Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Work in Progress

I wasn’t going to make this post. As I was making this dish, I was sure that I had made dog food, which is especially useless since I don’t have a dog. I tasted my mess, however, and judged it to have potential and soldiered on.

Here was the problem: When I sautéed eggplant in preparation for a vegetable stew, the caramelized bits that are glorified by chefs as the essential foundation to a great dish became a big, ugly, black crust. You see, I had some lovely late summer vegetables that I wanted to make into a nice stew. Since I had the most eggplant, the eggplant would be the largest portion of the dish. I searched recipes in my stash and came up with a few from which I could pick and choose to make my own creation.

I should have known. None of these recipes called for sautéing the eggplant in the stewing pot. They either cooked it in the microwave or roasted it, but never sautéed. Now I know why.

I attempted to deglaze this carbon coating with red wine, and some of it did come up from its tomb, but only to form black bits in the sauce. Ugh! I was convinced it was a dead recipe and that I was going to have to come up with another way to make an eggplant stew that was palatable. All was not lost, however, and when we sat down to eat this stew with a nice chunk of rustic bread, we found it quite delicious. I liked it a lot and Harry gave it the thumbs up for a Messy Apron post. Perhaps the all that red wine in the stew mellowed us out enough to enjoy it in spite of the (actually almost imperceptible) black bits.

This recipe is definitely a work in progress, but I think the basic principle is good, and the flavors are great. I wish I could more confidently state, “This is exactly how you make this dish,” but, hey, this is a blog, not a book of tried and true recipes…and definitely not a work of art!

Eggplant Stew with Peppers, Tomatoes, and Red Wine

1 medium globe eggplant (about 1 ½ pounds) or equivalent amount of Japanese Eggplant, cut into 2-inch chunks (peel if the skin seems tough)
1 ¼ teaspoon coarse salt (plus more to taste), divided
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
8 ounces (about 1 medium) yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 large bell pepper, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine, divided
1 ½ pounds tomato, coarsely chopped
1 cup water
1 (16 ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
¾ cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a Dutch oven (or large pot) over medium heat. Add the eggplant and ¼ teaspoon salt, and sauté about 8 minutes or until the pieces have softened on the outside and are just beginning to brown. (If you have a better way of partially cooking eggplant, you could use it here, since the pan bottom tends to blacken quite a bit with this method.) Transfer the partially-cooked eggplant to a bowl and set aside.

2. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan. Add the onion, bell pepper and ½ teaspoon salt. Saute 5-7 minutes or until the onion and pepper are just beginning to brown.

3. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute. Stir in the tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, about 1 minute more.

4. Add ½ cup of the red wine. Stir into the vegetables and scrape up the brown (or, in my case, black) bits sticking to the bottom of the pan. The wine should boil vigorously and thicken significantly.

5. Add the remaining red wine, tomato, water and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and boil gently for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.

6. Add the chickpeas and cook, uncovered, 5 minutes. Stir in the basil and lemon juice and cook until the basil is wilted. Taste the stew for salt and add more if desired.

Makes 4-6 main dish servings.

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