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Elegant Bridal Shower Meal: (Vegetarian) Eggplant Timbale

12 Jan

Need a casserole recipe that’s hearty, yet elegant enough for entertaining? I highly recommend an Eggplant Timbale. Full of fresh, delicious flavors and wrapped up in thinly sliced, sautéed eggplant strips, this casserole looks like a beautiful present.  It will impress your guests with both its looks and taste.  

Traditionally, this Italian dish includes ground beef and Italian pork sausage, but for a recent bridal shower I adapted the original recipe, which I found in a cookbook by Food Network’s Giada de Laurentiis, to be vegetarian. Stacked high with layers of roasted root vegetables, the dish is just as hearty and satisfying as it is with meat, and I think all the different colors of the vegetables–yellow, orange, purple–makes for an even more beautiful presentation.

Traditional Eggplant Timbale (with meat)

* Note: You will need a springform pan for this recipe, in order to make the pie shape of the casserole. While you can certainly make it in a regular casserole dish and it would taste just as delicious, I recommend using the springform pan if you are using this recipe for entertaining, as the pie shape is what gives this recipe its elegance.  

For this recipe, using a springform pan is key to a beautiful presentation.

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium eggplants, sliced lengthwise into thin strips, about 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 sweet potatoes, sliced lengthwise into thin strips, about 1/2 inch thick
  • 4 parsnips, peeled and sliced into thin medallions, about 1/2 inch thick
  • 4 carrots, peeled and sliced into thin medallions, about 1/2 inch thick
  • 2-3 golden beets, peeled and sliced into medallions, about 1/2 inch thick
  • 2-3 red beets, peeled and sliced into medallions, about 1/2 inch thick
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and sliced lengthwise into thin strips about 1/2 inch thick
  • 1 jar of tomato sauce
  • 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese
  • 1 cup of chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 pound of penne pasta
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Start by washing and peeling your eggplants. Then, slice the eggplants lengthwise into thin 1/4 inch slices. Lay the slices out on a clean towel and sprinkle kosher salt over them, then let them sit for 20-30 minutes while you prepare the other vegetables. Eggplants have brown seeds in them that contain a bitter liquid. By salting or “degorging” the eggplant slices before you cook them, you can draw out the bitter moisture, leading to a better taste and firmer texture.   

    You should be able to see liquid coming to the surface of your eggplant slices within 20-30 minutes after salting them.

  3. While your eggplant slices are degorging, you can prepare the other vegetables. Wash and peel the sweet potatoes, butternut squash, parsnips, carrots, and beets. Then, slice the sweet potatoes and squash into 1/2 inch strips lengthwise, and slice the parsnips, carrots, and beets into 1/2 inch medallions.

    All the bright, vibrant colors of the fresh root vegetables make for a beautiful presentation when you serve a slice of this timbale.

  4. Roast the veggies: Put all your sliced veggies onto baking trays, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and put them into the oven to roast. This should take about 15 minutes, depending on your oven.  Since the eggplants, which will form the “wrapping paper” on this casserole, are already salted because of the degorging process, you can go very light on the salt for the veggies.
  5. Saute the eggplant: If it’s been about 15-20 minutes, your eggplants should be ready to cook. With a paper towel, pat them dry, and try to absorb all the moisture you can. Place a medium-large nonstick pan over medium high heat and drizzle the pan with olive oil. When the pan and oil are hot, place 2-3 strips into your pan (depending on how many will fit comfortably) and saute the eggplant slices on both sides. As they cook they’ll become tender and slightly translucent.
  6. Cook the pasta: While your veggies cook, put a large pot of salted water on the stove and bring it to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 min. You want the pasta to be slightly more on the toothy side than al dente because when you put the casserole in the oven to reheat it, the pasta will cook further.
  7. Assemble the Timbale: When your eggplants are sautéed, your root vegetables are roasted, and your pasta is cooked and strained, the timbale is ready to assemble. Start by brushing your springform pan with a little bit of olive oil, to ensure that the sides don’t stick to your eggplant when it comes out of the oven. Then, lay down strips of eggplant so they line the pan. Because the eggplant will form the “wrapping” on your casserole, you want to make sure that the slices overlap and hang over the edge of the pan, so you’ll have enough eggplant to fold over and cover the top of the casserole after you’ve added all the veggie layers. You may want to reserve a few sautéed slices to cover any holes in the top.
  8. Add layers of veggies: When your eggplant liner is in place, add your roasted vegetables, one layer at a time. In between each layer, spread a very thin coat of tomato sauce, then sprinkle on a light dusting of the freshly grated Pecorino cheese, then add a few pinches of some freshly chopped basil. Before I add the sauce, cheese and basil, I always press each layer down firmly with the palms of my hands, to make sure there will be a nice tight fit. When you get to the middle of the casserole, add a layer of penne pasta which should have extra sauce and cheese.  TIP: I like to alternate the veggies sliced lengthwise (sweet potato and squash) with the medallion shaped slices (beets, parsnips, carrots) to create an alternating color scheme and add structural support to the casserole–by alternating the lengthy pieces with the medallion ones, the casserole will keep its pie shape nicely and won’t collapse when you cut into it. Also, you don’t want to add too much sauce in between the veggie layers or else your casserole will be too mushy.

    A slice looks so pretty on the plate--and tastes delicious!

  9. Reheat: When your layers are complete, fold over the eggplant slices, add another dusting of cheese. You can wrap it in aluminum foil and refrigerate for a few days until your party. To reheat it, put it into a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, until the timbale is warmed through and the cheese has melted. You’ll begin to smell the delicious aroma of the roasted, carmalized veggies–yum!  
  10. To serve: let the reheated Timbale rest for 10 minutes. Then, unclasp the springform pan, and use a sharp knife to slice. Hopefully your guests will rave about the different flavors and the different colors that create such a beautiful presentation.

There are lots of different ways you could modify this recipe–if you have a gluten-free crowd, don’t include the pasta layer. If you have a dairy-free crowd, skip the cheese or use a soy substitute. If you want the meaty texture of the original recipe but a vegetarian version, you can use Morningstar farm crumbles instead of the meat and pork sausage.

Hope you enjoy!

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Ravioli Extravaganza Part 2: Pea, Mint, and Parmesan Ravioli

10 Sep

Here’s Part 2 of Ravioli Extravaganza–Pea, Mint, and Parmesan raviolis!!

The ingredient combination for this filling was inspired by the amazing recipe for Ricotta Ravioli with Pistachios, Peas, Mint, and Parmesan, that I made this summer with my Aunt Mary Kay. Instead of being part of the pasta topping this time sweet peas, fresh mint, and salty Parmesan team up to make the filling inside the pasta.

If you’re looking for Part 1 of the Extravaganza (Mushroom and leek ravioli), click here. I hope to get Part 3 (crab and cauliflower) up soon!

Pea, Mint, and Parmesan Ravioli

Note: For this recipe, you’ll need a hand blender, a blender, or a Cuisinart to puree the ravioli filling. This recipe makes approximately 25-30 raviolis.

The mint-pea combination in this recipe is killer. The raviolis are so fresh and delicious.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional “ribbons” to garnish
  • 10-15 fresh mint leaves
  • 1 teaspoon of salt (plus additional to salt your pasta water)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of pepper
  • 1 package of  Egg roll wrappers (we used Nasoya brand, in case you’re curious)
  • olive oil
  • 1 egg (for egg wash)

Directions:

  1. First, you have to cook the peas, but you don’t want to overcook them. So, start by preparing an ice bath in your sink to shock the peas with, to make sure they stop cooking.
  2. Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Add peas and flash cook them–30 seconds to 1 minute–until they are just tender. Pour them into a colander so the hot water drains out, then plunge the colander with the peas in it into the ice bath.

    Using an ice bath to stop the peas from cooking will ensure that they're sweet, flavorful, and bright green! We eat with our eyes, too, right?

  3. Roughly chop up the mint leaves, put them into a bowl, and add the peas, Parmesan, salt and pepper. Use a hand blender until the ingredients are combined. They should still be slightly chunky–you don’t want them pureed.

  4. Crack open the egg and add a spot of water, milk, or cream (whatever you have in the fridge will work). Whisk it up with a fork. Voila, your egg wash, which will be the glue to hold your pasta sheets (eggroll wrappers) together.
  5. Place an eggroll wrapper on a clean, flat surface.  Use a brush to cover the pasta with a coating of egg wash. Put a small amount of pea filling in each of the four corners of the pasta sheet (be sure not to overstuff them–you’ll just end up with pea filling escaping into the water when you go to boil your ravioli). Then, take a second sheet and place it on top, pressing the edges down to seal. Use a knife to cut the sheet into your four raviolis. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling. As your finished ravioli begin to stack up, douse a little olive oil on top of them so they don’t stick together.
  6. Bring a pot of salted water to a gentle boil, and add a little bit of olive oil to the water (again, to prevent the ravioli from sticking together). Boil ravioli in small batches–should take about 2 minutes per batch–and remove with a slotted ladle or spoon.
  7. To serve, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with parmesan ribbons. Adding some freshly ground black pepper on top is also delish!

    YUM!

Ravioli Extravaganza, Part 1: Mushroom and Leek Ravioli

2 Sep

Before I head to Boston for my first class, Trusty and I are having our friends Grace and Andrea over for a little “dinner party” (air quotes are used here because we don’t even own a full set of 4 napkins). Earlier this year we had an amazing meal at their apartment–home-made curry, and shrimp spring rolls with a home-made peanut dipping sauce–and so the food bar was set very high. To sufficiently wow them, we decided to prepare a “Ravioli Flight” (again, these air quotes are coming in handy!)–a.k.a. we made three types of ravioli fillings, bought three packages of egg roll wrappers, and stuffed our little hearts out, filling wrapper sheet after wrapper sheet.  The result was a filling meal (couldn’t resist!) we were very proud of.

So, stay tuned for Part 2 (Spring Pea, Parmesan, and Mint) and Part 3 (Shallots, Cauliflower, and Lump Crab). In the meantime, this first filling, mushroom and leek, is fantastic. The deep, earthy, and meaty flavor of the mushrooms plays really well off of the delicate sweetness of the leeks. Add some dry white wine and rich heavy cream and you pretty much have heaven in a ravioli.

Mushroom and Leek Ravioli

Note: for this recipe, you’ll need a hand blender, a blender, or a Cuisinart to puree the ravioli filling.

Ingredients:

  • 1 package of  Egg roll wrappers (we used Nasoya brand, in case you’re curious)
  • 1 leek
  • 2 cups of quartered mushrooms (we used half Cremini, half Shiitake)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • 1 1/4 cup of heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup of white wine (we used Sancerre, any dry white wine would be a good substitute)
  • 1 egg (for egg wash)
  • Parsley (optional-for garnish)

Directions:

  1. With a damp paper towel, gently wipe any dirt off the mushroom caps. This is the best way to clean mushrooms–because they’re so absorbent, you never want to wash or soak them–they’ll become water-logged and lose all their flavor. Once the mushrooms are clean, quarter them.

    No need to quarter the mushrooms neatly, since they'll be pureed by the hand blender later.

  2. Halve the leek down the middle and slice. Peel the garlic and chop finely.
  3. Melt the butter in a hot pan and saute the leek, mushrooms, and garlic until the vegetables start to brown.

    You really want to wait till the mushrooms and leeks are browned. This will bring out the carmalized flavor of the leeks and the deep earthy flavor of the mushrooms.

  4. When the pan becomes dry and you see brown bits beginning to stick to the bottom of the pan, it’s time to deglaze the pan with the white wine. Add the wine to the pan and use a spatula to lift all the grease and bits from the bottom of the pan–that’s a lot of flavor you want to incorporate into the liquid!
  5. Continue cooking the mushrooms and leeks until the wine completely cooks off and the pan is dry again. Then, add the heavy cream.

    Everything tastes better with heavy cream.

  6. Stir in the cream and allow the mixture to continue to cook on gentle heat until the cream is reduced by a third. We found this took about 10 minutes. Then put the mixture into a container and throw it in the fridge for at least 20 minutes until it has cooled completely (if you put the hot mixture directly into the egg roll wraps, they will start to cook and gluck up).
  7. Add a pinch of salt and pepper to the mixture and use the hand blender to puree it (they say it’s best to salt mushrooms after cooking them, because otherwise the salt will draw out the moisture in the mushrooms before they’re cooked).
  8. Now, it’s time to stuff the ravioli with the mushroom filling! Crack open the egg and add a dash of water or heavy cream. Whisk it up with a fork, and you have your egg wash. This will act as the cement or glue that will hold the two sheets of pasta together. Using a brush, brush the egg wash onto one sheet so the surface is covered with your glue. Then, take a spoon and add a small amount of the mushroom filling to each of the four corners.

    Be careful not to add too much filling--if the edges can't seal completely the filling will just seep out when you try to boil the ravioli.

  9. Now, add the second sheet of pasta by laying it over the bottom piece. You don’t need to apply egg wash to the top sheet. Use your fingers to press down around the filling piles so that as little air as possible is left in the parcel.
  10. Use a knife to cut the sheet in half vertically and horizontally, so you’re left with four ravioli. With your fingers, make sure the edges of the ravioli are pinched together completely. You can stack the ravioli waiting to be prepared on a cookie sheet. Just drizzle a little olive oil over them to make sure they don’t stick together.

    This is going to be an amazing meal!

  11. To cook the ravioli, bring a pot of salted water to a gentle boil and add your ravioli. They won’t need to cook long–only a minute or so. When they’re ready they’ll float up to the surface and appear slightly translucent and puffed up (if there’s any air inside).
  12. Add parsley to garnish. Enjoy with a little olive oil and lemon, or some simple tomato sauce.

The Last Supper Part 1: Angel Hair Nests with Dry Diver Scallops and Lobster Sauce

19 Aug

I’m sad to say that my summer in Minnesota has come to an end. Now, it’s back to the East coast and grad school.

For my last meal in Minnesota, my wonderful brother Kevin and his partner Jenna (of French Onion Soup fame) prepared an amazing dinner: crab cakes (post coming soon!) and my favorite dish ever: Angel Hair Nests with Dry Diver Scallops and Lobster Sauce. The Angel Hair nests are gently browned and lightly crispy on the outside but soft on the inside, while the Diver Scallops are sweet and tender and the lobster sauce is creamy and rich. The different textures and flavors make one incredible bite of food in your mouth. It’s pretty much as decadent as decadent gets.

We usually get this dish at La Grolla, one of my favorite Italian restaurants in St. Paul, but Kevin and Jenna deconstructed and reverse engineered it à la Top Chef style. Jenna’s plating presentation was absolutely beautiful–seeing and tasting this dish made me think immediately that it would be a great meal for entertaining or for a special occasion, like an anniversary–or, just a normal Wednesday night!  It was such a treat to enjoy this meal with my family before flying so far away. Thanks, Jenna and Kevin!

Angel Hair Nests with Dry Diver Scallops and Lobster Sauce

Ingredients:

  • Angel Hair pasta nests (It’s much easier to buy these already shaped than to make them yourself with just plain Angel Hair. They should be available at your local grocery store.)
  • ¼ cup diced fennel
  • ½ cup  chopped onion
  • 2 Tablespoons of tomato paste
  • ¼ cup sherry wine
  • 2 cups of seafood stock (If you can’t find this, chick stock will do.)
  • ½ cup heavy cream (Or, if you prefer, ¾ cup of half & half is slightly healthier and perfectly creamy enough.)
  • Reserved lobster meat and shells from cooked 1 to 1-1/2 pound lobsters (optional)
  • 1 can of lobster bisque
  • 2 lbs of Dry Diver Scallops (Note: It’s critical to find scallops that are labeled “Dry“–this means they were shucked on a boat, then put into a dry contain without water or preservatives. They have a shorter shelf-life, but this means that they’re fresher when you buy them. The lack of moisture makes their flavor more pure and concentrated, and you will be able to get that beautiful golden sear when you cook them.)
  • Canola Oil
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 bunch of Flat Leaf Parsley chopped
  • 1 bunch of Chives (Optional-for garnish.)

Directions:

You can find Angel Hair nests packaged in the grocery store. They are exactly what they sound like--Angel Hair pasta formed into tight nests.

  1. First, start with the Angel Hair pasta nests. Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Then blanch each nest in the boiling water and drain. In the same pot (might as well save yourself some cleaning!) add a small amount of olive oil and heat it with medium heat. Saute the nests in the olive oil to crisp. Season with salt and pepper on both sides while crisping.

    You only want a very small amount of olive oil in the bottom of the pan so the nests crisp and don't become soggy.

  2. After cooking, lay out the nests on a cookie sheet with paper towels to drain off excess oil.
  3. Put the cookie sheet in the oven at a very low heat to keep the nests warm while you prepare the lobster sauce and the scallops.
  4. Next, tackle the lobster sauce. Cook 1 to 1-1/2 pound of lobster (You can use your preferred cooking method. I like to take a frozen lobster tail, defrost it, cut it in half (through the shell) lengthwise, then place it on a cookie sheet with some olive oil and bake it in the oven at 425° for 8-12 minutes or until the lobster is cooked. (You can tell by checking the shell color–it will turn a bright red, and, you’ll see a white protein begin to rise from the meat.)

    Another sign the lobster tail is cooked is that the tail will curl slightly.

  5. De-shell the lobster and set the meat and shells aside for the sauce.
  6. Saute ¼ cup diced fennel and ½ cup  chopped onion until slightly carmelized in olive oil.
  7. Add 2 Tablespoons of tomato paste and cook for 3 minutes or so. Deglaze the pan with about ¼ cup sherry wine. This will ensure that your sauce benefits from all those bits of flavor that might be stuck to the surface of the pan.
  8. Add 2 cups (or so) of seafood stock. Bring to a gentle simmer.
  9. Add lobster shells if available. Add ½ cup heavy cream (or about ¾ cup of half & half). Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for about 8 minutes. Add one container of lobster bisque. Taste. Season with salt & pepper.  Add more cream if desired. If available, cut up lobster meat and add.
  10. Taste. Add more sherry if desired (just make sure to cook a bit more to cook the alcohol off). Adjust.
  11. Turn off the heat but keep the sauce warm until you’re ready to plate by putting a lid on the pot.
  12. Now, let’s prepare the scallops! Put them on a dry paper towel to make sure they are as dry as possible before cooking. The drier the scallop, the better and easier the beautiful brown sear will be on them.
  13. Check all your scallops for any remaining abductor muscles. Here’s what they look like:

    Can you see the muscle on the front right of this scallop? You can also feel the difference.

  14. Just pull the muscle off with your fingers–it should come right off:
  15. Once the scallops are clean, season them with salt and pepper.
  16. Sear them in a hot (not smoking) pan with canola/vegetable oil. A non-stick pan seemed to work best for us. Be sure not to crowd them in the pan–these babies need plenty of room to get nice and brown. When firm to touch (not bouncy) they are done (generally about 3-4 minutes on each side).
  17. All the components are ready! Time to plate! First, finalize the sauce. If you added any shells, strain them out. Then, chop up some flat leaf parsley and add it to the Lobster sauce.

    You want to add the parsley at the last minute so it stays nice and green and fresh in the sauce.

  18. Then, add your lobster sauce to the bottom of a plate. Put a nest in the center of the plate.

    Photo credit: Kevin Doyle

  19. Then, add your scallops, and garnish with chives (optional). Enjoy!

    Jenna's beautiful presentation!

Ricotta Ravioli with Pistachios, Peas, Mint, Parmesan (oh–and delicious, delicious butter)

5 Aug

Parmesan, yes. Peas, sure. But pistachios and mint? I would never have thought that these two ingredients would be such an amazing combination with pasta. Turns out, it’s an incredible flavor pairing. The sweetness of the butter, the fresh mint and peas, the nutty pistachios, the salty parmesan–all the different tastes play off each other in a really interesting, delicious way. I really like that it takes only 10 minutes to make, too.

This genius recipe came to me from my aunt Mary Kay, a most talented and skilled chef, who first encountered this dish in a cooking class. I’m always glad to benefit from what’s she’s learned, and hope you enjoy this recipe too.

I love the hint of sweetness that the fresh mint adds.

Ingredients:

  • 1 package of ricotta ravioli (if you can’t find ricotta, any kind of cheese ravioli will work well too)
  • 4 tablespoons of butter, unsalted
  • 1/3 cup of pistachios, toasted (if you can’t find toasted pistachios in the grocery store, put them on a baking sheet and throw them into the oven at 350° for 5 minutes or so, until you can just begin to smell them in the air–that means they’re done toasting)
  • 1/2 cup of frozen peas
  • 2 lemons, halved (to squeeze into the sauce)
  • 1/3 cup of fresh mint, chopped
  • 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese, grated
  • a hunk of parmesan cheese to make garnish ribbons out of

Directions:

  1. Bring 4 quarts of salted water to boil, and add the ravioli to the water. If you’re using store-bought ravioli, they should cook fairly quickly–sometimes only 4 minutes–so watch them carefully.
  2. In a pan large enough to comfortably fit the ravoli, heat the butter until foaming, then add the pistachios, peas and lemon juice.

    I love all the different shades of green.

  3. Once the ravioli are cooked, toss them into the pan (no need to hit them with cold water) with the sauce ingredients.

    Gently incorporate the past with the peas, pistachio, and mint so that the ravioli pockets don't break open.

  4. Turn off the heat and add the mint and grated parmesan. These should melt just with the residual heat of the pasta and pan.
  5. Finish with parmesan ribbons and bring to the table to enjoy!

    Dear Santa: I would like all my presents wrapped in parmesan ribbons this year!