mary bee’s marinated eggplant with balsamic vinegar + basil

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There’s a point every summer when the garden is far enough along and there are countless round, green tomatoes of all sizes weighing down unruly six foot-tall-plants. In that moment, I wonder why I thought we’d never have enough tomatoes or zucchini and I was convinced it was a solid idea to plant just one more seedling because we “have room!” I am very much my father’s daughter in this respect and I have to laugh at myself every year, thanking him from 130 miles away that I inherited his ability to max out whatever it is I’m doing. Tomatoes, especially. There will be time for us to talk about tomatoes soon enough. Today, we really need to talk about is this delightful and painfully easy marinated eggplant dish. All you need to do is make it to the market this week and find a fresh, young eggplant and heaps of fresh basil (or perhaps you already have some of both growing and at the ready). Don’t forget to pick up a good loaf of crusty bread because you’ll need that, too.

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This marinated eggplant is one of those recipes my mom always puts together when there’s an extra eggplant laying around the ‘frigo (that’s normal, right?). It’s sort of a staple – it’s always around and it’s always so, so good. Most of all – it reminds me of home. You have my Ma, Mary Bee, to thank for this.

UntitledThis usually makes an appearance on Sunday afternoons when my sister and I are both in the same place at the same time – an unfortunately rare occurrence these days as our adult lives keep us mostly in opposite time zones. We spend hours around our parents’ kitchen table in sweats and last night’s hair, talking about nothing and everything, eating obscene amounts this layered balsamic-y, garlicky, magical eggplant, among other marinated, grilled, roasted, and cured odds and ends. And bread, because… carbs are holy. Although home is not really that far away, this is one of those recipes that reminds me… Ma always knows best. Untitled

Make this – and if you can stand it – give it 24 hours to marinate. You might not be able to contain yourself, though, so no judgement here. The eggplant makes great for a quick before-dinner snack with a glass of wine, or in a larger serving with more bread can make for a great lunch on it’s own. Pair it with roasted red peppers and some cheese for a quick sandwich or as part of an antipasti tray for a weekend get-together. It’s incredibly versatile, but equally as delicious on it’s own.

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Recipe for Mary Bee’s Marinated Eggplant with Balsamic Vinegar + Basil 

Note: The measurements of oil and balsamic vinegar for this recipe are really subjective. You’ll need to at least a hefty drizzle to coat both sides of your eggplant for roasting, but for the marinade portion of the recipe, the balsamic and oil ration is really up to you. I prefer a pretty well-marinated eggplant so that each slice is easily recognizable as such, but that it’s easily spread onto bread. Garlic is also easily scaled up or down, depending on your preference for the zip of fresh cloves. You could also opt to roast the garlic with the eggplant if that is more to your liking. If you have the grill fired up, you could also throw the well-oiled eggplant on instead of for an extra dose of Summer.

Ingredients:
1 medium to large eggplant, as fresh as possible
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil, at least a half cup
Balsamic vinegar, at least ¼ cup
1 cup fresh basil, torn into large pieces
2 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed

Make:
1) Preheat oven to 425F.

2) Slice: Slice eggplant: into ¼ – ½ inch rounds, as evenly as you can. Rotate eggplant as you’re cutting to help keep the slices at an even thickness.
Salt: Spread eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt. You may need to do layer up the slices depending on the size of your colander and that’s and that’s ok. Let sit for about 15 minutes while your oven heats.

Note: If you end up with an eggplant that has a lot of seeds when you cut it open, let it sit for an extra 10 minutes. The salt will help draw out any bitterness the seeds impart on the fruit. Smaller, less seedy eggplants need less time.

3) Roast: Dry any moisture on your slices and arrange on a stainless steel sheet pan.

Note: I usually need two pans for one eggplant, so if you only have one just do this in two batches. Don’t overcrowd your pan.

Drizzle generously with olive oil and sprinkle on both sides and black pepper on one. Roast for 25 minutes or so until slices are slightly browned on each side, flipping halfway through.

Note: You can also opt spray your pan if you’re worried about stickage. Just keep an eye on ‘em and they’ll be fine.

When eggplant are finished roasting, let them sit for about 10 minutes to slightly cool. You want them to be warm when you marinate, but not fresh out of the oven hot.

4) Layer It Up: Choose glass or ceramic container or bowl that can double as storage, especially if you’re going to wait to eat this until the next day. Ideally, one with a tight fitting lid. I like to give the whole mess a few good shakes at the end.

Start with a swirl of olive oil and a little of the vinegar. Nestle in a few slices of eggplant; you can pack tightly here. Sprinkle with a bit of garlic and basil. Top with a bit more olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Repeat the layers until you’ve used all of your eggplant, top with one last drizzle of balsamic, cover and give a good shake or three.

If you’re sure how much vinegar to use, err on the light side. You can always add more.

Store this for up to a week in the ‘frigo, but it won’t last that long.

lemon + eggplant risotto…namaste.

lemon + eggplant risotto

Generally speaking, I consider myself a girl who loves winter and everything about it: endless, frozen nights when the our city is firm and quiet, the eerie cracking of frozen, bare limbs reminding us that we’re not the only ones waiting for the frost to break. Sweaters. Tea. Scarves. Red noses and extra trips to the coffee during those long work days when daylight seems to hide for days on end. I particularly love January to the end of March. The gray days are the perfect time for Sunday sauce + meatballs, pasta bakes, spicy shakshuka or chilaquiles for brunch, a few stews and definitely a few roast chickens.

Winter in Ohio is distinctly different beast depending on where in our lovely state you live. Here in the middle lands, we’ve had a gray, boring season. We’re underwhelmed at best while we jealously read the weekly forecast for the Northeast. Winter hasn’t given us anything about it to love this year. We’re cranky and basically over it. Ok, that part about wanting 35 inches of snow… that might just be me.

So – instead of being a crabby, restless mess and ordering lots of pity pizza… I started taking a yoga class! Three days a week! FREE AT WORK. I’d be stupid not to take it, right? Quite honestly, I can’t really move right now because I’m sure I’ve done EVERYTHING wrong, but that’s ok. It’s creating a little crack in this gray funk and I’m already feeling better. Small changes lead to big changes. Or something. I quite remember exactly what the new-agey yogi was talking about today, but it was something to that effect. Maybe one day I’ll be able to pay attention instead of wondering if I’ll be able to unfurl my sad, inflexible body in time for my next meeting.

In addition to getting some zen in my life, I’ve also started to make a concerted effort to actually use our cookbooks. We’ve got so many wonderful ideas quietly fill this shelf and it’s a shame that we’re letting them collect dust. Some of the newest are wedding presents from our dear, wonderful, and amazing friends Tom + Molly who live far, far away in Madison, WI and are probably having a much more exciting snow adventure than we are.

One of their gifts, “Plenty” by Yotam Ottolenghi, is absolutely amazing and full of bright, happy vegetables! (Even if you don’t buy this book – next time you’re at the bookstore or library, go look at it… it’s beautiful. You go to the library, right? I’m blinking at you.)

As I was paging through, I realized I was craving the newness of spring but not ready to give up the ghost with winter quite yet. And then… there it was, right in front of me. The perfect bridge between these gray days and the coming of spring: lemon + eggplant risotto. Creamy, warm rice, cooked in olive oil and onions, slowly swirled with increments of good broth, good cheese and lemon juice and zest… oh my! It’s warm and comforting but fresh and vibrant. Heavy enough to be comfort food, but bright enough to really let the eggplant, basil and lemon shine. There is hope!

What I find clever about this risotto is the duo of eggplant: one oven-charred, one fried in olive oil. The oven-charred eggplant adds a deep creaminess to the rice, and the fried bits remind me how little adornment eggplant really needs to be a delicious little devil. Pair this with fresh basil, lemon zest and good pecorino Romano (…use Locatelli and don’t ever say I didn’t give you good advice). I mean, can you really go wrong with this? I think not.

Many simple combinations of delicate vegetables and aromatics will result in a very nice dish. I’ve had wonderful risottos with fresh peas, asparagus, and cheese. The traditional risotto Milanese (from Milan) is winter comfort food, for real: saffron, beef broth, butter or lard, cheese, and saffron (swoon) Something earthy like mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes and maybe a bit of thyme would be wonderful, too, I’d bet. Find a few things that play nice, and let them shine.

So, let’s back up just a bit. When I’m reading cookbooks, I’m not looking to follow a recipe to the final letter. I look at cookbooks as more inspiration for method, flavor combinations, and interesting tidbits about regional histories – those sorts of things. That being said, my method is not exact, or in perfect lockstep with any recipe, so work with the ambiguous nature of these directions and don’t be afraid to experiment.

To make a risotto – you’ll need about a scant cup of Arborio rice (there are other varieties, but this is easiest to come by in my opinion) and about 3.5-ish cups of warm broth. Gently cook the onion in some olive oil or butter, add some garlic and a heavy splash of white wine until it’s all absorbed. You can add most of your other add ins like, peas, mushrooms, here and stir for a few minutes. Add the Arborio and the broth about a ladle full at a time (… a heavy half cup, perhaps…) and stir until the broth is absorbed. This is the most important part. The time you invest here is worth it. Don’t rush it – let the grains and broth do their thing. Plan for about a half an hour here. Repeat this until the grains are al dente (a little bite left to them) and stir in cheese, maybe more butter, any lemon juice and zest and salt and pepper. Sprinkle with herbs and a little more cheese and done.

The oven-charred eggplant from Ottolenghi’s recipe was added towards the end with the lemon juice, zest, and cheese. The fried bits were served on top. I continue to be in love with it.

I will definitely be revisiting this recipe in the warmer months to come, when the eggplant and basil are ready in the garden…

Speaking of spring… our seed catalog is ready for a good read … I think I’ll stack it on the top of that reading pile. We should probably get on that whole gardening thing. We’ll talk about that some day.