Monday, September 28, 2009

Carmelized Onion and Dandelion Greens Strata

This past weekend I volunteered to help prepare food for a local conference on creating a new economy (creating an "Ojai dollar" based on the Berkshare concept). It was a great opportunity to cook with new people and cook for a large group (60 plus dinners on Friday and the same for lunch on Saturday). For Saturday we made a Zucchini Tomato Basil strata. I was in charge of this dish and it involved massive quantities of eggs (80), ricotta and parmesan cheeses (20 cups of each), shredded zucchini (60 cups), and bread cubes soaked in water, among other ingredients.

As a lover of simple Italian food I was shocked that I had never heard of this dish with very peasanty origins. When I decided to make it for myself and blog about it I looked up a more single person friendly recipe and found that most recipes call for soaking the bread overnight in the egg and milk mixture, which definitely sounds like a peasant thing to do. However, I was impatient and decided to do it the way we had made it for the conference.

Having just discovered this dish I can't help but remark how similar it is to Midwestern Egg Bakes (mix egg, milk, cheese and cooked vegetables and pour in a pan lined with old bread and bake) or French Quiche, fanciest with a pastry crust. I love making the connections between generations of women who cooked with what was available and, not surprisingly, created similar dishes.

I had dandelion greens that needed to be used and since they have a tendency towards bitterness even when they're freshly picked, I added the carmelized onions to sweeten the dish.

Carmelized Onion and Dandelion Greens Strata

6-8 eggs, depending on size
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
2 cups cubed bread (old or fresh is fine)
1 1/2 cups shredded parmesan
1 onion, slivered
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch dandelion greens, washed and chopped
1 teaspoon blue cheese, crumbled
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Over medium heat cook the onions in the oil (this is more than usual since it helps carmelize the onions in 30 minutes instead of the hour or more it can take). Once carmelized, add greens to pan and toss to help them wilt. Once wilted remove from heat and set aside. Place bread in bowl and add enough water to submerge. Allow to soak 10-20 minutes until bread is very soft. Squeeze out water and set aside. In bowl crack eggs and beat with salt and pepper. Add cheeses and blend well. Add vegetables and bread and mix well. Taste for salt and pepper. It will be a very thick batter. Oil baking dish and pour batter in pan and bake for 30 minutes. If strata does not rise after 30 minutes, increase heat to 450 and cook another 10 minutes until lightly browned and fluffy. You may have to cook another 5-10 minutes if the strata appears wiggly in the middle. Allow to cook 5-10 minutes and slice and eat warm or cool.

Similar to quiche, this is one of those dishes that works well with an assortment of vegetables cooked or raw (the zucchini was raw in the large quantity version) or additions of seasoned pork (bacon, sausage, pancetta). You could even vary the cheeses by adding goat cheese for half of the ricotta or some feta. Just make sure the liquid is at a minimum because that will slow down the cooking.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Beet and Goat Cheese Stuffed Ravioli

I once read someone describing ravioli as "little pillowy delights stuffed with surprising tastes" and that is precisely how I would describe these beauties. When you take the time to make homemade pasta don't waste all of that effort on just one meal; make enough pasta for some ravioli and freeze them so you can enjoy the fruits of labor long after putting away the rolling pin.

I have a couple of standard ravioli recipes that never fail - spinach (or any greens) with ricotta and parmesan cheese or just cheese with some nutmeg and cracked pepper. But this time I decided to try a version that I had only heard about but have not yet tried myself, roasted beets and goat cheese. I'm happy to report it's as delicious as all of the rave reviews I've heard. The roasted beets have a sweetness that blends with the tang of the goats cheese and the sage butter I topped it off with lent the perfect savory touch to bring it all together into a delightful mouthful.

Beet and Goat Cheese Ravioli Filling

1 large beet (about the size of your fist) or 2-3 small ones
1/3 cup goats cheese (4 oz)
1/3 cup parmesan, grated
cracked black pepper to taste
salt to taste

Roll out a sheet of pasta made with 2 eggs, 1 3/4 cups flour and 2 teaspoons milk (see here for how to). Cut into 3 inch wide strips and drop 1 teaspoon of filling at 1 inch intervals along the edge of the strip, leaving at least 1/2 inch border. Fold sheet over and press edges and in between individual raviolis to seal.

A word of caution in how you fill them. Resist the urge to put in more filling; it will lead to your raviolis not sealing properly and then it creates a mess when you cut them and have ravioli filling mucking up the cooking water.

Either cut raviolis to separate or use fluted roller as shown.

If you don't have this gadget, just cut with a knife to separate and then use the tines of a fork to create a decorative edge and seal the seams more solidly. At this point you can either cook the ravioli or place them on a baking sheet and freeze. Once the raviolis are frozen, you can then place them in a sealed baggie and keep them in the freezer. Cook them straight from the freezer, and they will cook up in about 5-7 minutes in boiling water.

The quick version of sage butter is to place a sliver of butter on the hot ravioli and then sprinkle on chopped fresh sage and salt. Works like a charm!


Monday, September 21, 2009

Homemade Pasta with Bolognese Sauce

As a child, I was a very finicky eater. Unlike most children I refused to eat pasta of any kind. Not only did I hate pasta but I also wouldn't touch fresh tomatoes (cooked ones were pretty suspicious to me as well). It was a texture issue; I just didn't like the feel of either food in my mouth. Needless to say it made my mother crazy since my father insisted she make separate food for me.

Fast forward to college where I began to try many new things, including new food. I took Italian language classes and fell in love with my teacher, the language, and in the bliss of this new found love, I tried pasta and tomatoes, again. At the end of the semester our class went to the professor's house where we all helped make homemade pasta for a Lasagna Bolognese. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. That week I went out and bought my first cookbook, Marcella Hazan's The Classic Italian Cookbook and made the first of many Lasagna Bolognese for my roommates (I couldn't find any store with a rolling pin so I used an empty wine bottle!)

Over the years I've made many recipes out of Hazan's signature book, mostly those that involved stuffed pastas: raviolis, tortellini, canelloni and for a real treat, pasta roll stuffed with spinach and cheese, bellisimo! I realized that the pasta I love is egg pasta used for stuffing, rather than the spaghetti or fettucini that is so readily available in grocery stores.

Since I now live closer to my mom (90 minute drive) we are spending more time together and eating together again. Inspired by a cooking show she invited me over to collaborate on a feast: I make the homemade pasta and she would make Bolognese sauce. It was a beautiful mother-daughter afternoon and while there was some discussion about what went into a Bolognese sauce (a time honored tradition I'm sure!) here are the recipes we ended up using.

Bolognese Sauce
1 lb ground beef
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 cup cremini mushrooms, chopped
1/2 cup red wine (we used the chianti we were drinking during cooking, of course!)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 15 oz crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup cream or 1/2 and 1/2

In a large stock pot brown the beef, breaking it up into small pieces. Add onions and garlic and cook until softened. Add carrots and celery and cooking another 3-4 minutes until softened. Add red wine and allow to boil away. Add tomato paste and tomatoes and stir well. Bring to boil and reduce to simmer. Cook 30 minutes until sauce is well mixed. Stir in cream and keep on low until ready to serve. Sauce can be made in advance and reheated when you make pasta.

Homemade Egg Pasta (serves 4)

2 eggs
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour (you can substitute spelt flour)
2 teaspoons milk
extra flour for dusting

On a bread board or clean counter top measure out flour and make a well in the middle. Crack eggs into well and add milk. Gentle mix eggs and milk with a fork and slowly begin incorporating flour into liquid, careful not to allow liquid to escape flour. Mold mixture into ball and begin to knead as you would knead bread dough. If you have never done that, here is a picture and directions for how to do it with bread dough, which is the same technique for pasta. This entails holding the ball with both hands together and pushing the ball away from you to create a flap, then you re-incorporate it into the dough. You knead for 6-8 minutes until the dough is smooth, like this.

Wrap the dough in a damp paper towel or dish cloth and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Cut it in half, rewrapping half and flatten the other half out using the heel of your hand. Dust a work space with flour and dust your rolling pin and begin to roll out the dough as thin as you can. You want it to be nearly see-through since fresh pasta will cook up to double its size. A couple of tricks to getting it thin are to stretch the dough as you would pizza, or cut in half and roll out the center of the dough, which is almost always thicker (as the edges are thinner). Also, you can allow it to rest under a dish cloth for about five minutes and when you come back to it it will stretch more easily. Once you have it at the desired thickness, loosely fold it into a jelly-roll like roll and cut strips from the end to create long strings of pasta. However, if you happen to be really lucky and have an antique noodle cutter like this one I found at an antique shop in Minnesota,

then you just roll it over the sheet and gently pull the strings apart. Drape the pasta over the back of a kitchen chair with a clean dish cloth on it and either use immediately or store in an air tight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 three days or for longer in the freezer. Cooking it fresh will take about 10-15 minutes depending on your desired al dente.

Spoon the Bolognese sauce over the noodles and add grated parmesan if you like.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Baked Zucchini Parmesan

My journey as a cook in both restaurants and for myself began with Italian food. As a teenager, I worked at Mazzotta's Italian Kitchen and Bakery, making pizzas, calzones, and occasionally helping with the creation of chicken, veal and eggplant parmesan. Mazzotta's version involved dipping the key ingredient in flour, egg, seasoned bread crumbs and then in egg again and deep frying. Needless to say it was fantastic, although a heart attack waiting to happen!

Since then I have come to specialize in eggplant parmesan particularly for special occasions and enjoy setting aside an afternoon to follow the traditional steps of breading and frying the eggplant and then layering it with white sauce and parmesan cheese. Eggplant prepared in this manner transforms into a velvety richness that is exquisite.

However, as one of the unemployed of California I am eating what I have and gifted with two large zucchini I decided to try a zucchini parmesan. I can't believe I never thought to do this sooner! Zucchini, similar to eggplant, has a silky mellow taste when fried or broiled and it produced a superb parmesan.

Baked parmesan dishes are very forgiving of shortcuts, so I decided to forgo the frying step and broiled the zucchini instead. You don't want to broil too long, just enough to soften them (and a little charring is fine.) Because I didn't bread and fry the zucchini, I simply added the seasoned breadcrumbs as a layer, which is essential so that you have the effect of tomato sauce, breading, zucchini and cheese all baked together. Also, while I made a simple tomato sauce of sauteed onions and crushed tomatoes, feel free to use a plain store bought sauce, but stick with a tomato only or tomato and basil version.

Baked Zucchini Parmesan

2 large zucchini, sliced in 1/4 inch thick slabs
2 cups prepared tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs (either buy them seasoned or add 1 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons dried oregano, 1 teaspoon dried garlic, ground)
1 cup mozzarella, shredded
1 cup parmesan, shredded
olive oil

Preheat broiler. Place zucchini on broil pan lined with foil and either spray with oil or drizzle oil on each slab and rub around; dust with salt and broil until tender and just beginning to brown (time depends on your broiler; mine took 15 minutes! but I think that's unusual. Keep an eye on them). Either heat tomato sauce from jar or make own sauce and keep warm. Once zucchini are broiled, remove from oven.

Preheat oven to 400. In casserole dish smear some tomato sauce around bottom. Line bottom with zucchini slices (you will make 2 layers so plan accordingly). Spoon tomato sauce over zucchini in thin layer, follow with layer of bread crumbs (there will be three layers of bread crumbs so plan accordingly). Spoon heavier layer of tomato sauce over all and then sprinkle half of each cheese over tomato sauce. Drizzle olive oil over all (Don't think to save calories by skipping this step; without it the dish is dry since the zucchini was not fried in oil). Repeat with a layer of zucchini, tomato sauce, bread crumbs, and cheese. Top with last bit of bread crumbs and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until top is browned.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

The first time I had Middle Eastern food was 20 years ago when a college friend who was also studying in Paris for the year introduced me to Falafel. She took me to a little hole in the wall, counter take-away place in Le Marais (ironically the Jewish section of Paris) where we purchased a half moon pita bread stuffed with piping hot falafel, shredded lettuce and a sauce that sung to me. I was so in love with this new discovery that I constantly badgered her to take me back for more.

Since then, Middle Eastern dishes such as hummus and baba ghannouj have become fairly ubiquitous and it's safe to say most people who have lived in a big city have probably had them at some point. My theory, completely unscientific of course, is that they lend themselves to easy snacking while providing amazing taste and protein, making them a staple of vegetarian cookbooks and culture. Having been a vegetarian for 15 years, I can attest to making this delicious dip many times.

In this version I use roasted red pepper to give it a sweetness and its orange hue. I give instructions below for how to roast your own peppers, but store bought are equally good; I just hate to buy when I can make it and for so much less. I also substituted white beans for the traditional garbanzos simply because they were already cooked and I don't taste the difference in my hummus.

While hummus is traditionally eaten with warmed or toasted pita triangles, I am more apt to eat it with vegetables since I love the crunch of the crudites with the softness of the dip. Often this version ends up at parties or sometimes I'll do the roasted beet version (details below) for a really rosy hued hummus. Additionally, although this theory is untested I would think this would be a great way to entice (trick!) kids into eating more vegetables since dips are fun to eat and this one is especially addictive without being overpowering.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

1 1/2 cups white beans (or 1 15 oz can, drained
1 medium red pepper (or 1/2 cup canned peppers)*
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon paprika or cayenne
small handful of fresh basil leaves (optional)

Preheat oven to 400. Place pepper on baking sheet on foil and roast for 30-45 minutes until blacken and sunken in on itself. Remove from oven, wrap foil around pepper loosely and place in brown bag to steam for 5-10 minutes. Remove from bag and as soon as you're able to touch it place pepper in a bowl and peel away skin. Discard skin, stem and seeds but save liquid and pulp. In a blender, puree garlic, 1/2 of beans, olive oil, and half of pepper until blended. Add remaining ingredients and continue to blend until fully mixed. Adjust salt and lemon juice (quite often you need more of each of these to bring the full flavor to the forefront. Beans require a good dose of salt since they absorb so much of it.) Serve immediately or chill and allow flavors to marry.

*For the beet version, substitute the red pepper for 1 medium or 2 small boiled or roasted beets, peeled and diced. Adding dill to this version is a good herb compliment.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Salmon Cakes - Redefining Canned Fish

I have a tendency towards food hoarding - I blame it on subliminal messages from my father who was born in 1930 to a widow with three other kids. When I was young we could occasionally coax stories from him about how his family's poverty meant that they only ate meat once a week (on Sunday) and used bacon grease on their bread instead of butter (so good!) I think his childhood experience is a main reason that he always had a garden with tremendous abundance and he was an ardent canner; the dill pickles I make are from his recipe.

But back to hoarding, in unpacking my kitchen for the third time in as many years I realized I've been carting around a can of salmon for some time and decided it was time to use it. (Sidebar: because my new kitchen has almost no storage space I'm going to be using up the odds and ends that have traveled with me and never been used so look for future posts using unique ingredients!)

Never having made salmon cakes I went to my trusty "food encyclopedia" The Joy of Cooking, which, as I suspected, suggested a simple recipe: salmon, crushed crackers, salt, pepper and egg. I added some dried dill and whipped up a spicy remoulade like sauce to go with them and let me tell you dear reader, they were scrumptious! I rarely think of myself as gobbling my food, but I'm sure that is exactly what I looked like scarfing these beauties.

Salmon Cakes

1 15 oz can salmon (you can eat the bones and skin if yours comes that way)
2/3 - 1 cup crackers, crushed
1 egg
1 teaspoon dried dill
oil or butter for frying

Drain salmon and mix with crackers, egg, dill, salt and pepper. I used the crackers I had on hand which were water crackers and just crushed them with a rolling pin. You can easily crush them by putting them in a bowl and using the bottom of a smaller bowl or coffee cup to crush them. They don't need to be pulverized. Form into patties no more than 1/2 inch thick. Fry on medium heat until well browned on both sides. Serve with lemon wedges or a mayonnaise sauce like the one below.

Spicy Creamy Sauce

For my sauce I combined the first three sauce ingredients with a teaspoon of a spicy chili paste that I had created, which also included some sugar to offset the spice. But feel free to experiment according to your own taste.

2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2-3 teaspoons lemon juice
several dashes tabasco sauce (or pinch of cayenne)

Combine all ingredients and then add any of the following ingredients according to taste:

1 teaspoon capers, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1/2 teaspoon dried wasabi for an Asian twist


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Kirsten's Own Creamy Potato Salad

I know that I made a potato salad a couple of weeks ago, but the stars aligned; I've been wanting to make homemade mayonnaise and for my mom's birthday we're planning a picnic and she loves potato salad. So I ended up making a creamy version of potato salad. But don't think this is your mother's or grandmother's version. In fact, this was one that I created when I was cooking for a Methodist church that had regular meetings on Wednesday nights.

Cooking for the Methodists, as I deemed it, was something of a challenge for me because most of the parishioners were older and preferred more traditional foods. Racking my brains for something to please them I came up with this mayonnaise based potato salad. It turned out that everyone loved it even though it was missing the traditional boiled eggs which are ubiquitous in Midwest Style Potato Salads. It seems that people really like something when they want to know what was in it and everyone kept wondering what the "mystery" ingredient was in the salad (that would be Parmesan cheese).

This recipe definitely was inspired by "Kristina's Potato Salad" from Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook, including tomatoes and toasted sunflower seeds. But Katzen's salad has tarragon as its main herb while mine relies on parsley.

I rarely feel the need to adhere strictly to ingredients, but this one exception proves the rule. I find the combination of flavors and textures creates a perfect salad (if I do say so myself!) I hope you enjoy it!

Kirsten's Potato Salad

1 lb red and yellow potatoes, similar sizes
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2-3 roma tomatoes, diced
2-3 green onions, chopped
1 cup red bell pepper, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 tablespoons parsley, minced
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard, country or dijon or your preference
salt and pepper to taste

Bring pot of water to boil and add potatoes and cook until potatoes just slip off fork. Drain and as soon as you're able to touch them, cut into bite size pieces, sprinkle with 2 tablespoons cider vinegar and salt. Toss well and set aside. Add tomatoes, onions, pepper, celery, parsley, and parmesan cheese to potatoes. Toast sunflower seeds in toaster over on sheet pan or dry fry (no oil) in skillet or cast iron pan on top of stove until they become fragrant and begin to brown. Add to potatoes and vegetables. In bowl or measuring cup, combined vinegar, mayonnaise and mustard and mix to form sauce. Pour over potatoes and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve chilled or at room temperature.


Monday, September 7, 2009

Go Taste Your Local Wines!

I remember distinctly the first time I tasted the delectable combination of wine and cheese. I was eating with my French host family during my junior year abroad and they had broken out a bottle of red for a special occasion and were passing a cheese plate to go with it. I was 20, a really obnoxious know it all, and had dismissed wine and cheese pairings as tourist hype.

Boy I could not have been more wrong.

I don't know the chemistry but there is something about mixing the creaminess of cheese with the acidity of wine that creates fireworks on your taste buds. I was euphoric and have pursued that experience ever since. However, it has been the search for cheese rather than wine which has preoccupied my quest. Until yesterday. My sister Martha convinced me to take a visit to the wineries just north of where I live, outside of Santa Barbara, CA to the Santa Rita Valley. What a revelation!

The interesting parallel to the cheese and wine experience of my 20 year self is that I thought visiting wineries was a bunch of hooey (I guess my know it all self is alive and well!) Again, so wrong. The people working the counter for the sampling were knowledgeable, approachable and clearly enjoyed sharing the wine with us. To top it all off, being out in this rural setting surrounded by rows upon rows of grape vines was so peaceful and beautiful.

The beauty of wine tasting is not only that you get to sample 5-6 different wines, but it usually only costs about $5 per person and you keep your glass. I learned that I actually like chardonnay and sauvingon blanc in addition to my beloved reds. Who'd a thunk it!

Of course we packed a wonderful picnic to eat after sampling all of these wines and while it was simple - bread, cheese, olives, and a corn tomato and basil salad inspired by Garden of Eating - it was divine to eat and drink at a picnic table overlooking the vines themselves.

For all of the doubting Thomases convinced they cannot have a similar gorgeous experience, let me be the first to dissuade you; ever state in the U.S. (including Alaska!) has wineries, and here's the link for locating them.* I can almost guarantee that you will have a fantastic time and create a lasting memory that you will savor for a lifetime, although your good wine won't last that long!

Here's the recipe for my version of corn tomato and basil salad, inspired by Garden of Eating. I used lime juice instead of sherry vinegar and left out the shallots.

Corn, Tomato and Basil Salad

3 ears corn, shucked and cut in half
2-3 tomatoes
20 leaves basil
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lime, juiced
salt and pepper

Bring large pot of water to boil and cook corn for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. Cut tomatoes into bite size pieces and place in bowl. Stack basil leaves together in pile and with scissors cut into strips.** When able to handle hot corn, place upright on cutting board and cut off kernels and add to tomatoes and basil. Add olive oil and salt and pepper and mix well, allowing the olive oil to soak into the warm corn. Add lime juice and serve.

* Apologies to anyone outside the U.S. reading this, but I would think that there are wineries everywhere if they're also in Alaska!

** I find cutting basil with a scissors instead a knife seems to bring out the flavorful oil of the leaf which makes it so fragrant.


Friday, September 4, 2009

Quick Vegetable Fajitas

Ever since I spent a summer in Tucson, Arizona, I've been in love with Mexican food. Living in the heat of 90 plus degree days made me understand the evolution of food from the southeast of the U.S. and Central America; flat breads are the way to go because it's just too damn hot to eat leavened breads, they slow down your digestive system and make you feel even more like a slug. Additionally, the natural electrolytes found in lemons and limes help your body cope with the dry heat and spicy peppers make you sweat just in case your body forgot that it needed to cool off. It makes me appreciate the beautiful efficiency of the human body and its ability adapt to a climate.

All of this is to say that I intuitively understand basic Mexican cooking just by following my body's desires. Yesterday, with Ojai at 103 (or 104 degrees, I don't really keep track) I was craving fajitas and whipped up this batch in less than 15 minutes. Nothing fancy but oh so tasty. I would deem this a great lunch or quick dinner no matter the season, but particularly refreshing in the summer heat. It's also a way to showcase multi-colored bell peppers and look fancy without much effort, which is always a plus in my book!

Vegetable Fajitas

2 cups bell peppers cut in strips (red, green, yellow, whatever you have)
1/2 onion cut in strips
4-5 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 - 1/4 jalapeno, sliced in strips (deseeded for less spice)
1 lime, juiced
olive oil for cooking
2-4 flour tortillas

Heat a skillet or cast iron pan on high heat for a minute; add oil and allow to heat for 1/2 minute. Add onions, garlic and cook 1 minute. Add peppers and cook additional 2-3 minutes until still crisp but beginning to soften. Add salt and pour lime juice over all and cook another minute. Remove from heat and portion onto tortillas. Serve with salsa or slices of avocado.

P.S. This is a citrus press, and once I discovered this I understood how people who cook with so much lime juice weren't losing their minds. The interior of limes are not structured the same as lemons, so they do not release as much juice as lemons do when hand juiced with a reamer. This handy gadget presses all of the juice out of a lime with such little effort. Make sure to place the lime cut side down, since the press will basically invert it in pressing out all of the juice. They're invaluable not only for cooking but for making fresh Mojitos or Margaritas, my favs!


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Mediterranean Eggplant Caviar

Eggplant is one of those vegetables that seduces me every time I see it. There is something about that glossy purple skin and nubby green cap that just hooks my stomach and purrs, "you want me, you know you do."

Among my favorite recipes for eggplant is this one, from one of the lesser known Moosewood Cookbooks (I call it the "white moosewood" because of the cover. I think it is one of the best ones, even if it is smaller. This caviar includes all of my favorite flavors: briny capers, roasted eggplant and peppers, clean fresh parsley and puckery red wine vinegar. I made a bowl of it for some company tonight and it was even doable in my new kitchen that is only half unpacked.

I have only made this with the Italian eggplant variety, so the cooking times would be shorter if you used the Japanese eggplants, probably 15 minutes less in the oven.

Mediterranean Eggplant Caviar

1/2 lb eggplant (2 small or 1 large)
1 red bell pepper
1 stalk celery, diced
3-4 slices red onion, diced
2 roma tomatoes or 1/2 large beefsteak, diced
1 tablespoon capers, minced
1-2 tablespoons parsley, minced
1-2 tablespoons olive oil (to taste)
2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (to taste)
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400. Place eggplant and peppers on foil covered baking sheet or pan and roast vegetables until eggplant appears to sink into itself and red pepper is charred and shrunken all over, about 30-40 minutes depending on size. Remove from oven and place pepper in brown paper bag to steam. As soon as you can stand touching the eggplant, slice off cap and cut in half and scoop out pulp and dice. A trick to getting all of the pulp is to take a fork and rake out the pulp clinging to the skin, it will come out easily. Remove pepper from bag and peel off skin and remove seeds and stem and discard. Dice remaining deskinned flesh and combine with eggplant in a bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix well, adjusting taste. Serve with crackers or as bruschetta topping. This is good immediately but its flavors meld if it is allowed to sit for a while, either in the refrigerator or on the counter.