Sunday, August 28, 2011

Savory Sides

I absolutely love these two vegetable dishes, and they pair wonderfully even though one is of Italian origin and the other is Turkish. They are hearty enough to stand alone, yet they were terrific with the salmon that I made them with, and would also be delicious with grilled chicken or roasted lamb. They are light enough for a summer picnic, but offer a robustness that would surely warm your core on a cold winter evening. Finally, they can both be made ahead - in fact that is recommended to allow the flavors to meld and the dressings to penetrate the vegetables - so they are both great together or alone to take to a friend's or have ready in advance for a party.


Zucchini Salad as inspired by and adapted from Donatella Arpaia's mother
serves 8 as a side

3/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
30 fresh mint leaves, finely sliced

Olive oil, for frying
4 medium zucchini, sliced cross-wise into 1/4-inch rounds

1/4 cup ricotta salata (or feta as a substitute)

Whisk together marinade ingredients and place in a medium bowl or casserole dish.
In a large skillet over medium-high, heat about 1/4 inch of olive oil until hot but not smoking. Working in batches if necessary, slide the zucchini slices into the skillet in a single layer. Do not crowd the skillet. Fry, turning the slices often with a fork, for 7 minutes, or until golden and flecked with dark spots, careful not to allow the oil to smoke or burn.
As the zucchini slices finish frying, transfer them to the marinade. Let the zucchini marinate for at least an hour, up to four hours.
To serve, drain excess marinade, transfer to serving platter, and sprinkle with shaved (or grated) ricotta salata cheese.

I read this stewed eggplant recipe reprinted in the Seattle Times. Because I was making it together with the zucchini above, to take to a dinner party at a friend's house, I actually started the day before by cubing, salting, washing, and draining the eggplant, and chopping the onions and tomates then storing them all separately in the fridge. The eggplant oxidized overnight, but since it was getting browned and cooked with so many other ingredients, I think it was a useful timesaver. I fried the zucchini first, and had enough oil in the pan afterwards to complete the eggplant recipe without needing any additional. It's possible that slightly impacted the flavor of my eggplant dish, but I don't think it was significant.
I cooked it up so that it was finished about two hours before we were going to eat it, and it travelled well. I saved the extra oil with herbs that were left in the skillet after transferring all the vegetables to the serving bowl, and it was delicious tossed with cous cous and drizzled on bread the next day.

Braised Eggplant
serves 8 as a side
1 large eggplant (about 1 pound)
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1 large tomato, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
1/4 cup  golden raisins
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin
Black pepper
1/2 cup roughly chopped dill
2 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley
Thick yogurt, for serving
Lemon wedges, for serving

Trim and peel the eggplant and cut in 1-inch cubes. Place in a colander and toss with salt. Let sit for 30 minutes to 3 hours, rinse well and squeeze to remove as much liquid as possible; do not break up cubes.

In a large skillet or saucepan, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the eggplant cubes and move them around occasionally, until they are rather tender and somewhat browned, about 7 minutes. Remove from the pan with tongs and set aside, leaving as much oil as possible in the pan.

Add onions and pine nuts to pan and stir occasionally, until the onions are transparent and some pine nuts are lightly browned, 7 or 8 minutes.

Return eggplant to the pan with the tomato, raisins, sugar, cinnamon, cumin and pepper. Mix well, then turn heat to low. Cover the pan and cook until the eggplant is very tender but still in distinct pieces, about 30 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking, stirring once or twice, until the liquid is somewhat thickened, 5 to 10 minutes.

Remove the pan from heat and let sit uncovered until it is at room temperature, about 45 minutes. Stir in the dill and parsley, adjust the seasonings to taste and serve, accompanied by yogurt and lemon wedges for squeezing.

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