A Sweet and Savory St. Patrick’s Day Cabbage Alternative

St. Patrick’s Day is here again! I usually do cook a corned beef and cabbage, boiled together in a pot with red potatoes. I’m not Irish, but it is a fun and delicious tradition. This year, however, I decided to branch out. This very special recipe is actually one of my grandma’s. She helped me put it together and document every step in her beautiful and amazing kitchen. I am so lucky to have her to teach me these things and be patient while I photograph her rolling up cabbage about 50 times. This meal takes some time to come together, but its a fun one and definitely worth the elbow grease when you sit down to enjoy it. I think the secret is the subtlety sweet and sour bite of the tomato sauce. People will ask you what you put in here, your call whether you tell them or not.

Of course, no meal is complete without a fine music pairing. Check out Now Streaming’s latest Beats and Eats post featuring this dish for soundtrack and drink suggestions to make the meal complete.

Veggie Stuffed Cabbage
Makes 8-10 servings
total prep and cooking time: 2 hours

Ingredients:

sauce-

2 med onions, peeled and diced
extra virgin olive oil
2 28oz or 2 quart jars whole peeled tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, whole and peeled
sea salt and black pepper to taste
¼ cup brown sugar
juice of 1-1.5 fresh lemons

filling-
1 large head of green cabbage
1 whole onion, peeled and grated/food processed
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
1 whole egg, slightly beaten
1 cup brown rice, uncooked
sea salt and pepper to taste
optional twist: 1.5 lbs lean ground meat (beef, turkey and venison work great!)

First, get your cabbage cooking. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Score the cabbage around the stalk which will make it easier to remove the leaves later. Place the cabbage in boiling water and cook until soft, about 30-40 minutes. Rotate the cabbage a few times while cooking so that all sides are softened.
boiling green cabbage

While that is cooking you can prepare a quick tomato sauce. Heat about ¼ inch of olive oil in a saucepan and brown your onions for 5-7 minutes. Add both cans of tomatoes and bring to a simmer on medium heat. Once the sauce is warm and simmering, add the lemon juice, brown sugar, garlic, salt and pepper. This makes for a slightly sweet and tangy sauce that goes perfectly with the cabbage! Cover sauce and keep it cooking on low heat while you prep everything else.

cooking tomato sauce on the stovetop
Next, mix the stuffing for your cabbage rolls. In a large bowl, combine grated onion, salt and pepper, egg, and garlic. If using meat add that in now. For some extra goodness grate in any veggies you have in the house! Add uncooked rice and mix together with you hands. Everything should be well mixed but only work the stuffing as much as you have to or it will become dense.
mixed brown rice and ground beef for stuffed cabbage

The final step is stuffing the cabbage leaves. Remove the cabbage from the pot and let it cool slightly. However, the leaves are most pliable when they are warm so don’t let them cool too much. If they get stiff you can always soak them in the hot water a bit more.
cooked green stuffed cabbagePeel off the leaves one by one. If they are very big, trim them or cut them in half.

stuffed green cabbagePut a little stuffing on the bottom edge of the leaf (where it attaches to the stalk).
stuffing green cabbage
Carefully fold the leaf around the stuffing by folding in both sides and then rolling it tight from the bottom on.

photo 7 photo 8 photo 9Then place the role into the tomato sauce to simmer. You can layer them onto of each other and fill the pot. The sauce will cook up around them.

fresh stuffed cabbage simmering in the pot

When all the rolls are added, make sure the sauce is simmering. Cover and boil for an additional hour. If you have extra cabbage left, dice it up and throw that in the sauce too. If you have extra meat mixture, roll into little meatballs add those also.
fresh stuffed cabbage rolls cooking in tomato sauce homemade
This dish freezes and reheats well so make extra.
fresh homemade stuffed cabbage rolls ready for storage in the freezer
Enjoy and happy St. Patty’s Day!

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Eggplant Parmesan, Second Generation Style

Here’s something you should know about me: I live for splurge meals. My absolute all time favorite foods usually fall into this category. In my normal routine, I try to adapt some of these recipes into clean versions, but on splurge day anything goes. Fried stays fried, pasta stands in for itself, and I put cheese on my half too.

It took me approximately 2 seconds too decide what tomato week’s splurge recipe would be. Growing up, my dad (originally from Italy) would make his eggplant parmesan maybe once or twice a year. It’s not a quick undertaking, and I knew it was a big ask to see if he would make it with me so I could blog about it. The thing is, what I really mean by “second generation style” is that I want to learn how to make this dish exactly like his, because it is absolutely perfect. The effort is always worth it. Plus, it makes your house smell sooooo good.

Best of all, eggplant is in season right now and I can’t help but pay thanks to this versatile crop. What a fine nightshade you are, eggplant. Thanks for being you.

Traditional Eggplant Parmesan
makes enough to fill 2 13×9 baking dishes, about 16 servings

Ingredients:
3 medium size eggplants
3 quart jars cooked tomato sauce
2 lbs fresh mozzarella cheese
vegetable/ canola oil for frying
2 cups grated romano/ parmesan cheese

for batter:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 eggs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
a few cups of cold water

*Note: Since this takes a few hours, I usually make an extra batch to freeze or give away. Cut everything in half if you are only making one dish.

To make your batter, combine flour, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add eggs, lightly beaten. Once well mixed, start adding water about a half cup at a time. The batter should be the consistency of runny pancake mix. Keep adding water and mixing until the batter is thin enough that it will run off the end of a spoon easily. There should be no lumps.

eggplant-parmesan-batter
Next, trim off both ends of the eggplants and slice them about 1/4 inch thick. Do your best to keep the thickness consistant so the pieces cook evenly.

perfectly-sliced-eggplant-for-homemade-eggplant-parmesan

Meanwhile, in a deep saute pan, heat up 3/4 to an inch of cooking oil on medium heat. Test the oil temperature with a drop of water or batter. It will sizzle when hot. If you have a thermometer, oil temperature should reach between 400-450 F.

Once the oil is ready to go, dip each slice of eggplant in the batter and just cover both sides. Let any excess batter run off, and then carefully place in the hot pan.

deep-frying-eggplant-homemade-eggplant-parmesan

When the underside becomes golden brown (1-2 min), flip them over and fry for another minute or so. When cooked, drain each piece of excess oil as you remove them from the pan.

draining-excess-oil-from-fried-eggplant-for-eggplant-parmesanAs the slices come out of the fryer, lay them on a plate covered with a paper towel to soak up extra grease as they cool.

freshly-fried-eggplant-for-eggplant-parmesan

While the eggplant is frying, grate your mozzarella and parmesan. To make grating easier, place the cheese in the freezer for 15-20 minutes first. Now is also a good time to preheat your oven to 375 F.

grated-parmesan-cheese-for-eggplant-parmesan

If there is any batter left over when the eggplant is done, you can pour it into your hot oil to make a zeppoli, or fried dough ball (more like a pancake in this case.) Cook it the same way as the eggplant.

homemade-zeppoli-frying-in-oil

When it’s done, sprinkle a little powered sugar on top and enjoy! Besides being delicious, this snack might distract you from scarfing down tons of hot, crispy eggplant as it comes out of the pan. It also might not. I usually eat both, and chase them with large chunks of mozzarella. Extras are built into the recipe to allow for this unstoppable force.

powered-sugar-covered-fresh-homemade-zeppoli

Assemble everything in a baking dish in layers. Start with a little bit of sauce on the bottom of the pan, then eggplant, mozz, parm, and a drizzle of sauce.

Repeat until your tray is full. Only use a little bit of sauce in each layer so it doesn’t become too wet.

assembling-homemade-eggplant-parmesan-layers

End with the cheese layer on top.

complete-homemade-eggplant-parmesan

Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 45-60 minutes. Take the foil off for the last 10-15 minutes of cooking to let the top get crispy.

eggplant-parmesan-just-out-of-the-oven

Enjoy! Freeze whatever you can’t eat. This type of dish tastes better every time you heat it up.

detailed-image-of-homemade-eggplant-parmesan

I would also just like to thank my good friend Jennifer for shooting the amazing photos for this blog while helping me fry eggplant for hours. They have added so much to this project, and I hope this is just the first of many collaborations between us. I mean, they’re incredible. I’m not the only one drooling on my computer, right?

Six Pack Beefaroni

While summering in the Finger Lakes region of New York last year, I was introduced to Beefaroni- a classically amazing pasta dish I had somehow never had before. (Among other life-changing things I was introduced to in the Finger Lakes were the Finger Lakes, wine tasting, and dry Rieslings.) The cheesy, saucy deliciousness took my idea of comfort food to a whole new level. I’m pretty sure I had three bowls full just to make sure it was real.

Upon arriving home and back in the real world, I began toying with ways to lighten up this dish and make it into something I could eat all the time. Here is what I came up with.

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:
1 medium sized spaghetti squash
1qt. tomato sauce
extra virgin olive oil
ground turkey or lean ground beef (I have also used venison and bison, which are both fabulous lean options)
sea salt and pepper to taste

optional twists:
1/2 lb shell or elbow pasta
1/2 lb firm tofu (diced small)
parmesan or romano cheese to sprinkle

Baking the squash
Preheat your oven to 350F. Cut the spaghetti squash in half length-wise and scrape the seeds from both sides. Sprinkle each half with sea salt and pepper, then drizzle with olive oil.

baked-spaghetti-squash

Wrap both halves (separately) in tin foil and bake for 45 minutes. The squash should be very tender and string easily when scraped with a fork when done. The flesh color will turn a brighter yellow. Test both sides before you take it out of the oven. Remember it will continue to steam in the tin foil as it cools. Set aside. Once cool, scrape the insides of both halves to make your “spaghetti.” If you bake the squash ahead of time this is a quick meal to throw together during the week.

In the meantime, heat up a saute pan and toss in your ground meat or tofu when hot. If using tofu, add a tbsp of olive oil to the pan before adding it. Season with salt and pepper to taste. After it browns, cover with tomato sauce and simmer on med-low for 10-15 minutes. If you are cooking pasta as well, put it onto boil as well.

To serve, start with your spaghetti squash, (pasta if using it) and then top with meat or tofu and sauce. I especially love this meal because it’s easy to make a clean veggie meal, and add the meat and pasta to keep everyone in the house happy. Both versions are tasty, satisfying, and make great leftovers.

spaghetti-squash-tomato-sauce-beefaroni
Meat version on left, veggie version on right

Tomato Sauce To Write Home About

This year we finished up our annual day of tomato canning with over 100 jars of crushed perfection. Alas, no matter how many we make, it’s never enough to last through the year. You’d think we were dealing with gold bars the way everyone in my family gets all greedy and stealth-like when dividing up the shares. I kid you not when I say I have had to smuggle jars out of my house to share with friends, and even my grandmother. It’s never pretty, but that’s just how treasure is.

So, until my allotment runs out, I’ll be feasting on my favorite meals and not rationing properly at all. Of course, all my favorites start with tomato sauce.

Basic Tomato Sauce
Makes about 6-8 servings (I always make at least this much so there is extra to freeze.)

Ingredients:
2 one qt. jars (or 2 28oz store bought cans of whole tomatoes*)
1 large yellow onion
a few fresh basil leaves
sea salt to taste
extra virgin olive oil
1-2 garlic cloves (whole)

*Store bought canned tomatoes often contain citric acid and other additives. Because tomatoes are naturally quite acidic, they stay well preserved without additives. Look for a brand that contains just tomatoes, or tomatoes and fresh basil.

In a large, deep sauce pot heat a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil on med-low. I use a deep pot because the sauce doesn’t lose as much water while cooking and ends up with a better consistency.

While it’s heating, slice your onion as thinly as possible. When the oil is nice and hot, add onions and allow them to caramelize on low for 5-10 minutes. Make sure that they do not start to brown.

sliced-yellow-onion-for-fresh-tomato-sauce

Once the onions are translucent, add in your tomatoes. Here’s a tip: pour the tomatoes over the back of a wooden spoon to keep from splattering yourself.

sliced-onions-carmelized-in-olive-oil

Turn up the heat and bring everything to a slow boil. Then, reduce the heat to low and simmer. Stir in in the garlic cloves, basil and a pinch or two of salt. Simmer on low, covered, for at least 45 minutes. If you have the time, you can let it cook for longer. Stir every 15-20 minutes with a wooden spoon.

simmering-fresh-tomato-sauce

During the last 15 minutes of cooking, remove the lid to allow the sauce to thicken up. Taste again and add more salt if necessary.

Freeze the unused portion for quick weeknight meals.

Smile, You’re Tomato Canning

Every August that I can remember has ended with a long, hot day of tomato canning. It’s summer’s most fantastic ritual. All of my extended family members gather in someone’s backyard to sort, cut, boil, crush, jar and seal boxes and boxes of warm, fresh tomatoes (local, but not homegrown I confess.) The smell is more wonderful that you can possible imagine. It’s like all the fantastic things you are going to cook this year, mixed with love and basil. Since last Friday was canning day, I’m kick-starting this blog with an entire week devoted to its namesake, the tomato. Today, we start at the beginning.

How to Can Tomatoes
What you will need:

  1. plum tomatoes
  2. fresh basil
  3. sharp knife
  4. large pot
  5. glass jars with lids and rings made for canning
  6. slotted spoon
  7. tomato grinder (manual or electric)
  8. tongs
  9. large bucket/container
  10. funnel
  11. strainer

Before you start, make sure that all of your jars, lid rings and other tools are clean and sterile to avoid trapping bacteria in your jars that will spoil. Running the jars and lids through the dishwasher is an easy way to clean a bunch at once.

Tomato Selection
Plum tomatoes are ideal for tomato sauce because they are pulpy and contain less water than other varieties. There are many types of plum tomatoes, but we usually buy Romas because they are grown locally. San Marzano is another prized plum tomato for canning. Processing tomatoes are commonly sold in 25 lb bulk cases, which each yield about 6-7 quarts of sauce each. So, decide how many quart jars you want to fill before purchasing your tomatoes.

selecting ripe plum tomatoes for tomato sauce canning
Aunt Andrea and Aunt Marie find a fine batch of tomatoes!

Sort
Since one rotten tomato can spoil the batch, you need to inspect each one individually. If you are not going to actually can on the day you pick up your tomatoes, take them out of the box and lay them to air out. This way, you can find and remove any rotting ones before they spoil the ones around them. Sometimes the tomatoes can use an extra day or two more to fully ripen, so you can leave them out until they seem ready.

sorting plum tomatoes for tomato sauce canning

Wash
When you’re ready start, go through all the tomatoes again and toss any rotten ones. Look for bruises and blemishes, and cut out any bad spots. Smell any questionable ones to see if they are sour. Then, fill a large container with water and place all the remaining tomatoes inside to rinse.

washing and sorting plum tomatoes before canning

Boil
Next, take your large pot and fill it with four to five inches of water. It does not need to be filled to the top. Bring the water to a boil, fill the pot with tomatoes, and cover. Steam each batch until they look cooked and are soft. Some will start to split when they are done.

boiling the plum tomatoes before canning

Crush
Using a slotted spoon, scoop the cooked tomatoes and transfer them to your strainer to drain. Prick each one to get out excess water. Place a large bucket or container underneath the grinder to catch all the juice. Then, run the tomatoes through your grinder to separate the pulp and juice from skin and seeds. When you’re done, run the skin and seeds through one more time. This helps to thicken up the finished product. If you have a compost area, you can toss the remaining waste right in.

running sauce tomatoes through an electric grinder before canning

Jar
To prep your jars, spread them out on a large flat surface. I like to put 3-4 fresh basil leaves in each one for flavor. Using a funnel, fill each jar with your crushed tomatoes to within about 1/4 inch of the top. Make sure to wipe any excess off the rim of the jar to ensure a proper seal. Put a seal lid on each jar and loosely screw a ring on. Don’t make it too tight, just tight enough to keep the contents of the jar from spilling.

filling glass jars with crushed tomatoes for canning

Seal
Put enough water in a pot to just cover the lids of your jars, and bring it to a boil. Place jars in the water and boil for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the jars with tongs or a jar gripper and lay them out to cool. You should hear a series of “plinks” as they beging to cool and the tops depress, forming the seal. Check all of your jars as they cool to make sure the tops have depressed. Any that don’t seal properly should be refrigerated and used within a day or two.

boiling tomato sauce cans to seal them during canning process

Finally, thought it’s torture to wait, put all the jars aside for about 2 weeks and check the lids daily to make sure they are ok. If none burst after a couple of weeks, your seals should be safe and adequate and you can feel free to enjoy!

freshly canned plum tomatoes

Coming up during tomato week…
We’ll pop open a few jars, make a basic pasta sauce and try out one of my all time favorite splurges!