Friday, October 2, 2015

Eggplant Timpano

Eggplant Timpano

Eggplant timpano is quintessentially one of the most impressive looking dishes you can make.  It’s simply perfect for a special occasion meal.  

If you’ve seen the film “Big Night” then you know exactly what I’m talking about. My version combines the flavors of eggplant parmigiana and baked penne in one fantastically festive dish.    

This masterpiece is served as the pasta course during an elaborate meal.  I think you’d agree that it’s far more spectacular looking than the lasagna we might usually throw together on a special occasion.

Timpano means drum so the name is indeed fitting.  

An eggplant timpano encases the other delectable ingredients in pan fried eggplant slices that have a mellower almost sweet flavor characteristically developed during the slow roasting process. 

I’ve seen timpani encased in pasta dough, zucchini, oven roasted plum tomato halves and a number of other ingredients.  The filling usually contains pasta, several kinds of cheese, meatballs, sausage, salami, hard boiled eggs and any number of other special ingredients that would make the dish uniquely your own.

The version I made here was scaled down a little since I didn’t have any salami in the house.  I also skipped the hard boiled eggs since my daughter protested loudly.

Ahh the things we do for our children.

As a world of caution, even with the video tutorial and all the tips I provided along the way, this dish is particularly difficult to execute perfectly the first time.  I’d suggest practicing it once or twice before actually trying to serve this at holiday meal.  

And even so, if you are responsible for preparing the entire holiday feast then this dish might be too difficult to fit into the menu plan.

Instead save this timpano recipe for a holiday meal where someone else is doing most of the work and you are just contributing one impressive masterpiece.  Which dish do you think everyone will remember for years to come?

It’s definitely worth the work.

Eggplant Timpano
Prep time: 2-3 hours  
Cook time: 1 hour
Servings: 10

  • 2 large eggplants, washed and dried
  • olive oil, salt and pepper (enough to pan fry the eggplant)
  • 2 dozen small meatballs (baked under a broiler the day before)
  • 2 Italian sausage links, (pan fried and sliced into ¼ inch half-moons the day before)
  • 1 pound gluten free penne
  • 4 cups marinara sauce (1 ½ cups reserved for serving)
  • ¼ cup pecorino Romano
  • 1 ½ cups ricotta
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 8 oz grated mozzarella (divided 4 oz & 4 oz)

Video Tutorial: 

  1. To prepare the eggplant, first slice off the stem then slice off a ¼ inch round slice that will be used as the center of the design. Next slice the eggplant lengthwise into ¼ inch planks trying to get them as even as possible.  Repeat with the second eggplant skipping the round slice.
  2. Pan fry the eggplant in a large nonstick skillet over a medium high heat, add a few teaspoons of olive oil then season each slice of eggplant with a little salt and pepper and pan fry each slice, adding oil as necessary, for about 3 minutes per side or until they’re slightly golden and become softer and more pliable. 
  3. Continue to fry the eggplant in batches until they are all done then group the nicest slices together to be used first in the bottom design.  Refrigerate the slices while you prep the other ingredients to make them easier to work with.
  4. Combine the ricotta, egg, parsley, garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste and mix until the egg is well combined and the mixture is smooth then set aside. 
  5. Cook the penne 2 minutes shy of the package instructions then mix it with just under 2 cups of marinara.
  6. To that same penne add ¼ cup of grated pecorino Romano and a cup of grated mozzarella then stir until just combined.
  7. To construct the timpani, in a 10 inch spring-form, lined with a circle of parchment sprayed with non-stick spray, lay the circular piece of eggplant directly in the center of the pan.
  8. First slice each of the large plank slices in half lengthwise then begin to lay the slices with the short end closest to the center circle and aloe thte ends to flop over the edge of the pan.  As the next overlapping slice is laid down it’s important to cover the black skin edge with the cut edge of the next piece for a nicer finished design when it’s turned upside down later.
  9. Continue to work your way around the pan until you get to the end of the circle then tuck the last slice under the first.
  10. Spoon in half the pasta mixture being extremely careful not to disturb the pattern.
  11. Evenly scatter over the cut sausages then tuck them down into the pasta. 
  12. Evenly scatter over another cup of grated mozzarella and ladle over about ¾ of a cup of marinara.
  13. Evenly scatter over the meatballs then add the other half of the pasta and try to make sure all the crevices are filled.
  14. Spoon over a little more marinara then lay over more eggplant slices over the top like a mosaic aiming for complete coverage. 
  15. Fold in any edges that are hanging over the edges then clean up the sides of the pan with a wet paper towel before baking.
  16. I also like to place a sheet of plastic wrap on top of the timpano at this stage and apply some even handed pressure to insure that everything is packed together well.
  17. Remove the plastic then place the Timpano onto a foil lined baking sheet to catch anything that might leak out during the baking process then cover with foil sprayed with nonstick spray and bake for 1 hour in an oven preheated to 350ºF or 175ºC.
  18. When it comes out let it rest for 5-10 minutes then carefully run a thin knife around all of the edges to make sure nothing sticks then rest it on a wire rack for 20-30 minutes to set up.
  19. To unmold, place a serving plate on top of the Timpano then quickly but carefully invert onto the plate.
  20. After waiting another 10-15 minutes remove the spring-form pan. 
  21. I like to wait an additional 10-15 minutes before slicing just to ensure that everything has set and won’t fall apart then serve the slices on plates with a spoonful of heated marinara sauce and an additional drizzle of sauce over the top.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Pan Seared Branzino with Olives, Capers and Tomatoes

Pan Seared Branzino

Who's afraid of the big bad branzino?

Certainly not me.

I was lucky enough to have grown up with a dad that fished and hunted.  So eating wild game or cleaning and cooking a whole fish was something that was done regularly at my house.  

I vividly remember my father giving me a pile of fish to scale and being proud when he actually found a few where I hadn't missed any scales.  I lived for him to say "good job Anna".

He did the gutting of course.

When I saw whole branzino on sale at the market I jumped at the chance to make a luxury meal for myself while my daughter was at school.  Let's just saw the little one would have wanted no parts of a dinner that was staring back at her.

I hope this post and video tutorial help lessen any fear you might be harboring when it comes to tackling a whole fish.

Pan Seared Branzino with Olives, Capers and Tomatoes
Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 12 -14 min
Servings: 1

  • 1 whole branzino (scaled and gutted)
  • 3 slices of lemon
  • fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced (divided 1&1)
  • 10-15 grape tomatoes, halved
  • 10 Kalamata olives, halved
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 10 green olives, halved
  • 1 tbsp butter

Video Tutorial

  1. Salt and pepper both the exterior and interior cavity then stuff the fish with a the lemon slices, parsley, and one clove of garlic  chopped into large pieces.
  2. To pan fry, in a very large nonstick skillet over a medium high heat add about a tablespoon of oil before carefully lowering the fish into the pan so that your lemon slices don’t fall out.
  3. Fry for 6-7 minutes on the first side then flip the fish and add the butter, olives, tomatoes, capers and garlic then saute covered over a medium heat for 6-7 minutes.
  4. When you uncover the fish if the pan looks a little dry add a few tablespoon of water and stir to ensure everything looks glossy then serve.
  5. I served mined next to a pile of creamy stone ground polenta mixed with spinach and garlic cause then spooned the olive tomato caper relish over both the fish and side dish.

Notes: This recipe is written starting with a whole cleaned branzino.  If you need instruction on how to clean the fish be sure to watch the video tutorial above when I give a comprehensive demonstration.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Steak Au Poivre

Steak Au Poivre

Steak au poivre has to be one of the most delectable ways to enjoy a good piece of meat.  Actually it’s not all about the meat here as the steal almost plays second fiddle to the cracked peppercorns and silky cognac perfumed pan sauce.

Damn I love steak au poivre.

There aren’t many dishes around that are this impressive with such little effort expended by the cook.  I mean it.  How hard is it to throw a piece of steak into a screaming hot pan to give it a good sear before swirling around a few ingredients to make a pan sauce? 

It truly doesn’t get any easier. 

If you’re cooking for someone that you really want to impress, make them steak au poivre and just wait for the compliments to come rolling in.

Steak Au Poivre
Prep time: 5 min
Cook time: 10 min
Servings: 2

  • 2 rib steaks (10 oz each)
  • 1 tbsp peppercorns (coarsely cracked)
  • sea salt (to taste)
  • 2 tbsp butter (divided 1 tbsp & 1 tbsp)
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped shallots
  • ¼ cup cognac
  • ¼ cup beef stock
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup heavy cream

Video Tutorial: 

  1. Heavily season each side of both steaks with salt and coarsely cracked black peppercorns.  
  2. Preheat a cast iron skillet to a high heat then add a tablespoon of oil and a tablespoon of butter then immediately add the steaks to the pan. 
  3. Sear for about 2-3 minutes on the first side or until you have a dark golden crust then flip them over and cook them for an additional 2 minutes on the second side before removing the steaks onto a plate to rest while you make the sauce.
  4. In the same pan you seared the steak, remove most of the grease then add a tablespoon of butter and the shallots then saute for a few minutes until they’re wilted and translucent.
  5. Add about the cognac and reduce the liquid by half which will take about a minute or two then the Dijon mustard and stir it into the other ingredients.
  6. Stir in the beef stock and let it reduce for a minute then stir in ¼ cup of heavy cream and stir continuously until the sauce just starts to thicken. 
  7. Add the steaks back to the pan and let them reheat for about a minute or so as the sauce continues to thicken and the dish is ready to serve.  

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Mini Pumpkin Cheesecake Trifles

Mini Pumpkin Cheesecake Trifles

In my last blog I showed my version of Pumpkin Walnut Bread to say hello to the fall baking season.  If you made a loaf then today's recipe is already half done.  All you need to do is mix up that fall spiced pumpkin cheesecake filling and your mundane breakfast bread has become a fab dessert.

And if you don't feel like making the pumpkin bread then any leftover spice cake should work well here. Heck you could even do this with crushed-up cookies or graham crackers too.

Quite frankly the real stars of the show in this dessert are the Mini Trifle Bowls you can pick up at Amazon for about $15.00.  Seriously, these bowls would make any dessert look spectacular.  I'm already dreaming up what I'm going to do next.

Mini Pumpkin Cheesecake Trifles
Prep time: 10 min
Assembly time: 5 min
Chill Time: 2-3 hours
Servings: 4 (1 cup trifle bowls)

  • 8 oz cream cheese, very well softened
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • ½ tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp of vanilla
  • pumpkin walnut spice bread, (4) ½ inch slices
  • whipped cream to garnish the trifles

Video Tutorial: 

  1. Cut the pumpkin walnut spice bread into ½ inch slices then cut those slices into ½ inch cubes and set aside. 
  2. In a medium bowl cream together the well softened cream cheese, brown sugar and pumpkin spice until well combined and smooth.
  3. Add the pumpkin puree, heavy cream and vanilla and continue to mix until the mixture is as smooth as you can get it.  
  4. Layer each of the trifles with a layer of spice bread then a layer of pumpkin cheesecake filling then repeat with a second layer of each and top with a few more cubes of the pumpkin bread.
  5. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours to chill and set the filling then top with whipped cream and a sprinkle of pumpkin spice just before serving. 

Notes: Rather than chilling the trifles for 2-3 hours they can also be served immediately if you prefer a less of a set cheesecake texture.
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