Monday, August 1, 2011
Team Eggplant Does Eggplant - Our Entry for the Culinary Smackdown
Team Eggplant finally got 'er done, despite a couple of delays and disappointments. Before heading to the river to join friend Cindie and her husband, Odie, to cook, I made a quick trip to Findlay Market Saturday morning to replace the sausages and tasso that Cindie thawed – and forgot – the previous weekend when our cooking plans got derailed.
Kroeger + Sons Meats makes some of the best – and most diverse – sausages you can find. We had tried their Parma (an Italian-style sausage with red pepper) on our last trip, so I picked up a couple more of those, along with a linguiça (Portuguese sausage) and this tasso (a spicy Cajun ham-like cured pork).
Even better, I found two quarts of local blackberries at Madison’s Findlay produce stand, which, despite her dislike of the seeds in blackberries, Cindie had agreed to turn into a pie. She assembled it in no time, then popped it into the oven of her brand new stove, which we would give a good workout before the day was over.
In the veg department, I had plenty of peeling and slicing to do for my two dishes. One would grow up to be Stuffed Eggplant. True to my namesake, I innovated this one as I went. While the pie was in the oven, I roasted these halved eggplants, then removed the softened innards to add to a mixture of linguiça and Parma sausages I’d removed from their casings and cooked with onions and shallots.
“How about adding some tomato sauce?” I asked Cindie. We debated the merits of tomato sauce vs. paste for this use, and settled on sauce. As she pulled a can from her well-stocked cupboard, Cindie suggested we add rice, so that went in as well. I chopped some parsley and tossed in some cheese, then refilled the eggplant shells, and these puppies were ready for a quick trip back into the oven to warm them up and melt the cheese.
The other dish I had my sights set on was a riff on this recipe for Eggplant, Oyster, and Tasso Gratin I found on epicurious.com by New Orleans chef Susan Spicer published in The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook. Cindie and Odie love oysters, and I thought this would be a slam-dunk in the approval department until Cindie pointed out to me that July does not have an “R” in it. Although this adage may be less true than it once was, I knew it was best to come up with an alternate plan and decided to go with shrimp.
For this preparation, I decided to use the variety of smaller eggplants I’d picked up at Hyde Park Farmers Market last weekend.
For those of you who’ve asked about these Egyptian/Turkish orange eggplants I posted about earlier, I confess to being a sucker for cute “baby” vegetables and exotic varieties.
They were very hard when I brought them home, so I left them unrefrigerated for a few days, during which their green stripes faded into overall oranginess. I spotted a recipe for stuffing these orange lovelies, but mine were only about the size of a golf ball and would not have been worth the effort to try to stuff. I sliced them thinly, hoping for a little color and assured by reports that their skin would be edible (unlike the bitter skins of many purple eggplant). Leaving the skin on worked just fine in this preparation.
Susan Spicer’s recipe calls for a white sauce that incorporates the liquor/juice from shucked oysters. Since we weren’t going the oyster route, I brought some bottled clam juice (one of my go-to substitutions to add seafood flavors when I don’t have seafood stock on hand) – and put Cindie in charge. Cindie always makes her white sauce in the microwave, and it always turns out perfectly! As with any technique, years of practice help :) Someday I’d love to do a step-by-step post of how she does it, but on this occasion, I was happy to leave it in her capable hands to adapt this recipe to her tried-and-true methods and the ingredients we had on hand.
We didn’t end up with a lot of white sauce for the dish we were making. So it’s just as well I ignored the directions in the original recipe to put some in the bottom of the casserole dish before adding the eggplant. We spread some of the white sauce over the the sautéed eggplant-tasso-onion combo, then before reheating, added shrimp, the rest of the white sauce, and a crumbly mixture of bread crumbs, parmesan, parsley, melted butter, and olive oil.
At this point in the afternoon, we’d done enough prep work and people were starting to get hungry, so I decided to forget about another dish I’d had in mind, and we moved on to Odie’s contribution. As soon as Cindie and I started talking about reviving the Culinary Smackdown and attempting Battle Eggplant, Odie piped up: “Poor Man’s Shrimp.” It’s a floured and deep-fried preparation he and Cindie had eaten at the old F+N Steakhouse in Northern Kentucky before it went out of business. Odie loved it and worked with Cindie to come up with a way to replicate it at home. F+N served theirs with cocktail sauce and tartar sauce to pump up the illusion you’re eating shrimp. Cindie wedged and floured the eggplant ahead and refrigerated them.
Cindie hates the residual smell of deep frying in the house. But we ran into a glitch trying to use the fryer outside. With four air conditioners going, breakers blew. Fortunately we at least managed to get the back refrigerator online again. We won’t talk about the future of the electric golf cart . . . Here’s Odie, aka The Frymaster, at work once we brought the fryer inside.
And here are some of those Poor Man's Shrimp fresh out of the fryer.
I’d found these burgundy okra at Hyde Park Farmers Market the weekend our cooking date was postponed.
We also broke out the pickled eggplant Cindie and I had prepped two weeks earlier. I love all things pickled (or so I thought), and was inspired by this Italian recipe. But Cindie and I didn't follow it. Instead of putting the pickles in a glass jar, we used an airtight plastic container, and we were wary of following the instructions that said to dunk the eggplant in the boiling pickling liquid and then just pour off the liquid. So we let them soak in the fridge. Odie got into the action as well, hard-boiling some eggs to pickle with the eggplant. Don't let this photo fool you. Despite Cindie's photo-styling efforts, none of it tasted like much. Although I did learn one of Cindie's secrets: She always boils a pickling mixture before she adds it to veg, even something like that summertime favorite of tomatoes, onions, and green peppers.
The entrees, however, turned out well enough, even though, as usual, we made way too much food. Here's the gratin.
And here are the stuffed eggplants.
But the best thing was probably that blackberry pie.
Thanks to all for playing, for visiting all the fine entries, and for supporting this revival of the Culinary Smackdown. A big thanks to Chickory for our new badge! Hope you all had as much fun as I did. I'll be back later in the week to recap the entries and announce our winner.