Eggplant and chickpea ragout over creamy polenta

Overlooking Seneca Lake
Overlooking Seneca Lake

My husband and I recently returned from an extended weekend getaway to the Finger Lakes region of New York or, as I would like it to be unofficially dubbed, the Napa Valley of the East. We got married there three years ago and we like to return annually for some wine tastings, hikes through the gorges and, of course, a pit stop to Ithaca Bakery. Ithaca Bakery made my wedding cake and it was phenomenal!

So we kinda broke the bank when it came to our wine purchases. We returned home with a few bottles shy of 4 cases. Yes, four. In our defense, one of the cases was purchased at Red Newt Cellars where Paul’s cousin works so we got a significant discount and our supply should last a while. (Ironically, upon our return I vowed to “detox” and limit consumption of alcohol to the weekends and reign in my eating habits.)  It is important to mention that I have a contractual position with the state of MD which translates into: If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. If we were to put this in equation form, we’d get this:

taughannock falls
Taughannock Falls

Trip to NY + unpaid time off + 3.5 cases of wine = Broke

We can make further predictions with this equation, but I’m not really a math person (if you couldn’t tell). So when we returned home, I made a promise to myself that I wasn’t going to go food shopping for the week. Because, when I do go food shopping, even though I make an itemized list, I always over-buy and leave $100 poorer. Scrounging the pantry it is!

In my last post I had mentioned my inability to let go of summer. Let me tell you, readers, it paid off last night! I had all the ingredients to make a delicious dish: eggplants, tomatoes, bell pepper (that is no longer green, but a beautiful orange color), last cup of polenta and my pantry staple, chickpeas.

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Mmmm, comforting eggplant and chickpea ragout over creamy cheesy polenta. Yes, please! And yeah, I did already break my detox: I served my dish with a glass of red wine….and had a glass when I was cooking….no, it wasn’t one of the recently purchased bottles.

Eggplant and chickpea ragout over creamy polenta

Ragout

1 medium onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 medium eggplants

2 tbsp. tomato paste

1-28 oz. can of whole peeled or diced tomatoes or 8-10 plum tomatoes, chopped (I recognize that the picture above doesn’t show plum tomatoes, but I did add those for good measure)

1-15 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1/4 c. parsley

1. Start by peeling and chopping the eggplant. IMG_1747Spread out on a cookie sheet and sprinkle with salt. Place a kitchen towel over the cubes and weigh it down with another cookie sheet and two canned items. After about 30 minutes, rinse, drain and pat dry the eggplant. *This draws the water out of so you’re not left with mushy eggplant in the ragout.

2. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute for 5-10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds.

3. Add eggplant and cook for 10-12 minutes.

4. Squeeze in 2 tbsp. of tomato paste and stir then add tomatoes and chickpeas. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Bring to a simmer and cook for another 15 minutes or so to meld flavors. If the mixture is too dry, add some water or stock.

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6. Finish with the parsley and season to taste.

 

Creamy polenta

1 cup polenta

4 cups water

3/4 c. Parmesan cheese

I previously wrote about the laboriousness of polenta requiring constant stirring for 30-40 minutes. Good news is that I did some research and found a way to cook it without constant care and attention. Yay!

1. Bring water to a boil and add 1 tsp. salt. Whisk the polenta in gradually.

2. Continue to whisk until the polenta has thickened and isn’t sticking on the bottom of the pot.

3. Reduce the heat to low and cover it.

4. Every so often, stir the polenta to ensure even cooking.

5. After 30 minutes, add your cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Simple as that!

 

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You’ve got a hearty dish that answers the call of fall while still making the best out of summer produce.

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Roasted red pepper hummus

I love a good mezze platter. And fortunately, my husband does too. Sunday afternoons during football season, you won’t find chicken wings or pizza (nachos, yes, I make a killer guacamole). Rather, you’ll find a platter of veggies, olives, stuffed grape leaves, feta cheese, tzatziki and HUMMUS.

I. Love. Hummus. And I’m not afraid to let the world know! It’s one of those foods that you can experiment with to your soul’s content- very much in line with my approach in the kitchen. I always have a can of chickpeas on hand and it’s a snap to make.

So into the food processor goes a can of drained and rinsed chickpeas, a clove of garlic, whatever roasted red peppers from a jar I had left over (as my mother would say, UTILIZE!), salt, pepper, a quick shake of crushed red pepper flakes and tahini which is a sesame seed paste. Tahini is a fairly high expense running for like 8 bucks a jar, but guys, it is worth it! It makes the hummus so creamy and decadent (you might just say unctuous!), you’ll be glad you shelled out the cash. Plus, it can be made into a delicious dressing with lemon, oregano, parsley and olive oil over a Greek salad or drizzled over falafels.

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Buzz it up in the food processor and slowly drizzle in olive oil until it reaches the consistency you prefer.

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Serve it with pita chips, veggies, spread it on sandwiches or eat with a spoon!

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And don’t feel bad for the husband. He is a willing participant in my revolving, often meatless, healthy food repertoire and he has his share of rare prime rib whenever he dines without me.