after dinner sneeze

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Eggplant Parmigiana-Lasagna

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t says: This weekend, like every weekend, I wanted to make something that would last us a few meals. I had a hankering for eggplant parmigiana, but I find that I get tired of eggplant parm really quickly. For me, there’s just too much eggplant flavor so that I’m usually eggplanted out by the end of my meal – who knows how I’d feel by the third time I’ve had it in the same week! Also, the texture of plain ol’ eggplant also gets boring when it’s reheated (you lose the crunch of the breading). But I got to thinking – what if I jazz it up with some meat? And use some different cheeses? And some pasta? It didn’t take me long to realize that I was no longer playing around with an eggplant parm recipe, rather, adding eggplant to a lasagna recipe! There we have it – a lasagna and eggplant parm hybrid! The recipe that follows is the love-child of Alton Brown’s eggplant parm recipe and Ina Garten’s turkey lasagna recipe.

When all the cooking was done, I think it was pretty good, and it’s definitely something I’ll make again. This is NOT a very gravy-full recipe – if you like tomato sauce, you can up the quantity. It’s also NOT a big puddle of oozy cheese. Everything is balanced (in my opinion), so I don’t think I’m going to make straight-up eggplant parm anymore (this way is just more fun). Don’t be intimidated by the number of ingredients or steps – it can be made easier by using oven-ready pastas or ready-made gravy (although the latter is sometimes a little yuck – but Barilla makes some decent sauces)! You could also omit the meat (but what’s the fun in that?), or swap out the veal for more turkey if you’re not a fan of red meat. g had the idea to add a layer or two of sauteed spinach … but I forgot … oops! In any case – you get the idea – it’s a pretty versatile recipe. You don’t even have to use this one – but try adding eggplant parm to your favorite lasagna recipe and see what happens!

Ingredients:

for the eggplant …

1 eggplant

all-purpose flour, panko bread crumbs, Progresso “Italian style” bread crumbs, Parmesan/Romano grated cheese (the cheap kind)

4 eggs

canola oil and olive oil in a 50:50 mix – although if you only want to use one, go for canola – higher smoke point

2 baking sheets (optional)

for the pasta of the lasagna …

use whatever you want – oven ready is probably the easiest so you have less to think about or do …

for the cheeses of the lasagna …

1 lb fresh mozzarella, cut into slices

16 oz ricotta (we like part-skim)

4 oz goat cheese (doesn’t have to be fancy goat cheese – we used the cheap President brand)

1 cup grated parmigiano reggiano

1 egg

2 Tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

0.5 tsp kosher salt

0.25 tsp black pepper

for the tomato sauce of the lasagna … (you can substitute the sauce-relevant ingredients for at least 28-oz of whatever pre-made tomato sauce you want – you’ll still want the meat)

0.5 medium yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

28 oz can of crushed tomatoes (we <3 Tuttorosso brand “with basil” – Wegman’s brand is ok – Hunt’s is awful)

basil (if your tomatoes don’t have some in it)

0.25 tsp baking soda

2 Tbsp grated cheese

0.5 lb ground veal

0.5 lb ground turkey

Methods:

-1) The point is to try and remove some of the excess liquid from the eggplant. Maybe this step is completely unnecessary – it might just be something Alton Brown does. Personally, I didn’t mind this step because it gave me the chance to take care of other prep work like making gravy, etc. Slice eggplant lengthwise (i.e. the cutting stroke starts from the top and goes to the bottom) into 10 super-long slices.  I use 10 slices because I like 2 layers of four slices in the lasagna, and the two outside-most slices have a lot of “skin” on them, which isn’t that pleasant to eat through, are thrown away.  Cut the green part off. Line baking sheet with foil. Line the sheet with paper towels. Lightly sprinkle the baking sheet with kosher salt. Arrange eggplant into a single layer (you may have to use two layers separated with paper towels). Sprinkle with kosher salt. Cover with paper towels. Do a second layer if you need to. Place a second baking sheet on top of the paper towel and eggplant layers. Put something heavy on top of the second baking sheet. Go do some other steps while the moisture gets pressed out.

0) Start a pot on the stovetop with ample salted water for preparing noodles (but don’t make it yet). If you have oven-ready sheets, then nevermind. Set aside the number of noodles you’ll need to make two single-sheet-thick layers (with a little overlap) in the baking dish of your choice (I used 9″ x 13″).

1) Make the ricotta cheese mixture … Combine the ricotta, goat cheese, parmigiano reggiano, egg, parsley, salt and black pepper (i.e. everything but the mozzarella). Set aside in fridge.

2) Make the meat gravy … In whatever pot you intend to make the gravy in, brown the two meats in a tablespoon of oil. You may have to do this in batches so you can get a nice color on the meat (otherwise, you’ll essentially boil or steam the meat, which isn’t as flavorful). Set meat aside (leave the fat in the pot). Add onions and cook until translucent. Add garlic. When fragrant, add tomatoes and return meat to pot. Add the grated cheese and baking soda. Let the pot cook down for a while under a very low heat.

3) Prep the eggplant … Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Set some kind of frying vessel on medium heat (or just a smidge above medium – I used a setting of “6” on a scale of 1-10). You don’t want it to smoke when you add the oil (which you should add later, right before you start frying). As far as what kind of vessel – I like a 4 quart pot – the tall sides prevent too much splashing. Set up a 3-stage dredging system: 1 bowl of flour, 1 bowl of beaten eggs, 1 bowl of bread crumb mix. For the bread crumb mix, I like using panko (for the crunch), Italian-style bread crumbs (for the flavor), and cheapo grated cheese (also for the flavor) in a 2:1:1 ratio. Feel free to use whatever bread crumbs or ratio you want. Free the eggplant from the baking sheet sandwich you made. Wipe them with paper towels to remove excess salt and liquid. Dredge with flour, then egg, then breadcrumb mixture. Set slices aside until done dredging.

4) Fry the eggplant … Add oil to your heated frying vessel on the stovetop (I like a half-inch deep pool of oil). Fry the eggplant slices until they get to a pretty color (I go two at a time b/c that’s what fits in my pot) and set them aside on some paper towels to absorb the excess oil.

5) Make the pasta … Cook the noodles according to instructions on package. If you have oven-ready sheets, then double-check and make sure you don’t have to do anything to them except stick them in the oven (I’ve never used them, myself, so I leave that up to you).

6) Layer the lasagna … Place 1/3 of the gravy on the bottom of a 9″ x 13″ baking dish. Layer as follows: 1 layer of lasagna noodles, nearly half of the mozzarella slices, 4 slices of eggplant, half of the ricotta mixture, 1/3 of the gravy, 1 layer of lasagna noodles, nearly half of the mozzarella slices, 4 slices of eggplant, half of the ricotta mixture, the remaining gravy, and the remaining mozzarella (broken apart into small chunks and scattered on top).

7) Cook the lasagna … Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, until you see bubbling throughout the baking dish (the egg in the cheese mixture is the only raw ingredient in the lasagna), and a nice browning of the mozzarella on top. Cool and enjoy!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

14 March 2010 at 10:53pm

Turkey Meatballs

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g says: Homemade meatballs are my thing. They are one of my favorites to make for friends, and I think I like eating them more than any other meat dish. Growing up (and still now) everyone in my parents’ house — especially dad– would hover around the kitchen as mom neared completion of her meatballs, for we all knew that we were in for a special treat to snack on. As soon as those balls hit the pot of tomato gravy and mom turned her back, they were up for grabs — and you needed to be ready to pounce, bread in hand to soak up your extra sauce, or else. I am still tickled by this ritual, and am glad that it has caught on in our home (t loves to be the meatball taste-tester).

I learned the age-old technique of mixing together foods that are potentially hazardous when raw, but taste like heaven when properly combined and cooked, from my mom (who, despite her protests, is indeed a great Italian cook). There is nothing more satisfying than being able to use my hands to mix together a multitude of textures in a bowl, sniff the mixture every now and then to make sure all ingredients are in proper ratio, and have results I can be proud of, every time. I am sure there are some secrets to great meatballs — some say a teaspoon of sugar, some swear by their brand of bread crumbs (I do) — but I think it’s all about the proportion in which the ingredients are combined to achieve the salty, cheesy, peppery, fresh  scent of a good meatball mix (can’t really say taste, as raw meats and eggs are involved, so it’s all up to the nose). And I have quite the schnoz, thanks to my dad and gran, two of the greatest smellers of our time, who have passed the talent on to me. You can ask t — my nose knows.

On Friday, we are planning to host a godfather party — friends will gather at our apartment to feast on spaghetti and meatballs, biscotti, maybe some cannoli, and watch The Godfather. It should make for a great time, and as the token Italian of our group of friends, I am of course in charge of preparing the meatballs. The only catch is, not all of our guests eat red meat. So, I decided to get creative with my traditional meatball recipe (which is an adaptation combining both mom’s and aunt beabea’s recipes). Today I tried using ground turkey in lieu of beef, and added some ricotta cheese for smoothness after tasting some veal ricotta meatballs at craftbar in nyc. The results were truly delectable, and I may have to add this recipe to my personal repertoire permanently.

I’ll turn it over to t, as he insists on formatting the recipes his way.

t says: Here’s the recipe.  It tastes better every time g makes it …

Ingredients:

__ 3 lbs ground turkey (85% lean)
__ 1 egg
__ ~1 c Progresso brand “Italian Style” bread crumbs (but you may need more because it’s a texture thing)
__ 0.75 c grated cheese (Kraft brand Parmesan and Romano mix)
__ 1 bunch of flat leaf parsley, chopped
__ 1 large yellow onion, diced
__ 0.5 c part-skim ricotta cheese (you could use whole milk as well)
__ a few tsp each of of salt, pepper, and olive oil

Methods:

0)  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

1)  All of the following mixing must be done by hand (it’s easier and more fun than using utensils).  In a bowl, mix together turkey, onion, and egg.  Then add breadcrumbs and combine until mixture is workable and not too sticky.  Add parsley and grated cheese and mix.

2)  Smell the mixture to get an idea of how much salt and pepper to add (it’ll “smell” right).  Ballpark estimate: ~ 2 tsp each.  Add the salt and pepper and re-smell to check.  If this is your first time letting your nose guide your meatballs, smell the mixture, add only 1 tsp of each to start, and smell it again (to see the difference); there will be a chance to add more seasoning in step 3.  Add the ricotta and mix until smooth and homogeneous in appearance.

3)  Make a small test meatball (~1″ in diameter) and cook it fully in a frying pan with some olive oil.  Taste it to check seasoning and consistency.  Decide on whether it needs more salt, pepper, cheese, or breadcrumbs.  Smell the mixture before and after adding ingredients (start to build up a library of smells).  If adding salt, combine thoroughly because, depending on the size of the grains of salt, it might take a few minute to dissolve.  Re-test another sample meatball and tinker with your recipe until you are satisfied.  Make a mental note of what the mixture smelled like right before you cooked that perfect meatball.

4)  Line a baking pan that has a lip (to prevent spills) with aluminum foil (for easy cleanup).  Rub the pan with olive oil.  Roll meat mixture into balls (we prefer ~1″ for hors d’oeuvres, 2″ for pasta, 2.5+” for sandwiches) and place on pan.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until underside is moderately browned, and flip.  Bake for another 20+ minutes, until meatballs are cooked through (bigger meatballs will take longer).  This may require rolling them periodically to prevent burning the side contacting the pan.

5)  Remove from oven, and cool.  Put into sauce/gravy, and lightly simmer for at least a half hour so that the meat flavors will infuse into the liquid.  Serve with your favorite pasta shape.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

16 February 2010 at 12:07am