smoked salmon with caper berries and dijon
wow. has it really been over a week since i was last on here? sorry to all my faithful readers (all three of you!) there really is no good excuse. but you will be in for a treat as i have many juicy (and delicious looking!) things to post these next couple of days.
it took us awhile to feel like home here in the city. even with millions of people, it can get kind of lonely when you're first here and know no one. we feel fortunate now to have a great group of friends, but we don't always get to see them as much as we'd like. so we decided to start trying to throw more informal, casual supper parties (as opposed to the fancy, set the table to impress dinner parties) on a regular basis. too often we only host people at our apartment with our two big seasonal shindigs (summer solstice and holiday), and we may have temporarily lost the art of simply being at home, sharing good food, laughs, and wine with a small group of friends.
so this past sunday was our first. we started casual with some smoked salmon with crackers, caper berries and dijon, and olives and grapes. for the main meal we wanted it in the style of the old italian mama sunday supper so we decided on a menu of (vegetarian) meatballs and eggplant rollatini. our friend C would bring the green salad. everyone would bring some wine. and yours truly would be making the desserts ... which will be posted about in the coming days.
but first, a whole hearted recommendation for these great vegetarian meatballs. even if you eat meat, these would be a great healthy choice, or a quick meal alternative. even though they're vegan, they have a great soft texture. if you were ever going to try to convince that diehard carnivore friend of yours, this would be the to try out on him or her!
as for the rollatini, i don't even like eggplant but these were delicious. and super easy to make ahead for a large dinner. i don't have an exact recipe (when mr. mimi creates things, it just happens) but this is the general gist, plus a few tips for using eggplant and standard breading procedure.
rollatini before being baked
eggplant rollatini: serves 8
4 medium eggplants (about 4 lbs)
16 oz ricotta
4-5 garlic cloves
salt + pepper
hot pepper flakes
couple cups of homemade marinara sauce
flour / eggs, beaten / bread crumbs
1. cut ends of eggplant so you can stand it up on cutting board. then slice eggplant lengthwise about 1/4" thick.
sweating the eggplant
* eggplant tip: to pull out the bitter liquids naturally found in eggplant seeds, coat both sides of eggplant slices with coarse salt (kosher or sea). this will also work to tenderize it, and season it of course! you'll actually see the water sweating out. wait about 15 minutes, or longer if necessary, and then rinse excess salt with cold water.
2. make ricotta mix: sautée garlic and shallots until golden. fold into ricotta and mix with a handful of mozzarella and grated parmesan, salt and pepper, pepper flakes, oregano, basil chiffonade.
* basil chiffonade technique: if you cut basil like a typical herb in chopping fashion, you will easily bruise it. while this doesn't necessarily affect the flavor in immediate usage, it sure won't look pretty. and isn't cooking all about being pretty? well, at least the french thought so, and created the chiffonade technique, whereby you cut the basil in thin strips. take the rinsed leaves and stack them and roll them up like a cigar, or, ahem, like a herbal smoking somethin' or other :) with the tip of a very sharp knife, do a gentle rocking motion, letting the knife's weight do the cutting; that is, don't cut down. slice the basil as thin as you possibly can. it will become fluffy as the slices unfurl from the roll. there are other knife skills that can chiffonade in a more fluid, clean and gentle manner, but the rocking motion is easier to control for most home cooks.
3. lay out some of the eggplant slices, and spread an even layer of the ricotta mix on one side. make sure there is ricotta on one end of the slice.
4. proceed to roll them up. this is where that ricotta on the one end of the slice comes in ... when you roll it up, you'll use that ricotta on the edge to seal the roll. bread the rolls in small batches as you work.
ricotta mix on slices
rolling, rolling, rolling
* breading procedure: no matter what you're breading, the procedure is always the same. three bowls: flour in one, beaten eggs in another, and plain bread crumbs in the last bowl. and in case you're wondering, the old age is ... season the food, not the bread crumbs ... or at least, so says mr. mimi :) basically, just coat (with flour), dip all sides (in egg), and coat (with the crumbs). if you're making a lot of breaded items it's best to keep one hand dry, one hand wet (bakers know this rule well from julia). for rollatini, make sure to bread all sides, including the short tips (where the cheese peeks out a bit).
ready to bread
5. heat generous amount of olive oil in skillet over medium heat. generous because you're doing a pan fry, not a sautée. i never said this was a healthy vegetarian meal folks! place rolls gently in oil, making sure not to crowd the skillet. after a couple of minutes, check the ones that seems to be cooking the fastest and flip them with a slotted spatula (so the grease doesn't collect in the spatula and splatter), and brown both sides to golden color. drain on paper towel.
ready to fry
6. put in casserole dish, with marinara sauce, and shredded mozzarella on top. bake at 325F for 15 minutes. presto! sunday supper is served!
full disclosure: all these cooking tips, and those cute hands, come from mr. mimi :)