Archive for June, 2009

eggplant risotto

I rarely use specific recipes when making risotto – to me, risotto is a blank canvas, like pasta, waiting for the next combination of ingredients I can come up with to put in it.  However, on our honeymoon last year, I was reading a particularly good issue of Food and Wine which featured this risotto recipe in an article about cruising the Mediterranean with Jacques Pepin.  I went back to that issue recently, where I re-encountered this recipe and immediately decided to finally put this specific risotto on my weekly menu.

This risotto was a perfect blend of flavors.  It really tasted like all of the great flavors in a good eggplant parmesan combined in each bite.  The only changes I made were to add the fresh tomatoes later in the cooking process than they instruct, in order to preserve more of their fresh taste and texture, and to make sure that I cooked the risotto in the same pan as the eggplant, scraping up the browned bits into the rice.  This gave the finished dish extra flavor.  I also used butter to start the risotto instead of olive oil and added white wine as that’s just the traditional way that I know. A key ingredient in this dish is ricotta salata, which is a dried, crumbly cheese with a slightly smoky taste.  We liked it with the ricotta salata, but Craig was less sure about it than I was.  In keeping with the Mediterranean theme, I think this recipe would also work great with feta in place of the ricotta salata, and I might try that as well.

Eggplant and Tomato Risotto with Ricotta Salata

Recipe from: Food and Wine, May 2008


2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice

3 garlic cloves, minced

Salt and pepper

1/3 cup dry white wine or vermouth

4 cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth, for a fully vegetarian dish)

1 small Vidalia onion, minced

1 pound tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1 cup Arborio rice

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1/2 cup crumbled ricotta salata (2 ounces)

2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese

1/2 cup julienned basil


1. In a large sauté pan with high sides (the same pan you want to use for the risotto), heat the olive oil. Add the eggplant and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until browned all over. Add the garlic, salt, and pepper, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute longer. Transfer the eggplant to a bowl and set aside.

2. In a saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a rapid simmer. In the sauté pan, heat 2 Tbsp. of butter. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until thoroughly coated, about 2 minutes.

3. Add the wine and cook, stirring and scraping up the browned bits in the pan, until the wine is nearly absorbed. Add the hot stock 1 cup at a time and stirring until it is absorbed between additions. When the rice is about half cooked, add the chopped tomatoes, reserving a small handful for garnish. The risotto is done when the rice is al dente and suspended in a creamy liquid, about 25 minutes total.

4. Remove the risotto from the heat. Vigorously stir in the remaining 1 Tbsp. butter, then stir in the ricotta salata and parmesan cheeses. Stir in the eggplant and basil, reserving a little basil for garnish. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to bowls. Garnish with reserved chopped tomatoes and basil. Serve right away.


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For a long time (as in, 5 years!), I had been wanting to make a version of a dish my husband loved on his study abroad trip to Egypt. The only problem was, the dish isn’t at all common in the U.S., and since I wasn’t there, I had never tried the dish before. That made it hard to know if the recipes I saw online, most of which were vague and seemed not to be written by native English speakers, would turn out similar enough to bring him back to his good memories of the dish. When I stumbled across an article about the dish on Gourmet’s website, written by an American chef and calling for cooking each ingredient separately, I knew I had found my challenge.

Koshary is sometimes referred to as “Egypt’s national dish.” It’s a street food classic that combines lentils, rice, mini pasta, and chickpeas, all covered with a spicy tomato sauce and fried or carmelized onions. It sounds strange, but what I learned after eating it (and enjoying it very much) is that this dish is ALL about the texture. The combination of different textures makes this dish addictive and tasty.

It was a lot of fun to tease Craig about making him a “surprise dinner” and give him clues to see if he could figure it out. Some of the clues I gave him were that it was a vegetarian meal and that I had never had it before. What finally tipped him off was when I complained, after standing over 3 burners on a hot day, that I didn’t know how people in its country of origin could stand making it given the hot weather. After tasting it, he said that this version tasted pretty authentic, although he would have liked it spicier, and he really appreciated that I made it for him as a way of remembering his trip. I will make this again – it’s good! If you try this (and I hope you do), I think my version minimizes the number of dirty dishes and streamlines things over the original I’ve linked to.

Egyptian Koshary

adapted from: Francis Lam, gourmet.com


1 large onion, sliced thinly

6 oz dry lentils, picked over and rinsed

8 oz small pasta (I used ditalini, which was great, but you can also use elbow mac)

1 cup (uncooked) basmati rice

1 can (15 oz.) chickpeas, rinsed and drained

dash ground cinnamon

1 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp coriander

3 cups homemade or store-bought arrabiata, fra diavolo, or other spicy tomato sauce

Hot sauce

Extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Note: you will need a skillet, a pasta pot, a saucepan, and a large bowl in order to cook all of the ingredients separately.


1. In the skillet, caramelize the onion. Coat the bottom of the pan with oil and heat over medium-high. Get it hot, so that the onion sizzles when it goes in. Quickly toss to coat the onion in oil, then turn the heat down to low or medium-low. Stir it occasionally while it’s still pale, then more frequently when it starts to take on color, so that it caramelizes evenly. It will take at least 20 minutes to caramelize. Once they are done, remove from heat and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, in the pasta pot, bring water to a boil to cook the macaroni.  Once it boils, cook the pasta to al dente. Here is the trick to saving time in cooking all the ingredients separately – reserve most of the boiling water by pouring it into a large bowl. Drain the pasta and toss with a little olive oil so that it won’t stick while it’s cooling.  Cool completely. 

3. Return the hot water to the pasta pot and return it to a boil. When it boils, add the lentils. Turn it down to a lazy simmer, and cook partially covered, checking them after 20 minutes. Cook to al dente, which will probably take about 25 minutes. Drain the lentils and let them cool slightly.

4. While the lentils are cooking, cook the rice in the saucepan. Bring the rice, 2 cups of water, and the cinnamon, cumin, and coriander to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook 15-20 minutes according to package directions. Once it’s done, remove the pot from the heat and set aside to let rest, covered, for 5 minutes. Then, remove the cover and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to the large bowl. Fluff with a fork and let cool slightly.

5. Meanwhile, in the now-empty saucepan, warm up the spicy tomato sauce, adding more hot sauce if desired (or, each person can add more to their own serving).  While that’s happening, heat some olive oil in the skillet. Get it really good and hot, and throw in your pasta. Don’t touch it for a minute; let it get a bit brown and crusty. Toss it, and let it toast for a while.

6. Combine the pasta with the rice in the large bowl, then add the lentils. Sear the chickpeas slightly in the skillet. Add the onions to the pasta, rice, and lentil mixture and toss to combine. Add more salt and pepper to taste. To assemble the dish, add a serving of the mixture to a shallow bowl. Top with the warm tomato sauce, then garnish with the toasted chickpeas. Serve with additional hot sauce if desired.

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