September 25, 2014 Eggplant Involtini

DSC_9067aWith lots of caponata, grilled eggplant, ratatouille, and a double batch of eggplant parmesan under my belt, I was looking for another way to enjoy the bounty of our eggplants this season. It came in the July/August issue of Cooks Illustrated magazine, eggplant involtini.

After all these years (30+) I still look forward pouring over the latest issues of the cooking magazines I subscribe to. Since the magazines are a little in advance of what is ready to harvest from the garden, I put a yellow sticky note on the seasonal recipes I would like to try. Eggplant involtini was in the July/August issue that arrived in June when our eggplants didn’t even have their first flowers, so I have been waiting several months to try this recipe.

Involtini are neat little bundles of stuffed meat, fish or vegetables. Fillings can be as varied as your imagination. Eggplant works especially well as a wrapper for involtini. Use your largest, broadest eggplants to make the planks. Lop off the stem and hold the eggplant upright. With a very sharp knife, make approximately 1/2″ thick planks. For the first and last pieces you will need to trim off the rounded outer edge. I found that a vegetable peeler handled the problem nicely.

Instead of frying, which is called for in many involtini recipes, the slices are brushed lightly on both sides with olive oil, and seasoned with salt and pepper and baked. This makes the slices pliable enough to roll without falling apart.

Once the slices have cooled a bit, fill with the fatter edge closest to you and roll up. Ricotta, though it doesn’t have much flavor of it’s own is a good binder for the more flavorful ingredients, pecorino romano and basil. The addition of fresh lemon juice brightens the flavors. A generous tablespoon of filling is enough for each slice. The original recipe called for some bread crumbs in the filling to bind it a little, I didn’t include this step and thought my filling held up nicely.

While you are cooking the eggplant there’s time to make a very basic sauce. Canned whole tomatoes, garlic, oregano, kosher salt and pepper are all you need. I always use my whole roasted tomatoes from the garden that I freeze for months without tomatoes. We had a bumper crop this year so I will be making a lot of chili, lasagna, stuffed peppers over the winter months. As for the canned varieties, in a taste test done by Cooks Illustrated, Muir Glen Organic Whole Tomatoes was the winner. Muir Glen is about a dollar more per can than the more familiar runner up, Hunts.

The involtini rolls, are added to the thickened sauce and brought to a simmer. Once the sauce is warmed, additional cheese is sprinkled on top. The rolls are browned and the cheese is melted in the broiler. Finish off with a sprinkle of basil, mini basil leaves worked well here.

Not the quickest or easiest preparation, but both the rolls and the sauce can be made in advance and assembled right before serving. An impressive dish good enough for company.

Eggplant Involtini

Serves 4 to 6


  • 2 large eggplants, shorter wider eggplants are best (1 1/2 pounds each), if skin is thick, peel, I did not peel mine
  • 6T olive oil
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/4t dried oregano
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 28oz canned whole peeled tomatoes drained with juice reserved, chopped coarse-I used my garden roasted tomatoes
  • 1c  whole-milk or part skim ricotta cheese
  • 3/4c hard Italian grating cheese like Gran Padano or Pecorino Romano
  • 1/4c plus 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or torn mini basil
  • 1T fresh lemon juice


  1. Slice each eggplant lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick planks (you should have 12 planks). Trim rounded surface from each end piece so it lies flat. I found that using a vegetable peeler made this easier. Adjust 1 oven rack to lower-middle position and second rack 8 inches from broiler element. Heat oven to 375°F.
  2. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and spray generously with vegetable oil spray.
  3. Arrange eggplant slices in single layer on prepared sheets. Lightly brush 1 side of eggplant slices with oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper. Turn slices over and repeat brushing and seasoning.
  4. Bake until tender and lightly browned, 30 to 35 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. This process took about 10 minutes less in my convection oven.  Let cool for 5 minutes. Using thin spatula, flip each slice over. Heat broiler.
  5. While the eggplant is cooking, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch broiler-safe skillet, over medium-low heat until just shimmering. Add garlic, oregano, pepper flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  6. Stir in tomatoes and their juice. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes. Cover and set aside.
  7. Stir together ricotta, 1/2 cup cheese, 1/4 cup basil, lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in medium bowl.
  8. With widest ends of eggplant slices facing you, evenly distribute ricotta mixture on bottom third of each slice. Gently roll up each eggplant slice and place seam side down in tomato sauce.
  9. Bring sauce to simmer over medium heat. Simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer skillet to oven and broil until eggplant is well browned and cheese is heated through, 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Pecorino and let stand for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon basil and serve.
The variety I used for this dish was Clara, a pure white Italian style eggplant.
Eggplant slices are brushed with olive oil and seasoned lightly with salt and pepper.
After baking the slices are soft enough to roll but don’t fall apart.
I used roughly torn mini basil in my filling.
The very simple filling made of ricotta cheese, Pecorino Romano, fresh lemon juice and mini basil.
The eggplant slices are easy to roll up. Place them seam side down in the warmed sauce.


September 18, 2014 Garden Peach Tomato Gazpacho

DSC_9022aIn our garden we have a selection of 20 varieties of heirloom tomatoes.  An heirloom is regarded as something that has been passed down from generation to generation because of it’s value, whether intrinsic or sentimental. Heirloom tomatoes are grown from seed that has been passed from one generation to the next. We usually think of heirlooms as varieties that are over sixty years old, before the introduction of hybrids to the general market. Another term we associate with heirlooms is open pollenated. These are seeds that are pollenated by natural methods, like insects or wind. If you collect the seed of one variety of an heirloom and plant it you should get a plant that should be quite similar to the parent plant.

One of our favorites is the Garden Peach, a native of Peru and according to food historian William Woys Weaver, introduced to the United States in 1862 from France. The Garden Peach has a thin matte yellow skin that is slightly fuzzy. When ripe, Garden Peach has a rosy blush. The fruits are small, 2-4 ounces on average, and quite prolific. Garden Peach tomatoes will never remind you of a peach plucked off the tree but the flavor is light, mild and sweet. This variety is a “keeper”. At the end of the season it stores well on your countertop or in a box.

In my never ending quest to use our abundance of tomatoes in new ways, I created a cold Garden Peach soup. Is this a soup or gazpacho? According to Merriam Webster, gazpacho is defined as “a spicy cold soup made with chopped vegetables (such as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and onions). So I can also call this a gazpacho. I combined chopped garlic, onion, celery and Garden peach tomatoes in the food processor. To give the soup just a hint of peach flavor I added a few tablespoons of peach white balsamic vinegar from The Tubby Olive. A light refreshing soup perfect for the waning days of summer.

Garden Peach Tomato Gazpacho

Serves four


  • 3/4c medium chopped Vidalia or other sweet onion
  • 1/2c medium chopped celery
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 3/4c medium yellow pepper, seeded, ribs removed, chopped medium
  • 1 3/4lb Garden Peach tomatoes (about 16)
  • 1t fresh coarsely chopped mini basil leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2T or more to taste, peach balsamic vinegar or white balsamic


Ripe Garden Peach tomatoes have a rosy blush.


  1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse on and off until just slightly chunky. Taste and add kosher salt and freshly ground pepper as needed. Add 2-3 tablespoons peach balsamic vinegar, or as to taste.
  2. Place in a covered container and refrigerate 6-8 hours or longer for flavors to meld
  3. Serve soup chilled, garnished with tomato chunks and mini basil leaves.


Sept 13, 2014 Tomato, Cucumber and Watermelon Salad

DSC_8707aCool, crisp, quick and delicious, what higher praise could I bestow on a summertime salad? This best-of-summer salad brings together sweet cherry tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, succulent watermelon and creamy salty feta.

Joe has grown more tomatoes than ever and the varieties are amazing. Indigo Blue Berries, Black Cherry, Pink Bumble Bee, Sungold, to name a few, as beautiful to behold as they are sweet and juicy to devour.

Indigo Blue Berries are a new variety this year. Like the blueberry, Indigo Blue Berry tomatoes contain high levels of anthocyanin, a naturally occuring antioxidant. Pink Bumble Bee tomatoes are a round pink cherry tomato striped with yellow and orange.  The Black Cherry tomato is a deep red with a blackish hue. Sungolds are an apricot orange in color with a sweet tropical flavor.
It’s best to cut the tomatoes in half for easier eating. My serrated edge Cutco knife always gives me a neat cut through the tomato skin. I peel most of the skin from the cucumber and leave a strip of skin on for color. Scoop out the seeds if they are too large.

Another member of the cucurbit family, watermelon, brings a refreshing sweetness to the salad. The watermelon you will most likely find anywhere these days will be seedless.  Over the past several years it has become increasingly difficult to find seeded watermelons. Only 10% of watermelons grown on farms in 2011 were of the seeded variety, in 2003, almost 37% were.

Seedless watermelons are not genetically modified but are “the watermelon version of the mule.” They are a sterile hybrid achieved by crossing the pollen of the normal diploid (2 sets of chromosomes) watermelon with a female flower that is a tetraploid (4 sets of chromosomes). The genetic change occurs from the use of colchicine, a chemical derived from the fall blooming crocus that impacts chromosomes and has been used for years to treat and cure gout. The resulting seeds from these two plants are triploids (3 sets of chromosomes) and will produce sterile seedless watermelons. The white seeds, also known as “pips”  you may find in your seedless watermelons are hollow seed coats that didn’t mature.

Seedless or seeded, which type tastes better? Is it just nostalgia, do we fear the end of the days of watermelon seed spitting contests? If you still want seeds in your watermelon you may find those varieties at your farmers market or you may just need to grow your own.

As someone who always likes to sprinkle a little salt on her watermelon, feta just seems like a natural addition to this flavor combination. Feta brings both a creamy texture and a contrasting saltiness that brings out the flavors of the other elements of this salad. The simplest of dressings and a scattering of fresh basil and you have a great summer salad, colorful and easy to put together, a refreshing addition to any barbecue or cookout.

Pink Bumble Bee is a new addition to our tomato selection this year.
The Indigo Blue Berry is definitely blue, when ripe it develops a reddish hue.

Tomato Cucumber and Watermelon Salad

Serves four


  • 2c assorted cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 1/2c medium diced seedless watermelon
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled, quartered, seeded if necessary, cut into 3/4″ pieces
  • 3/4c feta cheese, cut into half inch cubes
  • 1/4c fresh mini basil leaves or large leaves torn into small pieces
  • 1T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1T lemon juice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper


  1. Put the cherry tomatoes, watermelon, cucumber, feta and basil in a large bowl.
  2. In a small bowl whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, 1/4t salt and a 1/4t fresh ground pepper. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss gently to coat.


September 10, 2014 Grilled Asian Eggplant Salad


It’s a great time of year to try out some new eggplant recipes. Whether from the farmers market, your local CSA or your own garden, freshly harvested eggplants are at their best. Our garden has produced an amazing array of eggplants this summer. Bright fuchsia Dancer, slender dark violet Orient Express, pure white Clara, beautifully variegated Nubia, all the varieties we have harvested this year have thin skin and minimal seeds.
What we most often consider to be Asian eggplants are the long slim tapered varieties.   Actually Asian eggplants, whether Chinese, Japanese, Thai or Indian can be round or pear shaped, pure white or lime green and as small as an egg as well as the dark purple we are most familiar with.
In this Thai-style recipe for a yam or salad, eggplant slices are brushed with oil and grilled. If the weather is inclement or you just don’t have the time to fire up the grill they can be cooked indoors on a ridged grill pan.

Save the seasoning until after the grilling the eggplant. It’s then the creamy flesh will soak up the flavor of the ginger and soy, transforming the once raw bitter slices to something delicious.
Though not necessarily typical of this type of salad, I served the grilled eggplant slices on salad greens. Our lettuces have made their late summer return to the garden and I tossed some assorted greens with a few sweet cherry tomatoes, basil and mint. I used the small spicy leaves of Thai basil and Vietnamese mint that doesn’t overpower the salad. An Asian style vinaigrette combining the traditional combination of hot, sour salty and sweet dresses the greens and enhances the flavor of the grilled eggplant.

Beautiful dark purple Orient Express eggplant.

Grilled Asian Eggplant Salad

Serves four


  • 1/4 c freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/4 c peanut or canola oil
  • 3 T finely minced shallot
  • 1 1/2 T fish sauce
  • 2 t granulated sugar
  • 1 to 2 Thai bird chiles, minced, or 1-1/2 to 2 serrano chiles, seeded, minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 T minced fresh ginger
  • 1-1/2 T soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 lb. long, slender Asian eggplants, trimmed and halved lengthwise
  • 4-5 c baby lettuce leaves
  • 10 to 12 oz. cherry or grape tomatoes, halved (about 2 cups)
  • 1 c  packed fresh basil leaves, Thai, if you have it
  • 1/4 c packed fresh mint leaves, I used Vietnamese mint (very mild)


  1. Prepare a medium-high gas or charcoal grill fire.  Alternately heat a grill pan over medium high heat.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk 3 Tbs. of the oil with the lime juice, 2 Tbs. of the shallot, the fish sauce, 1 tsp. of the sugar, and the chiles. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. In another small bowl, combine 2 tsp. water with the ginger, soy sauce, the remaining 1 Tbs. shallot, and 1 tsp. sugar.
  4. Arrange the eggplant halves on a rimmed baking sheet, brush both sides with the remaining 1 Tbs. oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill the eggplant, covered, until tender, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Alternately grill the eggplant in a grill pan, 3-5 minutes on each side until tender.
  5. Combine the lettuces, tomatoes, basil, and mint in a large bowl. Re whisk the lime dressing and toss just enough into the salad to lightly coat the greens. Season the salad to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer the salad to a platter and arrange the eggplant over the salad. Spoon the ginger mixture over the eggplant, and serve immediately.