When I moved aboard Billabong (the yacht), one of the hardest things I had to do was choose between my many, many cookbooks. Trying to pare down from 50+ cookbooks to ten or so is not an easy task, and many of my beloved cookbooks were left behind. As I was unpacking my chosen few I remember telling Chris that it would be a great idea if I randomly picked a recipe a week from the cookbooks - thinking that by the time we returned home I would've tried out hundreds of recipes and perhaps in the process discovered some fantastic new dishes. Well, that cruising dream, along with becoming fluent in Spanish and learning to draw never came to be!
Then, a week ago, I was browsing through some food blogs and came across Thursday Night Smackdown. TNS hosts a monthly cooking "roundup" where foodies dust off their cookbooks in order to follow some of those long undiscovered recipes. This, I thought, was my opportunity to finally start making those recipes I'd been promising to all these years.
The theme for November is An ingredient you don't think you like. My immediate problem was finding a recipe where I could get all the ingredients. One thing I've discovered cruising around the world is that I can almost NEVER find a full recipe's worth of ingredients ... most of the time if I have 3 out of 10 ingredients I'm doing good! One thing that has helped (and feeds my cookbook addiction) is that along the way I've bought region-specific cookbooks. So, out came my Tastes of the Mediterranean. [Note: see bottom of the post for a quick review of this cookbook]
The dish I picked for the roundup was Parmigiana di Melanzane or Italian baked eggplant with tomato and mozzarella. The ingredient I don't like? Eggplants. It's not that I hate eggplants - if they are covered up with other tastes I'm okay with them being in a dish, but I didn't think I'd like a dish centered around eggplants (such as this one). And the results? Quite good actually! I found the texture nice and there were enough spices and other flavors that there was no bitter eggplant taste. Chris and I both liked it, and I'll definitely make it again. The only thing I'm not sure of is if you're supposed to eat the eggplant skins that the dish is cooked in. I tried a few bites and found that it was much better when not eating the skin/shell ... both Chris and I ended up tossing our eggplant shells.
Total Cooking time: 40 minutes
6 large slender eggplants (aubergines) (~700 g / 1lb 7 oz)
800ml (1/3cup) olive oil
1 Tbsp olive oil, extra
2 onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
400g (14oz) can diced tomatoes
1 Tbsp tomato paste
3 Tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
1 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano
1 tsp sugar
125 g (4 1/2 oz) mozzarella, grated
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Cut the eggplants in half lengthways, keeping the stems attached. Score the flesh by cutting a criss-cross pattern with a harp knife, being careful not to cut through the skin. Heat half the oil in a large frying pan, add half the eggplant and cook for 2-3 minutes each side, or until the flesh is soft. Remove and repeat with the remaining oil and eggplant. Cool slightly and then scoop out the flesh, leaving a 1/8 inch border. Finely chop the flesh and reserve the shells.
In the same pan, heat the extra oil and cook the onion over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, then add the tomato, tomato paste, herbs, sugar, and eggplant flesh, and cook, stirring occasionally, over low heat for 8-10 minutes, or until the sauce is thick and pulpy. Salt and Pepper to taste.
Arrange the eggplant shells in a lightly greased baking dish and spoon in the tomato filling. Sprinkle with the mozzarella and bake for 5-10 minutes, or until the cheese has melted.
We had a few left over, so the next day I scooped out the filling (tossing the shells) and heated it with some leftover, plain pasta I had. Topped with a touch of Parmesan cheese - and it was delicious.
Join the fun - read more about the TNS roundup.
Overall this is a good cookbook. It is simple, with easy to follow steps and lots of photographs showing the finished dish as well as various preparation steps. All the recipes I have made from this cookbook have been very tasty.
However, if I lived on land (and therefore had a larger bookshelf) I would probably go for a larger book. The Mediterranean is a huge area with a variety of regional foods and I would like a book that covered more ground and included more recipes. This is a good option if you are just want to dabble in Med cooking, don't want to spend a lot of money, or prefer smaller cookbooks.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Tastes of the Mediterranean Review