Sunday, August 30, 2015

Prosperosa Eggplant Becomes Pasta alla Norma

Trying to find a new way to cook that eggplant you grew? This recipe is a winner! Pasta alla Norma is a classic dish featuring eggplant, Roma tomatoes and basil. It gets a kick from red pepper flakes and garlic.
The recipe is below, but first let me introduce Prosperosa eggplant, perhaps the prettiest eggplant I've grown.
The contrasting white collars make this eggplant a standout. A closer look reveals the details are an ombre effect that is a delightful combination of shades of purple and pale green. In the bright sunlight, the colors come alive.
As photogenic as they are, I couldn't help myself. I love purple and green together.
Beautiful, rich colors!
The plant is an upright grower with large leaves. Mine is currently approaching 4 feet tall, and it has produced several eggplants that are softball-sized and larger.
We have been enjoying eggplant parmesan but we wanted to make something new, and my husband found this recipe for Pasta alla Norma. It's from Jamie's Italy, by Jamie Oliver (Hachette Books). He adapted it a bit to use what we had on hand. He also left out the onion since I can't eat it. What can I say except this may be my new favorite pasta dish. The way the eggplant is prepared, it combines with the tomatoes to create a creamy sauce. Oh my, it is good!

2 large eggplants, tops removed
9 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
6 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 28-oz can plum tomatoes in puree, pureed or hand crushed in the sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 lb spaghetti or other pasta
1 cup torn basil leaves
shavings of Parmesan or Pecorino (we used grated instead of shaved cheese)

Preheat oven to 475 degrees with racks on the upper and lower thirds. Cut each eggplant lengthwise into eighths. Cut out the fluffy cores from the wedges, leaving 1/2 inch thick shells. Cut the shells crosswise into 3/4 inch thick strips. Toss them with 6 Tbsp of olive oil and 1 tsp salt in a bowl. Place them onto 2 oiled rimmed baking sheets and roast in the oven. Stir the eggplant and switch the location of the backing sheets half way through. Cook until tender and browned, total of 20-25 minutes. 

While the eggplant is roasting, heat the remaining oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat, saute the garlic, stirring, until golden, then transfer the garlic with a slotted spoon to a small bowl. 

Stir onion, red pepper flakes and 1/2 tsp salt into the skillet. Cook, covered, over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender, about 6 min. 

Add the tomato puree and sugar, briskly simmer, uncovered, until thickened slightly, 10-15 min.

Cook pasta per the package instructions. Reserving 1 cup of the pasta water, drain the pasta and return pasta to the pot. Add the sauce and the eggplant. Toss for about one minute to cover the pasta and eggplant with the sauce, thinning with the pasta cooking water as necessary. Stir in the garlic and half of the basil. 

Serve, and top with the remaining basil and the cheese.

If you happen to have left-overs, it is amazing as a cold pasta salad the next day!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Banana Melon

When I read about banana melons, I was excited to try a new variety especially since the description called it incredibly sweet with a tropical fruit scent. I have to say, I was a bit disappointed. The flavor of my banana melon was more delicate than a cantaloupe, definitely less flavorful than I hoped. 

The fruit smelled deliciously sweet and since it was cracked a little by the stem, I harvested it. Cutting into it revealed a beautiful orange fruit with a relatively thin rind, and it was very juicy so I thought it would be fabulous.
Don't get me wrong, it was good...but I had hoped for amazing. I think it may have been harvested a little early. I'm hoping the vine will produce another one so I can see if leaving it on the vine longer will boost the flavor.

To be honest, my melon patch is not at its best this year. My production is down, partly due to our drought and restrictions on watering. The other melons (cantaloupe, Crenshaw, Sakata's Asian, and honeydew) have been delicious, but not at plentiful as in years past.

At this point, I don't think the banana melon will make a repeat appearance in my garden next year unless the next one blows me away. Now the Crenshaw, that's another story. It will be in my garden every year. That's a melon that will have you coming back for more!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Sakata's Asian Melon

Imagine a sweet melon that is crispy like the crunchiest cucumber...that's Sakata's Asian melon. It even has a hint of cucumber flavor, so you could imagine it's like a cross between a melon and a cucumber. However you think of it, you must try it.

This heirloom has been grown in Asia for thousands of years. The fruit is small, only reaching the size of a soft ball. The thin rind is smooth and pale yellow when ripe. Some people say the skin is edible, but we eat them as we do other melons and remove the rind and seeds. 

I read somewhere that they taste best if left in the refrigerator for a week after harvest so that is what we do. I'm not sure if that is necessary or not, but I can assure you that the flavor is incredibly sweet, and the crispy texture makes these a refreshing summer treat! 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Tomato and Basil with Red Pepper Hummus

This lunch sings of summer. Fresh tomatoes, vine ripened to perfection are the basis of my summer diet, and they are featured in this light sandwich. We have discovered that seasoning our tomato slices on a salt block turns up their flavor, and our salt block is left sitting on the counter for easy access. 

This is Nebraska Wedding, a bright orange tomato, light and sweet.

Spread a little red pepper hummus on whole wheat bread, top with tomato and basil leaves and you have the most incredible open-faced sandwich. 
I took one bite, then realized there was something that could make this even better...

Sunday, August 2, 2015

A Tasty Rainbow of Bell Peppers

Chocolate, yellow, red, orange and green...the prettiest peppers I've ever seen. Please understand, I may be biased since these are my little gems, lovingly grown from seed starting way back in February. Peppers do take time to grow, so when they are finally ripe, it is such a joy!
My husband made robust ropa vieja using the peppers. It's a Mexican dish of stewed beef featuring bell peppers. Before they were cooked, the bells had to pose for some photos.
Chocolate Bell, Quadrato Giallo D' Asti (yellow), Quadrato Rosso D' Asti (red), Orange Bell, California Wonder Bell
Chocolate Bell ripens to a deep brown. It is large with thick flesh which is sweet but has no chocolate flavor. The name alludes to the color which is definitely a chocolate brown.

Quadrato Giallo D' Asti is an Italian heirloom with the most delightful bright yellow flesh. It is a stunning plant, the sunny yellow makes a brilliant contrast to the deep green foliage. With light and crisp flesh, it might be the sweetest of my bells.

Perhaps my favorite variety this year is the Quadrato Rosso D' Asti which is the red bell. This Italian heirloom is producing numerous lush peppers of a deep red. The flesh is crisp and very sweet with a hint of a spicy finish. 
I love seeing peppers ripen, transforming colors like a chameleon. 
Quadrato Rosso D' Asti. One plant with peppers in various stages of maturity.
Orange Bell is perhaps the prettiest one in my garden. In the sunlight, this vibrant orange pepper simply glows. Deliciously sweet, it adds a pop of color to meals from stews to salads.
Lovely Orange Bell, the belle of the garden.
And finally there is California Wonder. This green pepper is a longstanding favorite for its thick flesh and boxy shape. It is the classic bell, and it's perfect for stuffing.
My bells, they are a tasty rainbow!