In case you are not from around these parts and don’t put up with our lovely Pacific Northwest climate, allow me to tell you what fall looks like in Seattle. September is usually lovely and warm. The days are shorter but it feels like summer which is lucky seeing as our “summer” doesn’t start until July 1st. In October, the leaves turn mostly yellow and we get a few of those incredible cool and crisp fall days you folks back East experience. Around the middle of the month, the temperatures start to dip and it starts to rain. Halloween can almost be a guaranteed rainy and cold night. I have lots of childhood memories of having to wear a jacket and a hood over my princess costumes. Maybe that’s why I don’t like to dress up on Halloween anymore.
Sometime around the beginning of November, just after we change our clocks back to standard time, some huge windstorm – accompanied by lots of rain – rips through the area taking all the changed-color leaves of the trees. And that is the end of fall. We’re done, it’s officially winter. Rainy, cold, and dark.
Up until very recently, I was taking all the pictures of my food outside. I know next to nothing about photography but I have read on numerous blogs that the number one enemy of food photography is your flash. It makes the food look greasy and artificial. I have been avoiding reading my camera manual and learning how to actually use this beautiful and intimidating thing but, as you can see from the above photograph, the time has come. I will actually be traveling this weekend (more on that tomorrow) and my main source of reading material is going to be that manual. Hopefully my photos will improve next week.
In the meantime, I have a recipe for you. In the two and a half years that I have been cooking for my clients, they have only ever requested repeat meals a handful of times. This is one of those meals. This will be a winner, no matter who you make it for – even people who don’t like eggplant. The whole dish can be made up to a day in advance, or just parts of it can be. I have made this dish perhaps more than any other in my repetoire, and although it comes from a very reliable cookbook, I have made significant changes to the recipe over the years. The version below includes those changes.
Eggplant Rollatini with Capellini
Adapted very loosely from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
In my experience, it is best to use eggplants that are as long as possible. It is better to have slices that are too thick than those that are too thin. If in doubt, buy a little extra eggplant since there will no doubt be slices that don’t end up working out.
For the sauce:
1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 28 oz. cans whole Italian tomatoes, crushed with your hand,
Freshly ground black pepper
For the rollatini:
6oz. capellini or angel hair pasta
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup shredded provolone or mozzarella cheese
3 tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 tbsp. finely chopped fresh basil
3 lb. fresh eggplant
For the sauce: Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the onion and a healthy pinch of kosher salt and saute until softened, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and saute, stirring often, for 3 more minutes. Add the tomatoes and the juice left over in the can and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 30-40 minutes. (Can be made two days ahead. Cool completely, cover and refrigerate.)
For the eggplant:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the top (stem end) off each eggplant. Cut into thin slices – somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 inch. Don’t make them too thin or they will burn. Place the slices on baking sheets and drizzle each side with olive oil. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes per side. The eggplant should be staring to turn brown and beginning to soften when you decide to turn it over. Once done, remove slices to a rack to cool completely. (Can be made one day ahead. Stack the slices in a large container, cover, and refrigerate overnight.)
For the pasta:
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the capellini and cook, stirring frequently, until al dente – 2-3 minutes. Drain and immediately add the olive oil and cheeses. Stir well, until pasta is well coated with cheese. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using a 13 x 9 baking dish, spread 1 1/2 cups sauce over the bottom of the pan. Have the eggplant slices, the noodles, and the basil right in front of you. Place an eggplant slice on a work surface. Using your fingers, place a healthy pinch of noodles on the rounded end and sprinkle with a little bit of basil. Roll the eggplant up and over the noodles and place in the baking sheet, seam side down. Repeat with the remaining eggplant, noodles, and basil. Meanwhile, reheat the remaining sauce over low heat.
Cover the baking pan and cover with aluminum foil. (At this point the dish can be assembled one day ahead and refrigerated.) Place in the oven and bake until heated through – 20-25 minutes. Spoon warmed sauce over each portion.