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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Inside Out

Eggplant parmesan and I have relationship issues. Oh, we get along just fine. I adore eggplant parmesan. What's not to love about crunchy fried slabs of meaty eggplant layered with fresh mozzarella, top-notch marinara, and parmigiano-reggiano baked until the cheese chars in all the right places? Those oozing caramelized edges are the stuff of dreams. Yep. That's how it could/should be in a perfect relationship....without issues.  As much as I tend to its needs, coddle, and dote on it, eggplant parmesan simply doesn't return my favors in kind. I just can't seem to make things work out. It bites back by being either too soggy, too dry. too cheesy (if that's possible), or too bitter. Relationships are hard. Sometimes, you've just got to go with the flow. Eggplant season teases me. Smitten by all the gorgeous varieties flooding our farmers markets,  my first instinct was to hook up with another eggplant parmesan, but I changed it up and turned things inside out for a riff on the familiar.

Eggplant Involtini With Herbed Goat Cheese,
Prosciutto, And Roasted Red Pepper Sauce.

Puree it.
I blistered 3 red peppers over a gas flame, turning them with tongs for an even cook. When the skins charred, I flipped the peppers into a large bowl and covered them with plastic wrap to steam. When cool enough to handle, I removed the stems, slipped off the skins, scraped out the seeds, and tumbled them into a blender. After adding the juice of a fresh lemon, salt, pepper, and 1/2 cup of the reserved strained pepper juices, I blitzed the peppers into a smooth puree and set it aside.

Cheese it.
After bringing 4 oz goat cheese to room temperature, I added 2 oz softened cream cheese, salt, pepper, 1 tablespoon minced parsley, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, 1/4 teaspoon fresh marjoram, and 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder before whipping the mixture until smooth and sliding it into the refrigerator to chill.

Roll it.
Using a mandolin, I sliced 3 Jessamine County Globe eggplants into 1/4" slices, grilled them for 3 minutes per side (until marked and softened), pulled them from the grill, and set them aside.

I placed paper thin slices of prosciutto on a work board, topped the prosciutto with a slices of grilled eggplant, dolloped 1 tablespoon of the herbed goat cheese onto the bulbous ends of the eggplant, rolled them up, and nestled them into the red bell pepper puree. After drizzling them with olive oil, I slid the involtini into a preheated 400 degree oven. When the prosciutto crisped from the heat (about 8 minutes), I pulled the eggplant rolls from the oven and topped them with additional red bell pepper puree before finishing with toasted pine nuts, flaked sea salt and fresh parsley.

Masquerading as miniature trompe l'loeil eggplant parmesan rolls, the demure one bite wonders packed a light as air perky punch.  With hints of lemon and smoke, the bright velvety puree countered the slight earthy tones of the eggplant, subtle herbed tang of the melted goat cheese, buttery pine nuts, and salty crunch of the cooked prosciutto.

Simple.
Fresh.
Sassy.

The perfect date.







Friday, August 4, 2017

Clam Up

Clams Casino for 350?  Been there, done that. A while back, I had a notion that preparing old school clams casino (baked half shelled clams topped with crisped bacon, breadcrumbs, and fresh herbs) might be a clever addition to a sprawling multi-stationed buffet for a casino themed event. While clams casino might work beautifully for a busy dinner service or smallish dinner party, it was a daunting undertaking for mass production with other stations to consider. Think about it. Figuring most folks might grab two, three, or even four clams between cocktails and gambling, that added up to about 1000 clams that needed to be shucked, cleaned, prepped, topped, baked, and served. I was knee deep in clam juice with enough leftover clam shells to fill a quarry. In the end, I had a blast and the guests were happy.  Royal Flush. Win.



I adore fresh clams, Nowadays, when I want to clam it up, I take a much simpler approach by tossing them with a red or white sauce for pasta Vongole, fortifying sturdy clam chowders with their briny essence, or steaming them whole in butter-laden white wine. In the height of summer, when fresh tomatoes abound, I fuse fresh clams with summer tomatoes for a light beachy riff on surf and turf.






Steamed Clams with Market Tomatoes 
No rake required.

Sauce.
I heated equal parts olive oil and butter (2 tablespoons each) in a cast iron dutch oven over a medium flame. When the oil started to ripple, I added 2 cups cleaned sliced leeks and 1 cup diced Marion County Red Bull purple onion. When the leeks and onions caramelized, I added 4 cloves minced garlic, salt, and a generous grinding of fresh Tellicherry black pepper. Just before the garlic browned, I deglazed the pot with 1 cup West Sixth  Brewery Lemongrass American Wheat ale and 1 cup chicken stock. After letting the sauce reduce by half, I tucked 2 pounds Boyle County Cluster tomatoes (still on the vine) into the sauce and covered the pot.

Steam Heat.
When the tomatoes melted from the heat, I nestled 1 1/2 pounds cleaned Top Neck fresh clams (hinged sides down) into the tomatoes, reduced the heat, splashed the shells with fresh lemon juice, covered the dutch oven, and let them rip for 8-9 minutes. When the last clam peeked open. I quickly removed the clams from the heat and drizzled them with extra virgin olive oil before finishing with fresh basil and shards of Sunrise Bakery toasted baguette.

Big clams. Big Flavor. Plump and tender, with a briny slight chew, the Top Necks popped with each bite. As fabulous as they were, it was all about swiping the toasted baguette through  the garlicky summer tomato beer-infused clam broth.

Dip.
Sop.
Repeat.

Clam lipstick.

Perfect.