See, initially I'd planned on making lasagna. Yesterday I roasted a bunch of peppers that were taking up too much space in my fridge, so I figured that today I'd combine them with the tomatoes and fennel I have left from last week's CSA and have some sauce. Thoughts of sauce led me to thoughts of noodles. Thoughts of noodles led me to thoughts of lasagna. Thoughts of lasagna led me to...
The farmer's market! When I started down the lasagna path, I rummaged my pantry and discovered that I'm almost out of lasagna noodles. I also realized I had far fewer tomatoes than I thought. (Tomatoes... I have a problem with them. I consider them to be snack food and eat them raw all the time. They just don't last in my house.) And I hadn't been to the local farmer's market in a while, because during the CSA season, I'm too lazy/already set on produce. Plus, I just got paid yesterday AND got the great news that a huge chunk of my fellowship money will be coming my way very soon. What the hell, I thought, and jumped on the first bus downtown.
Maybe it's just that I'm from the east coast, where produce is expensive and crappy and often comes from far away. But to me, Santa Cruz's farmer's market is the physical manifestation of paradise. There were SO many wonderful things today... and with prices being exceptionally good as always and my pockets being relatively full of cash, I was only limited by the amount of stuff I could cram into my very large blue bag.
Alas, the fresh noodle lady didn't have lasagna noodles, and the nearby hippie store that I usually shop at is closed for remodeling until next week. I wandered around looking for something else to put sauce on and had all but given up when I saw them.
Eggplants. Beautiful, bulging black eggplants. Oh, I do love eggplants. Now that I only buy/eat local produce, I have to go for long stretches of time without eggplants. During these sad, sad months, I often dream about eggplants. In one recurring dream, I wake up to find that my kitchen is full of eggplants. They're on the counters, on the table, in the sink, in the fridge, in the hanging produce baskets... and I'm ecstatic, raving to anyone who comes near in my dreams about all the great things I'm going to cook with them.
Mild obsession aside, the eggplants were only 1.50 per today for rather large eggies. Joy! I scooped up four and went on my merry way.
Other stuff I snagged at the market: some shallots, a bunch of basil, a bag of mission figs, a quince, a large yellow melon, and some more tomatoes. Nom nom nom. I've never had quince before... more on that tomorrow, I think.
When I got home, I started cooking various components and ended up with a sort of multi-layer eggplant bake. From the bottom up, the layers are:
Or something like that. All of this is very straightforward, except for the sauce.
See, I lived with my grandparents when I was little. My grandmother, who is not the world's most stellar cook, managed to ruin a lot of foods for me. Spaghetti is very close to the top of the list, and with it goes red sauce. After spending my formative years being force fed oceans crappy jarred sauce (sorry, Ragu lovers, I'm not with you) on overcooked spaghetti, I can't stand traditional red sauces at all. In fact, I only started eating tomato sauce again last year, when I couldn't think of anything else to do with the tomatoes from my CSA.
Thanks to my bias against traditional red sauce, my tomato sauce is pretty weird. I love it, though, and make it all the damn time. There are a million variations of it, but I'm including the recipe for what I did today at the end of this post.
I'm not sure how this'll turn out... everything's still baking. It's starting to smell awfully good, though, so... I am revving my vegan eating engine and getting ready for awesome!
Not Spaghetti Sauce:
six medium shallots
1 tbsp olive oil
a large bulb of fennel
ten fist sized tomatoes
1c roasted peppers
3/4c fresh basil, shredded
1/2c liquid... this can be water, red wine, broth, etcetera. (Wine's my favorite, but today I used water.)
salt and pepper
Put a non-stick frying pan on the stove on medium low heat. (Notch 3 for me.) After the pan's warmed up for like thirty seconds, put the tablespoon of oil in, give the pan a shake, and then leave it there to warm.
Slice the shallots as thin as you can get them. If you have a mandoline (yay!) slice 'em on the thinnest setting. Toss them into the pan, give it a shake, and set a timer for seven minutes. Every couple of minutes, give the pan another shake to make sure the shallots aren't defying your pan and sticking.
In between pan shakes, slice up the fennel. I don't think it's possible to make a mandoline cut an uncooked bulb of fennel on the thinnest setting... my mandoline can't do it, anyway. Whatever, use the thinnest setting you can. After you've sliced up the bulb, chop the resulting rings coarsely.
When the timer goes off, put the fennel in, shake, and let the fennel/shallot combination cook for another five minutes or so. Again, check periodically to make sure the shallots aren't sticking or worse, burning.
Using a bread knife, slice up the tomatoes. Discard tops and bottoms, but keep all of the rest of the tomatoes. That's right, seeds and peels and all. Coarsely chop the slices to the best of your ability. Don't worry if they don't chop nicely, it's not going to matter in the end.
Add the tomatoes, the peppers, and the basil to the pan. Mix well, then add whatever liquid you're using. Bring the whole thing to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and let that baby cook for 30 minutes.
Now the fun part! Uncover and examine how liquidy your sauce is. It's almost definitely too thin at this point, so you need to cook it down. Crank the heat to medium high and let it bubble away to the desired thickness, stirring every couple of minutes to make sure it's not thicker than you thought.
Add salt and pepper to taste, and you're done!