Friday, September 11, 2009

Free-range Friday - Chicken, Baby Eggplants, Tomatoes and Pasta

I've been enjoying a food blog called Pham Fatale for the past few months. The woman who writes it is way out of my experience, in her upbringing and her present life, as well as her cooking abilities. Born and raised in France, of Vietnamese extraction and married to a man from India, she brings a world of cross cultural knowledge to preparing food that knocks me out of my wooden spoon zone, almost every time she posts. And she posts a lot! Combinations of foods and ingredients I'm familiar with, combined in ways I've never thought about. Foods I've never heard of, with condiments the same. A constant source of interest. Sometimes she'll present something that would just as at home in Puerto Rican cooking as it would be in West Indian, but making it something else altogether. I feel, reading her, that I'm on a cultural tour of one kitchen that takes over the world. And that is a good thing.

The not so good thing is the lack of dozens of ingredients here on Culebra. Not only does her family grow a wonderful plethora of things, like figs (yes, I can grow them here, and of course I'll try it) as an example, she also lives in the San Francisco area of California - not a shabby place for food stuffs of an Eastern type, or any type for that matter.

So, I do what everyone who loves to cook and lives in less than exotic food gathering locales does. I adapt, replace, improvise and invent. And I think that Ms. Pham, who calls herself self taught as a cook, would find that a quite satisfactory thing, despite her lovely care with a recipe.
Note: I have not seen recipes set out this way before and I really love the format. No, I'm not going to emulate her - I'm just grabbing and cooking and tossing it out there for you to give an idea of a meal a whirl. This isn't a food blog. Pham Fatale is...But she is well worth checking out if you are getting tired of 50 ways to use your kitchen.

So, combining some of her bits and adapting some others along the way, tonight's dinner, thanks to the veggie guy, is Chicken from the Freezer with Baby Eggplants and Pasta. In French that would be...Leftovahs.

And we begin.

3 baby eggplants
2 chicken breasts
1 large tomato
Spaghetti enough for two (you know how much you can eat!)

Five or six (or more or less, I like garlic) garlic cloves
Handful of basil leaves
Olive oil (at least 4 tablespoons)
Salt to taste
Parmesan cheese (optional)

Ginger root for ginger garlic paste

This recipe is copied from Pham Fatale's post on Indian cherry chutney (I know, yum!). It is so easy and SO good! I only made a little bit as I only had a bit of fresh ginger around so I used it all up. This is not a good thing. Make plenty and don't be afraid of the garlic!

"Indian cuisine always calls for ginger garlic paste. It tastes great and is very healthy for you as well. Just clean the ginger and remove any dirt. Peel the ginger root with a paring knife, then finely chop the root. Place the chopped ginger and 5 cloves of garlic in a blender, add about 2 tablespoons (or more) of water for a smooth flow. Transfer to a small jar and store in the refrigerator. You can keep this paste for at least a week in the refrigerator."

(I used the grill, on a medium heat. This can easily be done in the oven, baking at 300, then finishing under the broiler)

Split open the eggplants and make a slit down the middle, not going through the skin. Take one/two of the cloves of garlic and make it into enough slivers to go into each eggplant, leaving a small space between each sliver.

Into that small space, shred some of your basil leaves, roll up the shreds individually and put in the slit between the garlic slivers. Set aside.

Ready for the grill! Invisible tomato

Drizzle the eggplant with olive oil and set on the grill, skin side down.

Slice the tomato in half, putting each half skin side down on the grill.

Place chicken breasts on grill, spread ginger garlic paste on top side (turn when halfway cooked, put paste on other side as well). If you don't know how well done your chicken is, don't be afraid to poke it or even cut it open to look. Pink chicken is not done chicken and not done chicken is not good chicken!

The tomato is on the grill, it's just invisible

***My chicken breasts were already cooked but the cooking time would be about the same anyway if they were raw. Since mine were cooked, to keep them from drying out I got them hot on the grill and then cut them into smaller pieces, put them, along with the now halfway cooked eggplant and the cut up tomato onto a piece of foil which I loosely closed for the moisture content. It worked. For uncooked chicken, I'd just leave them whole while the eggplant cooks. I think I'd still put the egglplant and tomato onto foil near the end of the cooking time.***

As said above, as the eggplant and tomato soften, put on a sheet of foil and very loosely close the corners to hold any juices. The eggplant will get a bit translucent looking as it cooks. The heat should not be so hot as to burn the skin...this is a slow cooking meal.

Now, it's time to put the water on for the pasta. For two people I usually would use an easy handful of spaghetti. It always makes more than I think. Key to me is, lots of water. I salt my water and put in a table spoon of olive oil. While waiting for it to boil, you can go check your chicken and veggies (in case you've forgotten, it's GOOD to play with your food!).

When you have a good roiling boil, toss in the pasta.

My favorite pasta pot...holes in the lid mean no colander needed!

***But wait a minute! A question here is about what size spaghetti you used. Angel hair will take a few minutes, thin a bit more and regular (which is what I used), close to ten minutes. So if you are using angel hair, keep a closer eye on it. Pasta is ready when you can take a strand and throw it at the wall and it sticks. Yes, really. Of course, it's good to learn how to tell pasta is ready without doing this and the best way is to taste it. If you feel anything even slightly crunchy, it's not done yet. But if it isn't crunchy but just slightly firm, it's ready. Remember, food keeps cooking even when the heat is turned off! That is why you want to drain your pasta well and then rinse it very briefly in cool water. You stop the cooking process and keep your pasta nice and separate instead of it turning into a gooey mess. There is food science to this but I'm not getting into it now.

My assistant keeping an eye on the grill

If life is good and the cooking gods are kind, everything should be ready about the same time. If your pasta has gotten cold, just pop it back on the flame for a minute or two with a tablespoon of water and give it a few tosses.

With baby eggplants I don't think you really need to scrape them out of the skin, but I did anyway. Each side makes about a good spoonful, and is going to be moist and flavorful enough to be your *sauce*. The garlic slivers should be tender and mild (yes, that's a song, but don't divert me now, I'm almost done) and the basil almost 'dissolved'. Add grated cheese if you like. I didn't as this is pretty rich on its own.

If there is some obvious thing I missed, let me know. This will feed two. Since I am one, it will be a great lunch tomorrow!

Buen provecho!

On this anniversary of one of the huge tragedies of humanity, I send heart comfort to those who lost loved ones that day, and to those who try not to lose hope. The people desiring good in the world need to remember to keep the light shining, one to one to one to one. That's all we have and that's everything we have.

1 comment:

  1. I just discovered your post about my website. Thanks you so much for your lovely write up. It really filled with joy. I'm glad my recipes have inspired you! Hope you had a wonderful Labor Day weekend.