Tag Archives: Italian recipes

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!

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!