Tag Archives: basil

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!

Tuna Ceviche with Fresh Herbs, Candied Ginger and Summer Peaches

3 Aug

Summer is the perfect time for ceviche. It’s a light, nutritious  dish with lots of flavor. And, it’s beyond easy to make.

Ceviche is fish or shellfish that’s been marinated in a citrus-based mixture. Lemons and limes are the most commonly used fruits, but if you look you can find recipes that incorporate oranges or grapefruits. In addition to adding flavor, the citric acid in the fruits causes the proteins in the seafood to become denatured, which pickles or “cooks” the fish completely–without heat. How fun is that.

Start with a fresh piece of good quality fish–this isn’t the time to use something from the freezer since the extra moisture will interfere with the cooking process. For this recipe I used two Ahi tuna steaks.

Tuna Ceviche

Ingredients:

  • 2 Ahi Tuna Steaks
  • 3 lemons
  • 4 limes (set one aside for garnish)
  • 2 tablespoons of Sesame Oil
  • 2 tablespoons of Mirin (this is a sweet Japanese cooking wine vinegar made from Sake–you should be able to find it in your neighborhood grocery store)
  • 2 tablespoons of Hot Oil
  • 1/3 cup of peanuts
  • Candied Ginger (also known as crystalized ginger–you should be able to find it in your grocery store, too. Look in the baking aisle.)
  • 2 just-ripe peaches
  • Basil leaves
  • Chives
  • Mint leaves
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions:

  1. To prepare the marinade, start by placing your two tuna steaks into a baking dish.
  2. Add sesame oil, mirin, and hot oil to the dish–flip the tuna steaks so that the liquid can coat each side.
  3. Slice 3 lemons and 3 limes in half and squeeze them over the tuna (set one lime aside for garnish). You’ll see the steak turn color slightly when it’s hit by the acid in the lemon and lime juice–what you are seeing is the cooking process begin.  Don’t throw the fruits away–the oils in the lemon and limes’ skin will add lots of flavor to the marinade.
  4. Roughly chop up the peanuts and sprinkle over the steaks.

    If you look closely at the steaks, you can see whitish spots where the citric acid has already begun cooking the meat.

  5. Flip the steaks over a couple of times so that each side is doused in the marinade. Then, transfer everything in the baking dish into a large gallon-sized ziplock bag. This should allow the steaks to be submerged in the marinade, so that the meat will undergo the citric acid cooking process.

    Inside the ziplock, the tuna steaks should be partially submerged in the marinade.

  6. Let the tuna marinate until the surface of the meat changes colors completely–this means the cooking process is complete. The time required will vary on the size and thickness of the seafood you’re using. Traditional style ceviche is usually marinated for about 3 hours. But, the longer you leave the meat in the marinade the more it will break down, so you want to take it out before it completely mushifies.  Yes, that is a technical term. For example, small scallops (or if you cut the tuna steak into chunks) will cook faster than one giant steak, since the small pieces have more surface area for the citric acid to penetrate.
  7. While you’re waiting for the tuna to cook, de-skin your peach and cut it into bite sized pieces. You want to use a just-ripe peach that will hold it’s shape after you cut it, not turn to mush. Take out your fresh herbs and do a rough chop for them as well as your candided ginger.
  8. When the cooking process is complete, take your steaks out of the ziplock and roughly cut into bite sized pices. Put the pieces into a mixing dish, add your cut up peaches, chopped herbs and candied ginger, and toss.

    Yum! The herbs add lots of freshness, the peaches add some sweetness, and the candied ginger is the secret ingredient that adds a bit of spiciness.

  9. To present the ceviche, I like to spoon it into little pudding dishes–makes a great side or appetizer.
  10. Slice the remaining lime into wedges. Garnish each dish by placing a lime wedge on the rim.

    This recipe makes 6 appetizer-sized dishes.

    Prepared ceviche-style the tuna will be tender and flavorfull. So yummy! Enjoy!

Tomato Mozzarella Basil Salad

7 Jul

You know I love basil. But, I’m having a hard time keeping up with my plant. It’s like it’s on steroids. Seems like every morning it’s sprouted more new leaves.

Today I thought I’d make tomato mozzarella basil salad–often called caprese salad.  It’s a great way to put extra basil to good use. Plus, I’m crazy about the flavor of heirloom tomatoes right now–they’re unbelievable. I like to buy three different colors–they look so pretty with the green of the basil and the creamy white of the mozzarella.

This is a super fast and easy recipe that makes a great summer appetizer or side salad. In terms of any tricks or tips to making caprese salad, here are a couple:

  • Always keep your tomato, even after slicing it, at room temperature–if they’re refrigerated, they lose flavor and become mealy.  My smarty pants brother tells me this is because the tart taste of tomatoes is due to a chemical called Linolenic Acid converting to Z-3-Hexenel, and this reaction is disrupted by cold.
  • Individually salt and pepper each tomato-basil-mozarella unit, and use kosher or sea salt. This will really bring out the flavors of the ingredients.

Tomato Mozzarella Basil Caprese Salad

Ingredients:

  • 3 medium-sized heirloom tomatoes, preferably different colors, sliced into thick slices
  • 1/2 cup of fresh basil leaves
  • 1-2 lbs of fresh mozzarella, sliced into thick slices
  • extra virgin olive oil, drizzled lightly over the salad
  • sea salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Line up the tomato, basil, and mozzarella slices and season each unit with salt and pepper before adding on the next unit. I like to arrange them into a circle on a platter, alternating the color of the tomato slice used. Isn’t it pretty?
  2. When all your ingredients are lined up, drizzle a bit of olive oil over the salad.
  3. Enjoy!

beautiful! next time I'll try using purple basil to add another color to the platter.

Watermelon Basil Cocktail and Watermelon Basil Lemonade

2 Jul

I can trace my personal problem of eating my emotions back to watermelons and the Fourth of July.

As a kid, July 4th was a depressing day because it marked the half way point between the first day of vacation and the first day back to school.  The only solution was to drown my sorrows in slice after slice of watermelon.

These days July 4th represents a break from work, rather than a return to it. And for me, watermelon is still the best way to mark the occasion. 6% sugar and 92% water by weight, watermelon is sweet and refreshing. But pair it with basil and lemon and it becomes a force to be reckoned with.

I hope you enjoy this watermelon basil cocktail and watermelon basil lemonade. Fresh, bright, sweet, and citrusy, they’re two of my favorite summer drinks.

where the watermelon grow

To prep for both beverages buy a watermelon that’s really ripe, so it’ll be sweet and juicy. Here are some ways to spot a ripe one:

  • Look for a yellow or light colored bottom. If it has either of these things, it’s ready.
  • Listen for a hollow sound. Give the watermelon a gentle tap to check for a hollow sound. You’ll know it when you hear it. Hollow=ripe. Not hollow=not ripe.
  • Look for a heavy melon. Since watermelons are 92% water, a ripe melon should feel heavy for its size.

Each recipe uses about 8 cups of cubed watermelon, juiced, which is equivalent to about half of a very large watermelon, or an entire regular sized watermelon.

celebrate summer--watermelon basil cocktail (left) and watermelon basil lemonade (right)

Watermelon Basil Cocktail

Ingredients:
8 cups of watermelon, cubed
4 large basil leaves
1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice
Angostura bitters
1 bottle chilled sparkling wine

Directions:
The night before your party:

1. In a blender, juice the 8 cups of watermelon.
2. To the blender pitcher of watermelon juice, add 1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Squeeze it yourself, or, get something from the store–I won’t tell.
3. Put the 4 basil leaves in the juice mixture. Put this mixture into the fridge. While it chills overnight the juice will become inflused with basil.

Make sure you also chill your champagne or sparkling wine. Before the party the next day, strain the juice into a large pitcher to remove the basil leaves and any extra large pieces of fruit. Don’t worry–there should still be a good amount of pulp.

Then, to make a drink:
1. Start with a couple of good splashes of Angostura bitters in the bottom of your champagne flute.
2. Fill about 1/3 of the flute with the watermelon/lemon juice mixture.
3. Top it off with your chilled champagne or sparkling wine. A marvelous, creamy foam head should form when the bubbles meet the pulp.
4. Cheers!

Makes 4 servings.

It’s always nice to offer a special non-alcoholic beverage. Here’s an alternative that’s just as refreshing and delicious.

watermelon basil lemonade

Watermelon Basil Lemonade

Ingredients:
8 cups of watermelon, cubed
4 large basil leaves
2 cups of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 lemon to cut into lemon slice garnishes
sugar cubes (optional)

Directions:
Night before prep:

1. Same deal. Juice the watermelon, add the lemon juice, submerge the basil leaves for optimal basil-infused flavor, chill.

Before the party:
1. Strain the juice into a pitcher. Keep the basil leaves for garnish, if you like.
2. Slice a lemon into garnish slices and add it to the pitcher.

Because the watermelon is so watery by nature, don’t put ice cubes into the main pitcher, it’ll just melt and dilute the flavor. Instead, put a couple of ice cubes into a glass. If you have younger kids coming who prefer their lemonade on the sweeter side, add a sugar cube to each glass. Otherwise,  I like how the bright tartness of the lemon juice balances the honey flavor of the watermelon.

fun, "gourmet" lemonade

Hope you enjoy and have a Happy 4th of July.