A finicky guy's exploits in finding gustatory (and other) satisfaction in his kitchen, his neighborhood, and beyond.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Friday Night Quickie

Sorry to disappoint you readers expecting a more lurid topic, but "Friday Night Quickie" refers to the dish of eggplant with gnocchi that I whipped up last week between work and running off to the Met to see the world's sexiest baritone — I'm excluding myself out of modesty — in Simon Boccanegra.

The swoon-worthy Dmitri Hvorostovsky
Sadly, Mr. Hvorostovsky's voice was not in the best shape — it sounded a bit thinner than I've heard it in the past, and I think he is pushing a bit these days — but his pecs featured gloriously in the production, particularly in the scenes in which he was attired in a sort of 14th-century dressing gown open down to the bottom of his sternum, so my opera glasses got quite a workout and I left the theater fully satisfied.  Oh, and — sorry I got a bit distracted by my Siberian eye-and-ear candy — the eggplant dish was delicious and easy.  Like Dmitri's high notes when I heard them last season in Trovatore.

Here's how I whipped up my pre-opera dinner.  The sauce was created in the morning during a break between students  using some ingredients I found in my fridge and freezer:

Swoon-worthy ingredients: an eggplant, a bag of frozen tomatoes, some frozen chopped dill, half an onion, some garlic
I started by slicing the half onion and several cloves of garlic and sauteing them with fresh-ground pepper in quite a lot of olive oil. (Eggplant is an oil sponge, and its taste/texture benefit from soaking up as much as possible.  This is not a dish for low-fat diets.)

Next, I cut the eggplant into 1" cubes.  (Get out your rulers; it is crucial for each cube to measure exactly 1 inch on each side.  Not!)  When the onions had softened (5 minutes-ish), I put in the eggplant cubes and stirred around until the oil had been evenly absorbed.  With eggplant, you need to start stirring immediately after adding it to the oil; otherwise, the greedy bottom layer would drink up all the oil, leaving none for the rest of the pile.

I cooked this for a few minutes, stirring more or less continually, until the eggplant looked like this:

Then I dumped in my frozen tomatoes.  You could use canned tomatoes for this as well — or fresh, if you have them.  Canned tomatoes would produce a sauce-ier dish, but equally delicious.  I also added a bit of salt.

I stirred this up, covered it, and left it to simmer until the eggplant was cooked (10-15 minutes, I think, but just taste a piece of eggplant to be sure).  Then I dumped in a big pile of chopped dill and stirred it up and let it simmer for 5 more minutes.  Notice how I've learned not to add the fresh herb too early in the process, thereby cooking the flavor right out.

That's it for the sauce.  I went back to teaching for a few more hours — there is a huge advantage to working at home, I'll admit.  In the evening, when I was ready for my pre-opera meal, I put the sauce back on a low flame to reheat and assembled my remaining ingredients:

Fresh gnocchi from the refrigerated section of WF, a block of grating cheese (Asiago, in this case)

What is it about gnocchi?  I find it to be just about the most satisfying food texture of all, those little squishy dumplings that soak up every drop of sauce.  They're also frustratingly UN-satisfying as well, since I can never seem to get enough of them.  Maybe it's this duality of opposing characteristics that fascinates me so much.  In any case, I ❤ gnocchi almost as much as I ❤ Dmitri H.  (He's not squishy.  Nor does he soak up much sauce, so the gnocchi wins that competition, by a hair.  A silver hair.)

A few minutes before mealtime, I brought a pot of salted water to the boil, added the gnocchi, and let it cook until done.  Another delightful aspect of gnocchi is how quickly it cooks — in only a minute or two, the little dumplings float to the surface, indicating their readiness.  I drained them in a strainer and put a little pile on my plate.  On top, I ladled some eggplant/tomato/dill sauce and grated a layer of cheese:

Quick and easy pre-theater meal
After downing this tasty dish, I donned my opera finery (including a shirt hand-crafted by my own DP) and rushed off to be transported back into the world of 14th-century Italian political intrigue, starring that tasty silver-haired dish as the doge. . . .


  1. Eggplant and dill, I never would have thought. But you made me hungry. Actually I'm starving now. Argh, what's in my fridge?

  2. I'd never put eggplant and dill together before, either, but the combo was really good!

  3. I'm intrigued by your description of gnocchi. I have heard of it, but never tasted(or even seen) it. It's not something I've seen in the refrigerated section of our local grocery. Is it easy to make from scratch? Is it similar to spatzle? I'm so jealous of your opera experience! Dmitri is definitely yummy!

  4. Sometimes you can find gnocchi on the shelf with other pasta in a vacuum-sealed bag or in the frozen department. I've never made my own, although maybe now that I'm blogging, I'll have to give it a go!

    Gnocchi and Spätzle are not all that similar, but they push the same delight button in my brain and fulfill a similar role in their respective cuisines. (I am lucky enough to have lived for a couple of years in Stuttgart, Germany, the heart of Spätzle country.)

  5. I love gnocchi - Michael, did you know it is super easy to make? It just takes a little time, but it is so good you will swoon. Sometime when you have some spare time, try making potato gnocchi. I always make a big batch, thinking that I'll freeze some for "later", but it always gets eaten up.

  6. What is this "spare time" of which you write?

  7. Cooks.com says that it's this easy:
    3 c. cold mashed potatoes
    1 egg
    1/2 tsp. salt
    3 c. flour
    Combine all ingredients and mix well with flour to make a manageable dough. May need more or less flour depending upon potatoes. Knead well and roll into lengths. Cut pieces 2/3 inch lengths. With floured fingers, press a hollow into each roll. Drop into rapidly boiling water. Boil about 10 minutes. Drain and serve with tomato or meat sauce.
    These may be frozen until ready to use. To do so, spread on a cookie sheet and freeze. Place frozen Gnocchi in a plastic bag. When ready to use drop in boiling, salted water. Do not thaw. Serves 6.

    Never tried it myself though.

  8. Gnocci is easy, but I can buy it fresh in the grocery fridge here so that's what I do too. My Italian grandmother never made it when company was over, though, as she called it "peasant food." My grandmother was very snobby. lol

    I made "curry" last week. In quotes, because it's probably not authentic, but it was good nonetheless. My mom used to make a variation when I was a kid. She'd have little bowls of cashews, coconut, chutney (and maybe something else) to sprinkle on top. I had been craving it ever since jars of organic curry arrived here a few months ago (work related). I made a lot, so there were leftovers for 2 lunches for me. And I still want more.

  9. Maestro-Both Dimitri and the Eggplant gnocchi look phenomenal! Thanks for the inspiration! I also didn't know one could freeze dill so successfully-A wonderful way to get the most out of expensive herb purchases (at least in the winter)
    Miss you!

  10. Hi, DHousediva,

    And you would know from Russian hunks AND delicious pasta dishes!

    At Xmastime, my sister gave me the hugest bunch of dill ever, which was left over from a dish she contributed to our holiday dinner. I used part of it then and chopped up the rest and stuck it in the freezer till this eggplant thing.

    @Debbie: I would like to know more about your "curry" dish. The toppings sound yummy. . .your mother was quite adventurous in her cooking while you were growing up, apparently.

  11. A quick recap. I looked online for recipes and since I didn't have quite everything for any of them, I just winged it. My usual method of cooking. ;-)

    Curry powder & water mixed to make paste (5 tbl ea). Sautée 3 cloves garlic, 1 med minced onion & ginger (I used powdered) in EVOO until browned. Add curry paste and mix well. Then add 1 cup each of coconut milk, reg milk, yogurt*, water. Mix well. Stir in cubed chicken (4 boneless br) and 3-4 med cubed potatoes. Bring to boil, then simmer 20-25 minutes. I added some raisins and peas near the end. Right before serving, I stirred in some mandarin oranges. Served over brown rice with mom's toppings of cashew pieces & coconut shreds.

    *I didn't have plain on hand so I subbed non-fat vanilla. I couldn't taste anything wrong with that.

  12. Michael, I've made gnocchi before, and although it's *good*, it's SO much easier to buy it fresh or in aformentioned vaccuum-packed bags.

    You might also try pan-frying your gnocchi in butter and garlic before topping it. That way it's crunchy on the outside, delightfully squishy on the inside.

    Now I'm drooling. Thanks. ;)

  13. I will have to have another look at our local grocery, or perhaps one of the 'Marts(Walmart/Kmart). Gnocchi sounds intriguing. I definitely want to try it!

  14. My mother use to sing opera many years ago. I am always fascinated with people who can obviously hear what I don't when comparing voices. My friend would drool over a ballerina. Forgot his name, but he is most definitely Russian. Are male dancers even called ballerinas?

    I don't think I have ever had gnocchi. Wonderful recipes from everyone. I might make an attempt.

  15. @Debbie: There is a classic recipe in Joy of Cooking called "Chicken Country Captain" which sounds similar to your dish but with rice instead of potatoes. It's not traditional Indian cookery, but it IS traditional British-in-India cookery. Curry powder — not called for in any Indian recipe — was devised by the British (or maybe by their Indian cooks, I am too lazy to google) to allow them to simulate the food they'd enjoyed during their rather imperialistic sojourns on the Subcontinent. I happen to love the taste, or rather the many different tastes, of curry powders, so I may have to try your "Chicken Florida Sewist" soon.

  16. @Josette: THESE male dancers call themselves "ballerinas," I imagine, but most others use "ballet dancer."

    This is probably a good place to remind people that men who massage for a living are called "massage therapists" or "masseurs," NEVER "masseuses." Just a pet peeve of mine. Thank you for letting me get that off my chest.

  17. @Darci: In suggesting pan-frying the gnocchi, I think you have given me the means to reach the highest level of culinary satisfaction of my life. Just thinking about the contrasting textures has me drooling. I wonder if I could have pan-fried gnocchi for breakfast. . . ?

  18. Joy of Cooking - hmmm ... that might be were Mom got it from. I'll have to ask her. I knew it wasn't authentic curry, but it is definitely yummy. We have an Indian restaurant in our podunk town. None of us had any idea what we were ordering. My younger son ended up with something that needed the Fire Department to put out the heat, but he ate every bite. We all enjoyed the meal, but still are not any wiser as to what it was. ;-)

  19. Sheesh - what is with my typos in comments lately? Please sub "where Mom" for "were Mom." And earlier, gnocchi for gnocci. I really do know how to speall. See. ;-)

  20. Gnocchi for brekkie? OF COURSE you can!

    There I go. Drooling again. Nice.