Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Chez Panisse Pasta with Roasted Eggplant

One of my big resolutions for this year was that I would make either lunch or dinner a vegetarian meal. Not that I have anything against meat - hey, if you're on top of the food chain for the moment, might as well enjoy it, right? - but I find that in life, one of the most important things is balance, and this past year, and especially during the holidays, we haven't done a very good job with that when it comes to food.

And while we are on the subject of confessions and resolutions, I have to tell you another thing. I'm afraid you're going to laugh, but because I'm brave and you are a captive audience, I'll tell you anyway. Ever since I saw Weston's famous photographs, I've had a thing for vegetables. I think eggplant has sexy curves. I lust after the little curls of sweet peas. A really good tomato can make me do all sorts of bad, bad things. So I guess it just makes sense that sooner or later, I was going to run across Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Vegetables and also fall in love with it.

I'll warn you straight off the bat that there's nothing revolutionary about this pasta - you take some some spaghetti and throw it together with roasted eggplant, mushrooms and onions, and whoa, let's be really adventurous here and add some chopped tomatoes, feta cheese and cilantro. But I tell you, and please trust me on this, that you will not be able to stop eating it. Once you've put it all together, and you take that first bite of perfectly al dente wheat pasta that's slicked with a little good olive oil and sherry vinegar, and bite into the succulent, slightly salty chunks of mushrooms and eggplant, and the onions will crunch and the feta will obligingly melt on your tongue and the earthy smell of cilantro will top it all off... What I'm trying to say here is that you will really want some alone time with this pasta because it's good... like, "should I really be doing this? (yes)" good. Or so this prim and proper blogger has heard, of course.

Chez Panisse Pasta with Roasted Eggplant
(Alice Waters Chez Panisse Vegetables, my adaptation)

1/2 pound wheat pasta
1 large eggplant, or two smaller Japanese eggplants
1/2 lb white button mushrooms, quartered
1/2 red onion, finely diced (or 3/4 shallots, finely diced) (if using regular pasta, not wheat, use yellow onion)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (or can also use parsley)
A dash of sherry vinegar
1 cup diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese (I find that less is more here - also, if you are using regular pasta, not wheat, I would probably go with goat or ricotta cheese)
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the eggplant into 1/2 inch cubes and quarter the mushrooms. Toss this with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large bowl until coated (or just spray with an olive oil spray). Place the veggies on a roasting pan in a single layer, sprinkle all over with kosher salt, and roast for 25-30 or until they are soft.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook the pasta according to instructions on the box. Drain, but retain a few tablespoons of the water.

Heat a large skillet to medium. Pour in the other 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the onion and saute until it's soft and starting to color. Add the garlic, cook for about a minute until fragrant, and then deglaze the pan with a splash of sherry vinegar.

Add the eggplant and mushrooms to the skillet along with the diced tomatoes and the pasta water. Add the pasta (and if it's too dry, splash a little more olive oil on it) and season with salt and pepper. Stir in half the feta cheese and half the cilantro (or parsley). Divide between bowls and garnish with the rest of the feta and cilantro.


Dewi said...

Look at all of these photograph, they are impeccably beautiful. With ingredients like that, you won't need any other dish. Visually beautiful, and so delectable for sure.

Irene said...

Thank you, *blush* that's very nice of you to say.

Ash said...

You're photo's here are amazing!! and this dish looks divine too!

Elyse said...

This pasta looks divine! And that eggplant is downright sexy; yay for curves!! I live in Berkeley, and Chez Panisse is right down the street. However, it's pretty steep in terms of pricing, so I've not yet been. BUT, now that I have this awesome recipe, I can just bring the restaurant home to me!

brandin + kari said...

I made a similar resolution! I think eating vegetarian actually gets more interesting foods (especially vegetables) in you! Beautiful photos.

Irene said...

Elyse, but at least it's nice to be able to if you ever have the desire (aka deep pockets :)). I actually love knowing that cool chefs like Alice Waters make accessible food that we can all enjoy at home.

Vegetarian forces you to be more creative, which I like! I get into a routine with food sometimes, so I am the happiest when I have something staring at me and saying "use me!"

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

The combination of flavours works so well here!!

ChichaJo said...

Your photos are also inspiring me to eat more vegetables -- they are gorgeous! This pasta sounds wonderful...Although I enjoy meat I also love veggies :) I guess I just eat everything!

Muneeba said...

Ok, I need photography lessons from you ... if you have the time, PLZ email me and tell me how you do it!

Shari said...

You said it's not revolutionary but it sure does look delicious! Great photography as well!

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful pasta dish. I think when it comes to pasta I really like simple dishes too. I agree forget the meat and just add a few vegetables.

Irene said...

Thank you!

Bellini - it does! I was amazed at how much the subtle touches like onions and vinegar add. And feta cheese - cheese makes anything good in my humble opinion!

Jo - I eat everything as well :) But we eat so much meat sometimes (it's in our Russian culture, lol) that I have to remind myself that we are *omni*vores.

Shari, I felt kind of unsure about posting this at first because probably everyone has made a version of this at some point in time, but the combination of everything was so good that it overcame my doubts.

Chuck - me too! Except for pappardelle, which for some reason, I have to eat with a meat sauce. I like to call it my "quirky tastes" and my husband likes to roll his eyes and shake his head. :)

Muneeba - wow, thank you so much, that is very flattering, but I really don't do anything special! I just have my 50mm lens, my tripod and natural light. I don't even own any special "props" beyond what's in my kitchen naturally, like paper napkins and whatnot. The tripod is my favorite prop, it really helps me control the shot, especially in the afternoon when the light isn't as great.

Anonymous said...

I love the mushroom/spaghetti photo. My boyfriend surprised me when he told me he wouldn't mind more meatless meals. It's kind of a relief that I'm not obliged to supply a chunk of protein at every meal!

Anonymous said...

this is definitely my kind of pasta! Thanks for the recipe and nice photos you have here. :)

Anonymous said...

I came across your blog randomly last week and now I am officially hooked! I'm eating this dish and sipping on some wine as I type. It is so delicious and flavorful (and surprisingly very easy to make). Thank you for the recipe!!

Irene said...

Thank you for sharing that lovely image! I'm sitting in my office right now and just the thought of eating pasta and drinking wine is putting a huge smile on my face!

Anonymous said...

not to mention that eating vegetarian is often a LOT better for the environment, as it is for the dignity and health of the animals involved in food production

Anonymous said...

I came across this blog after searching for something to do with an egg plant that I just purchased. I've never cooked with egg plant before so I really was clueless....the funny thing is, my brother is a chef at Chez Panisse! He has worked there for quite a few years! I should have just called him if I wanted a Chez Panisse recipe! This looks great!!