Thursday, January 5, 2012
fried eggplant balls, mustard braised green beans and pancetta pappardelle with stewed tomatoes
Not to toot my own horn or anything, but this was probably one of the best dinners I made all year. Nathan helped, but this was mostly my endeavor, and both he and Laura had nothing but good things to say about the meal. When you've got some crispy fried goodness, a tasty, honest-to-goodness healthy vegetable, and a really solid pasta dish, that's pretty much a guaranteed recipe for a first rate feast.
First, were the labor intensive but utterly delicious fried eggplant balls. Crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside and incredibly tasty, these are also, upon further review, the perfect vegetarian meatball. I mean, visually, they would fool anyone. Actually, even the ingredient list is suspiciously similar: breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, egg... Of course, once you take a bite, the eggplant isn't fooling anyone, but that's not the point. These totally taste great on their own terms.
The eggplant is roasted, so it has a bit of a smokey flavor, which is pretty awesome. They also fry right up into delightful little fritters. I was skeptical about their ability to maintain their round shape, but I need not have been, as they cooked perfectly. Shattering that golden crust and letting the warm, garlicky eggplant melt in my mouth was nothing if not a near-religious experience. You cannot eat just one of these babies. (Nathan, Laura and I devoured an embarrassing amount.)
Luckily, we somewhat balanced out all that sinful fried goodness with these deceptively simple green beans with shallots in a warm mustard vinaigrette. The recipe might seem like there's not much to it, but man oh man do those green beans sing in their bright, acidic sauce. I think I've probably mentioned that I am not overly enthusiastic about this particular vegetable, and Nathan definitely does not like them, but we were both all over this dish. It doesn't hurt that grainy mustard makes everything better.
(Okay, that might be a dangerous statement. What I meant was, in situations where the need for mustard arises, grainy mustard is almost always going to take it up a notch. [Unless it's like a ballpark frank, which probably can't handle that level of class.] Regardless, I'm not saying you should whip out the old grainy mustard all willy nilly or anything, but in the appropriate application, like a sandwich, for instance, those golden grains will never let you down.)
Where was I? Oh yes, two recipes down, one to go.
The third you might recall from an incredibly long pasta roundup I posted some months back. If not, it was the Pappardelle with Stewed Tomatoes and Pancetta, which I deemed the best of the many, many pastas described in that entry. The sauce is intensely flavorful, with a little spiciness from dried chili pepper, plenty of sweetness from the canned tomatoes and just the right about of saltiness from the pancetta and parmesan. It just strikes a perfect balance.
As for the noodles, I used fresh egg noodles that I bought at the Bronx's Borgatti Ravioli on Arthur Avenue. I've sung their praises before, so you probably know that I think they make the best ravioli I have ever eaten. But don't just take my work for it. They are also probably the only place in all of New York with more than 5 reviews that manages to have a pure 5 star rating. They are that good. They cut your noodles to order, since you get to pick your desired width. It's pretty cool. I believe this is their widest cut, so I think it qualifies as pappardelle.
Anyway, this is a really rich dish, what with all the butter and cream, not to mention the fatty pancetta, so a little goes a long way. But don't worry if you can finish everything, because it makes great leftovers!
So there's our dinner, and here are our recipes! As usual, I scaled most of this down in a less than precise manner, without any ill effects, but the original recipe should definitely give you the general idea.
Fried Eggplant Balls
From Olives & Oranges by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox
2 large eggplants (about 2¾ lb)
1 large egg
2 cups medium-ground fresh bread crumbs
1 cup freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese, plus more for garnish
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp sea salt
Extra virgin olive oil for shallow frying
Heat oven to 375˚. Prick each eggplant several times with a fork. Roast until cooked through, about 1 hour. Let cool.
Halve eggplants lengthwise, scrape flesh from skin, and place in a fine sieve set over a mixing bowl; discard skin. Drain for 4 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.
Transfer eggplant flesh to a food processor (discard juices). Add egg, bread crumbs, cheese, parsley, garlic, and salt; pulse to combine. Transfer to a plate or bowl. Form into forty 1-inch balls.
Fill a large skillet with ¼ inch oil and heat to 360˚ to 365˚. Using a slotted spoon add several eggplant balls into hot oil to cook until golden on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining balls.
Serve eggplant balls hot, dusted with a little grated cheese and chopped parsley.
Warm Green Bean Salad with Shallots and Grainy Mustard
from "The Secret Ingredient" feature on Serious Eats
14 ounces trimmed green beans
3 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
3 tsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp grainy mustard (or more to taste)
optional: 2 tbsp fresh chervil, torn
Bring a pot of water to boil, salt the water, and blanch the green beans for until tender, about 3 minutes. Drain.
Put the pot back on medium-low heat, and once the pot is dry, add the oil. Add the shallots, and sauté, stirring often, until just soft and fragrant, but not golden, about 4 minutes. Add the vinegar, mustard, and black pepper. Stir to incorporate all the ingredients. Add the green beans back to the pain, and toss with the warm vinaigrette. Plate the beans, and top with the chervil. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
Pappardelle With Tomato and Stewed Pancetta
recipe from Ruth Rogers of River Café
12 ounces dried egg pappardelle
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 ounces pancetta, cut into ¾-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
8 whole canned tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
2 dried hot chilies, crumbled
⅔ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
½ cup heavy cream
Melt butter in a large skillet set over medium-low heat. Add pancetta and crumbled chilies. Cook 5 to 6 minutes, stewing the pancetta until it turns gold.
Squeeze juice out of the tomatoes, leaving flesh intact. Roughly chop tomatoes, add tomatoes to the sauté pan and season with salt. Cook at medium-low heat for 6 to 7 minutes, or until tomatoes caramelize and color the oil. Stir often and adjust the heat, if needed, to ensure the tomatoes do not burn.
Cook pasta until al dente, about 6 to 7 minutes. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.
Stir cream into tomato sauce and continue to cook for an additional 3 to 5 minutes, or until sauce binds together. Add pasta to pan and, using a wooden spoon, toss it around gently. Stir in half the Parmesan. Add just enough pasta water so sauce is glossy and coats the noodles nicely. Serve with remaining Parmesan sprinkled over top.
And that's not all! (I know, I know, it's been a long scrolly trip, what with the three recipes and all, but bear with me for just one hot second more, my friend.) As an added bonus, here's another pasta dish I threw together after my trip to Borgatti's. I've always been intrigued by their selection of dried flavored pastas. They have squid ink pasta, carrot pasta, spinach pasta... I picked up a small bag of their mushroom pasta, and made up a quick sauce with tomatoes, garlic and blue cheese to go with it. It was okay topped off with some grated romano, but I was expecting more deliciousness from the flavored pasta. I might try one of the other varieties in the future, but in all probability I'll be sticking with the ravioli and fresh egg noodles in the future.
I'll leave you with this final image.