Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Melanzane alla parmigiana

Those of you who asked for my eggplant parmesan recipe (or actually the recipe from Loris' mom), here you go:

Two large eggplants
1-2 eggs
Bread crumbs
Cooking oil
Plain tomato sauce (i.e. spaghetti sauce or pasta sauce)
A handful of basil
An onion
Olive oil
Parmesan cheese

Peel the eggplants and slice them thinly (1/4 inch thick). Place one layer in a colander, sprinkle with salt, and cover with a paper towel. Continue to layer them until they have all been salted. Let sit for 1/2 hour. In the meantime you can prepare the sauce if you wish.

For the sauce, chop up some onion (to taste). In a frying pan, saute the onion in olive oil for a few minutes. Add the tomato sauce (at least one jar, more if you like a lot of sauce), stir well, and let cook over low heat for a few minutes, adding a few pinches of salt to taste. Chop up the handful of basil and stir in. Voila! The sauce is ready.

Beat one egg in a small bowl, and mix in a few pinches of salt. Dip the eggplant in the beaten egg
and then dredge well in the bread crumbs, until you have breaded all the eggplant. Heat the cooking oil over medium high heat in a frying pan. Fry the eggplant on both sides until it is golden - continue to add cooking oil as needed, it will soak up a lot of oil.

Place a layer of eggplant in a lasagne dish. Spoon some tomato sauce over it, then grate a layer of parmesan cheese. Repeat. You should end up with 3-4 layers. You can store it in the fridge to cook later at this point, if you wish.

Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until heated through. To prevent it from drying out, you can cover it for most or all of the time it is in the oven. Slice and enjoy!

Tuesday ... afternoon

Today is a busy day. My KitchenAid mixer arrived! But I've been too busy to even unpack it yet. I went out to the garden to turn the water on in the tomatoes. I have only been watering them about once a week, especially because we're having a rather mild summer here in Davis. But now I've lost track of the last time I watered them. They got about 3 hours of low-pressure watering today.

The ketchup situation is progressing. I kept two baskets of tomatoes out until they got pretty soft, then stuck them in the fridge last night (I was starting to worry about them going bad) - probably slightly more than 4.5 kilos overall. I washed them, then chopped them up and started feeding them into the machine. It was still tough to turn the handle, but what the heck, it worked! The output was a bit foamy. And then I started having problems because I think some of the solids eventually built up in the works and wouldn't let the liquid part of the tomato go through. In fact, I eventually just put the ketchup on the stove even though some of the liquid is sitting in the input funnel of the machine. I'm not sure what to do about that, especially since I might make a huge mess if I try to move the machine or take it apart. My current solution is to ignore the situation for the moment. I'll get back to it later.

So now it's on the stove ... for 4.5 kilos of tomatoes, I added .5 liters of vinegar, .4 kilos of sugar, 4 whole cloves, and a handful of salt. Loris is still getting back to me on the chili pepper question - I am against them (I don't tolerate those things). Now I just have to wait for it to boil 6-7 hours. And then can it. It's going to be hot in the kitchen today. More later, once I get my new toy out of its box (and run a BUNCH of errands).

Monday, July 30, 2007

Some notes

Tomorrow I try ketchup again. It takes 6-7 hours of cooking, so I need a day when I'm sure to be at home all day. Tomorrow seems auspicious.

My stand mixer didn't get delivered yet :( I sent it to Loris' office, and they tried to deliver it on a Saturday. So it arrives tomorrow! Hopefully they let him sign for it. I'm so excited!!!!!!!! It's going to be a beautiful silver color. Not as pretty as my old yellow mixer, though - this is the 600 series 6qt. mixer from KitchenAid, the largest they have available through standard retail. My last one, a yellow KitchenAid artisan, died when I overpowered the motor.

I just sorted my tomatoes - I have slightly more than 4.5 kilos soft, overripe ones for the ketchup, and almost 9 kilos that I'll save for more tomato sauce.

What I really want to do is roast peppers, but I only have a few, and it doesn't seem like a good idea to really heat up the oven for only a couple peppers. My peppers are so disappointing this year. One of the brown spots (that I think is a sunburn) has turned black in the fridge. Next year I'll have to figure out some way to prevent that particular problem.

The other problem I'm having right now is how to tell when my butternut squash is ripe. I think I picked my first melon before it was ripe - I'll have to cut it open just to be sure, but that's a bit of a disappointment.

The family comes for lunch

This weekend we hosted my family for lunch, after going to the Davis Farmer's Market this morning. I made focaccia and pretzels for bread. Our first course was handmade taglatelle with our own canned tomato sauce and taglerini with homemade pesto (with basil and garlic from the garden). For a second course Loris made a frittata with zucchini, and we finished with an heirloom tomato, basil, and mozzarella salad. Natalie bought some pastries from the market for dessert.

I didn't have time to visit the garden during the weekend. Today there were a lot of tomatoes, since lately I've been picking them every day. I've got several baskets ripening on the counter, but I still can't tell when they'll be ready for ketchup. Some of them seem pretty soft, but that doesn't seem like a good thing. Some of them are also getting sort of a wrinkly skin.

I got ten heirloom tomatoes from the garden, one of which is really huge. Too big for a salad for me and Loris, for sure.

One other thing I'm sorta struggling with is the basil. I've already made lots of pesto. I'll probably make a lot more. I'd really like to make basil liquor with Loris' brother's recipe, but we can't find plain liquor here in the US for a reasonable price. I'm thinking about doing it anyway, simply because I really like basil liquor and what else am I going to do with all this basil?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Ketchup - I mean tomato sauce

So yesterday I tried to make ketchup using Loris' mother's recipe from Italy. Unfortunately Loris' family recipes are usually so vague that they're impossible to follow unless you pretty much already know how to make the recipe. For example, the ketchup recipe begins with "Pass the raw tomatoes". I happen to know that when they say "pass" they mean to pass through my nifty tomato machine that remove the seeds and the skin (or alternatively a food mill). So I have my baskets of beautiful red roma tomatoes and I cut them all in half and tried to put them through my magic tomato machine.

Total disaster! It was impossible to crank. My beautiful tomatoes, now cut in half, did NOT want to go through that stupid machine. After a few minutes of hard sweaty work, I ended up with a tablespoon or so of pink foam. That didn't seem right. After a conference call to Italy, Loris' mother as usual made me feel stupid by saying the tomatoes must be so ripe that they're very soft, and you have to cut them up into tiny pieces. I'm not sure how I was supposed to get that out of the one line she gave me "Pass the raw tomatoes."

So I took my baskets of beautiful, now cut, tomatoes, and made tomato sauce instead. Yummy! I canned 7 jars, which isn't a lot, but I still feel justified. And I still have two baskets of tomatoes which I guess will have to sit there until they get very soft.

My new mixer arrives tomorrow, supposedly! Very exciting!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

First recipe!

I made up this recipe tonight, and it was delish! Loris thought so too. A great way to use up a decent amount of zucchini. I didn't really measure stuff, so you'll have to play it by ear:

Risotto agli zucchini (con zucchini)

One largish zucchini and 1 or 2 smaller ones
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil
Some onion
Veggie broth
1.5 cups of arborio rice
Some wine (.5 to 1 cup?)
Parmesan cheese

Chop up the large zucchini and bring to a boil in a pot with just enough broth to cover it. Boil until soft, then puree with a blender or food processor. Set aside.

Chop up the smaller zucchini and saute for about 3-4 minutes in olive oil, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Finely chop some basil to garnish, and set aside.

Bring some veggie broth to a boil (I think I used about 4 cups), then lower the heat to low.

Chop up the onion and saute for about 4 minutes in olive oil in a medium to large saucepan. Add the rice and stir until it starts making clicking sounds, about 4 minutes. Add the wine and stir until it is absorbed.

Start adding a couple spoonfulls of the zucchini puree and about 1/4 cup of broth at a time, slowly stirring the rice with a wooden spoon while it absorbs the liquid. Each time you can see the bottom of the pot when you stir, add some more liquid and puree. It will take anywhere from 25-45 minutes for the rice to cook and absorb all or most of the liquid. After 25-30 minutes, start tasting for doneness.

When it tastes done, add the fried zucchini and chopped basil. Pass the parmesan cheese at the table to add on top.


My first lessons

My first lesson has been to remember to dig in a lot of compost before I get started. I have a feeling I should have done this at the beginning, because now I'm not sure that I will ever have the entire garden empty again, so it's going to have to be piecemeal now. A much bigger lesson would be to learn how to compost myself, but it always seems like such a big job, and I don't know where to do it - out at my garden or in my backyard? In my backyard would be handy, except that I'm a renter and I don't know when I'll move, and also it would be hard to transport to the garden. And my rented community garden isn't really big enough that I want to use my planting space for composting. So that's a lesson I have yet to learn.

Here are some brief notes of what I've learned so far with this summer garden ...

Peppers - plant them close together! This way, they support each other physically, and the leaves protect the pepper fruits from getting burned. I'm pretty sad about my burning pepper fruits, but too lazy to find something to block them from the sun. They're getting these awful brown spots, which sometimes eventually burn all the way through to the inside of the pepper. And they have so many peppers that they're all falling on their sides, which I'm hoping isn't a huge problem. Their buddies aren't close enough to hold them up.

Green beans - plant them closer to the edge of the garden, not in one big block. It's really hard to pick the beans on the plants that are farther from the path, so I find myself constantly stepping into my garden and compacting the soil. I think the smart thing would be to put the peppers in the middle of the block, maybe in two close rows with stakes the way I've staked my tomatoes, and the green beans around the edge.

Zucchini - one is probably enough. And buy plants, don't grow them from seed. Because really, what's the point if you only have one or two plants? And then you end up with something like what my yellow squash is - some weird hybrid that looks more like a winter squash and I have no idea what to do with it. That will probably be the first space available for my winter garden (so the first I'll have to compost!).

Cukes - maybe don't plant pickling cukes and slicing cukes right next to each other. I haven't accidentally pickled slicing cukes, because I planted the pickling cukes first and got sick of pickling before I even had any slicing cukes. So I don't know if it would be a big problem in future years. Also, I need to try to be more diligent about training them.

Tomatoes - pick the darn suckers off early and constantly! Actually, I did a decent job with my two rows of romas, and they're doing really well, although I must have left at least a couple too many suckers on one or two plants, because I faithfully tied everything up, but they're so dense I can barely get in to find the ripe tomatoes. And the heirlooms are out of control, all over the place, and producing far more tomatoes than we can eat. I am trying to decide if it's worth trying to can some of them for a fancier tomato sauce ...

Squash (winter) - cut the vines before they get out of control! I didn't know you could do that. I think I've got at least 10 butternut squashes growing, I have no idea what I'll do with so many except give them away. And they've more or less taken over my garden.

As for everything else, it seems to be doing ok - the eggplant, melon, basil, and parsley. I'll write more about those in future posts.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The first post

So this is my attempt to journal some of my favorite activities and hopefully to eventually learn from my mistakes. At the moment, these activities consist mostly of spending way too many hours in my garden and with my head in the oven (in a non-suicidal kind of way). Considering the heat we're having here in Davis, I'm trying my best not to sweat in my food.

I'm a total amateur at most of what I'm doing. I had a semi-successful winter garden, the lessons of which I hope are not too faint for me to record them before I give it another go this coming winter. And my current garden is doing great, despite quite a few mistakes on my part. Before I go further, I have to give a big thank-you to Loris, my watering guru. He waters my garden faithfully whenever I ask, and set up a sprinkler system for me as well (although I guess that benefits him as much as me, under the circumstances).

My garden is supposedly 18 by 20 feet (although I haven't actually measured it), and I've managed to grow an awful lot of vegetables in it. And herbs. No luck with the carrots or onions, really, and the peppers are suffering for reasons I'll have to write about in future posts, but the various squashes, tomatoes, eggplants, and cucumbers are doing fantastically. I'm certain that planting squash alone will solve the world's hunger problems (which I know, aren't as simple as all that). But this brings up the other subject I'm struggling with - how to cook and/or preserve all this extra food!