Sunday, July 1, 2012


I woke up this morning to a surprisingly cloudy day. It hasn't rained since I arrived a month ago, but today we experienced a wonderful Mediterranean thunderstorm. They are nothing like we get in Louisville (to be honest, I kind of miss the prospect of a natural disaster every now and then, followed by the survival response of a city with its electric lines above ground and its flood walls seemingly below ground). In comparison, these thunderstorms are sweet little reminders that the sky can make a rumbling sound, and rain can fall in droplets larger than that of a sunshower. Quaint to a girl from the Ohio Valley!

Today also happens to be the final for the EuroCup 2012, where Spain plays Italy. This rivalry is akin to UK vs. UofL or St. X vs. Trinity in our city, so you can imagine the tension. The streets are empty and the bars are full. Everywhere you do see people they are decked out in red and gold, the national colors, and even baby strollers have Spanish flags perched on the handles. Consequently, the Italians are having house parties.

I figured I would take this time to introduce some summer treats that can be prepared quickly, or even ahead of time, for a summer get-together. I try to avoid standing next to the stove too long, or shoveling hot, tasty morsels into my mouth during these scorching months...and I can only imagine the same for my city across the sea, which is suffering 100+ degree (Fahrenheit) temperatures!

So, here's what's on the menu:
Eggplant spread/dip

Summer pasta with a fresh tomato sauce

Grilled cheese with pimentón

Eggplant spread (makes about a cup)
2 medium-sized eggplants
1/2 medium onion
3-4 cloves garlic (you can never have too much garlic)
Juice from half a lemon
Fresh parsley
Sea salt

Wash, peel, and chop the eggplant into small cubes. Mince the garlic, and finely chop the onion as well. This will help everything cook evenly, quickly, and make for an easy pass in the blender. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and get it cooking, they should be dancing around in that hot pan. Adding the onion first allows the olive oil to take on the flavor of the onion, which will help build your flavor layers. Do not brown the onions, but when they are soft, add the eggplant and lower the heat a bit, you don't want anything to burn. Mix up the eggplant and onion, make sure that everything is cooking evenly, and when things get moving, put a lid on it--this will help the eggplant get softer and will help us reach the smooshy stage that we need before we add the garlic.

Chopped onion and eggplant over medium-high heat.
When the eggplant and onion have softened, add the garlic. Garlic is actually quite delicate and burns easily, so the best flavor comes when you add it at the end. Throw in the garlic, thyme, sea salt, and the lemon juice. Cook that until you smell the fragrance of the garlic and thyme over medium heat. Your mouth should be watering at this point, that's when you know it's ready to throw in the blender. I use an immersion blender (invented in Spain, they're very proud of it...and for good reason!). I put the pan mixture, a few more tablespoons of olive oil, and the fresh chopped parsley in the blender container and I whizzed that until smooth. Your eggplant spread is finished! Now toast up some baguette or find some pappadums.

I cooked up some pappadums, which are a type of indian flatbread that you fry until it is crunchy and bubbly and then you eat it with rice, tandoori, curry, or of course eggplant spread! I fell in love with pappadums for the first time at Shalimar restaurant out on Hurstborne Pkwy. where they come as the first course-- their answer to chips and salsa. I think you're supposed to eat them with the meal, but they are gone before we even order off of the menu. If you're ever in the neighborhood, the Indian supermarket nextdoor to Shalimar is really great as well. Load up on those spicy Indian snacks, mmmmm!

Now let's make a...

Summer pasta with fresh tomato sauce!
Juice from half a lemon
1/4 onion, grated
2 ripe tomatoes, grated
1 finely chopped green pepper
Sea salt
Black pepper

To start this off, you need to grate the onion and combine it with the lemon juice in a separate bowl. The acid from the lemon neutralizes the sting of the raw onion, which would kill the sweetness of the tomato. We're not making a pico de gallo here, so we need to mute the onion a bit. Let that sit aside, covered with the lemon half if you want.

Grate the tomatoes now, this will give you a fresh tomato sauce (also a great way to prepare traditional tomato sauce without all the chunks). Drizzle olive oil and salt to your taste. Add that beautiful chopped pepper to add another layer of flavor. Finally, add the sweet onion and lemon juice. Mix all together and add the oregano, black pepper, and if you need more salt you can do so here.

You should have some pasta at the ready. Boil it in salted water for some more flavor. You don't have to add olive oil because we don't really have low-quality pastas like that on the market anymore, even store brands can hold their own against sticking. I like the tri-colored vegetable pasta because of its color and also really great flavor, also I used fusilli because the ridges can catch and hold the sauce. Cook it up and let it cool, or let it sit in a cold water bath to cool down. I didn't have a problem with sticking using this method.

Serve it up with a nice, crunchy bread, and if you have some eggplant spread that survived appetizers, that is also a great accompaniment.

In honor of the game today, on to the grilled cheese. These little nibblies are great for game day because they are cheezy, crunchy, and best of all, it is finger food!

Grilled cheese with Pimentón
Baguette, or rustic bread with a soft inside
Swiss cheese, or your favorite melting cheese
Pimentón (smoked paprika)

Heat up that grill, or if you don't have one, a skillet would work too.
Slice the bread into uniform pieces, or as close as you can make that happen. You know what, if you go to Breadworks on Bardstown Road (or any of their locations), they will cut the loaf for you. I believe any good bakery would do that. Melt some butter and brush it on the side of the bread that will be touching the pan. Slice some cheese and place that in between the bread. I feel like I'm a little insulting explaining this, but grill on both sides until it is ready and plate it up. Sprinkle the pimentón over the little sandwiches.

Alternatively, you could mix up the pimentón with the butter and smear that on the bread before you grill it. Nom nom.

Enjoy! and, for the fans... ¡Viva España!

Listening to Jazz Insights with Danny O'Brien on WFPK Radio Louisville

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