Country Cook: Hearty Fare for a Winter’s Eve
Our Country Cook, Sandra Cranston-Corradini, serves up eggplant lasagna, chicken with lemon and fennel and chocolate volcano.
Versatile, inexpensive and available year-round, eggplant is a wonderful meat substitute. Also known as aubergine, it can be fried, stewed, stuffed, baked, broiled, pickled or made into a casserole for a hearty winter repast. A member of the nightshade family, along with peppers, tomatoes and potatoes, it is one of the few vegetables that should never be eaten raw. Though called a vegetable, it is actually a fruit, the berry of the plant.
Most of the eggplants available in Ontario are the dark purple variety. However, the colour, which can also be white, pink or chocolate, bears no influence on texture or taste. A round dot on the flower end indicates male and a dash identifies female. Originally male eggplants were preferred, but new breeding methods have produced plants with fewer seeds regardless of gender. Choose firm, glossy eggplants when shopping, and look for green caps. Eggplants similar in size but lighter in weight will contain fewer seeds.
Our first course consists of a delicious eggplant lasagna. We tend to prepare ours with a tomato and meat sauce, however the meat can easily be omitted. This makes an easy rechauffé or reheated dish that may be cooked a few days in advance.
Our entrée for winter is a marinated, baked, then broiled chicken, accompanied by roasted fennel. Fennel is related to celery and has a very delicate licorice taste. A source of phosphorous, calcium and potassium, fennel is also high in vitamin A.
The decadently rich chocolate dessert can be prepared using cocoa powder in place of the dark chocolates if they are not readily available. Just use 3 tablespoons of cocoa and 1 tablespoon of butter in place of each square of chocolate.
- 2 large eggplants
- 4 large eggs
- ½ c | 125 ml all purpose flour
- 4 c | 1 L fine dry breadcrumbs
- 2 tsp | 1o ml garlic powder salt
- ½ tsp | 2.5 ml pepper
- olive oil for frying
- 4 c | 1 L grated mozzarella
- 2 c | 5oo mg fresh grated
- Parmesano Reggiano
- 4 lb | 2 kg ripe, cored
- tomatoes or 2 large
- cans plum tomatoes
- 3 stalks celery
- 2 carrots
- 2 onions
- 4 large garlic cloves
- 2 tbsp | 3o ml butter
- 2 tbsp | 3o ml fresh,chopped parsley
- 1 tsp | 5 ml each, chopped basil and oregano
- splash red wine
- 2 cloves
- 1 small tin tomato paste
- 4 c | 1 L ground medium
- beef (optional)
Wash eggplant and remove the stem and calyx. Slice lengthwise into ¼” portions. Lay on a cookie sheet and lightly sprinkle with salt. Set aside for 15 minutes. In a shallow bowl, thoroughly mix the egg and flour. Mix the bread crumbs and seasonings in a separate bowl. Heat about ¼” oil in a large frying pan.
With paper towels, gently dab the moisture from the eggplants. Dip each slice into the egg batter and then the breadcrumb mixture and thoroughly coat each side. Fry over medium heat until the crumbs are a medium brown. Drain the slices on paper towels.
To make the tomato sauce, melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add finely chopped celery, carrot, onion and garlic. Cook to soften, but not brown (about 1o-15 minutes). Add the tomatoes and tomato paste. Add ground beef, if using. Bring to a simmer and add the red wine, garlic and herbs. Simmer for at least one hour and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add more water if sauce becomes too thick.
To assemble, place tomato sauce in the bottom of two 11″ x 7″ pans. Make a single layer of eggplant and cover it with a layer of mozzarella, repeat the layers then cover with a layer of parmesan. Continue layering to the top of the dish, finishing with a layer of tomato sauce. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in a preheated oven at 35o°F for 3o-45 minutes or until sauce is bubbling. Serves 12.
Chicken with Lemon and Fennel
- 2 chickens, halved
- 3 fennel bulbs
- 1 lemon
- 4 garlic cloves
- ½ c | 125 ml finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1 small onion finely chopped
- 3 tbsp | 45 ml Dijon mustard
- 2 tbsp | 3o ml lemon juice
- 3 tbsp | 45 ml olive oil
- salt and pepper
In a medium bowl, combine the oil, lemon juice, mustard and onion. Rub over the interior and exterior of the chickens and refrigerate in a pan for at least an hour. Place the chickens in a roasting pan, season with salt and pepper and bake at 35o°F for one hour.
Peel off the outer layer of the fennel bulbs and halve each bulb lengthways. Brush with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and add to the pan when the chicken has cooked for 3o minutes. When the chicken is fully cooked, place it under the broiler for about 8 minutes or until the skin is crisp.
Cut the chicken into smaller portions and serve with the fennel and leftover cooking juices. Garnish with lemon slices and parsley. Serves 8.
- 5 oz | 15o g semi-sweet baking chocolate
- 2 oz | 6o g extra dark or bitter chocolate
- 1 oz | 3o g dark chocolate
- ¾ c | 19o ml unsalted butter
- 5 large eggs
- ¾ c | 19o ml sugar
- ¾ c | 19o ml all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp | 2.5 ml vanilla
- pinch salt
Butter six 3″ ramekins, then dust with granulated sugar. In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate. Beat the eggs and sugar for 8-1o minutes, until the mixture is thick enough to form ribbons. Fold in the chocolate mixture, vanilla and then the flour and salt.
Place the ramekins on a tray and bake at 4oo°F for 15 minutes or until the sides of the batter are firm, but the interior is still a bit wobbly. Turn onto dessert plates and serve immediately. Serves 6.