Tuesday, August 21, 2012

On Familiarity, Within Reason

With food, as with writing, a little familiarity serves you well—you want some recognition to make the eater or the reader feel safe. Yet at the same time, it can't be too predictable or you risk being boring. In my current WIP, I am struggling a lot to work within the conventions of a thriller, but trying to offer an unusual premise and story. The jury is still out on how it's coming together. On the culinary side, however, I can promise you a winner. I made this recipe the other night, which was a nice riff on traditional ratatouille, with smoked paprika and anchovies bringing lots of depth and intensity of flavor. I'm a big fan of Barton Seaver's cookbook For Cod & Country, which has lots of great ideas for sustainable fish cooking and had my eye on this one for a while. Turns out, it's pretty easy to pull together, it's healthy, and it's accessible yet stylish. (Tip: Have some crusty bread nearby.)

Eggplant Stuffed with Smoky Tomato-Anchovy Ratatouille
1 cup bread crumbs
2 jumbo eggplants
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, grated on a Microplane or very finely minced
16 oil-packed anchovy fillets
1 tablespoon sweet smoked paprika
2 medium zucchini, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
4 Roma tomatoes, diced in 1/2-inch pieces
In a dry pan over medium heat, toast the bread crumbs, stirring constantly, until golden brown. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Heat a heavy sauté pan over high heat, then add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and sear the cut sides of the eggplant halves until well browned. Transfer them to a baking sheet and place in the oven for 12 minutes. Remove eggplant from oven and let cool, leaving the oven on.
While the eggplant is baking, add the onion, garlic, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to the pan and sauté over high heat until the onion begins to soften. Add the anchovies and paprika and cook for 30 seconds to flavor the oil. Add the zucchini and cook for about 4 minutes, without stirring. Add the tomatoes and cook until they break down, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and season to taste with salt. Place the tomato mixture in a medium bowl with the bread crumbs.
When the eggplants are cool enough to handle, scoop out the insides, chop them, and add to the bowl. When scraping the eggplant halves, make sure to leave enough flesh on the inside so that the outer skin does not collapse. Season the eggplant hulls with salt. Stir the vegetable mixture well and use it to stuff the eggplants. Return the eggplants to the oven for 10 minutes to warm the stuffing through. Then increase the heat to broil and cook about 4 inches from the heat source until the tops are brown and beginning to char, about 3 minutes.
Drizzle the eggplant halves with the remaining tablespoon olive oil. Serve immediately.
Serves 4 as a main course

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