Monday, August 10, 2009

Sun-Dried Tomato Eggplant Sauce

As I am a bona fide jet setter, I frequently find myself low on produce at very odd times. However, I tend to resist grocery shopping for fear of spoilage while I'm gone. Being low on fresh vegetables isn't something I am ever comfortable with, but unused vegetables... wilting in my absence, sogging in neglect, longing for a once youthful, sexy crunch ... My dear omni's and carni's may not cry over spilt milk from that poor mammal's udder, but spoiled veggies to this chef is devastating. Until I have a compost bin and one of those trendy urban gardens set up on my balcony to redeem vegetable waste, this concept of abandoned produce is a travesty. Dramatic? Maybe. But the sense of loss is equivalent to dropping a perfectly good cupcake moments after purchase on a sidewalk in Brooklyn after seeing Fido relieve himself on the side of a nearby fire hydrant.

My point? Having slim pickin's for fresh produce calls for a thorough cupboard sweep and a splash of creativity. How very recessionista, n'est-ce pas! This doesn't necessarily mean culinary craziness or genius, but it does require an avoidance of the frozen entree default (or worse - ramen).

With only a pound or so of eggplant to play with, I was trying to think seasonally, perusing through shelves of dried fruit, nuts, seeds and alas... I came across a forgotten jar of sundried tomatoes. When I first started cooking, I was familiar only with sundried tomatoes packed in oil, but I recently grew fond of sundried tomatoes - "neat" - unadultered save for a good dose of sunshine. When you rehydrate the dry variety, you can reuse the liquid and I am a firm proponent of recycling in every form. The tomato broth resulting from rehydrating tomatoes is a great flavor boost to pasta sauces; Thank you Giada for educating viewers on the concept of thickening sauces with pasta water. I have one-upped this starchy inginuity with using tomato-flavored pasta cooking liquid, thus twice reusing what is often left to the dregs of the drain.

This recipe can be easily modified to accompany any herbs, fresh or dried, you may have on hand. I like it best with plenty of fresh parsley. I recommend adding some kind of herb as the pasta alone risks seeming a bit dull without it. Do not skimp on the garlic, as it fuses well with the rich, semi-sweet flavor of sundried tomatoes. Never skimp on the garlic.

Sun Dried Tomato Eggplant Sauce
Serves 4-6

1 lb Eggplant, diced
8 oz Pasta (brown rice, whole wheat)
1 ½+ c. Reserved pasta cooking liquid
1-2 T. Olive oil
1 c. Onions
2-3 T. Garlic, minced (6 cloves)
¾ c. Sun dried tomatoes
Salt and Pepper – to taste
¼ c. Fresh parsley, chopped

1. Sprinkle eggplant generously with salt and leave in a colander, 10-15 minutes.
2. Boil tomatoes in water 5 – 10 minutes to rehydrate. Using tongs, remove tomatoes, mince and set aside, keeping cooking liquid at a boil.
3. Add dry pasta to tomato water and cook al dente. Drain and reserve cooking liquid for sauce.
4. Heat olive oil in sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and saut̩ until golden, 5-7 minutes. Turn heat to medium add garlic and sun-dried tomatoes, saut̩ing until fragrant, 30 seconds Р1 minute.
5. Add eggplant and mix well, turning to coat with garlic and tomatoes. Saute 8-10 minutes, adding water by the ¼ c to deglaze if necessary. Add 1 cup pasta water and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer ~10 minutes or until eggplant is completely tender. Season with salt & pepper. Add pasta and cook 1 additional minute to blend flavors.
6. Turn heat off and fold in parsley.

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