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vegetarian » digest LA
tuscan surprise

tuscan surprise

Okay, so the CSA didn’t last too long. Last week, I got more eggplant and I was so busy at work that by the time I looked in on the veggies to cook anything they were all rotten. I got frustrated and felt guilty that I had nothing I could think to do with eggplant so I quit the CSA, bought an eggplant and decided to conquer this problem.

Going through my recipe folder on Google Docs (boy, I wish I had Recipe Byte), I found my sister’s recipe for Tuscan Surprise. The surprise, she says, is that it tastes so good. The recipe is a CSA dream with eggplant, yellow peppers, and tomatoes… and surprise! It is delicious. I also got amazing italian sausage from the meat stand at The Farmer’s Market on Fairfax.

Joanna adapted this recipe from The Silver Spoon cookbook, which for some reason calls this hearty fall dish something like Summer Bean Salad. So, here, I happily present Joanna’s Tuscan Surprise:

Tuscan Surprise
named so because i was surprised it was so good.

adapted from the Silver Spoon cookbook to include sausage. Make it without for a vegan dish.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove
4 large or 6 small italian sausages (i prefer hot)
1 eggplant, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, halved, seeded and diced
2 fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
12 ounces canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
grated rind of 1/2 lemon
4 basil leaves, chopped
1 fresh flat leaf parsley leaf, chopped
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a pan. Add a clove of garlic (whole) and chopped Italian sausages and cook through.  Remove the sausage and discard the garlic.  Add the eggplant and bell pepper to the pan and cook over high heat for a few minutes, then add the tomatoes and beans, cover and cook for 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper and cook, uncovered, for a further 5 minutes.  Mix in the cooked sausage.  Remove the pan from the heat, transfer to a warm serving dish and sprinkle with the lemon rind, basil and parsley.  Mix well and serve.

Note from Michelle: as is typical of me, I left off the lemon rind. basil and parsley. Not sure what lemon rind adds here and I was too lazy to clip basil and parsley from my garden.

potato leek soup

Potato Leek Soup

To further my study of French cooking and because I never know what to make for dinner, I decided to make the first recipe in the first chapter of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, potato leek soup. Perfect, I love potato leek soup. I went to the grocery store with my list of ingredients. Hmmm… potatoes… leeks…. That can’t be right. I also got heavy cream and chicken broth, in case I missed a few steps.

It ends up, you make potato leek soup by simmering 1 part sliced leeks to 1 part of diced potatoes in water for an hour and then mashing them up. You can finish with heavy cream, but you can also just use butter. I thought it tasted great with neither, but since I bought heavy cream why let it go to waste? It also shocks me that I enjoyed a vegetarian soup. I always thought that soup can’t actually taste good without a meat stock base and this recipe could easily be vegan.

I can’t really say this is a pantry recipe because you have to have leeks on hand. Although I suspect that after a few more weeks of French cooking, I will always have shallots and leeks in my kitchen.

It is funny the types of things that irritate you about someone after living with them for years. It is like the more you love them, the more irritating they become. No, I am not about to badmouth my ex. Actually, I was talking about myself. I think the two things that drove James nuts the most were 1) I love using as many bowls as possible when cooking and 2) I always forget to salt food. Now I know these are both pretty unforgivable things. I think that growing up watching cooking shows with my dad, I loved all the tiny bowls filled with perfectly chopped veggies. I just never really thought about who has to wash all those bowls. And salt, well sorry mom, but you weren’t the best at salting food yourself.

For those reasons, Egg 63 with Ratatouille and Salt Glazed Potatoes is the best recipe for me to make. I “learned” this recipe when I took a cooking class a few weeks ago with Marcel Vigneron at Sur La Table. The reasons are that first of all, all of the vegetables in the ratatouille are diced (knife skillz, ding) and then cooked individually before cooking them all together for an hour. That means they have to wait in individual bowls for their turn in the pan. And the potatoes are cooked using a method (I forget the name) where you boil them in very salty water (like sea water) until all of the water is boiled away, leaving you with delicious salt-glazed potatoes. I can’t forget the salt in that recipe because it is a main ingredient. Egg 63 is a soft boiled egg cooked at 63 degrees celsius, which is supposed to be the best temperature to cook all the different bits in the egg. Without an immersion circulator, I had to rely on the old fashioned method of a thermometer, a stove, and cold water to regulate the temperature.

ratatouilleThree grueling hours later I had really delicious ratatouille, eggs with overcooked yolks and really really salty potatoes (some salt water ratio was way off).

Here is the finished product. I “plated” with the egg, but then took it off because it was terrible. The saltiness of the potatoes was really nice in the ratatouille, but I definitely have to fix the salt to water ratio next time.

cooking eggsFor egg 63, I would need an immersion circulator or a sous vide machine to even bother trying again. Granted, this candy thermometer technique was a pretty half-assed attempt to begin with. On the plus side, cooking sous vide requires a vacuum-sealing system, which appeals to my faux obsessive compulsive tendencies and love of gadgets. I can’t wait to vacuum seal everything.

Regarding my inability to remember salt, I bought the teeniest Le Creuset pot that they make and filled it with kosher salt. I keep it next to the stove. I like that it makes me feel like a real chef to grab a pinch of salt and throw it in the pan. Plus it is so cute, how could I ever forget salt again?


I recently spent the day at a gigantic software corporation for a conference. Besides sticking out like a sore thumb in my super cute orange striped tunic (aka the Michelle uniform), lunch was the big highlight of the day. Usually these types of events cater something easy like sandwiches, but not this unnamed gigantic software corporation. They served salad, rice pilaf, and a choice of chicken breast or hazelnut patty. What to do in this conundrum? Chicken breast is sure to be dry and bland, but hazelnut patty sounds strange and vegetarian. Always risk adverse and sensible, I took one of each option.

food plate

Hazelnut patty on top of chicken breast... yum!

First of all, what is the deal with rice pilaf? Am I supposed to like it? It seems like something invented just for airplane food and crappy catering. Am I missing some magical essential rice pilaf experience?

I took one bite of the chicken breast and ruled that guy out. It was a gigantic chicken breast too so I felt pretty wasteful. It is like my dad always jokes, “The food is terrible, but at least they give you a lot of it.”

The hazelnut patty, pictured on top with a blob of marinara, saved my day. It was actually kind of awesome. It was crunchy and hearty and tasted like food. I made some friends at the table talking about the lunch offering and then finished my meal with a slice from some sort of gigantic birthday cake. (Seriously, if their software was designed like their catering… oh wait.)

During the lunch break, they made an announcement for all the vegetarians that they were preparing more hazelnut patty. Either the patty was a huge hit or an awful lot of software nerds are becoming vegetarians.