August 12, 2013

Garden Series, Part VI: Solanaceae, or The Nightshades

Tomatoes! Tomatillos! Chiles! Eggplant! Potatoes! And basically everything good!

My favorites of the garden are starting to come into season.  There is a strong tomato focus to my garden and I have recently discovered that eggplants are quite beautiful. If you know me, you may know that I'm not a fan of bell peppers (blech!), but I do love the spicy kind, and chiles also make for pretty plants.  This year, I gave Purple de Milpa tomatillos another chance, and while they are not ready yet, there may be hundreds in a week or two.

It turns out that the members of the Night Shade family make great cooking companions.  Most of my gardening and cooking energy goes to the tomatoes, as I can them and freeze them and use them throughout the year.  As if I'm a pioneer.  Or a survivalist.  (I'm neither, but that's beside the point.)  But other than a potential jar of pickled jalapeños, the non-tomato night shades get consumed right away.  We'll see about using up those tomatillos...

It also turns out that mixing together tomatoes, eggplant, and chiles makes for a great puttanesca sauce.  Well, at least with the addition of some pantry ingredients, like capers and pickled peperoncini (American-style, not the strict Italian translation). Olives would be great, too, but I'm out. It's also entertaining to me that "night shades" make up the sauce that was for "ladies of the night." But I love a little wordplay and I'm aware that I'm kinda nerdy and cerebral. 

I was a little worried about posting too many pasta recipes, and then realized that pasta can almost always be replaced by pouring the sauce over polenta.  I thought of this as I was eating and found myself wishing I had done this in the first place.  So, if you're not into pasta, think about polenta.

  • olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 hot chile, sliced
  • 1 small eggplant, chopped
  • 4-5 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 T. capers
  • 2-3 peperoncini, sliced (American-style)
  • salt and black pepper
  • handful of basil
  • parmesan, to garnish
  • chèvre, to top
  • 1/2 pound penne OR POLENTA

Start water for the pasta, or prepare polenta.  While heating and cooking, prepare the sauce.

In a medium cold skillet, pour in 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Add garlic and set heat to medium.  Once the garlic begins to sizzle, stir a few times and allow to cook for about 30 seconds, depending on the heat of the stove. Add chile slices, give a couple stirs, and then add the eggplant.  After about a minute, add the tomatoes, capers, and peperoncini.  Allow the ingredients to cook and release their juices.  After about five to ten minutes, they will come together as a nicely textured sauce.  Season with salt and pepper.

If using pasta, reserve a little pasta cooking water, drain, and toss directly into the sauce.  Loosen with pasta water as necessary.  Chop basil at the last minute and toss along with the pasta and sauce. Serve topped with parmesan and some good, solid chunks of goat cheese.

If using polenta, ladle the polenta into bowls.  Toss freshly-chopped basil into the sauce and pour over the polenta.  Garnish with parmesan and goat cheese.  Enjoy outside on the patio overlooking the garden.  Perfect.

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