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.


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


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.


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!




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


A Taste of Italy: Grilled Polenta and Caprese Stacks


The perfect trinity of summer, I would have to say, is the basil, mozzarella and tomato combination which comprise insalata caprese or the salad of Capri. So delicious and yet so simple which is why using fresh, quality ingredients is essential. Summer is really the only time I eat tomatoes other than what comes canned. You can’t fake a good tomato in December. You just can’t. They’re mealy and tasteless. Bleh!

But tomatoes in summer? With that perfect balance of sweetness and acid? HEAVEN! And basil is the perfect accompaniment especially when you make pesto with it. I’ve grown basil for a while now and chronically had problems with the plants going to seed early in the season. The basil is always ready before the tomatoes are! Conundrum! But I’ve finally got my system down. I harvest the basil early, make a boat-load of pesto and freeze it individually in ice cube trays. It typically lasts me the cold weather months.

I’ll admit it; making pesto is an expensive endeavor. Olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano and pignoli nuts (aka pine nuts) don’t come cheap. You could always cut costs by using Parmesan cheese (only cheese made in certain regions of Italy can lay claim to the title of Parmigiano Reggiano) and walnuts. Different, but just as good. Unless you use that stuff in the green canister found in the pasta aisle. Never ever ever ever ever use that for pesto. Here’s a good go-to recipe to get the proportion of ingredients right:


Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

Pesto Alla Genovese:
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup pignoli (pine nuts)
1 large garlic clove, chopped
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

(Recipe adapted from Marie Simmons’ 365 Ways to Cook Pasta, 1996)

I was trying to think of a meatless main dish with the summer trinity that didn’t involve pasta. Quite the challenge. But then I had the thought: what about grilled polenta? I’ve been trying to incorporate polenta into my diet more (it is a whole grain, after all) and have found grilling it to be the best especially when it comes to texture. I’ve used polenta under vegetable and meat ragus, as a crust for a savory custard pie, as a substitute for noodles in lasagna, cut into fries and served with marinara sauce and as a side dish similar to how they serve their grits in the South (lots of butter, y’all). Not gonna lie. Polenta is excessively labor-intensive. I mean, I love to cook and all, but standing in front of the stove and stirring the polenta with a wooden spoon constantly for at least 40 minutes while it spatters up and burns my arms isn’t my idea of a good time. (I’m really selling you on this recipe, aren’t I?). It’s a time commitment just like risotto, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make! So I boil water (ratio is 3:1), add salt, slowly whisk in the polenta and have my work cut out for me for the next 30-40 minutes or so. Following that, I add a handful of a hard aged Italian cheese and salt and pepper to taste before I spread it into an 8×8 greased casserole dish, cover it with plastic wrap and let it set in the refrigerator. As a time saver, I prepared this the night before I planned on serving it so all I had to do was grill, slice and assemble come mealtime. Of course, you can certainly save yourself all this trouble and pick up this at your local grocery store.

My husband Paul is the grill master at our house. He’s like my dear brother in that regards- he’d grill 365 days a year, if he could. Me? I don’t have much experience with it. My father once asked me to grill some burgers and I experienced anxiety over the responsibility of that task. Miraculously, they were cooked medium and I didn’t even have a thermometer. I think that was beginner’s luck. Paul offered to grill my polenta triangles, but I figured it was a good time to spread my culinary wings!

I brushed both sides liberally with olive oil so they wouldn’t stick and put them on the grill on medium for several minutes on one side until I had, eh, fairly good grill marks (Paul would have done better). Once I flipped them, I spread my pesto and then layered a slice of mozzarella on top, closed the grill and melted the cheese. After that, I sliced some tomato and then it was time to assemble and eat!



I wish I could claim these tomatoes as my own, but unfortunately, I cannot. I’ve got some really large and impressive clusters of Park’s Whopper tomatoes on my two plants, but they are nowhere near ready to harvest. I’ll keep you posted!