September 12, 2009

Not Your Average Leftovers

Last month, there was an article in the NY Times about how “no one cooks here anymore” (“here” being one’s kitchen). In the article, entitled “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch,” Michael Pollan bemoans the fact that Americans would rather watch other people cook on TV than get into the kitchen and do it themselves. I find Food Network programming occasionally informative, often entertaining, and always inspiring. Whether or not I actually try the recipes I see on TV, I’m motivated by an ingredient, a theme, a combination of flavors. It gives me ideas and, more often than not, gets me off the the couch (or treadmill, as the case may be) and into the kitchen! And I have faith that I am not alone.

Case in point:

Sometimes, okay often, I go a little overboard at the grocery store. This usually leads to produce and other perishable items piling up in the fridge, which stresses me out a little bit. Until I use them, I’ll have this nagging in the back of my brain, like there is something important I need to do.

After last week’s frenzy of Italian cooking, I had a pile of ingredients that I had to make use of, including several small hunks of various cheeses, and a couple eggplant I had bought because they were on sale but hadn’t had the opportunity to use yet.

While working out earlier this week, I saw a “Neapolitan” episode of Everyday Italian in which Giada made two different recipes that happened to employ just the ingredients I had on hand:

Leftover smoked mozzarella and ricotta (from the stuffed chicken) and leftover panko bread crumbs (from the crabcakes) combined with an egg and flour to form frittelle di ricotta e mozzarella affumicata or “Smoked Mozzarella and Ricotta Fritters”.

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The following evening, the eggplant, leftover ragĂș alla Bolognese, parsley, smoked mozzarella and pecorino cheeses became Timballo di Melanzana ai Quattro Formaggi or my version of Giada’s Eggplant Timbale.

It’s a twist on the classic timballo (named for it’s shape, meaning “drum” in Italian) that uses thinly sliced, grilled eggplant instead of pastry dough.

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It can be filled with pasta or rice, cheese and any number of different ingredients. I used whole wheat penne, frozen green peas, parsley, ragĂș, a can of diced tomatoes, flat-leaf parsley, smoked mozzarella, pecorino romano, parmesan, and asiago fresco.

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I highly recommend both of the above dishes, but the Eggplant Timbale in particular gets 5 stars. It is a perfect “one dish” meal and a great alternative to lasagna or casserole: hearty and rustic with complex flavors and plenty of vegetables. It’s just plain delicious.

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See, people do still cook here.

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