The Best of Summer and Fall: Eggplant Timbale, a transitional dish

The hot steam of mystery–is it a cake, or a casserole?

Sometimes, when you see a picture of a recipe, you have to try it.   I found this amazing recipe through (of course) Foodgawker.  My first impression: a big, awesome, savory pasta-filled cake wrapped in grilled eggplant.   The blogger who originally posted the recipe noted that it was her adaptation of a Giada De Laurentiis recipe which used ground beef instead of sausage and jarred marinara as opposed to the roasted grape tomatoes.  I really appreciate the changes she made: sausage already has built in seasonings and fat which = more flavor and, growing up with my grandmother and mother’s homemade sauce, jarred marinara is nearly sacrilege.  Now, I’ll admit, slicing and grilling 2-3 large or medium eggplants is, lightly put, a pain in the butt.  But by starting early enough and doing this part of the recipe first rather than nearly last as it was originally placed,  you can get this stressful portion out of the way, and also roast your grape tomatoes at the same time (15-20 minutes).  And for all the tedious grilling you have to do, isn’t it worth it for this?

Surprise it’s (sorta) both! (It was baked in a cake pan).

Roasting the grape tomatoes gave such a fresh flavor to the dish. It made me realize I didn’t actually need a crushed sauce because when I added the hot pasta water to the browned sausage-roasted tomato mixture, there is more than enough liquid to coat the pasta, but it doesn’t make the timbale a runny mess either.  And who can resist fresh grape tomatoes that make mid-September feel like summer?

Grape tomatoes, pre-roast.

In fact this dish is a perfect summer-fall transitional dish.  It has grilled eggplant (summer), fresh roasted grape tomatoes (roasting=fall, tomatoes=summer), fresh basil (summer), and cheesy pasta bake (fall).

Grape Tomatoes, post-roast.

So once your sauteed onion, browned sausage, roasted tomato sauce is all together in the pan, you will have something like this:

The roasted tomato and ground sausage sauce.

So while that was cooking down, your rigatoni should have been cooking, and then you add the pasta, peas, basil, parmigiano, and fresh mozzarella right to the skillet and make sure every thing is evenly incorporated.  At which point you should have something like this:

Pasta mixture without the eggplant wrapping.

Then, you get your springform pan (I always thing of it as a cheesecake pan) and grilled eggplant slices out.  Brush the interior of the pan lightly with olive oil, and then begin layering your eggplant slices on the bottom of the pan.  The recipe reminds you that the bottom of the pan will be the top of what people see on the finished product, so make sure there is no visible metal so that the pasta won’t leak out of your timbale.  After the bottom is covered, take your longer slices and layer them over the sides of the pan vertically, so about half of the slice will be hanging on the outside of the pan.  Once you have layer the slice around the side of the pan (being careful again so you don’t leave holes where the pasta will leak out of the sides of your timbale), you can pour the pasta mixture right on top of the layered eggplant.  Then you should be right aboutttt here:

Ok, technically this is only half of the pasta mixture, but you get the idea.

Then you flip the eggplant pieces hanging over the outside of the pan from the outside over onto the top of the pasta mixture.  Unless you managed to get freakishly huge or long eggplants, you will likely have a small hole in the center.  Worry not, you can use any small, seemingly useless bits of eggplant you have to patch your hole.  Observe:

Holy recipe problems, Batman!

Of course, a patch! Crisis averted.

Finally, cover with foil, bake for 30 minutes, and then remove and allow to cool for 15 more.  Then, flip the whole pan (careful, might still be hot) onto your serving platter and release the side ring piece.  Then carefully peel off the bottom of the pan (which is now the top of your timbale), and voila! You have a beautiful meal.

Timbaleeee that looks like it fell asleep on the textured couch for too long. But it’s still awesome.

Eggplant Timbale

Recipe from Caramelized Sarcasm, VERY lightly adapted by me (Click for her original post)
2 huge (or 3 medium)eggplants
1/2 cup of fresh or frozen baby peas (don’t used canned please)
1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 lb of fresh mozzarella, finely cubed
1 lb of sweet italian sausage, casing removed
1.5 lbs of grape tomatoes
1/2 of large onion, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic
3/4 lb of rigatoni (about 3/4 of the regular box)
a few handfuls of fresh basil, roughly chopped or hand torn
lots of olive oil
salt+pepper

Directions:
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking dish with foil, and then put your grape tomatoes on it. Bake them for about 15-20 minutes until they pop and start to char on the outside.  Then turn your oven down to 400. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil on your back burner. When it boils, turn it down to low and cover.

prepare the eggplant:

Slice it vertically to about 1/4-inch thick slices. Brush each piece of eggplant with a generous amount of olive oil. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper, and cook either on a real grill or a grill pan. Do this on a high heat; it should take 4-5 minutes per side. You want nice golden slices.

cooking the filling:
Heat up a large skillet and add a few tablespoons of olive oil and your chopped onion. Cook it on a medium heat until golden brown. This process should take 8-12 minutes.  When the onion is almost ready, add the garlic and stir it around for a minute (be careful not to burn!) Then add the sausage and begin to break it up with a spatula so none of the pieces are too big. Once all of the sausage is browned, add your charred tomatoes (with all of the pan juice) and half of your basil.

Liberally season the pasta water and turn it back on to high.  Bring it up to a rolling boil (this should only take a few minutes since it was simmering, still on the heat) and add the pasta to it. Cook it until it is about 2 minutes from al dente. Yes, it will have a little bit of white on the inside. Don’t worry, it will finish cooking in the oven. Add 1 cup of boiling water to the skillet and cover while the pasta cooks (medium heat). Once the pasta is ready, drain it and add to the pan. Sprinkle extra salt and cracked pepper. Add the mozzarella, parmigiano, peas, and basil. Toss everything to coat and make sure the cheese is distributed everywhere.

For the assembly:
Brush a springform pan with olive oil. Layer the bottom with eggplant so there are no open spaces. Remember, the bottom will actually be the top of the “drum” so try to make it a nice pattern. Then, use more eggplant to cover the sides. Drape the slices over the pan so they hang over. Once you are done, fill the pan with the pasta mixture.  Then fold over the draped slices of eggplant to cover the pasta. Make sure everything is covered. Place the springform pan on an extra baking dish, just incase it drips. Cover it with foil, and bake for 30 minutes in the oven. Remove it and let it cool for 15 minutes or so. When you can handle the pan (with gloves on, please), release the side piece. Then, place a large serving plate on top of your timbale. Gently flip the whole thing over. Remove the bottom of the springform pan from your eggplant and serve in slices!

*Incase it wasn’t clear, the bottom the timbale is actually what will be the top. You must flip over the contents of the springform pan onto a plate before you can slice and serve!

A close-up, to see the filling in all its glory!

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New Year, Old Recipes, Same Delicious Food

Its been a few weeks.  Months.  I wish I had a good reason for neglecting this blog, but really, I don’t.  Writers fall into funks and make excuses, but the important thing is to pull yourself out of it.  And what better time than a brand new year?  I have two recipes to share today, and both of them were made on the same day wayyy back at the end of September.   Lasagna Soup and Beatty’s Chocolate Cake made up my mother’s birthday dinner.  It may have been way back at the beginning of fall, but this Lasagna Soup is perfect for the dead of winter (though it was a balmy 60 degrees on Long Island today so I’d say that’s pretty lively).

A bowl of hearty lasagna soup.

What’s not to love, right?  I think this is a great alternative to lasagna because it’s nowhere near as fussy.  No messing with  assembly stations and making all the components separately.  The only thing you have to make outside of the stockpot is a small bowl of ricotta and Parmesan cheeses mixed together.  Other than that, this dish is a one stop shop.  It’s got all the   main players from lasagna: cut up sausage, pasta with frills, onion, garlic, a tomato sauce (or broth really) and of course, the cheese.  Also this soup allows for everyone to control the level of cheese based on their preferences.  So, if Aunt Sally always complains there’s too much ricotta in the lasagna (do people really complain about this?!?!), she can put as much or as little as she wants at the bottom of the bowl before she ladles the hot soup over top.

The recipe is pretty straightforward too, brown the sausage, cut it into little rounds, and then saute the onions for a few minutes:

Sausage and onions gettin' down (dirtier than I intended).

Then add the garlic, spices, and tomato paste and saute a bit more to let the paste warm through:

Sausage and onions and garlic and tomato paste, oh my!

The you add diced tomatoes, bay leaves and chicken stock; bring it to a boil, and let it simmer for a half hour:

Ooooh the tomatoey goodness!

And finally, after it’s cooked down a bit, add the uncooked pasta of your choice.  Now, the recipe calls for Mafalda  or fusilli, but since Mafalda (or reginette) are hard to find around here and I don’t care much for fusilli, I was forced to make an alternate selection.  I settled on Campanelle (or what my beloved Italian grandmother called ‘bluebells’) because they have a frilly edge to them which is reminiscent of lasagna, but easier to eat on a spoon:

A little blurry, but I can see enough to make me crave this RIGHT NOW.

Put a little cheese (okay a lot people, new year’s resolutions be damned!) on the bottom of your bowl, ladle this beautiful soup on top, and enjoy.

And now onto what I suspect most of you come here for, the dessert.  And the chocolate.  And also this time, some coffee, in your dessert.

Come to the VERY dark side.

Alright so I know these look like cow pies, but I promise you, they form the most delicious chocolate cake I have ever eaten.  And I generally prefer yellow or vanilla cakes.  This cake easily changed my mind.  One note: the batter may seem strangely thin for a cake, but take heed, this is completely normal.  Mine seemed thin but I trusted the recipe and it came out wonderful. The buttermilk keeps the cake unbelievably moist, and on the counter in a plastic domed cake carrier, it stayed that way for an entire week (the last piece had barely dried out at all, and I can speak from personal experience :)).

Lopsided is still every bit as heavenly!

Now if you have it out for buttercream you may balk at the frosting, but I have had many buttercreams I found to be excessively buttery–and this was not one of them.  The bitterness of the instant coffee along with the slight bitterness of the chocolate really balanced out the butter.  I have trouble describing how much I love this cake and what that means considering my sometimes turbulent relationship with chocolate and its various uses and preparations.  This is definitely a must try!

And I leave you with this:

When I asked my mom what kind of cake she wanted for her birthday, her immediate, knee-jerk, one word reply: chocolate!

Here’s to a new year full of happy birthdays!