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.

Grumbling in the Garden

It’s amazing how hopeful and exciting it is in the spring to plan your garden. There’s so much potential and you tell yourself: this is the year! You decide to grow a new vegetable or you’ve learned a new tip/trick from last summer that you can’t wait to implement or both! You envision a beautiful, lush garden with ripened fruit. So pastoral. Your yield is so impressive, in fact, that you’re practically giving away your harvest.

A girl can dream, right….?

I’ve recently concluded, at least in my case, that planting multiples of a crop is not with the intent to increase yield. You’d think so, wouldn’t you? (I wanted to get on this sustainability bandwagon, really I did. Canning, preserving, the whole nine.) Well, not so in my case. I have to plant multiples of one crop merely to ensure the ability to harvest an acceptable supply (okay, it’s not even acceptable) to feed my family. Why? Because I stink at gardening! (Bear with me while I have a pity-party for myself.) You see, YouTube, garden blogs and Pinterest provide us with a wealth of information on how to deter pests, increase yield, produce sweeter, larger _____. And all of those tips are filed in the Rolodex of my mind (or I pin it for reference later). But how I take all those tips and tricks, synthesize them and utilize them in the garden is where I fall short.

I said it last year and I’ll say it again: maybe I’m being too cerebral about gardening. As I glance over to my neighbor’s plot, I am green-with-garden envy. Everything seems so…productive. And I can see a lonely red tomato itching to be picked amidst abundant leafy plants. So here are my current headaches and the interventions (and preventions) I’ve taken:

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Romas trying to hold on as the plant suffers from early blight

This is the third year in a row (haha-pun!) that my tomatoes have developed early blight. As they grew, I continued to snap off the lower branches so they wouldn’t touch the ground. Now, with each passing day, I’m snipping another branch off that is consumed with dark brown spots and dried dead leaves. This weekend, I impulsively bought some organic fungicide to hopefully halt any further progression of this spotted, wilted pandemic.

Next year’s plan? Rotate my crops. I should have known! My tomatoes will be on the opposite end of my raised beds come next year and hopefully far away from any fungal potential….On the bright side, look at these beautiful clusters dying (probably) to ripen!IMG_1519

My continued lack of success with growing peppers is putting a damper on my confidence to become a gardener. I’m lucky to harvest a couple before the season ends. I learned for this season though that peppers flourish when grown closely together and that you can plant them within 1 sq. ft. of each other. Of course, I wound up planting my green bean plants too close to the peppers which has stunted the pepper growth. Additionally, I side-dressed the pepper plants with some compost not too long ago and spurred the growth of more leaves and not flowers. Peppers don’t require a lot of nitrogen in the soil, but it is recommended to spray the flowers with a solution of water and Epsom salt. It provides the peppers with a boost of magnesium that is needed to produce fruit.

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A lonely, beautiful red marconi pepper
All leaves, no buds
All leaves, no buds after side-dressing with compost- lesson learned

Don’t get me started about my eggplants either! Flea beetles have ravaged the leaves on my plants like bullet holes at a shooting range and all I have is one sad developing fruit. Any flower that grew has fallen off. My neighbor utilized diatomacious earth for her garden this year because she was having ant problems. Diatomacious earth is a powder made from fossilized prehistoric crustaceans. It’s favored in the organic garden because it is non-toxic and safe for humans. The particles have sharp edges that cut into the bodies of the insects causing them to die of dehydration. Cruel, I know, but what am I to do? Originally, I read something about it not harming the beneficial insects in the garden (ladybugs, bees), but I recently learned this isn’t true.

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No wonder my flowers are falling off: lack of pollination. I swear I cannot strike this nature balance!

The steps you take to make eggplant parmigiana (well, reader, you know I won’t be posting that recipe anytime soon)…

 

So is it all worth the frustration and the mounting fear of failure?

IMG_1527It sure is. Even if all I harvest is just a few things at a time. I can say, “I grew that and I plan to make something delicious with it!”