I’m experiencing something that is really frustrating for an aspiring food writer – I have recipe block. I keep looking at my fridge, buying ingredients, and trying things here and there with few good results and waning enthusiasm for the process. I have a pack of chicken breasts sitting in my fridge, just waiting for me to make them into a tasty dinner, but I just stare at them blankly and close the door. It’s truly perplexing.
So, before I launch into a story about the one interesting thing I’ve made lately, here’s my plea: send me some interesting recipe ideas. Bonus points (and the likelihood that I will make it) go to dishes made mostly with pantry staples that don’t require me to run to the store for too much special stuff. Mind you, my pantry, small though it may be, is pretty well stocked. If I challenge myself to make a meal out of just what I have (even after I’ve eaten all the fresh stuff that week), I can usually whip up something pretty delicious. In fact, I’m thinking of writing a post about the anatomy of a well-stocked pantry – what my mother calls a “larder” – but I can’t quite settle on what my true “basics” are. I’ll have to work on that one…
Now, onto the only interesting thing that I have made lately. It’s a roasted eggplant charlotte adapted from Laura Calder’s French Food at Home on Cooking Channel, which is basically one of the only network TV cooking shows I watch. She has a knack for giving ordinary ingredients a little spunk and demystifying classic French technique so that it can be easily adapted for the home cook. She makes this yummy dish in small ramekins so that each person gets an individual portion, but I found that it also works well when made in a souffle dish (or even a cake pan) and served in wedges. Her recipe can be found here (Aubergine and Cumin Charlottes). My adaptation is below.
I made this dish for a dinner I prepared and took the the home of a close family friend. Carolyn, one of my mom’s suite-mates from college, was diagnosed with ALS this past year and suffered an unfortunate fall trying to walk down the stairs in her house over Christmas. She broke a bone in her leg and ended up essentially tied to her couch – which also served as her office, bedroom, dining room, and entertainment center – while recovering. As you might imagine, her journey has been a tough road to travel even before receiving her diagnosis, and a broken leg was just one more obstacle that this woman with an indomitable spirit is trying to overcome.
So, like any good Southerner, my mom suggested that since Carolyn can’t go out, we should make dinner and take the party to her. I did a simple roasted chicken with white wine sauce and a yummy tumble of peas, carrots, and pearl onions, but I needed something hearty and vegetarian friendly for her husband Gary. Now, I am a total carnivore. I love meat. And my concept of a complete meal (or at least a complete dinner party) requires some sort of meaty protein. Vegetarian, to me, is usually pasta or pizza based, and I didn’t want to go down that road for this particular meal. So I turned to my resources and decided to take a crack at this recipe, which I’d been keeping in my back pocket for just such an occasion. In addition to being delicious, this recipe is beautiful to look at and is light and fluffy on the inside with a layer of creamy goat cheese as an added surprise.
If you care to learn more about ALS and how you can help find a cure, visit ALSA.org. Carolyn “scooted” in their annual walk this fall and raised nearly $7,000 for ALS research!
Roasted Eggplant Charlotte with Goat Cheese Filling
2 medium eggplants
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon ground cumin (or less if desired)
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
Start with your two eggplants. For the first one, cut it in half lengthwise, rub the flesh with olive oil, and roast, cut sides up, at 375 for 15-20 minutes (or until the eggplant is soft and scoopable). Remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit.
Meanwhile, take your other eggplant and slice the top off (just the part where the stem connects) and start slicing it into 1/4 inch thick sliced lenthwise. If you have a mandolin it will work perfectly here. Lay these slices on a baking sheet, brush both sides with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. When you remove the first eggplant from the oven, turn the heat up to 400 degrees and roast these slices for 10-15 minutes, or until soft and pliable (but not crisp). Set these aside.
When the first eggplant has cooled somewhat, use a spoon to scoop the soft flesh into a large bowl. Mix in the eggs, milk, and cumin and stir until nice and fairly combined. Season fairly liberally with salt and pepper.
Take your souffle dish or cake pan and grease it lightly with cooking spray (you shouldn’t need much as the eggplant slices already have olive oil on them). Use the roasted thin slices of eggplant to line the dish in sort of a fan shape – starting in the middle and working your way around until the entire bottom of the dish is covered and there aren’t any gaps. You can let the ends of the eggplant fold over the side of the dish. Pour in half of the eggplant and egg mixture, then crumble the goat cheese in and add the remainder of the mixture. Fold the ends of the eggplant strips over the egg mixture so that it’s as completely covered as possible and it forms a nice little package.
Bake at 375 until set – about 30-35 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 15 minutes or so. Use a spatula or butter knife to loosen the sides from the pan if necessary and make sure it isn’t stuck. Then place a plate of the top of the pan and flip over quickly so that the charlotte comes out upside down. Serve warm or at room tempterature.