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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Tacos de carne asada – steak tacos

Steak and avocado is a match made in Mexican heaven. I love bistec con aguacate, and these steak tacos are loaded with avocado and fresh tomatoes, red bell pepper and cilantro. They are an easy weeknight meal and economical too: One pound of steak makes 10 generous tacos. Throw a steak on the grill, cut it up with the veggies, add some Frijoles pintos (Mexican pinto beans), and tuck it into a warm corn tortilla. Top it with your favorite salsa and a sprinkling of lime.

Serves 5 – makes 10 tacos

1 pound sirloin steak

2 medium avocados

2 medium fresh tomatoes

½ large red bell pepper

A handful of cilantro leaves

1 lime

10 fresh corn tortillas

Salt and pepper to taste

Salsa to taste

Let steak sit for ½ an hour at room temperature, then generously salt and pepper it. Oil barbecue grill and heat on high.  Grill steak for about 5 minutes on each side, until browned yet rare in the middle. Remove from grill and trim fat. Cut in strips against the grain, then cut into small pieces.

Chop vegetables into small pieces.

Heat tortillas on comal or heavy frying pan until warm and slightly crispy and can hold their shape when folded in half. Spoon steak. Frijoles pintos (Mexican pinto beans), and vegetables into the tortilla, squeeze lime over it and top with salsa to taste.

Caprese I said, not Caprice

Insalata Caprese

The foggy Berkeley summer is over, and fall sunshine kisses our green tomatoes, making them blush. I pick these crimson treasures, then top each slice with creamy fresh mozzarella, and crown them with a basil leaf. I anoint them with extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. My daughter likes a sprinkle of  balsamic vinegar on them.

I first tasted Insalata Caprese (salad in the style of Capri), at the wedding reception of our friends Doug and Jason. The two grooms had just taken their vows, barefoot and in matching tuxedos, on the beach  in Provincetown, MA. At the reception there were these cherry tomatoes topped with little balls of fresh mozzarella and a fresh basil leaf, all held together with a toothpick. They were the prettiest things, and so tasty! I was trying not to be a greedy guest, but I kept sneaking back to the plate to pop one more into my mouth!

My friends Bob and Dawn served these mini caprese hors d’oeuvres at a party. They marinated the mozzarella  first, which added great flavor.

Mozzarella Marinade:
2/3 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp chili flakes
1 Tb minced garlic
3 TB fresh basil, minced
1 tsp sea salt

Buy an 8 oz container of small mozzarella balls, known as ciliegine, and replace the whey with the marinade. You can also buy a good quality mozzarella or Mozzarella di Bufala and cut it into small pieces. Marinade overnight.

I used del Cabo sweet 100s organic cherry tomatoes from Monterey Market in Berkeley. They are smaller and sweeter than supermarket cherry tomatoes. I want to grow my own next time!

The small basil leaves came from my little plants in my kitchen window. You also tear a piece of a large leaf if you don’t have any small ones.
Skewer a tomato, then a fresh basil leaf, then the ciliegine.

caprese appetixers with halved tomatoesI recently prepared them with the tomato split in half  on both ends of the hors d’oeuvre, with the cut sides facing each other. I sliced the rounded ends off the ciliegine to flatten it.

Pour some of the marinade over and garnish with fresh basil leaves. You can use the excess marinade to flavor hot pasta.

You can make a  delicious caprese  sandwich, especially made with Acme bakery’s herb slab or focaccia.

Caprese sandwich


Serves 2

2 slices good bread. I used a herb slab from Acme bakery, (which is conveniently located down the street.) You could also make this with focaccia, olive bread, French bread or baguette

2 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, sliced thick. Dry farmed tomatoes have great flavor! (available at Oakland Fruitvale Farmer’s Market and at Monterey Market in Berkeley)

4 slices fresh mozzarella cheese.

4 basil leaves

2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil

several shakes salt and pepper to taste

Slice the bread and toast it. Cut the toast to fit each of the tomato slices.

On each piece of toast, place 1 slice of tomato,  then a slice of mozzarella, covering with a basil leaf. Drizzle 1 tsp olive oil on top, and shake a bit of salt. Manga!

Caprese eggs

I invented this breakfast take-off on caprese salad. These eggs cook with fresh basil and chives, diced tomatoes and mozzarella cheese.

2 servings

4 eggs

2 medium tomatoes, diced

2 tsp chopped chives – 4 chives

4 diced basil leaves about 1 Tb, plus two leaves for garnish

2 Tb grated mozzarella cheese (or diced fresh mozzarella)

¼ tsp olive oil

¼ tsp salt to taste

grind of pepper.

Cover eggs with hot tap water in a bowl for 10 minutes to warm them. While they are warming, dice tomatoes, basil and chives. Heat olive oil in nonstick skillet, add tomatoes and chives and a sprinkle of salt and spread out on pan. Cook over medium heat about 2 minutes, until tomatoes soften.

Break eggs on top of tomatoes and sprinkle a bit more salt and a grind of pepper and  basil. Sprinkle mozzarella on top of eggs.

When egg whites turn white, but yolks are still liquid, slide onto a plate. Garnish each plate with a basil leaf. Nice served with toast to dip into the eggs.


Minestrone Soup

Fall in the Bay Area brings a few weeks of sunshine to ripen tomatoes, then rainy and chilly days, perfect Minestrone Soup weather. Pick those ripened tomatoes off the withering vines, combine them with broth and chopped veggies and herbs in a big pot. This is a pretty forgiving recipe, so if you want to clean out the veggie bin of your fridge, throw in what you’ve got. You could use frozen veggies  or canned tomatoes. There is a use for everything, even Parmesan cheese rinds! The rind lends a wonderful flavor to the soup. If it doesn’t break up, leave it in the pot when serving.

10 servings:
1 or more Parmesan rinds
1 large onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced to make ½ cup
1 bunch red Swiss chard, leaves torn off ribs and chopped fine, to make about 3 ½ cups, dice the ribs
1 large red bell pepper, diced to make 1 cup
1/2 pound crimini mushrooms
1 Tb salt (to taste)
½  tsp fresh minced rosemary
1 Tb fresh minced oregano
1 tsp dried basil
6 cloves garlic, minced
several grinds black pepper
One package (4 links) Aidells sun-dried tomato with mozzarella cheese chicken sausage (optional)
1 bay leaf
several shakes red pepper flakes
10 cups (2 1/2 quarts) homemade chicken or vegetable stock Roz’s Jewish Chicken Soup or vegetable broth (you can use boxed stock, but it won’t be as good!)
1 can tomato paste
4 cups diced tomatoes (Roma is best)
1 tsp sugar
3-4 dried Porcini mushrooms
1 rind Parmesan cheese
1  cup peeled and diced carrots (2 large carrots)
2 peeled and diced red potatoes
2/3 cup small pasta (I used the tiny tubes called ditalini for my last batch, but I have also used salad macaroni)
4 small zucchini, diced to make 1 ½ cups
1/2 pound green beans, chopped
1 15-oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed.
1 cup frozen or fresh corn kernels
1/2 cup frozen or fresh peas
1 small bunch Italian parsley, chopped.
1 Tb fresh minced basil (about 5 leaves)
 
Garnish:
a few pinches dried oregano to taste
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

 

Heat stock, Parmesan rinds, tomato paste, tomatoes and sugar in a large pot.

Grind dried Porcini mushrooms in a coffee grinder or small food processor and add to the stock. Add salt to taste.

Fry onions, red bell pepper, chard ribs, garlic, crimini mushrooms, celery, and herbs in  olive oil in a heavy skillet. Add to stock.

Slice sausages in half lengthwise and then into half-coins. Stir fry in the same skillet as the onions were in for about 4 minutes, until browned. Add to soup, then ladle some soup into the frying pan and scrape the browned bits into the soup, then pour back into the pot.

Stir in carrots, chard leaves, and potato and cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in pasta, canned beans, green beans, zucchini, parsley, corn and peas. Cook 10 minutes on medium. Stir in fresh basil.

Discard bay leaf and ladle into bowl. Stir in a pinch of dried oregano, fresh basil, and a few spoonfuls of grated Parmesan cheese. Enjoy with a slice of good bread such as sourdough, Acme herb slab, foccacia, olive bread, or baguette. Manga!

Portobello Mushrooms Stuffed with 3 Cheeses and Fresh Herbs

2 portobellosThese giant, meaty mushrooms make a flavorful bed for fresh herbs and tomatoes, topped with sizzling cheeses. Nice on a bed of soft polenta accompanied by a dry white wine. And aren’t they beautiful!

I make these in my toaster oven.

portobello n polenta

 

gills too

gills and top

2 Portobello mushrooms

1 Tb extra virgin olive oil, plus a bit more to oil mushrooms and  pan

½ tsp minced fresh garlic

½ minced shallot

¼ tsp minced fresh rosemary

1 tsp fresh oregano and ¼ tsp dried oregano

1 tsp chopped fresh basil

a pinch of ground sage

1 medium tomato

a few shakes salt (to taste)

a shake red pepper flakes

several grinds black pepper

2 Tb grated Fontina cheese OR mozzarella cheese

1 tsp blue cheese

3 Tb grated Parmesan cheese

1 tsp Panko breadcrumbs

1 tsp dry sherry (optional)

If serving with with polenta, start the polenta first, so it will be ready when the mushrooms are done. It usually takes about 45 minutes to cook on the stove. Heat 2 1/2 cups water to boiling, add 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp ground sage. Mix 1/2 cup polenta thoroughly with 1/3 cup cold water. Stir it into the boiling water until smooth. Cook for 45 minutes over low heat, stirring every 5 minutes or so. You can add a few tablespoons of grated Parmesan and 1 tsp butter when it is done cooking.

Rinse mushrooms and wipe with wet paper towel. Slice the woody tip end off the stems and discard. Spread garlic olive oil on both sides of mushrooms and bake gill side up in 450’ oven (or toaster oven) for 10 minutes.

While mushrooms are baking, mince the garlic, shallot, and rosemary.  Sauté them in 1 Tb olive oil until cooked, about 5 minutes.

Let mushrooms cool, then dig out stems with a butter knife so there is an indentation in the mushroom. Pour the juice from the cooked mushroom into the pan. Chop the stems finely.

Stir the chopped stems and tomato into the garlic and shallots. Add the oregano, basil, sage, panko, dry sherry, salt and peppers.

ready for broiler

Rinse  tray and then smear with a with a bit of olive oil. Place mushrooms gill side up on it.

Mix the grated Fontina or mozzarella cheese, blue cheese, and 2 tablespoons of the grated Parmesan cheese into the filling mix. Spoon into stem indentation and spread mixture over the top of the mushrooms. Sprinkle each with 1/2 Tb of Parmesan cheese. Broil about 5 minutes, until cheese is bubbly.

broiled mushrooms n cheese

 

Tinga de Pollo: Spicy Stewed Chicken for tostadas or tacos



It’s Sept 16 – the 200th anniversary of Padre Hidalgo’s Grito de Dolores “¡Viva Mexico!”

To celebrate I’m making a big pot of  Frijoles pintos (Mexican pinto beans)

and serving it with Chicken Tostadas

Add tinga de pollo to  tortilla soup to give it extra flavor.

In my tostada recipe I specified leftover chicken, but today there are no leftovers, so I’m making the chicken from scratch. This is a pretty easy recipe. Tinga de Pollo means spicy stewed chicken. I marinade it first for added tenderness and flavor, then stew it in the marinade.The marinade uses the green and red colors of the Mexican flag.

If you cook it and leave it in the sauce overnight, it is even better since the flavors have developed and soaked into the chicken.

Tacos are excellent served with cilantro, lettuce, fresh tomatoes, and avocado in a fresh tortilla that is bent and heated on a comal until it holds it shape.

Makes enough chicken for 10 tacos or tostadas

3 chicken breast halves, trimmed of fat and chopped

juice of 1 lime

1 cup cilantro

¼ tsp olive oil

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp chipotle powder

1 tsp salt

7-oz can salsa (I use Herdez salsa ranchera)

1 cup diced tomatoes with green chile (use fresh Roma tomatoes and a jalapeño OR a can of diced tomatoes with green chile)

Mix all ingredients and let marinate for several hours.

Add 1/4 cup water. Cook chicken in marinade in a skillet until chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Discard cooked cilantro. Serve in tacos or tostadas.I also tried this recipe without cutting up the chicken, just marinating it for several hours with slits cut in the breast, then barbecuing it. It came out juicy and spicy flavorful! Even better, I briefly stewed shredded leftover barbecued chicken in the marinade and made tacos de tinga de pollo asada from them.


Tostadas

This easy tostada recipe is crisp with fresh vegetables and is low in fat and calories.  I heat the tortillas in a comal or in the oven until crispy, instead of frying them as is traditionally done.  I put minimal cheese on top and skip the sour cream.  It is delicious made with homemade pinto beans : see my recipe Frijoles pintos (Mexican pinto beans

I have made this with leftover roasted chicken breast. See my recipe:  Roast Chicken

I add 1/4 cup salsa and 1 tsp cumin (comino) and heat it up. I’ve also made it  with  well-drained chicken breast that has been cooked in enchilada sauce (leftover from making enchiladas.)

Serves 4 people ( 8 tostadas)

8 corn tortillas

1 1/2 cup pinto beans

1 cup chopped cooked chicken breast. (You can eliminate this if you want a vegetarian tostada.)

1 ear roasted corn

¼ cup salsa and 1 tsp cumin  (if using roasted chicken breast),

salsa to put on top (to taste)

¼ head crisp lettuce such as iceberg or romaine

½ cup chopped cilantro

1 large tomato or 2 small tomatoes

1 red bell pepper

black olives if desired

¼ cup grated Colby-jack cheese and/or crumbled cotija cheese

1 large avocado

1 tsp lime juice

salt to taste

Heat oven to 450’ Place corn tortillas on the oven rack or on a cookie sheet. Let bake for about 8 minutes until light brown and crispy. Alternatively, heat on comal on medium heat until crispy

Mash pinto beans with pot liquor. Heat in microwave or in oiled frying pan.

Chop roasted chicken. Add salsa and reheat in microwave for 1 minute, or in frying pan until warm. If using chicken cooked enchilada sauce, drain well or your tostadas will be soggy!

Slice kernels from corn cob

Shred lettuce, chop cilantro, red bell pepper, and tomatoes.

Grate Colby-jack cheese and/or crumble cotija cheese.

Make guacamole or simply slice or mash avocado with a sprinkling of salt and lime juice.

Assemble Tostadas:

Spread beans on crispy tortillas. Add 1 tsp. Colby-jack cheese and let it melt into beans. Add chicken.

Top with corn, lettuce, tomatoes, red bell pepper, cilantro and tomato, avocado or guacamole, and olives if desired. Crumble a bit of cotija cheese on top if desired. Add salsa to taste.