How to: Recipe Makeover – Eggplant Parmesan

IMG_1517

We’ve been teased with a few days of warm weather over the last couple of weeks.

But I’m on to you, Mother Nature.  I’ve been a Canadian gal long enough to know you’re about to screw us over with a blast of icy garbage.

This ‘spring is just around the corner’ optimism hasn’t got me fooled! On the contrary. I’m still cooking comfort food. Crikey. I’m still cooking casseroles.

I promise, this one will take the edge off when winter does return with a vengeance.

And oh. It will.

IMG_1928

Do we have any eggplant haters out there?

Confession. I used to be one. In fact I was an extremely picky eater as a kid, but I had an especially big hate-on for bitter, spongy eggplant.

It turns out, all an eggplant needs to taste goddang delicious is a little love.

I haven’t had a bitter eggplant in a long time. Most of the bitterness long associated with eggplants has been bred out of the ones we’d find at the grocery store. Farmers 👈🏻 geniuses. Choose eggplants that have smooth skin and a very firm texture for freshness.

Salting the eggplant in this recipe isn’t to cut the bitterness, but to remove some of the excess moisture. Following the roasting step, you’ll be left with creamy, dreamy smokey slices of slightly salted eggplant that will be almost impossible to avoid eating on their own. You really can’t skip this step for this recipe because excess moisture will result in a really soupy final product.

As for the sponginess factor, eggplant, if given the chance will absorb a boatload of oil.  In this recipe we control the oil it can absorb by brushing lightly with oil.

Remember our AMAZEBALLS Eggplant Parmesan Sandwiches? Here, we’re avoiding super spongy eggplant by providing a coating for the slices before we fry them up in oil.

And so there we have it. Eggplant: unmasked!

IMG_1485 FullSizeRender 4

As you read through the recipe below, you may find this tomato sauce recipe to be familiar. It’s a slight take on the insanely simple Three Ingredient Sauce we shared with you last year. No time for homemade sauce? Use your fave store bought. No brainer.

Half homemade is awesome too, guys. (Maybe just a smidgen of fresh basil to sprinkle in though?)

Now, layer away!

IMG_1491 IMG_1493 FullSizeRender 5 FullSizeRender FullSizeRender 3

Get your slippers ready, pour yourself a glass of red and scoop out an extra large portion of eggplant parm.  You are now prepared for winter’s final blast.

Erin

IMG_1517

Eggplant Parmesan

Serves 5-6
Prep time 10 minutes
Cook time 1 hour
Total time 1 hours, 10 minutes
From magazine Inspired by Eggplant Parmesan from Food and Drink Winter 2017

Ingredients

Tomato Sauce

  • 1 can (796mL) Canned Whole Tomatoes with juices (preferably San Marzano Tomatoes)
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 Medium yellow onion (peeled and quartered)
  • 2 Large cloves garlic (peeled and left whole)
  • 8-10 basil leaves (chopped)

Eggplant Casserole

  • 2 Large eggplants (sliced into 1/4 inch rounds)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil (divided)
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese (about 300g, grated)
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 cooked garlic cloves (removed from cooked tomato sauce)

Directions

Tomato Sauce
1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, add tomatoes, butter, onion and garlic and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, add basil and cook for 15-20 minutes until thickened. Remove from heat.
2. Remove onion and discard. Remove garlic and set aside to cool. Crush any large tomato pieces with the back of a spoon.
Eggplant Parmesan
3. Preheat oven to 400F. Sprinkle eggplant slices with salt on both sides and lay them in a single layer on a wire rack or over some paper towels. Let sit for 15 minutes, pat extra moisture dry with paper towels.
4. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet and brush slices on both sides with 2 Tbsp of the canola oil. Bake 25-30 minutes, flipping halfway through, until browned.
5. Meanwhile, mince cooled garlic cloves and combine with breadcrumbs, remaining Tbsp of canola oil and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.
6. Spread 1/3 tomato sauce over bottom of oiled 8"x11" casserole dish. Place single layer of slightly overlapping eggplant sliced overtop. Combine mozzarella and remaining 3/4 cup parmesan and sprinkle 1/3 of the cheeses over eggplant slices. Repeat layering 2 more times.
7. Sprinkle bread crumb topping over casserole.
8. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until sauce is bubbling, cheese is melted and panko is golden brown. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes before serving.

How to: Make your own – World’s Simplest Tomato Sauce

img_7290

This summer has been such a scorcher.  Way back in June, I couldn’t wait to dive head first into Ontario’s summer bounty. For months I’ve been in LOVE with fresh summery salads and grilled everything, but now that September is here, the honeymoon is kinda over.

This Labour Day weekend, we travelled to my BFF’s cottage with a small group of friends.  We always meal plan in advance and decide who will take charge of certain meals.  We chose Sunday night dinner and when I asked my husband Rory if he had any ideas or cravings, he busted out ‘SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS!’. An odd choice since we usually BBQ everything and keep it super simple to maximize outdoor time, but I have to say I was totally on board!

The comfort food cravings are slowly but surely sneaking in.

img_7274

In the end we shoved our ‘keep it simple’ rule aside and decided on spaghetti with homemade beef/pork meatballs, eggplant parmesan, homemade garlic bread and a tomato/basil salad with homemade balsamic reduction.

It was a feat and it was just what the doctor ordered for the cool northern summer night.

The one simple thing that absolutely made the meal?  The tomato sauce.

I’ve been making this recipe for years.  It’s a classic by Marcella Hazan, author of the famous cookbook Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

Can you even believe the simplicity?! It still blows my mind each and every time I make it.  Friends: Do NOT skimp on the butter.

img_7277

The recipe calls for ‘your favourite canned tomatoes’. I’ve read many blog posts and recipe comments that insist on using canned San Marzano tomatoes, which are grown and packaged in a specific part of Italy and carry a DOP certification (as does Parmigiano Reggiano) ensuring they are grown and packaged locally.

img_7283

I’ve used a variety of canned tomatoes and I always find the sauce delicious (though sometimes I modify it slightly with herbs/garlic/spices).  I’ve always been curious what a side by side comparison of San Marzanos (double the price at least!) and standard Canadian canned tomatoes would reveal. So here it is!

The San Marzanos are canned with a basil leaf and the Canadian’s are not, so I placed one basil leaf in the Canadian batch. The Canadian tomatoes contain citric acid, calcium chloride and almost double the salt in addition to the tomatoes and tomato juice.  I added an extra ½ tsp of salt (to taste) to the S.M. tomatoes in the end.

The verdict:

After a blind taste test Rory revealed his clear winner to be the SM tomatoes.  He described the sauce as sweeter, less acidic and more well rounded.  I couldn’t agree more. The consistency and texture was better too, as the SM tomatoes broke down more easily.  I ended up using a potato masher to break down the Canadian tomatoes in the end.

Are the worth more than double the price? Maybe. If you’re planning to make this sauce in advance, I would probably say go ahead and get the SM.   If you need a last minute dinner and there’s a can of Canadian tomatoes in the cupboard, do not hesitate, make the sauce anyway! It’s simple and delicious no matter the variety.

img_7293

Buon appetito!

Erin

World’s Simplest Tomato Sauce

Serves 4
Prep time 5 minutes
Cook time 45 minutes
Total time 50 minutes
Website Marcella Hazan via NYT Cooking

Ingredients

  • 28 oz. can can of whole tomatoes with juices
  • 1 Medium cooking onion (halved and peeled)
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • salt (to taste)

Directions

1. Combine the tomatoes, their juices, onion and butter in a saucepan.
2. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, uncovered for 45 minutes stirring occasionally and mashing any large tomato pieces with a spoon.
3. Remove and discard (or eat if you wish!) onions before adding salt to taste. Toss with pasta.

How To: Quickie Meal – Tomato, Basil and White Wine Mussels

It recently occurred to me that we’ve never posted a mussel recipe.

Which is basically, unforgivable.

What could be more perfect for a back to basics, quick and easy, (mostly) healthy  cooking blog?

Nothing, I say.

Please accept my sincere apologies.

Tomato Basil and White Wine Mussels

Mussels are an inexpensive, easily accessible and unbelievably simple to prepare meal option.  I can buy a couple of pre-bundled pounds at any of the major grocery stores for about five bucks at the seafood counter.

Unlike some the other seafood options available in the supermarket, you don’t need to worry as much about their delivery date either, because you buy them live. Automatic freshness built right in!

Tomato Basil and White Wine MusselsTomato Basil and White Wine Mussels

The mussels available in grocery stores today are cultivated.  Meaning, they’re grown on mussel ‘farms’ mostly on the east coast, but increasingly on the west coast too.  If you’re concerned about the health of our fisheries and oceans, you’re hitting an environmentally friendly home run by choosing cultivated mussels too since they’re a perfectly sustainable seafood option.

Tomato Basil and White Wine Mussels

What you’re looking at is a: well manicured nails. b: my kitchen sink. c: a beard.

A mussel beard.  That hairy thingy sticking out the side of the mussel helps the little guy attach himself to something so he doesn’t float away from his mussel farm friends.

Generally, they should be removed in the cleaning process, and just before you plan on cooking them. You may not find a beard on every mussel, but remove the ones you do find by getting a firm grip and wiggling it firmly back and forth until the mussel lets go. It can be a bit of a tug ‘o war!

Tomato Basil and White Wine MusselsTo further clean your mussels, run them under cold water and scrub away any further stringy or barnacle-like stuff from the shell.  Toss any cracked shells. Any open mussels should be tapped gently against your counter top and you will see them slowly close up again if they’re alive (cool huh!?).  If they remain open, toss ’em. On average I would say I get 3-4 cracked/dead mussels in each two pound bag.

Tomato Basil and White Wine Mussels

Try to buy your mussels the same day you plan on cooking them.  Once home from the store, if you have them in a plastic bag, poke a few holes in it or leave the top open and place them in the fridge until you’re ready to clean and de-beard them.  This will keep them breathing.

Tomato Basil and White Wine MusselsThis is a great seasonal recipe because Ontario plum tomatoes are ripe, ready and bursting with summer tomato flavour.  With just a few simple high quality ingredients this transforms into a spectacularly flavourful meal.

Tomato Basil and White Wine Mussels

Once your mussels are cooked until just opened, you can transfer them in to one large or several small serving dishes, removing and tossing any unopened mussels as you go. You really want to avoid overcooking them at all costs, which will give them a rubbery texture.  Perfectly cooked mussels will practically melt in your mouth.

Tomato Basil and White Wine Mussels

Make sure you have plenty of crusty bread to sop up the delicious sauce at the bottom of your bowl too.

If you’re a mussel newbie, please report back on how you did!

Erin

Tomato, Basil and White Wine Mussels

Serves 3-4
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 10 minutes
Total time 25 minutes
From book Adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything iPhone app

Ingredients

  • 2lb cultivated mussels (cleaned and de-bearded)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 4-5 plum tomatoes (chopped)
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil (divided)
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley (divided)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Note

If you would prefer to skip the wine, you can add chicken, vegetable stock or just water in it's place.

Directions

1. In a heavy bottom pot or dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté for 2 minutes.
2. Add tomatoes, roughly three quarters of the basil and parsley, white wine, salt and pepper and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Simmer for 2-3 minutes until tomatoes begin to break down.
3. Add mussels, cover pot with lid and steam for about 3-4 minutes, until all of the mussels have opened.
4. Toss with remaining basil and parsley and serve immediately alongside crusty whole grain bread to sop up the sauce.

How To: Tomato Salad

Does it really get any better than that?? Biting into the flesh of a juicy tomato in the peak of tomato season can be just as satisfying as biting into a big juicy summer peach. And there really is no better way to enjoy a bright red tomato than in a super fresh and super delicious tomato salad.

By now, you are all expert tomato roasters, right? I mean, you’ve definitely all read and made and then perfected our easy roasted tomatoes. So this tomato and red onion salad, doused in a sweet and sour dressing laced with fresh herbs will be a breeze!

I recently served this salad at a very large family brunch and everyone was surprised with just how flavourful it was. A seamingly innocent looking bowl of tomato wedges and red onion slices will shock your taste buds. And the best part? It tastes even better the next day and I actually suggest you make this a day in advance to let all the flavour from the dressing soak in to the veggies.

You may be surprised when reading the dressing ingredients when you come across the word KETCHUP. But just trust me…it is the secret to this tasty dressing and the kids have it right. Everything doused in ketchup just tastes better!

Dara 

Tomato and Red Onion Salad

Serves 6-8
Dietary Vegetarian

Ingredients

Salad

  • 5 large tomatoes (core removed and cut in wedges)
  • 1 red onion (thinly sliced in half moons)

Dressing

  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 1/2 Tsp salt
  • 1 Tsp paprika
  • 1 clove garlic (chopped)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh basil (chopped)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh mint (chopped)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh dill (chopped)
  • 1/4 Tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 Tsp dried thyme
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 Tbsp sugar

Note

This salad tastes best when made a day in advance. When it's time to serve, drain some of the excess liquid that will accumulate at the bottom of the bowl. You may have extra dressing; it's delicious on a regular old green salad or even as a marinade for fish or chicken.

Directions

Dressing
1. Place ketchup, vinegar, garlic, oil, sugar, lemon juice, water, salt, and paprika in food processor and puree.
2. Add herbs and puree again. Set aside.
Salad
3. Toss tomatoes and red onions together in a large bowl. Add dressing and toss together.