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Neapolitan Stuffed Eggplant

In Appetizers / Starters, Vegetables On August 12, 2017 0 Comments

I’ve been making this eggplant recipe since I was 9 years old and living in Campania!

My Nonna (grandmother) used day-old bread and eggplant pulp – diced and fried. She then mixed the breadcrumbs, fried eggplant pulp, eggs, Pecorino-Romano cheese and other basic ingredients. This became the stuffing which was placed back into the shells and deep-fried.

Wondering how the eggplant is stuffed and baked? Read on… it’s worth it! No restaurant serves Neapolitan Stuffed Eggplant.

Prep time: 30 minutes (for frying & cooling) & 30 minutes (for baking)
Makes: 12 servings (leftovers store in airtight container in refrigerator up to 5 days)

Ingredients:
6 Japanese eggplant (small eggplant)
1.5 tablespoons salt
1 quart safflower or sunflower oil
1 day-old Italian bread or French baguette (outer skins cut & discarded) & crumbled with hands
6 large eggs, beaten
1 to 1-1/3 cups grated sharp, imported Pecorino-Romano cheese
6 large basil leaves, finely chopped
Dash grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Garnish for the Non-Baked Version (in photograph below):
5 to 7 cherry tomatoes or home grown San Marzano tomatoes
5 to 6 fresh basil leaf sprigs, for garnish

Garnish for the Traditional, Baked Version with Tomatoes (in above photograph):
One 32-ounce can diced San Marzano tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, sliced into 3 to 4 pieces
5 to 6 fresh basil leaf sprigs, for garnish

Cut the Eggplant:
1. Rinse and pat dry the eggplant with paper towels.

2. Remove and discard top end with leaf/stem.

3. Vertically cut the eggplant in half.

4. Take one cut half, insert pointed tip of sharp knife 1/8-inch inside eggplant shell.

5. Using knife tip, cut around the pulp until it comes out in one piece – this may take a little practice.

6. Cut pulp vertically into 1/2-inch strips. Cut strips into 1/2-inch cubes.

7. Set eggplant cubes aside in a colander.

8. Repeat cutting procedure with remaining eggplant. Set aside in colander.

Salt & Fry the Eggplant:
1. Sprinkle the salt all over eggplant cubes in colander & gently toss with hands; let eggplant drain in colander set over a bowl for 20 minutes.

2. After 20 minutes, using cooks’ plastic gloves, take a handful of eggplant cubes and squeeze out the bitter juices over a sink; set eggplant cubes aside in a bowl.

3. Repeat squeezing out the bitter juices with remaining eggplant cubes.

4. Pour the sunflower or safflower oil into a 12-inch frying skillet (preferably stainless steel, as this heats up quickly).

5. Heat the oil.

6. When oil is hot but does not smoke, test one eggplant cube by gently lowering it into oil. If it begins to sizzle, the oil is ready.

7. Fry the eggplant cubes in 2 to 3 batches – eggplant cubes should turn golden brown (not dark brown).

8. Transfer fried eggplant batch to a paper towel-lined platter.

9. After transferring first batch, cover it with paper towels & lay the second batch over them. Repeat with third batch.

10. When eggplant is fried, let it cool so that it is warm to the touch – about 10 to 15 minutes.

11. Save the oil and skillet for frying the stuffed eggplant later.

Prepare Stuffing:
1. Preheat oven to 375°F.

2. Place the crumbled bread & the fried eggplant cubes in a 12-cup mixing bowl; set aside.

3. In a separate bowl, using a whisk or a fork, beat the eggs with 1 cup Pecorino Romano cheese.

4. Gently stir the egg-cheese mixture into the breadcrumbs & eggplant in bowl.

5. Add the chopped basil leaves, dash nutmeg & black pepper.

6. Taste some of the stuffing & check it for cheese level. If needed, add remaining 1/3 cup cheese & a little salt.

Stuff the Eggplant Shells:
1. Divide the stuffing into 12 portions – you may be able to do this visually.

2. Place a portion of the stuffing inside eggplant shell, gently patting it down. It should look a little rounded on top. Set the stuffed eggplant shell, face up, on a platter.

3. Meanwhile, stuff the remaining eggplant shells, setting them aside on the platter.

Fry the Eggplant:
1. Reheat the oil in skillet. When oil is hot but does not smoke, gently and carefully lower one stuffed eggplant, face down, into oil. Repeat with a few more stuffed eggplants until they fit comfortably in skillet (about 5 pieces).

2. Fry the eggplant for about 3 minutes; check underside with a spatula. If eggplant is not golden brown, fry it for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, checking occasionally.

3. When eggplants look golden brown on bottom, using 2 large forks or 1 fork and a spatula, gently turn them over; fry the shell side for 3 to 4 minutes.

4. At this point, you can serve the stuffed eggplant without baking it – it will be drier than the traditional, baked version:

For this Non-Baked Version, transfer stuffed eggplant to a platter and garnish with fresh tomatoes & basil sprigs:
Image.NeapolitanStuffedEggplant

For the Traditional Baked Version with Tomatoes (featured in photograph at the top of this page):
1. In a 16X9-inch Pyrex baking dish, spread out half of the canned, diced tomatoes.

2. Sprinkle olive oil over tomatoes, followed by salt and garlic.

3. Lay the stuffed eggplant over the tomato mixture in Pyrex dish.

4. Evenly spread the remaining diced tomatoes over stuffed eggplant in Pyrex dish. Add a dash of salt.

5. Cover the eggplant tightly with aluminum foil & bake on a rack set in center of oven for 30 minutes.

6. After 30 minutes, transfer the Pyrex dish with eggplant to a rack or trivet on kitchen counter.

7. Let the stuffed eggplant cool down for about 10 minutes.

8. You can serve this Neapolitan Stuffed Eggplant as an appetizer (by itself) or as lunch/dinner, accompanied by a green salad on the side.
Buon Appetito!

Italian Wine Pairings: Greco di Tufo (white wine) or Aglianico (red wine). Both wines are from the area of Naples in the region of Campania, Italy.

Text & Photographs ©2017 Nancy DeLucia Real

Image.NopalSaladposted7.24.17

Cactus Salad (Ensalada de nopales)

In Salads, Vegetables On July 25, 2017 0 Comments

Nopal is from the Nahuatl word nohpalli for the pads of the cactus plant. There are over 100 known species of cactus in Mexico. The nopal pads are eaten raw, cooked and even grilled. They are used in stews, soups, jams and salads.

The best way to start this classic Mexican salad is to buy fresh cactus pads at a Latin American or Mexican supermarket. Here’s what a cactus pad or nopal looks like (don’t forget to buy this with thorns removed!):

Image.NopalWikipediaZoofariAttribution Photograph Attribution: Zoofari at English Wikipedia

Since nopales are abundant in Vitamin C and Manganese, you’ll enjoy a cactus salad that is delicious and good for you. Buen provecho!

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients:
6 to 8 nopales (cactus leaves), thorns removed
½ of a brown or white onion
3 whole garlic cloves, peeled
½ of a red onion
2 medium, vine-ripened tomatoes
1 Serrano or Jalapeño chile
1 cup loosely-packed cilantro leaves
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
salt, to taste

Directions:
1. Working on a chopping board, cut the cactus leaves into ¼-inch thick strips.

2. Cut the strips into ¼-inch pieces; set aside in a bowl.

3. In a 4-quart saucepot, bring water to a boil. Add half of the brown or white onion and garlic cloves to water; boil for 3 to 5 minutes.

4. Add chopped nopales to the onion-garlic water; cook on medium, uncovered, for 5 minutes or until the green color has become lighter.

5. After 5 minutes, add ¾ teaspoon salt and taste a few nopal pieces – the texture should be crunchy-tender, not overcooked.

6. Place a colander in sink and drain the nopales. Run cold water through nopales; set aside in colander set over a bowl to drain.

Prepare Remaining Salad Ingredients:
1. Finely chop red onion and place it in a bowl, covered with cold water; set aside.

2. Cut each tomato in half; scoop out and discard the pulp.

3. Cut tomato flesh into ¼-inch strips; cut each strip into 1/4-inch pieces.

4. Place chopped tomatoes in a 2-quart glass or porcelain bowl.

5. Add drained nopales to the tomatoes in bowl.

6. Lift chopped onion out of water; squeeze out the excess water. Add onion to nopales mixture in bowl.

7. Finely chop Serrano or Jalapeño chile; add it to the nopales mixture in bowl.

8. Rinse cilantro in cold water and finely chop it; add cilantro to nopales salad.

9. Stir in the extra virgin olive oil with about ½ teaspoon salt; taste salad and adjust seasonings. Serve immediately.
Text & Cactus Salad Photograph ©2017 Nancy DeLucia Real

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Chard, Celery & Onions (Acquacotta – Italian)

In Appetizers / Starters, Vegetables On July 15, 2017 0 Comments

Acquacotta literally means “cooked water” and is one of the classic vegetable soups of Tuscany. This dish is made with simple ingredients – chard, onion and celery. Acquacotta is served over fresh slices of bread and chilled white wine. You can’t ask for a healthier or more delicious appetizer!

Prep time: 20 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients:
1 bunch fresh, Swiss chard (green or red)
3 celery stalks
1 small brown or white onion
2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and grind black pepper, to taste
6 to 8 slices Italian or French bread

Directions:
1. Trim and discard the stems from the chard.

2. Cut chard leaves into 3-inch pieces wash leaves and spin-dry (do this 3 times to ensure all dirt particles are gone).

3. Peel the celery stalks and chop them into 1/2-inch pieces; set aside.

4. Peel the onion and cut it in half. Cut each onion half into thin slices.

5. In a 12-inch skillet, heat the oil on medium-high setting.

6. When oil is hot, add the celery and onion; stir-fry until onion is translucent and light golden.

7. Toss in the chard.

8. Using tongs, gently mix celery, onion and chard together.

9. Cook the chard mixture on medium-high heat until chard has wilted (it should look almost raw).

10. Add salt and ground black pepper, to taste.

11. Place the bread slices on a serving platter; divide the Acquacotta evenly over bread slices. Serve immediately.
Text & Photograph ©2017 Nancy DeLucia Real

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Pico de Gallo & Bean Tostadas (Vegan)

In Appetizers / Starters, Fun Foods, Holidays, Vegetables On May 1, 2017 0 Comments

Thinking of a quick, no-brainer recipe for Cinco de Mayo? Make these organic & delicious vegan tostadas. You’ll probably have to double or triple the recipe because these starters will vanish in no time!

Be sure to use Amy’s Vegetarian Organic Refried Beans®. This bean product contains meat or animal fat products. Anything you make with these beans will taste wholesome and natural.

Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients:
4 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces (with pulp discarded)
1/2 cup finely-chopped red onion
1 teaspoon finely-chopped Serrano chile pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt (you may add more, to taste)
1/2 cup finely-chopped fresh cilantro leaves
One 15.4-ounce can Amy’s Vegetarian Organic Refried Beans®
12 blue or yellow corn, flat tostada shells
Avocado slices (from 1 avocado), optional
1/2 cup grated, dry cheese (Cotija, Parmigiano Reggiano or other variety)

Make Pico de Gallo Salsa:
1. In a 1 to 2-quart mixing bowl, combine the chopped tomatoes, onion, Serrano chile pepper, salt and cilantro leaves. Taste and adjust chile pepper & salt levels.

2. Set Pico de Gallo aside, covered.

Warm Up The Refried Beans:
1. Meanwhile, transfer the refried beans to a small saucepot.

2. On medium-high setting, warm up the beans, stirring constantly.

3. As beans warm up, if consistency is too thick or dry, add a little water.

Assemble Tostadas:
1. When beans are hot, spread about 2 tablespoons on each tostada set on a serving platter.

2. Top the beans with 2 tablespoons Pico de Gallo Salsa.

3. If desired add 1 or 2 thin slices avocado, followed by a sprinkle of grated cheese.

4. Serve with Margaritas or Tequila shots – Happy Cinco de Mayo!
Text & Photograph ©2017 Nancy DeLucia Real

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Stuffed Mushrooms

In Appetizers / Starters, Holidays, Vegetables On December 8, 2016 0 Comments

Need a great starter to go with the bubbly at Christmastime? Assemble these stuffed mushrooms a few hours ahead and refrigerate them. At serving time, preheat the oven and bake them. Made with all-vegetarian ingredients, the mushrooms will be devoured in no time. Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

Prep time (stuffing): 15 minutes
Bake time: 15 to 17 minutes
Makes 12 to 14 stuffed mushrooms

Ingredients:
One 8-ounce package white mushrooms, rinsed and patted dry with paper towels
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup finely-chopped brown or white onion
3 to 4 slices day-old Italian bread
1 large egg, beaten
3 tablespoons grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
2 to 3 tablespoons minced, fresh mint leaves
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dash ground black pepper

Directions for the Stuffing:
1. Remove stems from mushroom caps; finely chop the stems and set aside in a small bowl.

2. In a 10 or 12-inch skillet, heat the oil on high.

3. As soon as the oil is hot (it should not smoke), lower it to medium-high and stir in the chopped mushroom stems.

4. Using a wooden spoon or cooking spatula, stir-fry the chopped mushroom stems on medium-high heat for about 2 minutes.

5. After 2 minutes, add the chopped onion and stir-fry for an additional 2 minutes or until onion is translucent.

6. Transfer the mushroom-onion mixture to a bowl – set aside to cool for a few minutes.

7. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°F.

8. Take 3 bread slices and quickly pass them under cold water; squeeze the excess water out of bread slices.

9. Discard the crusts and crumble the softened bread into a 2-cup bowl.

10. Add the beaten egg, grated cheese, minced mint leaves, salt and black pepper; stir to combine.

11. Stir in the mushroom-onion mixture. If mixture is too wet and does not amalgamate, soak the remaining bread slice (discard crusts) and crumble it into the mushroom stuffing.

12. Taste stuffing for salt level. If needed, add a tiny amount of salt.

13. Divide the stuffing onto the inverted mushroom caps.

Directions for Baking the Stuffed Mushrooms:

1. Oil a baking sheet and place the stuffed mushrooms (stuffing side up) on it.

2. Set the baking sheet with stuffed mushrooms on a rack positioned in center of oven.

3. Bake the mushrooms for 15 minutes.

4. After 15 minutes, check to see if stuffed mushrooms have turned light golden brown. If not, bake them for an additional 2 minutes. Serve stuffed mushrooms hot.

Text and Photograph ©2016 Nancy DeLucia Real