Those of you who read this monthly column know that I love cookbooks.
From the first Betty Crocker cookbook given to me by my mother many years ago to the treasured “Patsy’s Italian Family Cookbook” purchased at the actual Patsy’s restaurant in New York, I often read them as if they were novels. I want to learn more and more about different foods and how to prepare them.
I like watching the Food Channel too, and an old favorite of mine is Bobby Flay’s “Boy Meets Grill.” Bobby has a list of cooking credentials a mile long and is the owner of such acclaimed restaurants as the Mesa Grill in Las Vegas, Bar American at Mohegan Sun, Gato in New York City and multiple locations of Bobby’s Burger Palace. His cooking usually leans toward southwestern but, in his newest cookbook, “Bobby at Home,” he describes his love for Italian cooking, too. He says that his childhood in Manhattan, shared with many Italian friends, has resulted in an ability to make an unrivaled marinara sauce.
I have enjoyed reading “Bobby at Home” not just for the recipes, but for his anecdotes about his summer cooking adventures with family and friends. As a lowly cook in central Pennsylvania, I too have always believed that cooking means sharing and making memories with those you love. (Just minus the house in the Hamptons.)
With August, the end of summer is approaching. For me, the seasonal fresh produce has always been an Italian cook’s dream: the best tomatoes, thick-skinned red bell peppers that are perfect for roasting, and, perhaps my favorite of all, eggplants. Bobby offers a wonderful eggplant recipe that can serve as a vegetarian entrée or as an addition to a larger antipasto table. His suggestion to use baby eggplants is a good one, as they are much sweeter and tenderer than their larger counterparts. With the addition of creamy, fresh ricotta cheese, ripe red tomatoes and fresh basil, it is Sicily on a plate.
Grilled Baby Eggplants with Fresh Ricotta and Farm Stand Tomatoes
- 3 large, ripe beefsteak tomatoes, halved, seeded and diced
- 1 garlic clove, smashed
- 12 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 cup fresh whole milk ricotta cheese
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- 4 baby eggplants, halved
- ¼ cup canola or olive oil
- Combine the tomatoes, garlic, basil and parsley in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Let the mixture sit at room temperature while you prepare the eggplant for up to 2 hours. (I like to drain off any excess liquid that accumulates.)
- Combine the ricotta and lemon zest in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate while you prepare the eggplant.
- Heat your grill to high, or you can use an indoor grill pan, if you prefer.
- Brush the eggplant halves on both sides with the oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the eggplant, cut the sides down, until golden brown (about 4 minutes). (I usually turn my grill down to medium for most things to avoid burning.) Flip the eggplant halves and grill the bottoms until they are golden brown too (about 3 minutes more). Test gently with a small fork to make sure the eggplant is tender.
- Transfer the eggplant to a platter, cut side up, and top each half with a “dollop” of ricotta. Spoon some of the tomato mixture over each mound of ricotta. (The plate looks lovely with some extra basil leaves scattered around for garnish.)
Try the eggplant with some nice, crusty Italian bread and a crisp cool white wine (maybe a Verdiccio or a soave). Along with a little fresh fruit, this is a simple, but perfect dinner on a warm summer evening.
I’m going to stick with Bobby for a while, I think. Next on my cooking list is his “End of Summer Tomato Soup,” “Swordfish with Plum Sauce” and “Green Chili Cheeseburgers.” And I am definitely thinking about leaving my favorite gin and tonics temporarily behind for Bobby’s “Mesa Margaritas.” On the rocks and no salt!
Enjoy the last full month of summer, everyone.