Thursday, August 5, 2010

CSA Meal #2--California Summer Moussaka

So we've doing random little things with the veggies from our first CSA delivery (we're getting one every other week to start with. There's only 2 of us, after all!)--grilling up the carrots (so good-you should try it!), we sauteed some of the zucchini with garlic, shrimp, and white wine and ate it over couscous--that kind of thing.

One of the things we got was a lovely big globe eggplant. I love eggplant, but I've never cooked it. Hurray for experiments and new food! J isn't wild about eggplant normally, but seems to like it ok when it's in stuff rather than just on it's own. I mulled over what to do with it for a while and then I thought: Moussaka!

For those who don't know, moussaka is a greek casserole similar to lasagne that uses eggplant instead of noodles. Traditionally it is made by frying the eggplant slices and layering them with a rich tomato sauce with ground lamb. It's then covered in a cheesy bechamel sauce. It is yummy, but really rich and heavy. Very much a fall comfort food kind of dish.

So I came up with this lighter, vegetarian version that makes use of all the wonderful summer produce we have available in Northern California right now. I substitute tons of veggies for the meat and grill the eggplant instead of frying it for less oil and a nice charred flavor. I made my trip to the farmers market to supplement my CSA stash and cooked it up. It takes a longish time (about 45 minutes to prep with one person) and multiple steps, but if you've got a lazy day and you feel like cooking, give it a try. You should eat this in a bowl with a spoon, 'cause it'll be a little bit soupy.

Here it is done! This makes approximately 12 servings. Unless you're like me and you want to eat it all because it's just that darned good!

California Summer Moussaka


1 large globe eggplant
3 medium-ish carrots, chopped in 1/4 inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic minced
1 lb assorted summer squash (I used green and yellow zucchini and pattypans), chopped
3 large juicy tomatoes chopped (I used random big dark pink heirlooms. No idea what kind they were, but they were juicy and sweet!)
1/2 tsp ground clove
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried marjoram
1 tbsp fresh oregano
1 tbsp fresh majoram
kosher or sea salt to taste
Bechamel sauce (recipe follows)
breadcrumbs (optional)

1. Prepare the eggplant: cut the top and bottom off the eggplant to make it stable. Peel it and slice it into 1/4 inch thick slices. Place the slices on a platter covered in paper towel and sprinkle them with salt. Let them sit for 30 minutes or so to sweat some of the bitterness out of them.

2. While the slices are draining, preheat your gill or grill pan on medium high. Rinse the eggplant slices and pat them dry. Brush one side of the slices with olive oil and place them oil side down on the grill. Grill for 3 minutes.

3. Just before flipping, brush the other side with olive oil. Flip the eggplant and grill for an additional 3 minutes. Remove and set aside.

4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Over medium high heat, heat a little olive oil in a large pan until shimmering. Add the carrots to the pan and stir to coat. Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until the carrots begin to caramelize. You want the veggies to develop a little color, since the caramelization will add to the depth of flavor.

5. When the carrots have started to get some color, add the onions and again, cook for a few minutes, stirring occassionally until they also begin to get some color and get soft.

6. Add your squash and garlic and stir, repeating the step above. Add two or three pinches of sea or kosher salt.

7. Add the tomatoes and their juice. Stir and add the dried herbs and the spices. You can add more to taste, but since this is a lighter moussaka, I went a little easy on the traditional clove and cinnamon. Cook this for a few minutes until the juices are nice and bubbly and it looks like big yummy mess. You don't want to cook it too long--this is a fresh sauce and you want the veggies to be identifiable, not broken down and mushy.

How gorgeous is this?

8. Spread a little sauce in the bottom of a dish. I used my French oven, but a lasagne pan or other baking dish will work well too. Then place a layer of eggplant slices. Continue to layer sauce and eggplant slices, ending with a layer of sauce.

9. Cover with bechamel sauce (see below) and sprinkle breadcrumbs on top if desired. Put the moussaka in the oven and bake for 45 minutes uncovered.

10. Eat and enjoy!

Pecorino Romano Bechamel Sauce

2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk heated
4 oz shredded pecorino romano cheese

1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat

2. When melted and bubbly, whisk in the flour

3. Cook on medium for two minutes

4. Gradually whisk in the hot milk, making sure to keep the sauce smooth

5. Cook for about 5 minutes until the sauce starts to thicken. If it gets too thick, you can whisk in a little more milk

6. Remove from heat and whisk in the shredded cheese. Continue stirring until the cheese is melted and totally incorporated into the sauce.

Monday, August 2, 2010

CSA Meal #1-Ricotta Stuffed Peppers

So we started getting deliveries from a fabulous farm up in Yolo County. I have a great affection for Yolo, having spent 7 years in Davis. The folks who run the farm are second generation farmers and second generation UC Davis grads, so yay!

I can tell already that something this Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) thing is going to do is get us thinking more creatively about our food. As part of the first box, we got an enormous bag of smallish yellow peppers, not bells, more like the tapered Italian kind. Also, a bunch of purple basil and a huge-ish musk mellon. Among other things, but this is what I'm dealing with currently.

So what to do with these little guys? The answer was Grilled Peppers with Herbed Ricotta.

For fresh ricotta, I used Michael Chiarello's recipe which is basically this: 1 gallon of whole milk, 1 quart of buttermilk, mix and cook over medium high heat, stirring and scraping the bottom so it doesn't burn, until the curds separate from the whey. Then remove it from heat, ladle the curds into a cheesecloth lined strainer to drain, and let it sit there for like 20 minutes. This makes about 4 cups of cheese.

Here is what it looks like draining.

And here's what it looks like done. Kind of like really small curd cottage cheese.

So I took the peppers, cut off the tops and pulled out the seeds, and rubbed them with olive oil. Here they are being prepared to grill.

Then I grilled them over medium high heat until they were a little blistery and soft, but still held their shape.

I mixed minced garlic, fresh chopped basil, kosher salt and dried Italian herbs into the ricotta until it looked nice and herby. This is really up to you. I used 1 tsp each of minced garlic, fresh basil, and dried herbs for 1 cup of ricotta, and about 3 biggish pinches of kosher salt. Taste as you go. Here is the herby cheese.

When the peppers were done and still hot, I spooned the cheese mixture into them. That's it. Here they are. YUM.

I served them with half the musk mellon cut into slices and wrapped in prosciutto. It was delicious and super easy. The hardest part was making the cheese, and that wasn't really hard, it just took a little while (about 30 minutes to cook). Ta da!