All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2013
To see images of my past posts & get links to the recipes – look on my Pinterest board – HERE.
A long, long time ago, I had a boyfriend – a different boyfriend than my current beau, the charming Miles Miller. And that boyfriend had – egads! – ex-girlfriends. One of these ex-girlfriends was (and remains) a famous actress. A beautiful, famous actress. She had been reaching out to him to “reconnect.” My boyfriend at the time announced that he would be having dinner with this ex at some point in the future. I informed him that I would be attending this dinner myself. He looked at me like I was crazy. “Nothing’s going on,” he explained. “She just wants to get together. We are friends.” I explained that, as his live-in girlfriend, his friends should be my friends, too, and asked that if everything was so innocent, why couldn’t he just invite her over to our home for dinner.
It took a bit but I won this debate. The invitation was extended & then the pressure was on. ME. On me because I had to cook the damned dinner – a dinner to impress this chick. I wanted to impress her with both my culinary skills & with the level of our domesticity. It was a passive-aggressive counter-attack to what I sensed were not entirely innocent intentions on her part.
This was pre-internet and pre-40 million cooking shows – so I had only my trusty collection of cookbooks to consult for ideas. After hours of deliberating – I ended up making two dishes I had never made before – always very dangerous if making a good impression is your top priority. I made a two-color soup much like this one (this one here is not my creation):
Photo borrowed from HERE.
And I made an eggplant timbale as shown here in this blog. As fate would have it, my dinner was a huge success & the ex-girlfriend was smart & funny & charming & the two of us were quickly gabbing like old friends, nearly cutting my boyfriend from the conversation completely.
And – for the record, ladies (and gents) – this ex-girlfriend never “reached out” to “touch base” again – to either me or my boyfriend. So – my instincts had been correct. She had been perhaps interested in rekindling more than just old times. But – to her credit – once she met me, she was forever respectful and was never again a threat to our domestic bliss.
So – if you ever need to impress someone or scare off some interested interloper from meddling with your love life – serve them this whopper of a dish. It is far easier to make than folks guess and it tastes delicious – and it is classier than a slap fight & hair pulling.
As a side note – I didn’t really manage to get a photo of my effort last night that captured how impressive & elegant this dish can be. I really underachieved on that front this time. HERE are the Google images of other versions of this dish. Some people cut the purple off their eggplant and some simply bake the eggplant into pliant submission. In these cases – the result is a more uniform, monochromatic exterior that I feel is far less appealing. They end up looking oddly slimy or, worse yet, fleshy. So – I recommend the grilled version not only for the flavor that imparts but also for the visual.
I originally intended to add peas to this dish – also for the visual – but decided on a vibrant green basil oil, instead. But if you like peas – just add a cup when you mix the filling. The basil oil is a nice touch but TOTALLY optional. Also – if you want a lighter dish – just use straight arrabbiata – rather than vodka sauce. T o achieve this – simply omit the heavy cream from the recipe below. I used mozzarella & goat cheese in this. You might want to use feta or cheddar or smoked mozzarella, instead. Smoked mozzarella with arrabbiata in this dish work really well. Experiment. Use your imagination. You can’t really mess this up.
Also – as an aside, I bought this fucking gigantic can (I know canned tomatoes are bad but sometimes you gotta bend rules) of tomato sauce for $2.69. That is practically free! It makes 12 cups of whatever the Hell sauce you are making. I made arrabbiata (surprise, surprise) and I froze 8 cups of it & used 4 cups of it to make the vodka sauce in this recipe.
Here is the recipe using the entire 6+ pound can shown above.
Arrabbiata Sauce – large quantity
12 cups tomato sauce
1 cup olive oil
10 garlic cloves – chopped
2 TBS crushed red pepper
1 cup chopped parsley
1 cup chopped basil
1 TBS pepper
1 TBS sugar
1 tsp salt
1 TBS oregano
Heat oil & saute garlic, crushed red pepper & oregano for a minute or two. Add the tomato sauce – being careful not to get burned by the sputtering oil. Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil then reduce heat to low & simmer for 30 minutes or more.
“Back off, Bitch” Rigatoni & Vodka Sauce Eggplant Timbale with Basil Oil
FOR THE VODKA SAUCE:
1/3 cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves – chopped
2 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 cup parsley – chopped
1/2 cup basil – chopped
4 cups tomato sauce
1 pint heavy cream
1/2 cup vodka (optional)
1 tsp pepper 1 tsp sugar
1 tsp oregano
salt to taste
FOR THE BASIL OIL:
1 packed cup of fresh basil
3/4 cup high quality olive oil
FOR THE TIMBALE:
1 pound rigatoni
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella – diced
3 oz goat cheese
3 large eggplants
Chopped tomato or chopped fresh parsley or basil – as garnish
Pre-heat the oven to 350.
BASIL OIL –
Blanch the basil in boiling water for 10-20 seconds than plunge into ice water. Squeeze out the water & puree in a food processor with olive oil & salt to taste. Go light on the salt. Set aside.
VODKA SAUCE –
Heat oil & saute garlic, crushed red pepper & oregano for a minute or two. Add the vodka & cook for a minute or so being careful not to get burned by the sputtering oil – then add the tomato sauce & heavy cream. Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil then reduce heat to low & simmer for 30 minutes or more until sauce thickens a bit.
FOR THE TIMBALE –
Slice the eggplants into 1/4 inch slices. You can go the long way or the other way – creating round disks. Place in colanders or on paper towels & sprinkle with salt on both sides. Let the eggplants drain for about 30 minutes. This not only helps remove moisture from the eggplant but also minimizes bitterness.
You can either rub olive oil into your eggplant before grilling or you can dip them in an Italian salad dressing – really just to lubricate them so they do not stick to the grilling surface & tear apart. Grill (a grill pan works, too) the eggplant until they get nice grill marks on one side, turn them & repeat. Remove & set aside.
Cook the rigatoni according to the box directions. Err on the side of under-cooking – as they will cook more in the oven. Drain the rigatoni & mix in a bowl with cheeses (you can substitute smoked mozzarella or Parmesan or cheddar cheeses – if you prefer) & 2 cups of vodka sauce. Add more sauce if you like a really wet pasta. You will have extra vodka sauce that you can use to add as a garnish to the finished slices of timbale or to use in another recipe. It might be nice to have extra sauce for the timbale when you are in the leftovers phase.
Grease a spring form pan & then put some bread crumbs inside. Swirl the pan to coat all the surfaces with bread crumbs. Throw any unstuck bread crumbs away.
Line the inside of the pan with grilled eggplant. You can either do as I did here or, if you have circular disks, fan them on the bottom of the pan & then stick some, overlapping, up on the sides. However you do it – try to cover every part of the pan with eggplant. Pour the pasta & vodka sauce & cheese mix in. Top with any remaining eggplant slices.
Cover the timbale in foil & place some heavy dishes on top & put in the fridge to compress for about 30 minutes.
Then – remove the foil & bake at 350 for about 30 minutes. Let rest, unmolested, for at least ten minutes and then put a serving dish on top of the timbale, flip the whole thing over & then very carefully – remove the spring form pan.
Place slices on plates & drizzle with basil oil (if using). Garnish with either chopped tomatoes or chopped basil or parsley.