Italian-style dinner

The sun is shining! Finally! As usual, my mood turns completely must-have-some-Italian-style-sun-ripened-food at the sight of the first shiny rays of sun. As one of  my classes was moved, I had some time to cook a more elaborate dinner tonight, which I did! Healthy (veggies!), Italian (eggplant!), vegetarian… All you need is a lovely glass of wine to enjoy it with!

It was my first time making artichokes that didn’t come out of a can. I love artichokes, but frankly, I’ve always been a bit intimidated by them. They appear so… rugged. So today, as I got off the bus and towards the grocer’s, I overcame my fear and bought some, remembering I had a step-by-step recipe from delicious. magazine. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, right? They require a little work but it’s really worth it, and not that hard at all!

The second dish is a classic eggplant-tomato-pasta. I’m a big eggplant fan and so I tried this recipe, which came out of ‘Una Bella Spaghettata’ – a book about Neapolitan pasta I’ve had for quite some time but haven’t really used so far. I changed some things (you’re supposed to add in a lot of mozzarella but I left that out) and it came out exactly as it shoud – a tasty, light Italian pasta dish. Give it a try!

Stuffed artichokes

Ingredients:

4-5 artichokes (depending on size)
half a lemon
50 grams of panko (Japanese breadcrumbs, some ground dry old white bread will work too)
50 grams of parmezan cheese, (freshly) grated
2 eggs
handful of basil, torn into small pieces
1 big tablespoon of capers

Place a pan of salted water on the fire. First, you have to ‘clean’ the artichokes. This is not as hard as it seems, but you need a good sharp knife (preferably a bigger chef knife). Start by cutting off the upper side of the artichoke, more or less at the widest part, cutting off a good part of the upper artichoke. Then, cut off the stem, including the base and cutting off the outer hard leaves. Now, take a spoon with sharp edges and remove the inner parts of the top, you will notice that this is a bit ‘hay’-ish. Keep trimming the leaves and taking out the dry inner part until you have a shape that’s somewhat like a ‘finger bowl’ with all smooth sides, then quickly brush the sides with a half lemon to prevent it from oxidizing. Repeat this with all the artichokes (you will notice, it gets easier as you get more practice) and then but them into the (by now boiling) water. Cook them for about 15 minutes, until they’re al dente but not completely soft (they will continue in the oven later).

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180 degrees and prepare the stuffing by mixing all the other ingredients. When the artichokes are out of the water, let them cool down slightly, place them on a baking tin with parchment paper and then fill them up with the stuffing, mimicking the ‘artichoke/pyramid shape’. Now, place them in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, until the tops turn golden brown (I turned the temperature up a bit at the end and turned the grill on to reach this effect). Before serving, you may need to remove some extra outer leaves that have become hard in the oven. Enjoy!

Eggplant tomato pasta

Ingredients for 4 servings:

2 eggplants
salt
olive oil
4-6 tasty tomatoes, depending on size, chopped (I used a mixture of more fleshy tomatoes and yummy cherry tomatoes)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
400 grams of good quality pasta, rigatoni or penne or another shape that will soak up the tomato sauce well
80 grams of Parmezan cheese, freshly grated
a handful of fresh basil
Cut the eggplant into thick slices (about 1,5 cm), sprinkle with salt on both sides and let them sit in a colander for at least 30 minutes. (Note: I love eggplant, but it took me a long time to figure out how to make it the best way. You really need to do the salting beforehand, because the eggplant will lose some water in the process and soak up less oil later. I also find that it becomes rubbery if you don’t do this. You can then either let it fry quickly in hot oil until the sides are becoming brown, or let it simmer quietly – my preferred style, when it starts falling apart and mixing itself into the sauce… yum! Anyway, back to the recipe.) Then, squeeze as much liquid out of the slices as possible, and pat with paper towels. Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large heavy-bottom skillet, let it get really hot and then add the eggplant. Fry, turning until its sides are golden brown. Take the slices out of the skillet and put on paper towels to drain.Leave a few tablespoons in the skillet and reduce the heat.

In the meantime, cook the pasta as directed in salted water. When done, drain and then put the pasta back into the pan. Now, add the garlic to the skillet and let it fry a bit. Then, add the tomatoes to the skillet (I tend to add a little white wine here for the sauce, but this is optional of course). Let the tomatoes heat and simmer, when they’re starting to fall apart add the eggplant back into the sauce and let it simmer on a low fire for a while, until the eggplant starts to fall apart and you have a consistent sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn the fire really low and add in the pasta and parmezan cheese, turning over and under until all the pasta is sufficiently mixed with the sauce. Sprinkle with basil leaves and serve!

 

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