When in Rome—

When in Rome, or anywhere in Italy, or a good Italian restaurant, do as they do, and eat Italian food. A well-known Italian restaurant in our area features this dish on their lunch-time menu throughout the summer months. I have had it there and loved it. It features a combination of eggplant, tomatoes and onions with fresh herbs served over penne pasta. A while back our local newspaper published this recipe for the dish, and I was so delighted that now I could prepare it at home. I hope you enjoy this dish as much as we do.

Use the freshest eggplant and plum tomatoes you can find. Also lots of fresh basil or marjoram is key to the delicious blend of flavors. Serve with grated Romano cheese and crusty Italian Bread for a true restaurant-quality meal.

Roast Eggplant and Tomatoes with Penne Pasta

INGREDIENTS:

SERVES 4-6

  • 1 large eggplant, about 1 1/2 pounds, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 Tablespoon salt, plus more to sprinkle on the eggplant
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 pounds plum tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 1 large onion, cut vertically in wedges
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh marjoram, oregano or basil chopped
  • 1 pound dry penne pasta
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Freshly grated Romano cheese

1. Place cubed eggplant in a colander and sprinkle lightly with salt. Toss. Allow eggplant to drain at least 30 minutes. Rinse, and pat dry with paper towels.

2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a large roasting pan with non-stick spray. Put the eggplant, tomatoes, onion, garlic and herbs in the roasting pan. Pour the 1/4 cup oil over all and stir well to coat vegetables with oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spread out into an even layer.

3. On the top rack in the oven, roast, stirring occasionally , until eggplant and onions are lightly browned, 25-35 minutes.

4. Meanwhile in large kettle, bring water to boil and cook penne to al dente (7 – 10 minutes). Drain. Immediately add to the roasting pan with the vegetables. Add chopped parsley and EVOO . Toss well. Transfer to a large serving dish. Serve with grated Romano cheese.

When I made this dish just recently, I omitted the pasta and in its place I added some meatballs I had in my freezer.  I browned them in a skillet on the stove top, then placed them on top of the vegetables to finish cooking in the oven. I served the whole thing with a green salad consisting of baby greens, cucumbers and green grapes; and also a small ear of fresh corn. (Still keeping a low profile with those carbs!)

SOURCE: Courtesy of Max A Mia restaurant.

Caprese Salad

Caprese salad; one of the simplest, most beautiful and delicious salads I make.  Every summer when tomatoes of all kinds are at their finest, and my pot of basil is full and lush, I scout out the best mozzarella cheese I can find and we have this salad over and over.

The people of the Isle of Capri,  (thus it’s name)  created this tri-color salad, using tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil, the colors of the Italian flag.  We are so lucky they did.  It is so simple to make you really don’t need a recipe, and I expect many of you know how to make it.  But for those of you who have never had it, you might want to try it.   This is how I make it.

This makes enough for a first-course, or side salad for 4.

  • 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Whisk all of the above together to blend.  Set dressing aside.

  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes.  An assortment makes a pretty presentation, such as regular vine-ripened tomatoes, plum tomatoes, red or yellow cherry tomatoes, or heirloom tomatoes of any color.  The ones in my photo are dark skinned heirloom tomatoes, very meaty and sweet.
  • a ball of mozzarella cheese, about 6 ounces, thinly sliced
  • several sprigs of basil, torn into small pieces

Slice the large tomatoes into 1/4 inch slices,  cut smaller tomatoes into wedges, and grape or cherry tomatoes  in half.  Arrange on a platter with the cheese.  Drizzle the dressing over the top.  Sprinkle with the basil and any additional salt and pepper.

 

A loaf of crusty Italian bread is the perfect accompaniment .

 

Poached Eggs on Polenta with Vegetable Sauce

This is a neat little recipe to have handy for when any of these situations might occur:  a)  You forgot to take something out of the freezer for supper, b) You thought you were having dinner alone so you were going to just make a salad, but suddenly everyone’s plans changed and they will all be home for dinner, or c) Its the end of the week and the cupboard is bare, except for a few bits of leftovers.  Fear not!  This recipe will come to your rescue as long as you have a few basics in your pantry.

Poached Eggs on Polenta with Vegetable Sauce

Serves 4

  • 2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal or instant polenta
  • 3 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons butter, plus extra for greasing dishes
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • salt
  • 4-5 slices bacon cut into 1 inch pieces (can be omitted for a vegetarian entree)
  • 2/3 cup grape tomatoes (about 16) halved lengthwise
  • 1 cup chopped zucchini
  • 1/3 cup green onions, chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • freshly ground pepper
  • chopped chives, optional
  1. Generously butter 4 gratin dishes or creme brûlée  dishes, about 4-5 inches in diameter.  Any similar dish will do.
  2. For polenta, place chicken broth in a  medium size, heavy saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium, and gradually in a thin stream whisk in the cornmeal.  Stir constantly, until mixture starts to thicken, 3-4 minutes.  Add 3 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese and butter, and stir until melted.  Stir in milk.  Taste and add salt if needed.
  3. Divide polenta evenly among the dishes and smooth the top.  Cover each dish with foil to keep warm and set aside.  I place in a 200 degree oven to achieve this.
  4. For vegetable sauce, heat a skillet on high heat and cook the bacon until crisp.  Remove from pan and drain on paper towels. Drain excess bacon fat and discard, leaving a small amount in the pan. (substitute vegetable oil as needed)  Add the tomatoes, zucchini and green onions to the bacon drippings and sauté just until crisp tender. Add the bacon to the vegetable mixture.
  5. For the eggs,  use an egg poacher if you have one, otherwise prepare poached eggs as you normally would.
  6. To serve,  Place a poached egg on top of each dish of polenta. Salt and pepper eggs, then divide the vegetable and bacon mixture evenly among the 4 dishes.  Garnish with more grated Parmesan cheese and chives.

Additional notes:  I have prepared the sauce for this dish with whatever vegetables I have on hand.  Some others that are good are:  mixed red and green peppers, asparagus, spinach and fennel.

SOURCE:  A Carolyn Original

Marinara Sauce

One of the things I like to have on hand at all times is Marinara Sauce.  This is the basic tomato sauce that I use the most.  This got me to thinking that from time to time I would write about foods that I consider “kitchen basics”, and this is one of them.  It is extremely easy to make,  and so worthwhile because it is so versatile.  During the time the sauce is simmering you can be doing something else.  This is a nice thick sauce that is great with any pasta shape. If you think it needs to be thinned down a little for a particular recipe you can add a little white wine to it.  It can also handle the addition of meatballs or sausage, and you can certainly add additional seasonings to your taste.

This recipe makes about 2 quarts (8cups);  3-4 cups will serve 4 over pasta.

MARINARA SAUCE

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil  (note;  use a good quality EVOO, one with a fruity flavor, because this enhances the sauce.)
  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 2 garlic gloves, finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 2 ( 32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes (note: here too, be sure to use the best canned ones you can find, preferably the San Marzano variety.)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (my preference)
In a large sauce pan, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onions and garlic and sauté  until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.  Add the celery, carrots, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.  Saute until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.
 Add the tomatoes, bay leaves and any other seasonings you prefer, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens,about an hour.  Remove bay leaves and discard.  Season the sauce with more salt and pepper to taste.
I like to double this recipe when I make it, so I can freeze the extra in 2-3 cup portions in freezer bags, or containers;  then it’s ready when I need some.
Source:  Giada De Laurentis, “Everyday Italian”,  with slight modifications.

Chicken Provencale

This is a wonderful one-dish meal that I came across several years ago.  I prepare if rather often, because it is easy, very tasty, and makes enough for a second meal.  The ingredients are ones you probably already have in your storage pantry.  It contains all the food groups recommended for a well-balanced meal, especially if served with a side salad and a crusty  bread to soak up all the juices.

I have served this entree when I entertain, and people always comment on the tender chicken and flavorful beans.  Any leftovers reheated seem to taste even better because all the seasonings have more time to “marry’.

Chicken Provencale

  • 1 broiler/fryer chicken, cut up; or any combination of chicken parts to equal 3-4 pounds
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can ( 15 1/2 oz.) Great Northern beans
  • 1 can (15 1/2 oz.) Black beans, both cans rinsed and drained
  • 1can  (28 oz.) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 3 medium carrots, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 tablespoon instant chicken bouillon
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

In a large skillet, brown the chicken in oil, a few pieces at a time.  Do not crowd the pan as the chicken will not brown nicely.  Remove to a platter and set aside.

Saute onion and garlic in drippings remaining in skillet until transparent.  Stir in remaining ingredients.  Spoon into a large baking dish. 

Arrange chicken pieces on top.  Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 65-75 minutes or until chicken juices run clear.