I’m lamenting the loss of my favorite vegetable kiosk a lot lately.
It was on my way home from almost everything and they were very nice about getting me hard-to-find things. But it disappeared in the Great Vegetable Kiosk Purge of 2010. I had high hopes for another kiosk that was also shut down during the Purge, but not removed by men in black leather in the middle of the night. Hope soared when I saw a crew fitting it with slanted shelves – which often feature in Fruit and Vegetable kiosks. Hopes were dashed this week when those slanted shelves began to fill up with those really sub par cookies you see in kiosks around town. You know the kind of thing – perfectly rendered and tastes like sawdust. Who eats that stuff anyway?
So these days, I have to go a little farther in a vegetable emergency like the one that happened this week. HRH (my “Handsome Russian Husband”) phoned to say he was coming home early, which for him means before 10:30 pm. This is highly unusual for a midweek evening, so after I picked myself up from the floor whence I had fallen out of the sheer shock of it, I had to club together something for dinner in quick order. On hand was a stack of plum tomatoes and some mushrooms and these pointed me in the right direction. I ran to the closest vegetable stand and grabbed a yellow onion, a lemon, some garlic, and an eggplant. I happened to have some ground veal on hand, but beef or pork would work easily well. So, of course would no meat at all if your tastes run to that kind of thing. I got to work and had dinner on the table within 45 minutes.
Because this is a mid week quickie – it’s important to take the great Jacques Pepin’s advice and re-use your pots and pans so you don’t have a mountain of dishes to do when you’re done!
Any kind of pasta would work with this – I used standard sized spaghetti but when you are faced with a midweek quickie – beggers can’t be choosers. But what you should do is that final fussy step that seems like a lot of trouble with the pasta water. Makes a huge difference!!
30 ml (4 Tbl) olive oil (divided into two equal portions of 2 Tbl each)
1 yellow onion (peeled and chopped)
4 cloves garlic (peeled and minced)
15 ml (1 Tbl) grated fresh lemon zest
1 eggplant (cubed)
300 gm (10 oz) mushrooms (topped, tailed, and roughly chopped)
300 gm (10 oz) ground meat (beef, pork, or veal or a combination)
45 ml (3 Tbl) fresh oregano or basil (roughly chopped)
1 packet spaghetti, linguine, or any long pasta
75 ml (1/3-cup) Parmesan cheese (grated)
Core and seed the plum tomatoes. Place them with the sugar in a saucepan with a lid. Simmer over medium heat for 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes have lost their shape. Puree the tomatoes with a handheld mixer or in a blender. Set aside.
If you have a lot of lead time, salt the cubed eggplant and set in a colander to drain. If you don’t, just skip that step and proceed with the next one: arrange the cubed eggplant on a wide plate and cover with a piece of paper towel. Microwave them for 2 minutes at high heat. Set aside.
Melt the butter in a deep-sided skillet until it begins to bubble. Add the mushrooms and sauté gently for 10 minutes. Watch carefully – the mushrooms will initially absorb all the butter, but then they begin to leech liquid. Continue to sauté until they begin to re-absorb their liquid. Tip them into a bowl and set aside. Wipe out the skillet.
Fill a stock or pasta pot with cold water. Add 2 Tbl of the olive oil and a generous pinch of salt. Bring to a boil as you prepare the sauce.
Heat the remaining olive oil in the clean skillet. Sweat the onions and garlic until soft. Add the ground meat and the dried oregano and brown until the meat is cooked through (4-5 minutes.) Add the tomato paste and stir to combine. Cook for an additional 2 minutes, then fold in the eggplant and mushrooms, the lemon zest, and the tomato puree. Bring to a gentle simmer, then reduce the heat to low and let the sauce simmer gently for an additional 5- 7 minutes. Remove the sauce to a bowl and set aside. Wipe out the skillet to prepare it for one more go.
When the sauce is done, bring the pasta water to a roiling, violent boil. Add the pasta, reduce the heat to medium, and cook according to package instructions until al dente. If the package instructions are in a language you don’t speak or read (as they so often are here in Russia) then cook for about 6-7 minutes before you begin to test it. The pasta should be just underdone slightly – a little chewy. Sure, you can throw it at a wall if you want…
Reserve ½-cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta in a colander, but don’t rinse it under the tap!
Heat the pasta water in the clean skillet until it is simmering. Add the pasta to it and cook on medium heat for 1-2 minutes until almost all of the liquid is gone. Add the sauce and the parmesan cheese and toss vigorously to combine.
Serve immediately topped with the fresh chopped basil and oregano!
Recipe credit: Jennifer Eremeeva
What’s your favorite weeknight special? Are you good at quickies? Do you have a vegetable kiosk that closed down? Let us know the answers to all these questions by hitting the comment below.
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