Saturday, October 18, 2008

Italian Mushroom and Eggplant Sauce + Assorted Fruit and Berry Gratin (week of Oct 5-11)

BEST Italian Mushroom and Eggplant Sauce

adapted from Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook: "With its meaty texture, eggplant makes a wonderful vegetarian pasta sauce, which pairs well with ziti."

We used whole wheat penne.

Cut in half lengthwise and sprinkle with salt:

  • 1-2 lbs. eggplant (globe or Japanese)

Drain in colander for 1/2 hour. Rinse. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Arrange eggplant and:

  • 3-4 cloves of garlic

on an oiled baking sheet. Brush with olive oil and bake until tender (20 minutes). Let cool, then remove skin from eggplant and coarsley chop the pulp. Smash the garlic to squeeze cloves out of their skins.

In a mid-size skillet over medium heat, heat:

  • 1/4 olive oil

Add and cook:

  • 1 large onion (sweet or yellow), chopped fine

stirring a few times, until softened, about 5 minutes.

In a slow cooker, combine all the above with:

  • 4 cups roma tomatoes, peeled and seeded (or one 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes)
  • 1 tomato paste ball *(recipe below) (or one 6 oz. can tomato paste)
  • 12 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 Tablespoons red cooking wine (or 2 T. grape juice & 1 T red wine vinegar)
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (or 1 & 1/2 teaspoons dried)

Stir. Cover and cook on LOW for 7 to 8 hours (HIGH for 3-1/2 to 4 hours).

During the last hour add:

  • 3 Tablespoons fresh flat-leap parsley, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

The sauce will hold on LOW for a few hours.

Italian Tomato Paste

adapted from The Joy of Cooking: "This flavorful paste is diluted in a little boiling water or stock and added to sauces and soups. Fine in spaghetti and noodle dishes, as a dressing for cooked vegetables or salads, and as an addition to salad dressings."

Hmm . . . at any rate it adds a delicious & savory depth when used in place of canned paste.

Wash and cut into slices:

  • 1 & 1/2 pecks ripe Italian tomatoes (6 quarts)


  • 1 large celery rib, cut up with some leaves
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh herbs: basil, thyme, sweet marjoram, or oregano
  • 3/4 teaspoon peppercorns
  • 12 cloves
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1 two-inch stick cinnamon
  • 1 minced clove of garlic

Simmer these ingredients until the tomatoes are soft. Stir frequently. Put the vegetables through a fine sieve.

Simmer the pulp in an uncovered slow cooker. Stir frequently. When the pulp is thick and reduced by half, spread the paste to a depth of 1/2 inch on moist plates.

Cut into the paste to let air penetrate. Place the paste in a 200 degree oven to dry.

When the paste is dry enough, roll it into balls and dip in olive oil. Store refrigerated in airtight sterile jars--taking care to remove one at a time with a clean utensil as needed.

Berry & Autumn Fruit Gratin

adapted from True Blueberry: "This light and lovely gratin, a traditional French baked dish with a golden crust, is prepared with fromage blanc, the versative low-fat or fat-free creamy French-style fresh cheese that visually resembles a cross between sour cream and yogurt. The fluffy gratin topping is a cross between a meringue and a souffle."

What is fromage blanc? it sounds like a close cousin to yogurt cheese (directions below). This gratin is also good with a full 7 cups of fresh blueberries instead of the assortment of fruit.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly butter an 8- or 9-inch square or oval baking dish with:

  • 1 teaspoon unsalted butter, softened

and set aside.

In a large bowl, lightly whip with a whisk, until it is aerated and smooth (~1 minute):

  • 1 & 1/2 cups yogurt cheese

Add, whisking until the mixture is smooth and fluffy:

  • 6 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large egg yolk
  • 2 Tablespoons white flour

Set aside.

In glass bowl, combine:

  • 2 large egg whites
  • Pinch of salt

Beat with rotary beater until the mixture holds soft peaks. Do not overbeat. Gradually and gently fold the egg whites into the yogurt cheese until smoothly blended but still very airy. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine:

  • 4 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries (or 1 cup raspberries & 1 cup chopped peaches or pears)
  • 2 cups fresh black berries (frozen are too bland)

Place 2/3 cup of the fruit in a small bowl and set aside. To the remaining fruit, add:

  • 3 Tablespoons of granulated sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

and stir to combine.

Transfer the fruit mixture to the baking dish. Spoon on the egg and cheese mixture, spreading it smoothly and evenly over the fruit. Bake in the center of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until the egg & cheese topping is puffy and nicely browned. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with

  • 1 & 1/2 Tablespoon powdered sugar

Garnish with the reserved barries, placing them in the cracks of the crust. Dust with additional powderd sugar if desired and serve immediately.

Yogurt Cream Cheese

adapted from Nourishing Traditions: "Makes 5 cups of whey and 2 cups cream cheese. . . . .[Whey can be used] as a starter culture for lacto-fermented vegetables and fruits, for soaking grains and as a starter for many [mild] beverages."

Our neighbor Delbert Powell who passed away last winter showed me how to make this cheese to serve with a Lebanese bean recipe called facula. This tangy cheese is also good spread on a chewy slice of sourdough with a fresh salsa or pico de gallo spooned over the top.

Line a large strainer set over a bowl with a square of clean cheesecloth.

Pour in:

  • 2 quarts of yogurt

and cover with a clean dishcloth and let stand at room temperature for several hours. The whey will run into the bowl and the milk solids will stay in the strainer.

Tie up the cheesecloth with the milk solids inside, being careful not to squeeze. (I use a clean rubber band.) Tie the sack to a wooden spoon placed across the top of a pitcher or bowl so that more whey can drip out. (I slide the handle of a wooden spoon through the rubber band.)

When the bag stops dripping, the cheese is ready. Store whey in an airtight and sterile mason jar and cream cheese in a covered glass container. Refrigerated, the cream cheese keeps for about 1 month and the whey for about 6 months.

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