Sunday, April 24, 2011

I'm Back

I can't tell you how many times I've composed a post in my head and not made it to the computer because I felt like I needed to post some explanation of my absence before posting anything else. That idea posed enough of a roadblock that another insightful thought, delicious recipe, or long-winded rant fell by the wayside. And this has been going on for better than a year. Ugh, wasted time. Well, enough of that.

A year and better later and all I can say by way of explanation is that life happens. My son's lack of nap coupled with homeschooling my daughter after said son was in bed at night and a general lack of time, energy and organization and there ya go.

But I've missed posting and sharing our adventures in growing, preserving and eating. And for the same reason that I started this silly thing - that I've been asked a multitude of times for recipes and owe loads of people one thing or another - I'm in the same position again. Today it is my eggplant rollatini that I brought to Easter today at my sister-in-law's and brother-in-law's house. Too many steps for anyone to remember it all verbally and since I said I'd email, what a better excuse to get going again.

Before launching in, a few words about what's been happening around here. Since I didn't post last year, it is worth mentioning that our property, our gardening and the resultant preserving were WAY different last year after we built a 20' x 14' x 9' high stand-alone greenhouse. That would be the proverbial WE. Frank actually built it and did a superlative job. I supervised and did a lot of jumping for joy. I can remember the first day we came to look at the property in 1991. As we were fantasizing about what we could do with such a big and lovely piece of property, building a greenhouse was right up there on the list. It was in our 20th year that it became a reality, certainly testing the adage about patient waiters, or good things come to those who wait or whatever the sayings are.

So I couldn't be talking today about eggplant without the greenhouse. I doggedly tried growing this heat-seeker for the last 20 years with a modicum (and not much more) of success, but in the greenhouse it was like a different species. The plants were five feet tall and two feet in diameter with up to 10 fruits on a plant. And it was the same story for peppers and tomatoes. Being the scientific types that we are (NOT), we did a control study to make sure it wasn't just a great year for these crops and tried growing them outside. The tomatoes did great outside last year, but the eggplants and peppers produced almost nothing and certainly not prolific fire engine red peppers in early July.

The greenhouse wasn't finished until June 1 last year so what we didn't get was the advantage of a warm growing environment inside before it was available outside. We did extend our season last fall (picking the last peppers and tomatoes in December with the aid of a propane heater), but that's a whole other post. Let me focus on what is happening right now.

As of yesterday, April 23, we have 32 tomatoes, 4 cucumbers, 2 peppers and 11 artichokes planted in the greenhouse. That's just about a month before we'd be able to plant them in the garden. And those plants are all huge. Half again as big as anything you could buy in a nursery in May. I'll keep you posted on yields. The rest of the greenhouse has early spinach, chard and lettuce that I'll be transplanting outside as it gets too hot inside the greenhouse for these cool weather crops. The aisles are taken up by tray after tray after tray of potted plants we've grown from seed. Broccoli and its cousins, pumpkins and their cousins, tomatoes and their cousins, onions and their cousins. Family after family of veggies all just waiting for their turn to go into the garden.

For now, lets get back to the eggplants. So I started 24 plants last year thinking that we'd get 75% germination and then 75% of the plants would make it (any math whizzes out there to figure that out?) Okay, I'll do it. That would mean about 14 plants would be viable. Well, that's not exactly what happened. All 24 plants came through and we found room to plant them all. So I had about 20 of them in the greenhouse. You can imagine the bounty. We gave a good many to friends. But mostly, I got cooking. Mostly what I did was bread and BAKE slices (thanks to my friend Catherine for casually mentioning how much tastier her baked eggplant was early on) and then freeze them in giant ziplocks. The last two of these bags I used today, some seven months after picking and preserving them fresh. Let me tell you, they were still mighty tasty. The baked eggplant is so much lighter than fried. And you use a FRACTION of the oil. Not a bad thing for the pocketbook, the hips or the digestive system.

Here's the skinny:

For the Eggplant:
Olive Oil

I have not put amounts because it will be different depending on how much eggplant you are working with. (Just crack a couple of eggs and put a cup of breadcrumbs and keep adding as you need.) Preheat the oven to 350. Slice the eggplants long-ways, about 1/8 inch thick. I do not salt them or any of that nonsense. Wisk the eggs in a bowl. Put the breadcrumbs on a plate. Using a pastry brush, brush a light coating of olive oil on jelly roll pans (you know the cookie sheets with the lip). Now take your left hand and dip the eggplant into the eggs. Drop it onto the breadcrumbs, still using your left hand (but don't touch the crumbs). Now with your right hand, dredge the eggplant in the crumbs until covered. Then with your right hand, place it on pan. Repeat until all your eggplant has been breaded or all your pans are full whichever comes first. Bake for approximately 10 minutes per side (less or more to your taste and oven), adding a little more olive oil as needed either when you turn them over or with the next batch. Take them out and pile them on a plate. You don't need to drain them on paper towels since there is little oil involved. At this point, you can freeze them or go on to the rollatini phase.

For the Rollatini:

Marinara sauce (see my previous post on tomato sauce if making your own)
Fresh ricotta
mozzarella (fresh or packaged) grated
romano (or parmesan) cheese grated fine
pinch of nutmeg
sauteed chopped spinach (optional)

(For one small tub of ricotta, I use 1/2 cup grated mozzarella and 1/4 grated romano.) Combine all cheeses, nutmeg and spinach if you're using in a bowl. Mix well. In a large pyrex baking dish, spoon marinara sauce to cover the bottom of the dish. Layout several pieces of eggplant in a row on the counter. Spoon approximately 1Tbs of filling onto the wide end of the eggplant pieces. Then roll them and place them opening side down in dish. Repeat until all the eggplant has been filled. Spoon sauce over the top so the rollatini are covered. Cover with foil. Bake at 350 for 1 hour.