9.19.14 Roasted Delicata Squash Salad with Maple Bacon Vinaigrette

You know fall has officially begun when you start receiving winter squash in your CSA share. Just last week, my share included, among many other delicious veggies, two lovely little delicata squashes. I know this is only the precursor to many more squashes to come, but I couldn’t help being excited about these little guys. It didn’t take me long to get cooking with them. After pureeing one of my delightful delicatas to bake into squash bread (hint: they are also a perfect replacement for pumpkin in these fall-centric cinnamon rolls), I still had one left. And with a fall chill in the air, I can never pass up an opportunity to turn on the oven. So obviously, some squash roasting was going to go down.

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If you’ve never experienced the gloriousness that is delicata squash before, well, you’re in for a treat. Sweet, satisfying, and with super tender skin, it’s ideal for roasting. And best of all, no peeling required! I sliced up my squash, tossed it with some olive oil, and roasted it until I was left with sweet, crispy little crescents of squashy goodness. And then? Well, quite honestly, I wasn’t sure. I mean, I could easily have devoured the entire pan as they were. But, while delicious, a pan of squash is not necessarily the most satisfying of meals. Of course, if instead, one were to toss said roasted squash with some greens, crunchy walnuts, creamy blue cheese, and a warm sweet/salty maple bacon vinaigrette, well now we’re talking.

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Roasted Delicata Squash Salad with Maple Bacon Vinaigrette

serves 4

  • 1 medium delicata squash (about 1 ½ pounds), halved, seeded, and cut crosswise into ¼ inch thick slices
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 6 slices bacon, chopped crosswise into small pieces
  • 1 ½ Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp whole grain mustard
  • dash of hot sauce
  • 5-6 oz mixed salad greens
  • ½ cup walnuts
  • 2 oz crumbled blue cheese
  • Freshly ground black pepper for serving

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Toss the squash slices with the olive oil, salt, and pepper until evenly coated. Spread squash slices in an even layer on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees until they begin to turn golden brown with crispy edges, about 35-40 minutes.

3. When squash is nearly done roasting, start the dressing. Place the bacon pieces in a pan over medium heat, and cook, stirring occasionally, until bacon pieces are crispy.

4. Remove bacon pieces from pan, and transfer to a plate lined with paper towel. Carefully pour the bacon grease into a heatproof bowl or jar.

5. To the bacon grease, add the maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, mustard, and a dash of hot sauce. Whisk together until well combined.

6. In a large bowl, toss the salad greens with the dressing, divide evenly between 4 plates.

7. Divide warm roasted squash, crispy bacon pieces, walnuts, and blue cheese evenly between all 4 salads. Top each with a bit of freshly ground black pepper, and serve immediately.

9.16.14 Green Chile Pork

Now that cooler fall weather seems to be rolling in, it’s time to return to fall cooking. And while summer cooking is magnificent, there’s something to be said for being able to get away with making hearty, warming, braises and stews. You know, stuff you wouldn’t dare to make during those soaring summer temps. But on a cool fall day, it’s hard to beat the aroma of slow-cooked goodness emanating from your kitchen.

Case in point: chili. I’ve always been a fan of a good bowl of chili, and it only seemed appropriate to make some, considering the fact that the farmers markets are practically overflowing with chile peppers of all shapes, sizes and colors. Let’s add this to the fact that there may be no better food to eat while watching countless Badger and Packer football games than a nice bowl of chili. Obviously it seemed that making up a big pot was inevitable.

Now I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. There are approximately fifty gajillion ways to make chili. And since this was my first chili-making endeavor of the season, I knew I had to make something pretty fantastic. Something that wasn’t just your everyday, run-of-the-mill chili. So here you have it: green chile pork. Technically, a chili, but also so much more.

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The beauty of this recipe is that you can use it for so many things. Of course, I love to eat it in traditional chili fashion; straight up from a bowl, topped with a drizzle of hot sauce, a squeeze of lime, a smattering of fresh cilantro, and a couple of warm tortillas to sop it all up. But let’s not discount the other myriad uses for this delightful dish - piled atop nachos, stuffed into quesadillas, rolled up into enchiladas - really the possibilities are endless. And when it comes to pure aromatic bliss - well, let’s just say, your house is going to smell absolutely amazing with a pot of this stuff simmering away on your stovetop.

Green Chile Pork

serves about 6

  • 5 anaheim chile peppers, halved and seeded
  • 3 poblano chile peppers, halved and seeded
  • ¾ lb tomatillos, husked and roughly chopped
  • 1 14.5 oz can chicken broth
  • 2 lb pork shoulder, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • ¼ c flour
  • 1 ½ tsp salt, divided
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp oil or bacon fat, divided
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chile powder
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper powder (or more to taste)
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • Juice of 1 lime (about 2 Tbsp)
  • Fresh cilantro, warm tortillas, lime wedges and hot sauce for serving

1. Roast green chiles: place anaheim and poblano peppers, skin side up, in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with foil. Place baking sheet on top rack in oven and broil on high until peppers are blackened and blistering, about 10-12 minutes.

2. Immediately transfer peppers to a medium bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let tomatoes and peppers sit inside the bowl for 5-10 minutes (this steams them, which will make the skins much easier to remove).

3. Peel charred skins off of peppers, discard skins. Chop peppers into thin strips and set aside.

4. While peppers are roasting/steaming, blend tomatillos and chicken broth using a food processor or blender until a smooth consistency is achieved. Set tomatillo mixture aside.

5. In a large bowl, toss the chopped pork shoulder with the flour, 1 tsp salt, and ½ tsp pepper, until pork pieces are evenly coated.

6. Heat 2 tsp of the oil or bacon fat in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat, and once hot, add half of the pork pieces in a single layer. Cook, 1-2 minutes per side, until pork is browned on all sides. Remove pork from pot and place on a paper-towel lined plate.

7. Heat another 2 tsp of the oil or bacon fat in the pot and repeat step 6 with the remaining pork pieces. Once browned, transfer to plate as well.

8. Add the final 2 tsp of oil or bacon fat to the pot, add the onion, garlic, cumin, chile powder, ½ tsp salt, and cayenne pepper. Cook until onions are soft and translucent, about 3-4 minutes.

9. Add the chopped roasted green chiles, and cook 1 additional minute.

10. Add the tomatillo mixture, tomato paste, lime juice, pork, and 1 cup water. Stir to combine.

11. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

12. After 2 hours, pork should be very tender and shreddable. Break pork apart with a large fork, and stir. Season to taste with salt. You can serve as is, or continue to cook, uncovered, for an additional 10 minutes for a thicker consistency, if desired.

13. Ladle into bowls and serve with fresh cilantro, warm tortillas, lime wedges and hot sauce.

9.9.14 Peach and Toasted Almond Crumble with Mascarpone Whipped Cream

It’s late summer, and while the weather is warm, there’s the beginning of a crisp fall edge to it. And I currently have in my possession a number of large, golden, juicy, ripe peaches. Obviously, it’s time to make some sort of a dessert. You know, the one with the fruit, and the crumbly, buttery, oat-filled streusel topping - what’s that called? A crisp? A crumble? A cobbler? Let’s be honest, I can never keep these crazy fruit desserts straight. Especially when you start getting into things like buckles, grunts, and pandowdies. Yikes. Which is how I spent more time than I’d like to admit attempting to put an end to my utter confusion. After much investigation, here’s what I’ve discovered: most everyone is just as confused as I am.

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Let’s start with the cobbler - it seems straightforward enough. Fruit, topped with dropped mounds of biscuit dough, which when baked, resembles the world’s most delicious little cobblestones. Easy. Got it. So when is a cobbler not a cobbler? When it’s cooked on top of the stove instead of in the oven. The biscuit dough is steamed, rather than baked, and lo and behold, you have a grunt. Or a slump. With me so far?

A pandowdy is like a cobbler, but after you bake it (or even part-way through baking), you break up the topping and stir it into the fruit. A buckle has a more cake-like batter, with fruit in the center. When baked, the fruit sinks and the whole thing appears to buckle inward.

As for crisps and crumbles, some would say these are exactly the same thing. Others will argue that if your topping contains oats, it’s a crisp. And if that’s not confusing enough, there are still others that would tell you that a crisp containing oats is really a crumble. Oh, but if there are no oats and the crumbs and fruit are stacked in multiple layers, it’s definitely a brown betty. I think. So there you have it. Clear as mud.

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The fact of the matter is, whether or not I can accurately name the delightful dessert that just came out of my oven, it’s still pretty freaking delicious. Late summer peaches, spices, brandy, and brown sugar, baked until bubbly beneath a buttery brown crust of toasted oats and almonds. Throw on a dollop of whipped mascarpone cream spiked with honey, and I don’t care what you call it.

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Peach and Toasted Almond Crumble with Mascarpone Whipped Cream

serves 6-8

Fruit:

  • 2 lbs peaches (about 4-5 large), thinly sliced
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp lemon zest
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp brandy
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp allspice
  • ¼ tsp cloves
  • pinch of salt

Topping:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • ½ cup sliced almonds
  • 4 Tbsp butter, melted
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp salt

Whipped Cream:

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • ½ cup mascarpone cheese, softened
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • ½ tsp vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. To prepare the fruit, mix the peaches, brown sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, brandy, cornstarch, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and salt in a large bowl. Let sit while you prepare the topping.

3. Heat a large pan over medium high heat. Once hot, add the oats and almonds, and cook, stirring frequently, until toasted golden brown and fragrant, about 8 minutes (keep a close watch, and stir often, as they can burn easily if left too long).

4. Combine the toasted oats and almonds with the melted butter, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. The mixture should be crumbly.

5. Spread peaches and any juices evenly in the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan. Top evenly with the streusel topping. Place in the oven and bake at 350 until peaches are bubbling - about 25 -30 minutes. Cool slightly before eating.

6. To make the whipped cream, whip heavy cream in a bowl until stiff peaks form. Beat in the mascarpone, honey, and vanilla. Serve atop crumble.

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9.5.14 Black Bean, Chard, and Goat Cheese Tacos

I don’t know how you spent your Labor Day weekend, but I can assure you that mine was spent eating. A lot. It was pretty fantastic. Let’s recap:

This past weekend, besides being Labor Day weekend, was also happened to be my birthday. And when given the option to choose how to spend my birthday, I always pick the same thing: The Minnesota State Fair. Sure it may be hot and humid outside, and sure the fair is going to be completely packed with the most insane amount of people ever, but I still maintain that it’s one of the greatest places on earth. I mean, where else are you going to see sculptures carved out of butter, an 800-lb pig, a portrait of Mr. T made entirely out of crop seeds, and Garrison Keillor all in the same place? Only at the fair. Oh, and the food! First of all, any place with all the milk you can drink for $1 is pretty good in my book. And from there it only gets better. Mini doughnuts, pronto pups, milk shakes, beer - even a waffle cone filled with fried chicken and gravy (with a malted milk ball in the bottom - you know, so you don’t drip gravy all over yourself. Genius.)

I know you’re probably jealous. And you should be - it was amazing. But after all of that fabulous Fair fare, I was feeling a craving for something a bit healthier. Never had green vegetables sounded so appealing (well, at least not since post-Fair 2013). And so I made these tacos. There’s nothing deep fried about them. And replete with black beans, tomatoes, and swiss chard, they’re everything State Fair food isn’t. Besides, in my book, homemade tacos are pretty much always amazing, no matter what’s in them. And as far as veggie tacos go, this one is pretty stellar. Of course some crumbly goat cheese and avocado only add to its general awesomeness.

Black Bean, Chard, and Goat Cheese Tacos

serves 3-4

This recipe is not something I just came up with on the spur of the moment. Ever since chard began making an appearance in our CSA boxes, I’ve been whipping up these tacos for breakfast (yup, trust me, these are good for any meal). And not only do these make great tacos, but if you’re feeling adventurous, the filling would be great in tamales or arepas as well.

  • 1 large bunch Swiss Chard (about ½ lb)
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp chipotle powder
  • ½ tsp salt, divided
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 1 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice, divided
  • ¼ tsp red chile flakes (optional)
  • warm corn tortillas, fresh cilantro, sliced avocado, crumbled goat cheese, and hot sauce for serving

1. Prep the chard: Separate the ribs and stems from the leaves (ribs and stems will take longer to cook). Cut the stems into 1 inch pieces, and cut the leaves crosswise into 1 inch strips. Set aside while you prepare the beans.

2. Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a large pan over medium heat. Once hot, add the onion, jalapeno, garlic, cumin, chipotle powder, and ¼ tsp of salt. Saute, stirring often, until onions are beginning to soften, about 3-4 minutes.

3. Add the tomatoes, and continue to cook, stirring often, until tomatoes are soft and releasing liquid, about 4-5 minutes.

4. Add the black beans, 1 Tbsp lime juice, and ½ cup water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook while you prepare the chard.

5. Heat the remaining 1 Tbsp oil in another large pan over medium heat. Once hot, add the chard stems, and cook until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the chard leaves and ¼ cup water, cover, and cook until leaves are soft and wilted - about 4-5 minutes.

6. Stir in 1 Tbsp lime juice, ¼ tsp salt, and ¼ tsp red chile flake if additional heat is desired. Season to taste with additional salt if desired.

7. Check the beans - most of the liquid should be reduced. If too thick, add more water to thin. If a thicker consistency is desired, use a potato masher or the back of a large spoon to mash some of the beans. Season to taste with salt.

8. Assemble tacos: Top warmed corn tortillas equally with bean mixture, sauteed chard, fresh cilantro, sliced avocado, and crumbled goat cheese. Serve with hot sauce.

9.2.14 Zucchini, Herb, and Cheese Tartines

If you have a vegetable garden, or subscribe to a local CSA, chances are you are probably completely inundated with zucchini right about now. If you’re like me, and have both a garden AND a CSA to contend with, well, let’s just say, you are most likely a bit overwhelmed in the summer squash department. I feel your pain.

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For years, this was a problem for me. I mean, how many ways can one cook summer squash? Admittedly, many. But enough to exhaust my excessive squash supply? It seemed unlikely. In the past, a lot of my ample CSA squash bounty was relegated to zucchini bread. Lots and lots of zucchini bread. Which is delicious, but eventually, after copious zucchini bread consumption, I reached the point where I couldn’t look at another piece of zucchini bread, much less eat it. I knew I had to get more creative with my squash cookery.

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All in all, I think I’ve done pretty well. I’ve baked my zucchinis into tasty gratins, fried them up into a satisfying summer hash, even simmered them in a fragrant coconut curry. But in the end, I always reach the point of summer squash saturation. Right about now. And while I’d love to just give up on zucchini all together, the few lonely squashes in my fridge would beg otherwise. And so, I bring you one more zucchini recipe. But trust me, it’s a good one. Julienned, marinated in fresh lemon, oil, and grassy summer herbs, then mounded atop tangy sheeps milk cheese and crisp, garlicky sourdough, this is zucchini in a whole new light. Refreshing and tasty (not to mention beyond simple to make), this is the perfect way to use up your latest abundance of zukes. You might even wish you had a couple more.

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Zucchini, Herb, and Cheese Tartines

makes 4 tartines (about 2 servings)

These also make a great summer appetizer atop smaller baguette-sized toasts.

  • 2 small zucchini (green, yellow, or a mix), cut into matchsticks
  • 2 Tbsp fresh basil, roughly chopped
  • 2 Tbsp fresh parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1 Tbsp fresh mint, roughly chopped
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil (plus more for toasting bread)
  • ¼ tsp red chile flakes
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 slices sourdough bread
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 oz soft sheep or goat milk cheese (I’m a fan of the Driftless sheep cheese from Hidden Springs Creamery for this)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, combine the zucchini, basil, parsley, mint, lemon juice, olive oil, chile flake, salt, and pepper. Let sit while you prepare the toast.

3. Place bread slices on a baking sheet. Cut garlic clove in half, and rub the cut sides over the top of the bread slices. Discard garlic clove. Brush the top of each slice of bread with a bit of olive oil. Bake bread until crispy and golden brown, about 8-10 minutes.

4. Spread each slice of toasted bread with ½ ounce of the cheese.

5. Give the zucchini mixture a good stir (some liquid will have separated out), season to taste with additional salt and pepper if desired. Divide zucchini mixture evenly between the 4 toasts. Serve immediately.

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8.29.14 Buckwheat Crepes with Fontina, Prosciutto and Arugula Peach Salad

Crepes were never the sort of thing I used to think about making for lunch or dinner. Dessert, sure. A snack, maybe. They never really seemed substantial enough for an actual meal. Silly me. I just hadn’t made the right crepe yet.

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There are so many different types of crepes out there. Sweet crepes, savory crepes, crepes made from corn, or even fermented rice and lentils, as in the South Indian dosa. All of these are definitely delicious, but when it comes to a good solid dinner crepe, my favorite is a hearty buckwheat crepe. Buckwheat, despite what it’s name implies, is actually not wheat. In fact, it’s a plant more closely related to rhubarb and sorrel. It has a much nuttier, earthier flavor than standard wheat flour, and in my opinion, makes for one tasty crepe. Filled with prosciutto, melty fontina and topped with a perfect little salad of arugula and peaches - that’s a crepe I can definitely get behind. Especially if it’s accompanied by a nice glass of hard cider.

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Besides their general deliciousness, one of the best things about crepes is that they are infinitely customizable. I’ll admit, I’ve been known to swap out the milk in my crepe batter for beer, which lends them a nice malty flavor. And fillings, well, you can really go crazy there. Fontina and prosciutto are fantastic, but really, the possibilities are endless. Roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions, gorgonzola - if you’re feeling particularly daring, you can even crack an egg onto the crepe right after flipping, and cook until it has a perfectly soft-cooked yolk (I mean, putting an egg on top of anything automatically makes it better, that’s just common sense). And if crepes for dinner isn’t enough, add a couple of teaspoons of sugar to your crepe batter, and whip up some dessert crepes, topped with fresh fruit and a dusting of powdered sugar.

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Buckwheat Crepes with Fontina, Prosciutto and Arugula Peach Salad

makes 3 medium crepes

crepes:

  • ½ cup buckwheat flour (I like to use the flour from Lonesome Stone Milling)
  • ½ cup milk*
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • butter for pan
  • ¾ cup grated fontina cheese
  • 3 thin slices prosciutto

*can add additional milk if a thinner batter is desired

salad:

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • ½ tsp dijon mustard
  • 4 oz arugula
  • 1 peach, pitted and thinly sliced

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the buckwheat flour, milk, eggs, and salt.

2. Heat a 9-10 inch skillet over medium heat. Melt a small amount of butter in the pan, swirling to coat the bottom. Pour ⅓ of the batter (a scant ½ cup) into the pan, quickly spreading the batter toward the edges of the pan (if you aren’t fast enough to spread the batter all the way to the edges before it sets, you’ll end up with a slightly smaller, thicker crepe. Never fear, it will still be delicious! If you’re having trouble, thinning the batter with some extra milk will make spreading it easier.)

3. Cook until bottom of crepe is set, about 1 minute, then carefully flip. Top with ¼ cup grated cheese and one slice of prosciutto in the center of the crepe. Continue to cook until cheese is melted, about 2-3 additional minutes. Using a spatula, fold the edges of the crepe up toward the center. Slide the crepe onto a plate, cover to keep warm, and continue to cook the two additional crepes in the same manner.

4. In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, and mustard. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the arugula and peaches, and lightly toss to coat with dressing.

5. Divide the salad evenly atop crepes. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately with a cold glass of hard cider.

8.26.14 Summer Squash, Eggplant, and Coconut Curry

If you’ve been reading my blog over the past couple of weeks (or months really, for that matter), you may be wondering if I’ve somehow managed to become a vegetarian. I was in fact wondering the same thing, after a recent perusal of my posts revealed that I hadn’t posted a thing containing meat since, like, early July. In fact, I have not become a vegetarian (this would be impossible for me due to the existence of bacon). Instead, I’ve just been a little distracted from meat by all of the gloriously ripe summer fruits and vegetables I’ve been finding myself surrounded by these days.

After all, this is the time of year to make the most of the myriad of summer produce available from farmer’s markets, CSAs, and gardens. And while meat is most definitely delicious, for some reason, all I want to cook these days is vegetables. So be it. I won’t fight it. Especially not when I’m scarfing down bowls of spicy summer squash and eggplant curry. This is summer produce at its finest - floating in a spicy, creamy, coconut cilantro broth, and topped with fresh herbs from the garden and a squeeze of lime. Summer, please stay forever.

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Summer Squash, Eggplant, and Coconut Curry

serves 4

This is great with any type of rice, but a nutty whole grain rice like brown or black rice is especially tasty with this creamy coconut curry.

  • 1 Tbsp canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp finely grated ginger
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 2 medium summer squash, chopped
  • 1 medium eggplant, chopped
  • 1 14 oz can light coconut milk
  • 1 cup cilantro (loosely packed)
  • juice of 1 lime (about 2 Tbsp)
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 2 Thai bird or serrano chiles (seeded if less heat is desired)
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • fresh cilantro, Thai basil, lime wedges, and rice for serving

1. Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, ginger, and salt, and cook until onions are soft and fragrant, about 3-4 minutes.

2. Add the tomato, and cook an additional 2-3 minutes, then add the summer squash and eggplant. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are just tender, about 7-8 minutes.

3. While vegetables are cooking, combine the coconut milk, cilantro, lime juice, soy sauce, chilies, and turmeric in a blender. Blend well to combine.

4. Add the coconut mixture to the vegetables in the pan, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt. Serve over rice, with chopped cilantro, Thai basil and lime wedges.

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8.19.14 Roasted Summer Vegetable Panzanella

When I was a kid, my most hated food of all time was eggplant. There was just something about it that I found just incredibly awful. Which is funny, because looking back, I only remember eating it once as a kid (I believe in some sort of eggplant parmesan form) and thinking it wasn’t actually that bad. This was, of course before I knew it was eggplant that I was eating, and just thought it was some sort of delicious fried thing covered in sauce and cheese. Once my mom revealed the secret (surprise, it’s eggplant!), I wanted nothing more to do with it. I was a weird kid.

To this day, I still can’t think of why I thought I hated it. Maybe I truly had a bad eggplant experience that has since been blocked from my memory. Maybe it’s just pure stubbornness in response to being tricked into eating it (knowing me, it’s probably the latter). Whatever the reason, until very recently, I wouldn’t go near the stuff. Which is sad to say, because a couple of years ago, when I finally gave eggplant another try, I realized that over all of those past eggplant-less years, I’d really been missing out.

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Nowadays, I eat quite a bit of eggplant, no trickery required. It’s delicious fried ala eggplant parm, grilled, and even blended with tahini and garlic to make a tasty dip. But I think my favorite way to cook eggplant is to roast it. Simply tossed with some olive oil, salt and pepper, a splash of balsamic, and roasted to perfection. You can do about a million delicious things with it, but one of the best ways to enjoy your roasted eggplanty goodness is to add it to a nice summer salad.

Of course, we’re not talking just any salad here. Oh, no. We’re talking about the panzanella, a.k.a the BEST kind of salad. Any salad where the lettuce has been replaced with crunchy homemade croutons is pretty darn awesome in my book. Adding some roasted eggplant is icing on the cake. And while we’re roasting that eggplant, we may as well roast some other summer veggies, for added variety and deliciousness. Throw in some cherry tomatoes, fresh parsley, and top it with some crumbled cheese, and boom. Now that’s a salad.

Roasted Summer Vegetable Panzanella

serves about 6

  • 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 fennel bulb, chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • ½ medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • ½ Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • ½ lb hearty wheat or sourdough bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 3-4 oz crumbled ricotta salata or feta cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, mix together the eggplant, red pepper, fennel, tomatoes, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, 2 Tbsp olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Stir to combine well. Spread vegetables in a single layer on a baking sheet, and bake at 400 degrees for about 35 minutes.

3. Toss the bread cubes with 2 Tbsp of olive oil, spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees until bread is crispy and edges are golden brown, about 12-15 minutes.

4. In a large bowl, combine the toasted bread cubes, roasted vegetables with all of their juices,  cherry tomatoes, and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top with crumbled ricotta salata or feta, and serve.