The current revival of iconic American diners stirs my teenage memories, when I spent as much time as possible in my father’s restaurant which had its beginning as a small diner. A local landmark in our town, it grew into a large upscale dining establishment complete with banquet facilities, catering to many special events.
As a diner his menu consisted mainly of American favorites with a sprinkling of Greek and Mediterranean dishes. One of the most popular luncheon specials was a phyllo crusted meat,spinach,feta cheese pie similar to spanikopita, baked and served in an oblong dish. This is a revision of that dish which includes eggplant, fresh tomatoes and Parmesan cheese. The filling can be made and frozen in advance for a time when a quick emergency meal may be needed.
Brown and crumble meat in olive oil. Add onions, eggplant, seasonings and cook till tender 12 to 15 min. Then add spinach, garlic, tomatoes and fresh herbs, simmer for 5 min. Pour in sauce, simmer until all ingredients are well blended.
For the puff pastry topper
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Flour a work surface and lightly roll out the puff pastry. Cut the size and shape of 1 large casserole or up to 6 individual bowls or large ramekins, using sharp paring knife. Place the dough on a nonstick baking sheet and wash with egg.
Place the hot filling into selected baking dishes sprinkle cheeses over all- top with crust and bake til golden...
This is the time of year when Eggplants are bountiful.. at least in our garden. I find it funny that you either love eggplant or you hate it. During my time at Villa Via Sacra, one of the Brothers told me that he had his whole birthday menu ready for me… 2 months early! It included his favorite dish, Eggplant Parmigiana – I wasn’t surprised. This Brother, like me, has a real appreciation for good food, cooked well. Every time I made the dish, his eyes would practically well up with tears, he loved it that much. So, I figured EVERYONE would like my eggplant parmigiana and took great pride in making the dish. But, visas expired and we had a new rotation of Brothers from our community at the Villa. I thought I’d make them this special dish for their first night in Italy, and was expectant to hear the “oooo’s” and “aahh’s” emanating from them. One of the new Brothers walked into the kitchen and asked what was for dinner. I tightened my apron strings, smoothed out the wrinkles, stood a little taller and declared “My eggplant parmigiana!”
The brother blanched before me, his usual sunny disposition turned to stone, the room went quiet. He HATED Eggplant. I was devastated, my ego deflated; this was going to be a long three months…
Italians love the concept of involtini… something filled and rolled up. I love it too. The time it takes to make this recipe is minimal, and the presentation is delightful, especially if you take the time to wrap each eggplant with a chive before baking. I didn’t have the chives on hand when making this dish for the family, but I still thought the simplicity was beautiful and a different ‘take’ on “eggplant parmigiana”.
P.S. – this Brother became an eggplant lover and I learned more about the meaning of pride!
Preheat the oven to 400* F. Oil a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Place the eggplant slices on the pan and brush on both sides with 4 Tbsp. of the olive oil. Sprinkle on the oregano, salt, and pepper. Bake for 10 minutes, turning once. They will then be supple and slightly golden.
While the eggplant is in the oven, make a simple tomato sauce by whirring the tomatoes briefly in a food processor or break up with your hands. In a skillet, over low heat, sauté the onion for another minute in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Stir in the tomatoes and cook the mixture briefly, just to blend flavors, about 2 minutes.
Remove the eggplant from the oven. Lower the oven temperature to 350*F.
On each eggplant piece, place a piece of prosciutto or ham, a whole basil leaf, a slice of cheese and a sprinkling of Parmigiano. Roll pieces from the small end forward, and secure the bundle with a toothpick or tie a chive around it.
Slather the bottom of a 9x13” baking dish with some of the tomato sauce, and arrange the involtini seam-side down. Over each bundle spread some more tomato sauce and a scattering of the Parmigiano. Warm well in the oven, about 15 min. Andiamo mangiare!
Recipe adapted from Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
Last week lamb was on sale (something that does not occur too often), so I happily took advantage of it and bought a nice leg. In general, most people either really like this meat or do not like it at all. Few seem to be neutral about it, mainly, I think, because of its distinctive flavor, which is precisely what makes it appeal to lamb lovers.
I myself prefer it simply roasted or broiled, but for the sake of those whom I knew would like it a little more dressed up I decided to make colorful kabobs with a few favorite vegetables and serve it with Greek rice, the way my father always prepared it.
As I helped clear the Retreat lunch tables, one of the leaders, a good friend (and one of my most honest) looked up at me with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. “Delicious, Sister Irene,” he said, “But why is it that people in general seem to think that the only way to cook eggplant is with tomatoes?” Well, here was a question I’d never before been asked that made me stop and think. I didn’t feel it was a complaint or criticism so much as a challenge. He appeared to have enjoyed my eggplant Parmesan because his plate was clean. He’d even had a second helping!
His forthrightness set me on a course that expanded my eggplant repertoire. Up until then I had pretty much settled for recipes I’d felt comfortable making and knew most people liked. But he was a Southerner and his tastes were more towards creamy-styled dishes than Mediterranean. I asked him for suggestions and then launched into an exploration of tomato-less eggplant dishes. After trying multiple ones I settled on several favorites that I’ve stuck with over the years, this being one that both he and I like—you may, too.
August is eggplant time — the plants are big and beautiful, and their purple fruit heavy with promise. And then there are the tomatoes — not flooding in yet, but just starting. There is nothing quite like a garden tomato warm from the sun. I was remembering an eggplant and tomato salad I used to make from an international cookbook, called caponata. I looked everywhere for the cookbook, but it seems it has moved elsewhere…then I thought I would find a duplicate of what I used to make online, but not so. It seems that what I used to make was more of a pickled eggplant salad. Light and delicious. Here is the closest to what I remember:
Eggplant not really Caponata Salad
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Eggplant not really Caponata Salad
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1eggplantlarge, about 1.5 lbs, peeled in stripes and cut into 1 inch cubes