 

Preheat oven to 450′

Oil a large roasting pan

Salt underside of breasts. Place breasts in pan, skin side up

Stuff garlic, rosemary, fresh thyme and a lemon slice under each breast skin

Sprinkle dried herbs, chili flakes, salt and pepper over breasts

Sprinkle olive oil over breasts

Roast in 450’ oven for 50 minutes

Squeeze lemon juice over cooked chicken. Garnish with fresh basil and Meyer lemon zest.

Twice Cooked Fajitas

For Cinco de Mayo I am making fajitas: spicy from two kinds of chili,  fragrant with lime, and tipsy on beer.  This recipe was inspired by my late brother-in-law and Texas barbecue master, Larry Luna. The juicy and flavorful chicken is twice cooked, first on the grill, then braised in the oven with its marinade.  I made  chicken fajitas  here, but you can also make them with skirt steak. Marinade the steak for at least 3 hours, grill it whole, then cut across the grain into strips before braising it in the marinade.


Serves 4

¼ cup boiling water

3 dried chilies such as Chile California, stems removed

2 jalapeños

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp salt

1 cup light-colored beer such as Tecate

2 limes, juiced; zest peeled in long strips

1 whole boneless, skinless chicken breast fat trimmed and sliced,  or  2-3 lb skirt steak.

1 small onion, sliced

4 bell peppers (1 red and 3 green), seeded and cut into strips

2 Tb olive oil

If using skirt steak, slice against the grain and cut into strips. Trim off the fat. Using a tenderizing mallet, pound each strip so that the tenderizing marks show. This is a good way to work out your frustrations and aggressions.

Add chilies to boiling water and let soak for at least 15 minutes. Peel lime zest with vegetable peeler into a long strip, then juice limes. Pour beer, 1 Tb olive oil, and lime juice in blender. Add chilies, jalapeños, soaking water and other seasonings to beer mixture. Whir in blender. Trim fat off of breast, cut into strips, and marinate for an hour or more.


Place chicken on grill, reserving marinade. Put bell peppers and onion in a grill wok and toss with a tablespoon of olive oil.  Grill over medium heat until chicken and onions and bell peppers begin to char. (You can also use a wok or heavy pan over the stove).

Heat oven to 300’ Pour marinade into a casserole or clay pot. Add cooked chicken, peppers and onions and lime zest. Bake for 20 minutes. Garnish with cilantro leaves and avocado slices. Serve with tortillas, Frijoles pintos (Mexican pinto beans) and  Sonia’s guacamole.

Linguine with Prawns

My husband, Jesús, always orders this dish at Italian seafood restaurants. This is an easy Friday night dinner, especially if you use the jarred sun-dried tomatoes. Fill a couple of wine glasses and light some candles. Sip a bit of wine while you’re cooking to get in the mood.

serves 4

1/2   package linguine

1 Tb olive oil

6 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

1 sprig  or about 1 tsp minced fresh rosemary

1 Tb dried oregano or 2 Tb fresh oregano

1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes reconstituted in oil or water (see below)

1 pound large raw shrimp (26-30 shrimp per pound), (deveined unless you want a lot of work for yourself.)

1/2 cup white wine (chardonnay is nice) (or liquid from reconstituting sun-dried tomatoes)

pinch of salt, to taste

6 cups spinach leaves (1 bunch spinach), stems removed

¼ cup toasted pine nuts

6 leaves fresh basil, torn, about 2 Tb

1 lemon (Meyer is nice) juice and grated peel

You can buy jarred sun-dried tomatoes in oil (I got mine at Trader Joe’s) or reconstitute them yourself: Soak 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes in a mixture of  ¼ cup warmed white wine and 2 Tb boiling water for 30 minutes until soft and pliable. Cut into strips, reserving soaking liquid.

Heat a large pot  of salted water to cook linguine.

Defrost shrimp in a colander under cold running water for 7 minutes.

While shrimp is defrosting, mince garlic cloves, oregano, and rosemary needles and gather ingredients.

Cook linguine according to package directions. Drain, reserving about 1/4 cup water.

While linguine is cooking, heat 1 Tb olive oil  in wok or large heavy frying pan. Sauté garlic, red pepper flakes, rosemary and oregano for a minute, then add shrimp and sauté for 3 minutes.

Add salt, stemmed spinach leaves, basil,  sun-dried tomatoes, wine or soaking liquid from sun-dried tomatoes, and reserved water from cooking pasta. Squeeze a lemon and finely grate zest over shrimp. Cover pan and cook one more minute until shrimp turn bright orange and are opaque inside, and spinach is wilted, but still bright green. Toss with pine nuts and drained linguine. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Asparagus and Mushroom Scramble

Asparagus is a symbol of Spring for me. It has a nutty green taste.

Did you know that asparagus tips are immature leaves?

My husband, Jesús, used to pick it as a child farm worker. He told me that once the leaves open, the asparagus is ruined. Because of the urgency of picking the fast-growing asparagus before the leaves open, his family was required to harvest it a grueling 6 ½ days a week!  Jesús never wanted look at another asparagus stalk! I am still working on getting him to eat it.

2 medium asparagus

About 1 Tb minced chives, from 5 chives or 1 green onion (scallion)

2 large mushrooms

3 eggs

¼  tsp butter

1 Tb water

1 Tb grated sharp cheddar or Jarlsburg cheese

a few shakes salt

Soak asparagus and eggs in a bowl of warm water for about 5 minutes to warm eggs and cleanse asparagus.

Mince chives or scallions.

Rinse asparagus a few times to remove any dirt, then chop finely. Slice mushrooms

Beat eggs then grate cheese into the eggs. Add salt and beat well.

asparagus and mushrooms n green onions

Heat a nonstick skillet. Rub a butter stick over the hot pan until it is coated with about ¼ tsp butter. Add mushrooms, chives and asparagus. Sauté a few minutes, then add 1 Tb warm water so that the asparagus can steam another minute.

Pour eggs over asparagus and gently turn with spatula until desired doneness. Nice with toast.

asparagus and mushroom scramble

Thanksgiving Turkey

All summer long I’ve been watching my sage plant grow, looking forward to stuffing my Thanksgiving turkey with it. Now it’s Tuesday morning before Thanksgiving and I’m about to transform my $6.77 Safeway turkey into a moist, tender, fragrant roast. I brine the turkey using fresh herbs, honey and lemons. Before roasting the turkey, I stuff it with fresh herbs and slather it with garlic-infused olive oil instead of butter.

It’s been defrosting for the last few days on a pan in the fridge, and I just made the brine. I adapted the brine recipe years ago from Bon Appétit. Their recipe is for a 19- to 20-pound, bird, but works fine with my almost 16 pound one. I prefer to brine in a bucket, as you never know what chemicals are  in the plastic garbage bags. I went to my local deli (Saul’s) and asked them to give me a 5 gallon white pickle bucket. You can also ask a bakery for a frosting bucket. You can also buy a brining bag. My husband found one at Andronico’s for $6. But when we lifted the turkey in the brining bag with the brine inside it broke! So don’t do that!
2 cups coarse kosher salt
1 cup honey
A bunch each of fresh thyme, rosemary and sage
8 large garlic cloves – peeled and smashed
2 tablespoons coarsely cracked black pepper
2 lemons — cut in eighths

Heat a large pot with water, salt, and honey, and stir until they dissolve. Pour into the bucket along with enough ice and cold water to fill it about 1/3 or so. Add fresh herbs, lemon quarters, and garlic. Grind the pepper into the water and stir until most of the ice melts. Rinse the turkey inside and out,and reserve the giblets for soup and gravy.

Tear off the large piece of fat near the bottom cavity, wrap in plastic and freeze it. You will later mix this with herbs to rub under the breast skin.

Place turkey in the bucket so that both cavities fill with brine and the large cavity end is up. Add enough cold water so that the turkey is submerged. Cover, and place in the refrigerator for 18 to 24 hours.

On Wednesday, rinse turkey inside and out. Place large cavity-side down into the bucket (or a pot if using a brining bag) and let it drain for a few hours in the refrigerator. Then pat it dry and set on a rack over the roasting pan. Let it air dry, uncovered in the refrigerator for another 18-24 hours.

On Thanksgiving morning, preheat oven to 400’. Rinse turkey and transfer to the serving platter and  pat  dry. Clean the roasting pan thoroughly and dry it. Oil both pan and roasting rack.

Stuff turkey with fresh chopped garlic, celery, red onion, leeks, parsley, thyme, rosemary, sage, orange and lemon wedges in both cavities.

Chop the frozen fat finely, add 2 Tb olive oil and 2 Tb softened butter, and mix in fresh minced herbs (garlic, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (while singing “Scarborough Fair”) as well as a spoonful of rubbed sage, and a bit of chopped onion and celery.

Loosen the skin above the breast and stuff the herb-fat mixture into this area.

Push it all the way in so it covers the breast meat under the skin. This will self-baste the turkey. Rub it in the 2 cavities.

Place the rack in the pan and fill the spaces under and around it with more herbs, and as many chopped red onions, leeks, celery and carrots as will fit, and fill with water to about an inch below where the turkey will sit. Place the turkey on the rack, breast side up, and oil the breast side of the turkey with garlic olive oil and grind a bit of pepper over it. Turn it so it is breast side down and oil and pepper the back side. No need to add any salt, as the brine has already salted the turkey.

With turkey breast down, roast for 2 ½  hours. Set timer for 30 minutes to  baste with the liquid that is under the rack. Add more water if needed to keep it to an inch below the turkey rack. Rotate the pan 180′ several times during cooking. When skin becomes crisp and brown, cover with a piece of cheesecloth and tent with foil. Baste the skin over the cheesecloth.

After 2 ½ hours, remove turkey from oven and carefully turn it so that it is breast side up. (I just bought a turkey turner for this. If you don’t have one, use oven mitts covered with paper towels to grab the turkey.) Ask someone to help you hold the rack.

Continue roasting, rotating and basting for another 1 to 1 ½ hours, or until a thermometer placed in the meatiest part of the inner thigh reads 165’. Remove turkey from oven and let sit for 30 minutes on the serving dish. Use the liquid and roasted vegetables at the bottom of the pan for gravy. Remove large pieces of herbs from the liquid then pour liquid into a fat separating cup. Pour defatted liquid into your gravy. Garnish turkey with some fresh herbs peeking out of the cavities. (I saw Martha Stewart do this).

Serve with

butternut squash soup 

or Chunky Kabocha Soup with Appeal

Spinach Autumn Fruit Salad,

Low fat creamy garlic mashed potatoes,

Green beans sautéed with red onion and roasted almond

Rosemary-scented cornbread

Light as a feather cream biscuits

Jellied Cranberry Sauce

for dessert: Drunken Pecan Sweet Potato Pie and Pumpkin Pie

Happy Thanksgiving! There is much to be grateful for.