Eggplant Parmesan Stack with Spinach Saute

I used to be obsessed with the PBS program Art:21. I used to watch it, take notes, and make personal powerpoint slides out of the information. I was completely absorbed in how the artists talked about their work and loved being able to see a variety of styles and mediums. (I was so crazy about it that it led me to achieve a second major in art history). On one program, the artist William Kentridge shares his belief that the world is process, not fact. I wrote the quote down then and it stuck with me over the years.

So what does this have to do with anything? I’ve been making eggplant parmesan for years. It is a dish that seems to signify my growth & progress with cooking. It started with way too much garlic, mushrooms, a jar of prego, and barilla whole wheat linguine noodles in my early college days. It evolved to include my first attempts at homemade tomato sauce thickened with corn starch and even featured hand rolled egg noodles. This version is much more visually appealing with a much more complex tomato sauce. It doesn’t even feature noodles! I guess I should add, for fun, this recipe certainly doesn’t represent the fact of eggplant parmesan, but it represents one stage in the process of developing it. hehe.

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Eggplant Parmesan Stack
yields 2-3 servings

sauce:
2 c. tomato sauce, homemade or canned

eggplant + breading:
1 eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/4 in. slices
1 egg, scrambled
2-4 tablespoons milk to thin egg

3/4 c. plain bread crumbs
1/2 t. basil
1/2 t. parsely
1/2 t. oregano
1/2 c. parmesan cheese, grated
salt & pepper, to taste

spinach saute:
1 – 6 oz container spinach leaves
1 T. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced

garnish:
1/2 c. parmesan
chopped basil for garnish

To begin, ready your eggplant. Heat a saute pan or cast iron skillet with about 1/4 inch canola or vegetable oil over medium heat. In a small saucepan, heat your tomato sauce over medium low heat so it’s ready when your spinach is finished.

In a shallow dish, combine egg & milk (make sure it’s big enough to dip your eggplant in). In another shallow dish or on a plate, combine the bread crumbs, seasoning, and parm cheese.

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Take your prepared eggplant slices and dip in the eggwash, one at a time is easiest. Dredge the pieces, both sides, in the breading and immediately place them in the hot oil. Fry on both sides, until golden brown. Repeat until all the pieces are fried.
**Be sure not to have the oil too hot, or the breading will crisp without cooking the eggplant inside.

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In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil and add the garlic, sautéing for just a minute. Add your container of spinach, stir until wilted & dark green in color – 3-4 minutes.

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Time for assembly!

Start with the spinach on the bottom of the plate. Make sure the spinach is patted down so it has a flat surface to build from. Add a piece of eggplant. Top it with a  few spoonfuls of sauce. Add a full pinch of parm and repeat!

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Don’t overstack! Try to use the larger pieces towards the bottom and the smaller pieces to the top. Garnish with a little chopped basil.

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Mini Chicken Pot Pies

So, I claimed that this blog would help you to make a variety of dishes from similar ingredients without having to eat the same flavors over & over again. I’ve, so far, not been very good about following my mission statement. I’m working on it.

So let’s think about what we’ve got in the fridge from chicken noodle soup. Carrots, celery, a little leftover chicken, fresh thyme. Maybe a little broth. OK. OK. What else? We always have milk, butter, and flour. Okay. I’ve got it. We’ll make little Sunday night pot pies, one to share or to make everyone jealous about at work!
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Mini Chicken Pot Pies
yields 2 pot pies

For the recipe, I am using Calphalon mini pie pans. There is no way I can eat a traditional sized pie by myself. Also, I am over the moon at how precious these pans are!

crust:
1 cup flour
pinch of salt
6 T. cold butter
4-6 T. cold water

In a mixing bowl, combine the  flour and salt. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients using a pastry blender. Keep working the butter into the flour until the combination looks like a coarse grain. Gradually work the cold water into the dough until a soft dough forms. Cover tightly in plastic wrap & place in freezer (if doing this quickly) or fridge for later on.

Moving onto the sauce now…

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sauce:
1 T. butter
1 T. + 1 t. flour
3 T. milk
1/2 c. chicken or veggie broth
salt & pepper, to taste
a pinch of cayenne pepper

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir quickly to coat. Allow it to cook for 30 sec-1 min. Add the broth & milk. Season to taste. Continue to heat until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat & set aside.

Moving on to the filling…

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filling:
1 T. butter
1 small carrot, chopped
1/2 c. onion, minced
1/3 c. peas, frozen are fine
1 c. shredded chicken, cooked (I used leftover from a rotisserie)
2 stalks celery, thinly chopped
1 sprig thyme, leaves only

In a small saute pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the minced onions & thyme. Allow the onions to saute for about 3, or until they start to lose their rigidity and color. Add the celery & carrot and continue to saute for another 3 minutes or so.

**We want the veggies to be softened, but it is important to remember that they still have a little bit of time to cook in the oven. I like them to keep a little crunch in the pies, so try not to cook them down to mush.

In the final moments, add the chicken and peas and heat until everything is warm. Oh and preheat the oven to 375 degrees! We’re almost there!

Time to assemble!

Roll out the dough on a clean working surface. The dough should be pretty thin, but keep it thick enough to move easily without tearing.

Turn the pie pans upside down on the rolled dough. Cut around the outside, leaving about 1/2 in. extra dough around the outside. Do this four times total. You will need one for the pan and one for the top.

Press the first circle down into the pie pans.

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Distribute the veggie & chicken mix evenly between the pie pans. Don’t be afraid to stack it in there!  It will make hearty pies! Next, ladle the sauce over the top of the mix, not covering the ingredients completely, but enough to create a semi-even surface near top of the pan.

Now take the other crust and cover your pie, pressing the doughs together with your fingertips over the rim of the pan. If you can do a decorate edge, this is your time to shine. If you are just hungry and sick of dealing with crusts, press firmly with your fingers or use a fork to create a pattern around the edge. Cut any excess dough off with a dull knife.

With a scoring knife, create a slit in the top of the pie to create an outlet for steam. Place in the oven and let bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the dough is firm and slightly golden.

Remove from oven & let cool for 5 or so minutes. Gently remove pies from pan and enjoy! Try not to burn your tongue!

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Basic Pasta Dough

The best valentine’s day gift I ever received was a bright red Imperia pasta roller. It’s amazing the epiphany you experience when you’ve spent your whole life eating dried & packaged pasta noodles only to discover it’s fluffier, hand rolled counterpart. I will admit that the first time I rolled out the pasta, I was a bit intimidated by how much more work it was in comparison with the drop-handfuls-of-noodles-in-a-boiling-pot method. In time, it became easier and now I think of homemade pasta as a benevolent side dish instead of a leering task.

This recipe relies on Semolina Flour. I use Bob’s Red Mill which can be some trouble to locate. I’ve always found it at Whole Foods & sometimes in the natural food section of the renovated Krogers. The combination of all-purpose flour & semolina is, I feel, the most important part of this recipe. The all purpose flour evens out the coarser semolina, making the dough softer and smoother while the semolina gives the all-purpose a little grit and absorbs the liquid of the dough eliminating the characteristic stickiness from traditional flour doughs. It’s truly a beautiful match.

Basic Pasta Dough

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Dough:
3/4 c. all purpose flour
3/4 c. semolina flour
1 t. salt
2 eggs
2 T. olive oil

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In a bowl, combine the flours and salt. create a well in the center. In a smaller bowl, combine the eggs & olive oil. (It is probably best to scramble the eggs before including them in the dough, but apparently on the photo taking day, I simply just didn’t think to worry about that). Pour the wet ingredients into the center well.

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Starting in the center, (you could scramble the eggs now) gradually work the surrounding flour into the liquid center. Continue until the wet ingredients are incorporated. Turn the dough out on a clean working surface and knead for 3-5 minutes, or until the dough becomes slightly elastic-y.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap for about an hour to allow the liquids to absorb in the flours.

Follow instructions included with your pasta roller to create delicious homemade fettuccine, spaghetti, ravioli, and lasagna.