Archives for posts with tag: garlic

Eggplant

A few weekends ago over Easter there was a lot of food made and consumed in my kitchen, but really it wasn’t all fun and games. For most of the weekend I sat at the big dining table in my parents’ house writing a rather dry essay on 16th and 17th century news journalism. I squinted at texts written in barely discernible English where a S could have been a R or a F and stories told of malformed pigs and blood raining from the sky. No matter what you think of modern news journalism, I am thankful for the progress we have made.

Moosewood CookbookMarket shopping

My sister flew home for part of the weekend, setting up her laptop at the other end of the table, books and papers and computer cords filling the gap between us. There we sat, just like that, for most of the weekend, she plugging away on a lab report about grape disease and I trying to draw parallels between post-medieval and 21st century journalism.

Oil

And yet, in the midst of all this was food. Food seemed to transcend our immediate reality of assignments and university and settle us in an all the more ‘real’ reality – simply the need to be feed and nourished and sustained.

Cutting through dense flesh

On Friday before Georgie flew home Perrin and I hosted a dinner party. I made an Easter cake – the simplest cake if ever there was one – no need for beaters or excessive creaming, but the cake rose perfectly to a smooth, plainly flavoured, moist Madeira style cake. We made braised lamb with feta, potatoes and tomatoes; Perrin cut, oiled and spiced up pita pockets into crisps while I whizzed hummus together. We set a rice pilaf to cook later in the evening with slivered almonds and just-moist sultanas, counting out loud the (10) seconds of sizzle time of the cinnamon stick. There was a stellar quinoa salad made by Francesca and a banana cake from Catherine. My house was filled with noise – music, conversation, the scrape of chairs, the clink of eight glasses when it came time to toast – lovely really, for the rest of the weekend all we would hear is the tap-tap of a laptop keyboard. (And I confess this song played too loudly and danced to wildly when the prospect of typing another word seemed all too much.)

Eggplant halvesReady to roast

I picked Georgie up early on Easter Sunday and we drove straight to the market. We did away with the fruit bowl basics instead buying leeks – the white as long and as thick as my forearm, limes – an absolute steal at only $8/kilo, an eggplant with beautiful, high-gloss skin, and fire-truck red baby tomatoes. We bought packets of hot cross buns and returned home to eat them toasted and dripping with butter.

We had avocados smashed on toast with a runny yolk fried egg for lunch. Coffee and hot cross buns always dripping with butter continued all weekend – how else does Easter play out? In the evening we sat in the kitchen, our backs defiantly to the table covered with paper, and we drank Merlot. We picked the potatoes from the leftover lamb, reserving them to slice finely and fry the next day, but the lamb, as stews always are, was better on day two.

Roasted and wrinkled

On weekends like this one where what needs to be done is minimal – fill X amount of pages with X amount of words – yet the task is decidedly time consuming and complex, food is both a welcome distraction and a boost in productivity. I find I work best when part of my mind can freely think about lunch or dinner, when a meal plan begins to form and I can fry potatoes to golden crispy, lay on a spinach wrap spread with harissa and mayonnaise and top with spindly mesclun leaves. Or for dinner: thick, pink pork chops covered in salt and cooked on the pan and leeks braised in white wine, dijon mustard and vinegar to become tender ribbons, sharp and sweet. The creativity of cooking livens my senses and exercises my brain.

Hot roasted eggplantScoopedCrisp edge, soft within

Georgie made a lime tart – freshly squeezed limes – what a scent! And then came the eggplant, young and slender, of the most beautiful colour and weighty in my hand. I had a friend at school who loved the eggplant purely because she thought it would make a pleasing thwack when pelted at a wall, or a person, depending on her mood. (The same went for capsicums.) I strangely think about this every time I cut open a raw eggplant and hear the satisfying hiss and thud of the blade through the dense flesh. I resisted the urge to throw food at my walls and instead I made baba ganouj from the Moosewood Cookbook.

Empty skinsLemons for juicejuiced

There has already been a lot said about the Moosewood Cookbook, about the hand written recipes and hand drawn illustrations, about the beginning of a food movement and about the long reigning success of the book, so I’ll keep this brief. My mother has had a copy of the book for as long as I can remember but I never understood the significance of Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook until I began to read about the cult-like following it has.

Baba GanoujLunchThe weekend view

The baba ganouj is simple and lovely as far as baba ganouj go. It’s creamy and oily, there is a richness but also a wonderful complexity of flavour: garlic and lemon, a smoky bitterness from the eggplant and a subtle nutty hint from the tahini. But roasting whole eggplants, their skins turning dark chocolate in colour and gorgeously wrinkly like that of a ripe passionfruit, and the burnt oil, smoky smell that filled my kitchen probably contributed to more words being written about early journalism and more pages being filled than any other kitchen activity all that long weekend.

Baba Ganouj from the Moosewood Cookbook
The only change I made to this recipe was the addition of a second roasted eggplant. Also, I do think this recipe benefits from resting time before serving.

2 tablespoons oil (for the baking sheet)
2 medium to large eggplants
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup tahini
1/2 teaspoon salt
black pepper or cayenne (I used a pinch of cayenne)
olive oil and freshly chopped parsley or coriander for the top

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Lightly oil a baking tray.
Slice the eggplants in half lengthwise and place face down on the baking tray. Bake for 30 minutes or until very tender. Remove from oven and leave to cool.
Scoop out the flesh of the eggplant and discard the skins. Place the pulp in a food processor with the garlic, lemon juice, tahini and salt and pepper. Purée until desired consistency – I think it’s best with a few chunks of eggplant.
Transfer to a serving bowl, cover and chill. Before serving drizzle the top with oil and scatter over your choice of herbs.

So those hands you see up there peeling garlic belong to the man about the house, so to speak. He likes sushi, no avocado though, bread, potatoes any which way, and chilli, hot and fiery.

Perrin loves the movement of cooking – the chopping of onions and other vegetables – feeling the sharp knife move swiftly; or with the flick of a wrist feeling the frying pan fly through a loosened grip to toss our breakfast or dinner; a grind of salt or pepper is sometimes a whole body movement combining a stride from one side of the kitchen to the other. Perrin moves in the kitchen with a calm but deliberate force. I like to watch him in the kitchen.

Earlier this week Perrin and I had a night off. I said let’s cook dinner. He replied, how about chicken salad, stir fry or a beef tomato stew? Or prawn pasta? I snapped on the prawn pasta – yes please! We walked through the streets on our way to the supermarket in the mid afternoon sun. It was almost hot and there was a calm in the wild winds we have been having. Tell me about this prawn pasta, I said.

Well, cook your fettuccine first, he said. Toss with oil when it’s cooked and then make the buttery prawn sauce. A little bit of oil just to get started and then cook – in quite a bit of butter – a small onion or shallot, garlic and chilli. He turned to look at me with a cheeky grin, I do love butter. Oh, so do I.

Back in Perrin’s kitchen (one devoid of natural light so excuse the yellow-tinged photographs), I sat with my laptop and a glass of wine and looked on, taking notes and asking questions. The meal is quick to prepare – snappy and intense – but there are things to notice here. The sizzle and spit of the pan; an undercurrant beneath the roaring of the extractor fan. As the prawns are flicked and tossed they pink with the heat and the chilli, while the onion and garlic, soft and translucent, is a buttery yellow in comparison. Once the lemon zest and white wine have been added the smell is rich and inviting – there is the sweetness of the prawns, the zing of lemon and crisp Sauvignon Blanc, and the warm scent of onions cooking in butter.

Tossing is important, says Perrin. You must allow everything to bind with the butter – the crux and muscles of the dish, I guess. The dish needs muscle to carry the chilli because heck it’s hot. I sat there enjoying every tendril of fettuccine slicked with butter, garlic and sweet onion and each succulent prawn I picked out of the nest of noodles and ate with my fingers but throughout the whole meal my eyes watered and my nose ran with the heat of the chilli. After I placed my knife and fork together I was out of breath and fanning my burning mouth. Perrin poured me a glass of milk. Romance was high during this meal, believe you me.

Spicy Prawn Fettuccine
Adjust heat to your liking. Maybe one red chilli would suffice. Saffron or smoked paprika could add to the sunset pink colour but lend more of a mild flavour. Serves 2.

200 grams fettuccine
1 tablespoon oil (plus extra for pasta)
a decent knob of butter – 20 or so grams
1 small onion or shallot
4-6 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
red chilli
300 grams raw prawns
1 lemon – zest and juice
1 generous glass of white wine
salt and pepper
parsley

Cook the pasta until al dente. Strain and toss with a glug of oil to prevent sticking.

To a frying pan add the tablespoon of oil and butter. Once melted and slightly bubbling cook the onions and garlic and until soft. Add the chilli and cook for a further two minutes. Increase the heat then add the prawns, tossing for a couple of minutes to partially cook. Add the lemon zest and juice, the wine, salt and pepper then the cooked pasta continuing to toss for a further three or so minutes.

Once the pasta has heated through serve on to plates and scatter across finely chopped parsley, or another herb.

It is hard to keep up with Wellington weather. What to wear? What to eat? Should I take a raincoat or sunscreen? What to eat gets me the most. I never know if I should be bunkering down with the comfort foods of winter or holding on to those fresh, clean tastes of summer. Winter vegeatables are appearing at the market alongside the last of the season’s stone fruit. And yesterday I think I got sunburnt. Wellington can be a testing place to live.

But, nonetheless, it was impossible to resist this little pumpkin last week. It fit into the palm of my hand, small and green with a little button top. I wanted to coo and whisper sweet somethings to it. Instead, I roasted it, whole. I cut around the button top, pulled it out like a plug, then scooped out the seeds and pulp. I rubbed olive oil, salt and pepper around its insides. I placed three peeled cloves of garlic and some chopped up feta in the middle and replaced the lid.

In the oven the pumpkin steams and roasts within its skin. The cuteness of the pumpkin seems to disappear; the skin crisps up and weathers slightly. It almost wrinkles as the flesh within begins to pull away from the sides. Then you know it is going to be good. The pumpkin at the top is almost plain, with a hint of sweetness, while at the bottom the flesh is almost soupy. The sharpness of the feta disappears and instead there is a salty, creamy broth.

My mother used to cook pumpkins like this. The trick is lots of garlic, three or four whole cloves per pumpkin. And something salty: strips of bacon curled around the insides of the pumpkin works wonderfully, holding in the very best of the pumpkin flavour.

There is something very pleasing about cooking a whole pumpkin, whether to be carved and shared at the table or to enjoy a little one for yourself. Take great delight in pulling off the stopper and scraping the flesh off the top, as you would a soft boiled egg.

Enjoy no matter the weather; these baby pumpkins are too good to wait for colder days.

Roast Baby Pumpkin with Feta

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Cut around the top of each pumpkin. You may need a spoon to lever out the top. Use the spoon to scrape out the seeds and all the stringy pulp. Pour in a tablespoon of olive oil and spread around the sides. Add ground salt and pepper and spread evenly.

Peel three cloves of garlic per pumpkin. Place inside the pumpkin along with several cubes of feta, so you can’t see the bottom of the pumpkin. Place the stopper back in its hole. Place in a tin foil lined baking tray. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the side of the pumpkin meets no resistance.

For more of a soup add a 1/2 cup of chicken or vegetable stock. Replace feta with bacon or strips of red pepper. Add ground chilli to the salt and pepper for a little bit of a kick.