So you move to a new place (or are in the process of moving) and you know one person. Granted it’s a person you’ve known since you were 10 or 11, and the sole reason for moving to this far, far away, freezing cold land. And he knows plenty of people – though you wouldn’t necessarily think so listening to him at times!
Now, I am by nature, basically, a very shy person (Now, stop laughing. I can hear you from here), and don’t make friends easily (No, really, stop laughing!) Always afraid I won’t fit in or that people won’t like me. That shyness can at times be perceived as snobbiness, but really it isn’t.
So, how to make a good impression?
Well, when you’re a foodie, it’s simple, FEED THEM! But what? When you have big eaters and small eaters and flesh eaters and non-flesh eaters and who doesn’t like this, that or the other thing, it ain’t easy!
This particular night I decided I wanted to try not ONE, not TWO, but THREE new recipes. I should have had my head examined. Not that anything was particularly difficult, but it was the first time out of the gate with these so there was an unknown factor. There was lots of chopping and grating and mincing and almost every bowl and utensil in the kitchen was in the sink by the time things started to cook, and I couldn’t have done any of this without my favorite kitchen sidekick. Thank you, dear man.
But, truly, there is something to be said for a partner who will roll up his sleeves, pick up a knife and do any task
barked asked of him, and then wash all the dishes!
So, this recipe for my dear, new friend, Lisa, the vegetarian, was adapted from both Yotam Ottolenghi and the Smitten Kitchen. I came across this recipe a couple of months ago and knew I had to make this for her! It was fabulous!
- 2 large eggplant, (about 2 pounds) cut into 3/4-inch dice
- Salt and black pepper
- 2 T olive oil
- 1 1/2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 1 1/2 celery stalks, in a 1/4-inch dice
- 1 1/2 medium onion, finely diced
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 12 ozs orzo, a rice-shaped pasta, rinsed
- 1 1/2 t tomato paste
- 2 1/4 C vegetable stock
- 1 to 3 T fresh oregano, chopped
- 1 t grated lemon zest or more to taste, up to the zest of a whole lemon
- 6 ozs mozzarella, firmer is better here, cut into 1/3-inch dice
- 3/4 C parmesan, grated
- 4 medium tomatoes, diced
NOTE: The original recipe was for 4. We were going to be 6, so I made a 1 1/2 times recipe which reflects in the measurements above. Also, I lessened the number of carrots and amount of celery
Preheat your oven to 400°F.
Sprinkle your eggplant generously with salt and let it drain in a colander for 30 minutes. I used this time to get the rest of my ingredients ready. After 30 minutes, rinse it well and pat it dry on towels.
Place eggplant cubes on a baking sheet in a single layer. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and a splash of olive oil. Roast until golden brown at the edges, about 20, 25 minutes.
NOTE: The original recipe calls for frying the eggplant. I really couldn’t deal with frying the eggplant, so I put the cubes on a cookie sheet, salt and peppered them, a splosh of olive oil and let them roast until golden brown at the edges. About 20 minutes.
While the eggplant is roasting, heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add the celery and carrots and cook for 3 minutes before adding onion and garlic. Cook together for 5 more minutes on medium heat.
Stir in the orzo and tomato paste and cook for two minutes more. Off the heat, add the oregano, mozzarella, parmesan, tomatoes, eggplant, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon table salt, many grinds of black pepper and the stock and mix well.
NOTE: The original recipe called for putting the tomatoes in thin slices over the top before baking. I chopped them up and mixed them in. Instead of mixing everything in the pan I put everything in a large bowl to mix. By this time, I had used EVERY pot, pan, mixing bowl and counter space in our kitchen, so what was one more! (Oh, my dear dish washer, you are so appreciated for putting up with a Tasmanian Devil in the kitchen!)
Transfer mixture to an 8×11-inch (about 2 quarts) ovenproof baking dish (I used a 3 quart dish here).
Cover with foil and bake 20 minutes, then bake 20 minutes without the foil. (You can increase the ration of foil-on to foil-off time if you don’t like a crunchy pasta lid.) Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
NOTE: We had more folks over the next night and there was enough left over to serve the same meal again! I just stirred in a little more mozzarella and poured in a little vegetable stock to make sure it didn’t dry out too much in the oven.