August 19, 2013
I love how ingredients flow in and out the farmer’s market, like waves that push and pull my cooking in different directions. I start in one place at the beginning of the season and end up in another by the end. How I get between the two points—and to this Eggplant and Pepper Marinara—is entirely defined by the rhythm of the market.
This year kicked off, as it usually does, with an uptick in baking, especially with early summer strawberries like the ones in these Strawberry White Chocolate Chip Muffins. Local fresh berries feel like a revelation after winter and spring.
Then I move onto salads, making use of abundant lettuce and a kind of bounty unseen in months—12 of them. This year, I became obsessed with this Salad with Fennel, Haricot Vert, Avocado and Baby Potatoes served with a fresh summer basil vinaigrette.
Things get super simple through the hottest part of summer. The stove stays on as little as possible and there’s no need to fuss over vegetables when they’re so perfectly ready. Dishes like this Panko Crusted Salmon with Avocado Relish make their way onto my table. (Lots of “relishes” through July and early August!)
Then it’s time to pickle. For me, that often means Mexican cooking since I love nothing more than pickled jalapenos and Quick Pickled Red Onions. Some more traditional pickles wiggle their way into my routine, too, like these Overnight Refrigerator Pickles.
After that, the inevitable zucchini time. It starts slow at the end of July. I feel inspired and use zucchini in new, exciting ways like in this Zucchini Panzanella Salad. Then I just want to use it up. I find the simplest, quickest ways to make it mean something like in this Quinoa and Fresh Zucchini Salad. And even though I moan about zucchini (enough already!), I keep buying it.
By mid-August, right about this very moment, as summer begins its slow descend, my cooking gets Italian thanks to the most delicious knobby heirloom tomatoes, royal eggplants, and peppers of all stripes (literally). It’s the only thing that makes sense.
I used my latest haul from the market to make this Eggplant and Pepper Marinara. It’s simple and delicious, in the true tradition of Italian cooking. This recipe is enough for about 2 lbs of pasta. It’s easy enough to half, but I say make the whole batch and save some in the freezer. Then do that again and again over the next few weeks. When winter arrives and your family craves the comfort of a big, warm bowl of pasta, pull out this sauce and, with it, a little taste of the end of summer, too.
P.S: This sauce is delicious without the swiss chard, but I like to add a leafy green to make this a one-bowl meal. When the swiss chard is in there, on busy nights I don’t worry as much about making a separate veggie.
Eggplant and Pepper Marinara
(Can be shared with kids 6+ mos)
Makes enough for 2 lbs of pasta
1 extra large eggplant
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more to finish
2 shallots, chopped (1/2 cup chopped)
2 pimento pepper, chopped (1 cup chopped; you can substitute red bell pepper)
2 fryer peppers, chopped (1 cup chopped; you can substitute green bell pepper)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes
8-10 fresh basil leaves, washed
1 bunch swiss chard (optional)
Freshly ground pepper
1. To prep the eggplant: roughly peel it leaving some thin strips of skin. Cut off the top and bottom, then cut eggplant into 1″ cubes. Place cubes in a colander and toss with a generous helping of salt. Allow eggplant to sit for 15-30 minutes. Spread a double layer of paper towels or a clean kitchen towel on your counter. Turn the salt soaked eggplant onto the towel in a single layer and use more paper towels or another kitchen towel to pat the eggplant dry. Pull out as much moisture as possible.
2. In the meantime, heat olive oil in a large dutch oven set over medium heat. Add shallots; sauté until fragrant and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add pimento and fryer peppers and saute another 3-4 minutes.
3. Turn heat to medium-high and add prepped eggplant to the pot, laying the pieces in a single, even layer. Season with salt and leave eggplant untouched for 3 minutes. Give the vegetables a stir and, once again, use the back of a wooden spoon to pat them into a single, even layer across the bottom of your pot. Cook for another 3 minutes, untouched. Add tomato paste and stir to incorporate. For one last time, pat the veggies into a single, even layer across the bottom of your pot and cook for another 3 minutes, untouched.
4. Stir veggies, scraping bits from the bottom of your pot. By now, the eggplant should be well browned in spots. Lower the heat to medium and add chopped tomatoes and basil leaves. Stir and scrape to pull up anything that’s still sticking to the bottom of your pot. Simmer for 30 minutes.
5. While the sauce cooks, prep the swiss chard: grab the bottom of the stalk with one hand, then gently run the fingers of your other hand down the stalk, pulling the tender green leaves from the rough stem. Wash and dry leaves, then roughly chop. Once the sauce has cooked for 30 minutes, add chopped swiss chard and cook for 10 more minutes.
6. Turn off the heat and add a healthy glug of olive oil. Stir and taste to adjust salt and pepper.
*Note: Chock full of veggies, this marinara is a great sauce to share with very early eaters beginning at 6 months. Keep in mind that tomatoes are acidic, so just a little bit of this sauce—pureed with pasta, brown rice, quinoa or baby’s favorite whole grain—goes a long way for wee ones.