Sunday, September 30, 2012

Spaghetti with Quick Summer Tomato Sauce

There are still beautiful vine-ripened tomatoes making their way to my farmers' market. In general, it was not a great year for tomatoes, but for the past few weeks the tomatoes have been amazing...tender-skinned, plump, heavy with juice and loaded with flavor.

I have been working them into my late summer/early autumn meals as much as I can—sandwiches, salads...and of course pasta. Probably mostly pasta.... In looking over old posts, I noticed that I have never posted my favorite Summer tomato sauce for spaghetti. Since the tomatoes have been so beautiful, now seems like a good time.

You might have noticed that I have specified "spaghetti"—rather than the generic "pasta"—for this particular tomato sauce. This is because when finished there is only enough sauce to coat the pasta in a light, velvety film. It is a much lower ratio of sauce to pasta than is typical and it would seem meager on a chunky or tubular noodle. Even the thicker strands of linguine seem to overpower this sauce a bit. I have never served it on angel hair or spaghettini, but I think either of these would work.

Because this sauce requires dead ripe, vine-ripened tomatoes, there is only a short span of time each year when I make it—typically from mid-July through September. It is truly a seasonal treat. Out-of-season or hot-house tomatoes will not produce the proper flavor and texture. There is such a small amount of sauce that the tomatoes used to make it must have intense, sun-ripened taste. They also must have juicy flesh and tender skin (which only comes in vine-ripened form) so that they will begin to dissolve into sauce the minute they hit the hot pan.

Probably the main reason that I have not posted this recipe before is that I don't really have a recipe. I have always just walked into the kitchen and made is amazingly simple and can be made in the time it takes to boil the spaghetti.

For each person you will need a tablespoon or so of olive oil, a clove of garlic, a pinch (small or large) of hot pepper flakes, one medium-sized tomato (maybe 5 oz. or so), and 3 to 4 oz. of spaghetti. Put the water on to boil and while it comes to a boil, mince the garlic and core and chop the tomato(es) into a rough half inch need to peel and seed. Your cutting board will probably not be able to contain all of the juice from the tomatoes, so as soon as you are done cutting the tomato, scrape it (along with the juices) off of the board and into a bowl.

To cook the sauce, choose a wide sauté pan. It must be wide and preferably with sloped sides so that the tomatoes will reduce quickly to a pulpy sauce. For one person, a pan with a six to seven inch cooking surface should be sufficient. For two, you will need an eight to ten inch pan. For three or four, use a twelve inch pan.

When the water comes to a boil. Season it well with salt (about a teaspoon per quart). Place the oil, along with the garlic and pepper flakes in the sauté pan and place the pan over moderately high to high heat. Drop the spaghetti into the boiling water and give it a stir. When the garlic begins to sizzle enthusiastically and is just on the verge of taking on a bit of color, add the tomatoes (along with all of the juices) to the pan. The tomatoes should immediately begin to simmer rapidly. Allow the tomatoes to cook, shaking the pan back and forth occasionally, stirring at regular intervals and regulating the heat in order to maintain a brisk simmer, until the tomatoes have broken down and the sauce is thickened and emulsified—this will take less than five minutes. Taste for seasoning and remove from the heat.

When the spaghetti is al dente, drain, reserving some of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the pan of sauce and toss to combine. Adjust the consistency of the sauce with pasta water if you like, but to be honest, for this dish, I prefer to add a generous drizzle of olive oil instead. This adds flavor, smoothes out the sauce and adds a gorgeous sheen.

Since I always have a basil in my garden this time of year, I like to add a few basil leaves (cut into a fine chiffonade) along with the spaghetti. Transfer the finished pasta to individual plates and pass freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino.

I should warn you that this is not a particularly substantial dish. If you are in need of major sustenance, it probably isn't the right choice. But if you are looking for a light, flavorful meal...I think this fills the bill very well. Add a small green salad...a glass of wine....and perhaps some fruit to finish...and you have a simple and elegant late summer (or early fall) menu.

Printable Recipe

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Banana Chocolate Walnut "Whoopie Pies"

I enjoyed several days this past week working with a good friend in her pastry shop. Among the many things we made were whoopie velvet and pumpkin spice. I had of course heard of whoopie pies...and seen pictures...but I have to admit I had never eaten one (much less made one). Now I have done both...and I came away inspired. The original version of a whoopie pie is chocolate with a marshmallow-like filling. But they can obviously be just about any flavor as long as they include round, cakey cookies and a fluffy filling.

The whoopie pies that we made were minis, but the originals are very large (and rich)....sort of a two-fisted type of dessert. I have always thought of them as kid food. A platter of them conjures up images of sticky, crumb-covered fingers and matching frosting-smeared cheeks. But now, having eaten them, I think they would make great picnic—or tailgating—fare for adults. They are cake and frosting without the need of a fork.

At the end of my busy week of baking I came face to face with an overripe banana taking up space on my kitchen counter. I had been aware of its presence for several days and had pretty much decided that when I had time I was going to do what I almost always do when I find myself with only one overripe banana....make a batch of a favorite cookie: Banana Walnut Chocolate Chunk cookies. As I mentioned when I posted the recipe a couple of years ago, one of the things I like about these cookies is their old-fashioned cake-like quality. After a week that included whoopie pies, I realized as I looked at my banana that I had the makings of a Banana Walnut Whoopie Pie. I have never seen a recipe for whoopie pies made with chunky it's possible I have committed whoopie pie sacrilege... But I'm not too concerned. They were delicious.

Banana Chocolate Walnut Whoopie Pies

Banana Walnut Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Cream Cheese Filling

Make and bake the cookies as directed. If you like, chill the dough for an hour before baking—this will give the cookies a shape that is a bit more mounded. You should have 36 cookies.

Make the frosting as directed (or substitute your favorite cream cheese or plain vanilla frosting).

Pair up the cookies so that the halves of each sandwich will be the same size.  Pipe (or spoon) about an ounce (about two tablespoons) of frosting in the center of the bottom side of 18 of the cookies.

Place another cookie on top of the frosting and gently press, forcing the frosting to flatten out and barely peek out from between the two cookies.

Makes 18 whoopie pies.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Homemade Yogurt

In my last post I mentioned that I had started making my own yogurt. Today I thought I would share a little bit about what I have been learning. My goal with this post isn't so much to teach (I freely admit that this is all new to me) as it is to encourage others to learn along with me and give making yogurt a try. I have discovered it to be astonishingly easy. 

When I was a kid my Mom occasionally made yogurt. She had a special machine that came with special jars and a special thermometer and used a packet of powdered yogurt culture. Since as an adult I have acquired a daily habit of plain, whole milk yogurt (with fresh fruit),

I have frequently thought it would be a good idea to make my own yogurt. But every time I considered it, I remembered the special equipment...and the special culture... and it just seemed like it would be more trouble than it was worth.

Then, a few weeks ago a Facebook friend (cookbook author Judith Fertig) posted a short link about making yogurt. The link made it sound so very special equipment (the yogurt was left to culture in the residual heat of a warm oven) special culture (just use some store bought yogurt with live and active cultures)... It sounded so very doable. Even the instructions were simple...heat milk until it is steaming and bubbles appear around the until you can hold your finger in the milk for a count of ten...stir in a small quantity of yogurt, cover and put in a warm oven overnight. How easy is that? I decided to give it a try. (Thanks Judith!)

My first batch was good....just a bit thin. In looking around on line, I found this to be a common complaint. After reading a bit, I decided that I was probably using too much starter yogurt, so I drastically reduced the amount I used when I made my second batch. If you look at recipes for yogurt, you will find the amount of starter yogurt to be all over the map. If my experience is any indication, less truly is better. My second batch was exactly the way I wanted it to be—soft, creamy and mounding slightly when stirred.

If you don't have one of those electric yogurt makers (like the one my mother had), the one part of making yogurt that will require a bit of experimentation and ingenuity is finding an environment in your home that will hold a nice warm temperature (about 105° to 110°) for the amount of time it will take the yogurt to culture (a minimum of five hours). Some people use their ovens—a gas oven with a pilot light or an electric oven that has been warmed and turned off (this was the method I used the first time...I put my pizza stone in the oven to help the oven hold its heat). Some people use a thermos (just pour in your cultured milk mixture and seal).  Others put jars filled with the yogurt mixture in a cooler filled with hot water (this is the method I like). You will find recipes that show you how to use your Crockpot...and still others that just encourage you to find a warm place in your home and then wrap the container of culturing yogurt in a blanket or towel. As a good friend of mine very aptly put it: the yogurt really just wants to be "cozy".

If you want to make your own yogurt, you should definitely give it a try. If you have a computer with an internet connection, you have access to an amazing amount of information on how to make it. There is a wonderful variety of opinions on the matter and a wealth of advice to help you succeed. Here are just a few of the sites I found to be helpful (a Google search for "how to make yogurt" or "homemade yogurt" will bring up many, many more):

Girls Guide to Butter

Michael Ruhlman

Heartland Renaissance

Take Part

Keeper of the Home

The Frugal Girl

The Kitchn

I also pulled some information from Darina Allen's Forgotten Skills of Cooking and Mireille Guiliano's French Women Don't Get Fat.

As I mentioned at the outset, I am not an expert...but I am happy with the yogurt I have been making. So, here's what works for my kitchen.... If you start making yogurt, it will be no time at all before you have developed your own method.

Homemade Yogurt

Put a half gallon of whole milk (I like to use local) in a large saucepan and heat to 180° to 200°. I do this over moderately high heat (because I'm impatient) and stir it occasionally as it heats. You can use an instant read thermometer to monitor the temperature, but I prefer my candy thermometer because I can clamp it to the side of the pan and just leave it there.

Remove the pan from the heat and allow the milk to cool to 110°.

Put a tablespoon of plain yogurt (15 grams) in a small bowl or ramekin and set aside. You may use store bought yogurt or some of the yogurt from your previous batch. Whatever yogurt you use, it should have live and active cultures. (I used plain whole milk Dannon for my first batch.)

While the milk cools, set clean glass jars in a 220° oven. This will sterilize them and also warm them up. Remove the jars from the oven in time for them to cool down a bit before you pour the warm milk mixture into them...they should be warm to the touch, but not hot. I use liter sized French canning jars—the kind with the rubber rings and a clamping mechanism—but Mason jars or something similar should be fine. (For my first batch of yogurt—the one I made in the oven—I just used a big Pyrex bowl.)

When the milk has cooled to 110°, ladle a small amount (1/2 cup?) into the bowl with the yogurt 'starter'. Stir well. There shouldn't be any lumps of yogurt floating around—it should be completely smooth. Scrape this mixture (make sure you get all of it) back into the pot of warm milk. Stir well. 

Pour or ladle the mixture into the warm jars and seal. Set the jars in a small cooler and fill the cooler with hot tap water (110° to 120°) up to the level of the yogurt mixture in the jars. (I also fill the cooler with hot water and cover it while the milk is coming down to 110° so that the cooler will be warmed up. I then dump this water out, add the jars and then add fresh hot water.) Put the lid on the cooler and let the yogurt sit undisturbed for at least five hours.  (My cooler won't maintain the proper temperature for quite 5 hours, so at about the 3 hour mark, I open the cooler and check the water temperature.  If it has dropped below 105°, I ladle out some of the water and add hot water to bring the temperature back up a bit.)

The surface of the warm cultured milk will be foamy.  You can skim away the foam...or not--I don't bother.
The jars of in their warm bath (before closing the lid of the cooler).

After five hours, you should have yogurt. It will be obviously set (tilt the jars slightly to check—but don't jostle them around). The longer you allow it to stay in its cozy environment, the sharper the yogurt will taste. I prefer mine at about 5 to 5 1/2 hours. At this point it has a fresh and mild taste. I have left it as long as 7...apparently you can let it go even longer.

Remove the jars from the cooler and place them in the refrigerator. Let the yogurt chill thoroughly before stirring. I have not read this anywhere, but I release the lids, wipe off the condensation from the underside of the lids and allow the yogurt to chill uncovered. I don't know if this is good or bad...I just don't want the extra moisture dripping back into my yogurt. When the yogurt is cold, close/cover the jars.

The first spoonful of the chilled yogurt.  The surface looks a little odd because of the foam I didn't bother to skim away--but the yogurt is beautifully set!
After a gentle stir (to make it creamy)


Update:  Making my own year later...

Printable Recipe

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Gâteau au Yaourt (French Yogurt Cake)

Recently I decided to start making my own yogurt.  In my initial exhuberance I managed to make way too much...certainly more than we typically need.  To use up some of the excess I have been doing some extra baking.  One of the cakes I made is the French yogurt cake. This cake is so well known that recipes for it can easily be found on the web.  But since the cake I make is a bit different from most, I thought I would add mine to the mix.

If you aren't familiar with the French yogurt cake, it is a simple little cake made with ingredients that would typically be on hand in most French households—flour, sugar, eggs, oil and most importantly, plain yogurt. In France yogurt is often sold in individual portions in 125ml glass pots (about half a cup). The cake is made by measuring out all of the major ingredients using the pot the yogurt came in. I have never read this anywhere, but I would guess that the cake was originally developed as a marketing tool for a brand of yogurt. The cake is fast and easy to make and typically served plain and unfrosted...something an American might call a snack cake. In her book On Rue Tatin, Susan Loomis says that at one time this little cake was taught to every French school girl.

The recipe I use differs from most primarily in the mixing method—the quantities of the ingredients don't change too much from recipe to recipe. You might find a recipe with 3 eggs instead of two (which produces a tall cake with a nice, fine crumb, but is also a bit dry and really needs a soaking syrup). Other cakes will vary a bit in the amount of flour or yogurt. If you bake a lot of cakes, you will immediately recognize the French yogurt cake as a half recipe of that old standby, the "1-2-3-4" cake. The only difference is the yogurt cake uses oil instead of soft butter.

Many recipes for this cake use a mixing method called the muffin method. All of the liquids are combined in one bowl, the dry in another and then the two are quickly and minimally mixed. I have never made it this way, but I think it probably produces a nice tender cake. A version of the French yogurt cake using this method was published recently in Bon Appetit, and it must be very good because it has since popped up on a lot of food blogs.

Probably the most common method for mixing the cake is a variation of the muffin method. All of the liquids except the oil are combined and folded together with the dry. Then the oil is added and mixed in. I have not made it this way either, but I have made it using a method that is sort of a hybrid of the genoise method that also calls for folding in the oil last. I wasn't too crazy about the resulting cake. It was a bit flat and hard. Folding in the oil last seems to me to be asking for over-development of the gluten since you have to stir quite a bit to get the oil to incorporate smoothly.

Because of the similarity of this cake to the "1-2-3-4" cake, I use a mixing method that is similar to the method used for a traditional creaming-method butter cake. Since the cake uses oil instead of butter, it really isn't possible to incorporate air by creaming the fat and sugar. Instead, I begin by whisking the eggs and sugar until they are pale and fluffy (similar to the Dinah Shore brownie recipe).

I then whisk in the oil until the batter is thick and emulsified. I finish the mixing process by alternately folding in the dry and liquid ingredients as for a standard butter cake. This method produces a well-aerated cake without too much gluten development The mixing can all be done with a whisk and rubber spatula by hand—or by using the whisk attachment on a stand mixer if you prefer. I think the resulting cake is moist and tender—just what a cake should be.

The French yogurt cake has many, many variations. I have listed some of them at the end of my recipe. Most often the cake is flavored with citrus zest and might even include a citrus glaze. Susan Loomis's recipe is marbled with chocolate. I have not seen this particular variation anywhere else. When I make my yogurt cake, I almost always make a marbled chocolate version.

As I said at the start, it is fine to serve this cake plain—or with a simple dusting of powdered sugar. I have even been known to eat it out of hand, dispensing with plate and fork entirely. But when I made it this past week, I happened to have some lavender honey ice cream in my freezer (left over from one of my classes). It seemed like the perfect match: French yogurt cake....Provençal lavender honey ice cream....and some fresh raspberries.... It made a simple and elegant mid-week dessert.

French Yogurt Cake
(Gâteau au Yaourt)

1 1/2 c. all purpose flour (3 pots)
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 t. baking powder
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 t. vanilla
1 c. sugar (2 pots)
1/2 c. vegetable oil (1 pot)
1/2 c. plain whole milk yogurt (1 pot)
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate (60% to 65%), chopped—melted and cooled

Butter a 9- by 2-inch round cake pan. Flour the pan and tap out the excess.

Place the dry ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Place the eggs and vanilla in a large bowl and whisk until smooth. Gradually whisk in the sugar until the mixture is slightly thickened (it should be lighter in color)—this will only take about a minute. Gradually whisk in the oil and continue to whisk briskly until thick and smooth—about another minute. Fold in half of the dry ingredients, followed by the yogurt, followed by the remaining dry ingredients, mixing after each addition just until blended.

Pour a little more than half of the batter (about 400 grams) into the prepared pan. Blend the melted chocolate into the remaining vanilla batter and mix until well combined. Pour the chocolate batter over the vanilla batter

and with the tip of a spatula or a table knife, gently draw swirls through the batter to marbleize it. Don't over mix or you won't have a marble affect—two zig-zag passes through the pan should be sufficient.

Transfer the cake to a preheated 350° oven and bake until the cake springs back when pressed gently in the center and a toothpick comes out clean—30 to 35 minutes.

Remove the cake from the oven and cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Run a palette knife around the sides of the pan and turn the cake out onto a wire rack to cool. Serve dusted with powdered sugar with some whipped cream alongside, if you like.

• Omit the chocolate and prepare a plain vanilla cake (use vanilla sugar if you have it).
• Omit the chocolate. Rub the zest of 2 small lemons or 1 large lemon into the sugar before whisking the sugar into the eggs. If you like, make a glaze with the juice of two small (or 1 large) lemons (about 1/4 cup strained juice) and 1/4 cup powdered sugar. After the cake has cooled, spoon the glaze over the cake. The glaze will be thin and soak in like a syrup.
• Substitute 1/2 cup almond flour/meal for 1/2 cup of the flour. This can be done for a chocolate marbled, vanilla or citrus version.
• Make the vanilla or lemon version (omit the soaking syrup if you make the lemon cake) and when cooled, split the cake horizontally with a serrated knife. Spread lemon curd or a favorite jam in between the 2 layers and frost the cake with whipped cream.
• Use the vanilla or almond version for strawberry shortcake

Printable Version

The cake would also be delicious with vanilla ice cream, but if you would like to make some lavender honey ice cream, simply make my recipe for Orange-scented honey vanilla ice cream. Replace the orange zest and vanilla bean with 1 T. of dried lavender blossoms and steep in the milk for 20 minutes. If you have access to it, use lavender honey—but any fragrant honey is fine. Reduce the quantity of sugar to 1/4 cup and increase the quantity of honey to 1/2 cup (6 oz.).

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Pleasure of Fresh Figs and an Oven-Roasted Fruit Compote

I have been particularly taken with figs this year. It started with the slightly early arrival of fresh figs at one of my favorite stalls at the farmers' market. I was so surprised to see them...and then when I got them home I was struck by how fine they were...soft, juicy and very sweet.

When I saw some at the grocery store a few days later, they too looked very good, so I purchased some more. Maybe it is a good year for figs...I really don't know....but I have been enjoying them almost every day now for the past few weeks. They are of course wonderful raw—as a snack or as part of my breakfast bowl of fruit and yogurt. But they are also very good when they are cooked—responding well to grilling/broiling or roasting.

I wasn't introduced to fresh figs until later in life. I grew up on dried figs and Fig Newtons. I don't remember the first time I ever tasted a fresh fig, but I do remember where I first had a truly good fig. It was in Provence. The place I worked there had three huge fig trees, and I was fortunate enough to be there right in the middle of fig season. The figs were of my favorite memories of my time there. So to celebrate the wonderful figs that I have been enjoying this year, I thought I would post a recipe for oven-roasted fruit that comes from Provence.

The recipe I'm sharing is my adaptation of one I found in Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Parties! She learned how to make it while visiting a friend in Provence. Her version doesn't happen to include figs, but she mentions that this simple dessert is adaptable to all kinds of soft fruits. For some reason it is always late summer or early fall when I think to make this dessert—right in the height of fig season. I always include figs—along with raspberries (a match made in heaven).

If you have never tasted fresh figs, I encourage you to seek them out sometime during the next week or two. When you purchase them, look for figs that are smooth, plump, heavy for their size and quite soft. If they are firm, they aren't ripe. If they are light for their size, they will be dry. If they are blemished, they will rot rapidly (if they aren't already rotten). You will find figs in a wide range of colors...from green to dark purple...

with browns and mauves mottled with green in between. Part of what I love about figs is how beautiful they are to look at. When you purchase them, make sure you purchase enough so that after you have tasted them fresh you can include some in an oven-roasted fruit compote.

As for the recipe, although I am including it in detail at the end of the post, you really don't need it. It is the method that is important. You can choose any mix of fruit and pretty much any quantity fruit. (For the pictures in this post I used a quarter pound of figs, a quarter pound of prune plums, a heaped tablespoon of sugar, most of the juice of half an orange and a third cup of raspberries.) The method is appropriate for all of the stone fruits (plums, peaches, nectarines, apricots and cherries) as well as figs. The chosen fruits should be cut into large, even chunks and the dish you use should be a gratin or shallow casserole that is just large enough to hold the fruit in a snug single layer. Fill the dish with the fruit (arranged cut side up).

Drizzle enough liquid (water, wine, orange juice...) over the fruit to coat the bottom of the pan and then sprinkle the cut surfaces of the fruit with sugar to taste—about 2 to 4 tablespoons per pound of fruit, depending on the sweetness of the fruit.

Transfer the dish to the upper third of a hot oven and bake. The goal is syrup-y, tender, caramelized fruit.

The compote can be served in many ways. It is delicious warm or room temperature...even cold. I like it with cake (it is particularly good with a toasted slice of Amor Polenta) or ice cream, but it would also be good simply garnished with whipped mascarpone or crème fraiche...with maybe some cookies on the side. If there happens to be some left over, it is excellent with yogurt for breakfast.

Oven-Roasted Figs with Raspberries

1 1/2 lb. medium sized figs, stemmed and halved
1/4 c. sugar, or to taste
about 1/3 c. water, orange juice or white wine (or a combination)
1 c. raspberries

Place the figs cut side up in a snug single layer in a glass or ceramic baking dish. Add enough liquid to just coat the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle the figs evenly with sugar. Bake in the top third of a preheated 425° to 450° oven until the edges of the figs are beginning to caramelize—about 15 to 20 minutes. Scatter the raspberries over the figs and return the pan to the oven for another 5 minutes to warm the raspberries through (or place under the broiler for deeper caramelization of the figs). Serve warm or at room temperature spooned over Lavender honey or vanilla ice cream or pound cake. Serves 4 to 6.

Variation: Substitute medium plums and/or medium peaches for half (or all) of the weight of the figs. The plums should be quartered (prune plums should be halved) and the peaches cut into sixths or eighths.

Note: If at any time the pan appears to be dry or the juices look like they might be reducing too much, simply drizzle in a bit of water.

(Recipe adapted from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Parties!)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Late Summer Ragoût of Roasted Eggplant & Summer Squash with Tomatoes, Chickpeas & Feta

Today's post is for a simple dish of roasted late summer vegetables in a thick tomato sauce. We have had a variation of it twice in the past couple of weeks and since we enjoyed it so much, I know I will want to return to this idea again in years to come. It is for that reason alone that I'm posting it—but I hope readers will be inspired by it and want to make it too.

The inspiration for this dish comes from several places. Recently I came home from the farmers' market with some especially fine baby eggplant and I wanted to find a nice way to use them.

As I paged through some of my favorite cookbooks looking for ideas, I was most attracted to the stew-like preparations. The large artistic chunks of vegetables in Deborah Madison's "A Farmer's Stew" "—so called because its relaxed manner of preparation makes it "...ideal for tired farmers at the end of the day..."—drew me in because it seemed a perfect vehicle for my baby eggplant. But it was the flavors from a recipe in Claudia Roden's Arabesque and another in Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty—hearty tomato based, eggplant ragoûts—that really appealed. Ultimately, my ragoût didn't truly resemble any of these dishes...but I wouldn't have arrived at the dish I made without I wanted to give credit to them.

The idea behind the ragoût is simple and it is easily executed. While the eggplant and summer squash roast in a hot oven, the tomato sauce gets a brief simmer. When the vegetables are tender and caramelized they are folded into the sauce where they cook very gently for a short length of time. This final simmer is mostly to allow the flavors of the sauce to permeate the roasted vegetables. In fact, if the sauce has been reduced to your liking while the vegetables roast, and the roasted vegetables are sufficiently tender when added to the sauce, the vegetables don't even need to simmer—you can simply fold them into the sauce, cover the pan and turn off the heat while you prepare an accompaniment of rice or couscous. From start to finish, the whole operation only takes about an hour—much of it "hands-off" time. Truly a perfect meal to make and serve at the end of a tiring day.

As I mentioned, the first time I made the dish I used baby eggplant. But you can of course make the stew with globe or Japanese eggplant—just cut these into large, thick slabs. Since I no longer had any baby eggplant the second time I prepared the stew, this is what I did. In both cases, I cut the squash to mirror the size and shape of the pieces of eggplant.

Baby Eggplant (halved & quartered) with green & yellow zucchini halved and cut in a similar size on a diagonal.
Globe eggplant and pattipan squash cut in large, 1/2-inch thick slabs.

Upon your initial inspection of the finished dish, you might think that it is not particularly lovely to look at. But like many of the tomato and eggplant based stews and ragoûts of late summer, it is so flavorful and so satisfying that once you have taken that first bite, it suddenly seems very beautiful indeed.

Late Summer Ragoût of Roasted Eggplant & Summer Squash
with Tomatoes, Chickpeas & Feta

2 to 3 T. of Olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4 to 5 oz. red onion
Salt & Pepper, to taste
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
3/4 lb. eggplant—baby, globe or Japanese
3/4 lb. Summer squash—small zucchini, yellow summer squash or patti pan
14 to 16 oz. vine ripened tomatoes
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 rounded t. double concentrated tomato paste
1/4 to 1/3 c. dry white wine
1 t. dried oregano (or 1 T. minced fresh)
3/4 c. cooked chickpeas (half of a can), rinsed
Minced flat leaf parsley
Crumbled Feta

Warm a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a wide sauté pan or a braiser set over moderate heat. While the pan heats, halve and core the onion and cut it into 1/4-inch thick slices. Add the onion to the pan along with a pinch of salt. Cook the onions and a gentle sizzle until they are tender and beginning to caramelize.

Meanwhile, cut the eggplant and squash into large chunks. If using baby eggplant and baby squash, simply trim and halve them. For large eggplant and squash, cut them into 1/2- to 1/3-inch thick slabs that are about 2 to 3 inches long and 1 to 2 inches wide. The exact size is not so important as is making sure that the pieces are uniform and large. Toss the eggplant and squash in 1 1/2 to 2 T. of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread in a snug single layer on a baking sheet and transfer to a hot (425° to 450°) oven. Roast until tender and caramelized—about 25 minutes—turning once about 2/3 of the way through the roasting time.

While the vegetables roast, finish the tomato sauce. Halve the tomatoes cross-wise and coarsely grate them into a bowl or onto a plate. Discard the skin and reserve the tomato pulp—you should have about 1 3/4 cup (add water to make this amount if necessary).

When the onions are caramelized and tender, add the garlic and cook for a few moments. It should soften slightly and become fragrant. Add the tomato paste and continue to cook for a minute or two while you stir to distribute it evenly throughout the onions. Add the white wine and reduce to a glaze. Add the tomato pulp and the oregano. Season lightly with salt and pepper and simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened—about 15 minutes.

When the roasted vegetables are tender and caramelized, add them to the pan of tomato sauce, along with the chickpeas, and fold gently to combine.

There will be very little excess liquid in the pan. Smooth the vegetables out into an even layer and cook at a bare simmer—occasionally stirring very gently (you don't want to break up the vegetables)—for another 20 minutes.

Alternatively, when you cook the tomato sauce, reduce it until it is very thick. Fold in the hot vegetables and the chickpeas, cover the pan and turn off the heat. Let sit for 20 minutes before serving.

To serve, reheat the vegetables if the heat has been off. If the vegetables seem dry, dribble in a bit of water. Taste and correct the seasoning and drizzle some more olive oil over the vegetables.

Serve topped with crumbles of Feta and a scattering of parsley. Basmati rice or couscous are perfect accompaniments...along with a simple salad of arugula dressed with lemon and olive oil, if you like. Serves 2 to 3 as an entrée...probably 4 to 6 as a side (it would be especially good with lamb).

Note: The above recipe is pretty much exactly as I made it the second time. The first time I reduced the sauce completely before adding the vegetables—I then left the vegetables to sit in the warm tomato sauce (covered and off of the heat) while I made the rice. I think this method helped keep the baby vegetables a bit more intact. A couple of other differences in my first rendition: I didn't add the chickpeas and I used slightly less squash and eggplant (maybe 8 to 10 oz. each)—thus needing less tomato (again, maybe 8 to 10 oz.). This version was delicious too—although much lighter...and, it only served two.

Printable Version

First version--with baby eggplant and no chickpeas.  Served with arugula dressed with lemon & olive oil.