Thursday, August 18, 2011

BBT Sandwich

On preparing to fix breakfast earlier this week, I encountered the realization that it was time for a shopping day.  One of the things I’ve learned over years of cooking for one is restraint when it comes to purchasing perishable foods, which often means running out of or low on some items before its time to shop again.

This seems especially true in the summer when garden supplies fill my refrigerator and I’m even less inclined to stock up on things like lettuce.  Still, one cannot live on zucchini alone, especially when the tomatoes begin to ripen at an exaggerated pace.  The good thing is tomatoes can be  easily and safely canned (if you take the appropriate precautions), but not before I eat my fill.

This particular morning I found myself without milk for cereal, no yogurt to eat with my fruit, and not one egg to be found in my refrigerator.  What I did have were a few slices of bread, a couple of slices bacon, lots of tomatoes and an abundance of Basil.

I could have slapped a bit of peanut butter, which I consider a non-perishable item, on a toasted bread slice, but tomato does not seem a likely companion of peanut butter, at least not in my opinion.  That left the bacon and tomato, but there could be no BLT without lettuce, which I seldom purchase when I have so many summer veggies to eat, and the lettuce in the garden had long before gone to seed.

Looking around, I spotted the Basil seated in a glass of water near my sink.  Why not?  I asked myself.  Basil is green and leafy.  I fried up the two slices of bacon, drained it on a paper towel, toasted two slices of bread, slathered those with mayo, sliced a nicely ripened, garden fresh tomato and cleaned and dried a hand full of Basil leaves.  I layered Basil leaves on one slice of the mayo slathered toast, added the bacon and tomato slices and covered the tomato slices with more Basil leaves.  I then added the second slice of toasted, mayo-slathered bread and oh la la, a Basil, Bacon and Tomato Sandwich.  Yum!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Rose and Eggplant Parmesan

The harvesting of my garden’s first eggplant this season coincided with a visit from my best friend Rose.  The two seemed to fit together like sunshine and rainbows.  Each vivifying the world around me: Rose with her uplifting, intelligent personality, the eggplant with its vivid purple color and strikingly subtle taste, the latter quality shared by both.

I met Rose in 1987 when she served as librarian in a neighboring community.  Ever the feisty optimist, Rose attempted to bring culture to a populist grown artistically anemic.  On this occasion, she organized a book signing by local author Kent Haruf following the publication of his first novel, The Tie That Binds.  Haruf later garnered national recognition when Hallmark® created a made-for-television movie based on his third novel, Plainsong.

Rose and I clicked immediately.  I wanted to know more about her and in the asking discovered that she published a newsletter (For you youngsters out there, think snail blog.).  The newsletter’s mast, Rose’s Good Food Gazette – Recipes & Lore For Thoughtful Cooks, said it all.  This delightful publication went beyond recipes to include Rose’s special lively style of food-based humor and information.

The Gazette offered an opening to feature Rose in the small weekly newspaper I published at the time.  And that interview gave opportunity to discover even more about this small, lovely woman of huge intellect mixed with incredible common sense.  The more I discovered the more I admired her and we quickly planted a growing friendship that has stood the test of time, joint sojourns and living miles apart.

I could go on and on about Rose: How she quit her job as librarian at the Denver Post to travel to Alaska, where she worked as a fish cook and completed the three necessary actions necessary to become a true Eskimo; how she endured being robbed three times while driving a taxi cab in Denver once she returned; how this city girl moved to a small rural town and, after leaving her job as librarian, lived on a hog farm and worked as a copy editor at a community newspaper.  These are her stories to tell and I hope she does sometime so others can enjoy her wonderful wit and zest for living as much as I do.

As life often happens, Rose eventually moved away but lasting friendships cannot be parted.  We stay in touch as much as two writers subject to selective telephone use can, and thanks to the nerds of the world who invented email.

Rose and I both love the preparing of food nearly as much as we savor the bounty of flavors so during our visits we cook, this past visit being no exception, and the eggplant became our course of choice that first night.  We shared the experience of cooking and the devouring of the meal along with laughter and conversation and, of course, a glass of wine.

The tomato sauce for my version of eggplant Parmesan can be made the day before and stored in the refrigerator.  You can also make extra sauce, freeze small containers and thaw in the refrigerator when ready to use.  The sauce recipe below makes enough for two servings of eggplant Parmesan.

 Tomato Sauce

Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon olive oil

¼ Cup grated onion, juice included

1 Medium garlic clove, grated

1 Teaspoon chopped fresh oregano or 1/3 teaspoon dried

1/2 Teaspoon sugar

2 Cups crushed tomatoes

¼ Cup chopped fresh basil

Directions:
  1. Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium high heat and add grated onion along with the juice.  Sauté 2-3 minutes.  Add garlic and sauté one minute longer.
  2. Add crushed tomatoes, sugar and oregano.  Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer until reduced and thick, about 30 minutes.  If saving for later, cool and refrigerate.  You should end up with about one and one-half cups prepared sauce.

Note:  You could certainly chop the onion and mince the garlic, but I like the way grated onion melts into the sauce.  I use a Microplane® grater, but a box grater would work.  Also note that I do not add salt to the sauce since canned tomatoes already contain salt and I later salt the eggplant slices.

 Eggplant Parmesan (For one)

Ingredients:

Olive oil for frying (Enough to generously coat the bottom of a small skillet)

1-2 Small to medium Asian eggplant or ¼-½ large classic eggplant sliced ¼ to ½ inch thick (You need enough eggplant slices for at least two layers in the bottom of a 15-ounce oval baking dish.

Salt and pepper for seasoning

Flour for dipping

¾ Cup prepared tomato sauce

1 ounce fresh Mozzarella, thinly sliced

¼-½ Cup finely shred Parmesan

Directions:
  1. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until hot. (The oil should be shimmering.)
  2. Slice eggplant and season with salt and pepper.  Let set for 5-10 minutes.  This allows the salt to adhere to the eggplant slices.
  3. Dip eggplant slices in flour and shake off excess.  Fry in oil until lightly browned, 1-2 minutes per side.  Drain on paper towel.
  4. Heat the reserved tomato sauce.  Remove from heat and stir in chopped fresh basil.
  5. Spread ¼ cup of the tomato sauce over the bottom of casserole dish (I use a 15-ounce oval Corning Ware® baking dish that works great.).
  6. Layer browned eggplant slices over tomato sauce and spread ¼ cup tomato sauce over eggplant slices.
  7. Place second layer of eggplant slices over tomato sauce and cover with remaining ¼ cup of tomato sauce.
  8. Place Mozzarella slices on top of last layer of tomato sauce.  Sprinkle shredded Parmesan over entire top of casserole.
  9. Bake in 350°F oven for 7-10 minutes or until cheese is melted and browned on top.

Note:  You can reheat and toss any leftover tomato sauce with cooked pasta.  Top with grated Parmesan for a delightful pasta dish.  Better yet, add some sautéed eggplant or zucchini cubes to the pasta just before you toss.