Even in the Desert, You Can Get a Craving for Seafood

When you live about 1,000 miles from the coast, seafood is something exotic.  We know about shrimp and sometimes see live lobsters can be found in a tank at the grocery store.  We get salt cod and a few varieties of frozen “fresh” fish are good, but pretty mundane.  Now that we have a Whole Foods market, we see different varieties of seafood that I hope to learn how to cook someday. In the meantime, I fall back on the tried and true.  I do grill the occasional swordfish steak and I love to sear ahi tuna with a crust of crushed wasabi peas when I’m feeling exotic. I’m more likely to do a soup or stew or to try a version of baked cod.  I found a new baked cod recipe in an article on sheet pan suppers and, of course I had to try it and am happy to share it.  It was a recipe for four servings that I was able to reduce to one serving successfully in keeping with my new search for how to make one or two serving meals.  I’m including the full recipe below, but have added a couple of notes about my experience

Sheet pan Provençal Cod, Potatoes and String Beans fulfill a desert craving for seafood!

 

Provençal Cod, Potatoes and String Beans

 Ingredients:

1 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, thinly sliced

¼ cup plus 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp herbes de Provence, Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

8 oz yellow wax beans and/or green beans, trimmed

2 small tomatoes, diced

1/3 cup Kalamata olives, roughly chopped

2Tbsp fresh lemon juice

4 6-oz cod fillets (1 to ½ inch thick)

Chopped fresh parsley for topping

Method:

Put a rimmed baking sheet in the upper third of an oven and preheat to 475°. Combine potatoes, 2 Tbsp olive oil and ½ tsp herbes de Provence in a large bowl; season generously with salt and pepper.  In a separate bowl, combine the beans, 1 Tbsp oilive oil and the remaining ½ tsp herbes de Provence; season generously with salt and pepper.

Remove the hot baking sheet from the oven; add the potatoes in a single layer on one side of the pan and the beans on the other side.  Roast until the potatoes and browned and the beans are tender – about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the tomatoes, olives, remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil, the lemon juice. ½ tsp salt and pinch of pepper in a small bowl; set aside. Season the cod all over with salt.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven. If potatoes and beans are done, remove and keep warm. If not done, push to their sides leaving a space in the middle.  Place the cod in the middle of the pan and top with half of the tomato mixture. Roast until the cod is opaque – 10-12 minutes. Sprinkle the potatoes with parsley. Serve with the remaining tomato mixture.

   Notes: In my oven, the beans and potatoes were done at 20 minutes.  I left them on the the cod and the beans were a bit overdone by the time the cods was done. Check them while the cod is cooking, to be safe.

I could only find a long filet of cod with a narrow end. I folded the narrow end under the thick end sandwiching some of the olive and tomato mix in between.  It worked fine and was colorful and tasty.

This recipe reduced easily to one serving with a single cod filet and smaller portions of beans and potatoes.  I did the full recipe of the olive, tomato lemon mix and enjoyed what didn’t fit on the cod right out of the bowl with a spoon!

 

 

A Detour on Memory Lane

Remember the wedge salad from the late 50′ and early 70’s? A wedge of iceberg lettuce, that must have been a quarter of a head, drenched in creamy chunky bleu cheese dressing, and if you were lucky enough to be in the right restaurant, heavily sprinkled with crumbled crispy bacon. It still appears on the occasional menu.  When it does, I look for beef carpaccio to be there, too.  Creamy bleu cheese and delicately thin sliced raw lean beef! Forget the rest of the menu, these two appetizers become my meal, and no, you cannot have a taste!

I am addicted to food magazines and websites.  When I saw a new take on a wedge salad in one, I was up and off the the grocery store.  Actually it turned out to be two stores were needed to find all the ingredients.

My excitement was a grilled bok choi wedge salad.  One small to medium bok choi, split in half and spritzed with olive oil, then grilled over low heat until the leaves wilt and get a little char and the stem is warmed through, but still retains it crunch. I topped the bok choi with halved yellow grape tomatoes, thinly sliced raw ripe shishito peppers and marinated Peruvian peppers.  Then I drenched the salad with creamy bleu cheese dressing and lots of extra crumbles.  The salad was served with a small sirloin steak, grilled to 145 and tented to rest for five minutes. It was a perfect medium rare.  I wish I had sliced and photographed it, but I couldn’t wait do dig into the plate.

My standard three baby potatoes halved and grilled provided a bit of starch for the meal.  Because I am still working on my bag of shishito peppers, I grilled a few of the ripe ones.  Their caramelized sweetness was a great foil for the slight saltiness of the bleu cheese!

I cooked this on the grill last night after the temperature dropped to 100.

Grilled bok choi wedge salad with “sides” of beef sirloin, baby potatoes and grilled ripe shishito peppers.

Something New on the Plate!

Last fall, the Master Gardeners were looking at some new ideas to enhance the varieties of produce at their market garden. They were looking at eliminating some that were not the best for us such as okra which does’t respect our work and market day schedules.  It  grows too fast and gets woody before we can harvest and market it. For something different, I suggested shishito peppers (enunciate the name carefully). They are a  mild wrinkled green Asian snacking pepper that is usually sautéed. I found them at a local grocery store last year, tried them and really enjoyed them as something good and different! About one in ten has a kick which adds to the excitement of eating them. I have been tossing a few on the grill until they are tender and pick up a hint of char.

Last weekend, one of the garden co-chairs brought me a bag if shishitos to try.  It had both green peppers and some that had ripened to a bright red.  On the drive home, I had to taste one of each – a green one, with the expected not quite raw bitter flavor, rather than pepper heat, and a red one which was surprisingly sweet!

I grilled a couple of chicken thighs and a few green peppers. I also made a salad of mache greens, yellow cherry tomato slices and slices of red shishitos with a light vinaigrette.  It was a wonderful salad!

Visit Ardovino’s Farmers Market on Saturdays and give the shishitos a try. You’ll enjoy them green or red.

Grilled chicken thighs with grilled green shishito peppers and a salad mache rosettes yellow grape tomatoes and sliced raw ripe shishito peppers in a light vinaigrette. Dinner cooked on an outdoor gas grill after the temperature dropped below 100.

Still Playing with My Food

We made a late morning decision to stay home rather than fight the Mother’s Day crowds at restaurants today. That saved a couple of chairs for lucky Mom’s out there!

I had some ideas for putting together a late started meal that would look better planned, so I rushed off to the store for pork tenderloins, baby white potatoes and asparagus. Luckily for me, one of the stores had  sugar snap peas, so I was able make a spring vegetable salad side dish.  The potatoes became crispy smashed potatoes, an idea lifted from last night’s dinner.

I didn’t have a recipes for this meal, so I played around and came up with some good stuff!

Pork Tenderloin, Spring Vegetables and Crispy Smashed Potatoes

Ingredients and What I Did

Spring vegetables: asparagus, sugar snap peas, red onion boiled together for about 5 minutes until tender/crisp and bright green, then plunged into an ice bath, cooled, strained and patted dry. They were dressed with . red wine vinegar, salt and pepper and drizzled with olive oil.

Crispy Smashed Potatoes: baby red and white potatoes tossed with olive oil and salt and roasted in a 425º oven until done enough to pierce with a fork.  Take about 30 minutes. Halfway through, turn and make sure they are still covered with olive oil.  When you can pierce them, gently press them with a potato masher to flatten them to about a half inch high. Make sure the are still covered with olive oil.  Return to the oven for about 10 minutes, turn them and give them another 20 minutes too get good and crisp.  Remove from oven and let coo.

Pork Tenderloin with Mustard Sauce: I used a pack of two tenderloins so I’d have left overs.  Increase the oven temp to 450º.  Remove silver skin from the tenderloins carefully. Tuck thin end under tip for even cooking.

I combined smooth Dijon mustard, whole grain Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar and brown sugar adjusting ingredient volume one at a time until it tasted good. At a the end, I stirred in some smoked paprika for color and a hint of smokey flavor.  The tenderloins were basted well and put on a rack in a foil-lined baking pan popped them in the oven.  At 15 minutes, I checked their internal temperature with a meet thermometer, turnned them over and basted the underside.  Back in the oven for 20 minutes, another temperature check, a last turned over and light brush with olive oil to encourage browning. Back in the oven for 8 minutes.  One last temperature check and they had reached 145º.  Out of the oven and on to a platter, tented with foil to rest for five minutes.

The salad and potatoes were carefully tossed, then plated. I pulled the now dressed potatoes out and made the plating you see above.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with ingredients you know go together to do something like the mustard sauce. Mix the sugar and mustards and use the vinegar for balance and to thin the sauce a little.

Tomato Salad with Crispy Potatoes and Creamy Feta

It took some time to prep and cook, but it so worth the effort. This plate is two servings. I slipped a small steak on my plate to go with it.

My Master Gardener good neighbor brought me a bag of grape tomatoes and green tomatoes that will ripen in a few days.  Coincidentally, I had been looking at this tomato salad in the new issue of Sunset Magazine. Of course I had to give it a try. Red, green and yellow tomatoes were cut in slices, wedges and halves to make it interesting.  Some slivers of red onion gave it a gentle bite and oven roasted, smashed baby potatoes set it off well.  Those potatoes are destined to be a house favorite.  You can see a little of the base of creamy feta made by blending feta with buttermilk to get the desired creamy consistency.  A touch of sumac was just the right touch.

TOMATO SALAD WITH CRISPY POTATOES AND CREAMY FETA

 Serves 4 – 6;

Prep and cook 1-1/2 hours and worth it!

 Crispy Potatoes

Ingredients

1 lb. baby potatoes

About ½ tsp salt

About 1’2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Method

Preheat oven to 425°. Scrub and dry potatoes and heap on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with ½ tsp. salt and pour on ½ cup olive oil. Turn to coat well and spread in an even layer and roast until crisp – 25-30 minutes. Turn every 10 minutes or so to be sure they are evenly coated with oil.

Remove potatoes from oven and test with a fork, when soft enough to pierce, press with a potato masher to flatten them.  If needed season lightly with salt and drizzle with more oil, if needed. Return to oven and roast until browned and very crisp – another 20–25 minutes, turning over halfway through. Set aside to cool.

Creamy Feta

Ingredients

7 oz. feta, preferably sheep’s milk, crumbled to yield about 11/2 cups

1 to 4 Tbsp well-shaken 2% buttermilk

11/2 tsp. sumac (available at middle eastern groceries)

fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Method

While potatoes roast, make the feta sauce. In a food processor, blend feta a few seconds to break it down. With blade spinning, slowly add buttermilk to make the sauce thick and smooth as crème fraiche. Scrape sides and bottom of processor with a rubber spatula if necessary and blend just until smooth. Blend in sumac. Add salt and pepper to taste.

To Serve:

1/1/4 heirloom tomatoes cut into wedges and/or thick slices.

2 Tbsp thinly sliced red onion

1 Tbsp sherry vinegar

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1Tbsp flat-leaf parsley leaves and chervil leaves

¼ cup small to medium basil leaves

Extra-virgin olive oil

Assemble salad: In a large bowl, toss tomato pieces, red onion, red onion and crispy potatoes (include any oil left in pan) with vinegar.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Spread feta sauce on a large serving platter and arrange tomato and potato mixture on top. Shingle in herbs and finish with a drizzle of oil.

Boned trout… there’s a first time for everything!

Do you ever become the victim of a dramatic magazine photo and a beguiling recipe?

I consider finding a show-stopper a challenge so I have a throw-down between the magazine and me! Usually with good results.

Chard-Stuffed Trout With Charred Tomato Vinaigrette. The magazine photo challenged me!

The beguiling recipe called for butterflied boned trout. In visiting two markets, I found whole trout, heads and tails intact, and not boned. The other choice was flat filets. I thought and asked myself, how hard could it be?

I didn’t know what to do with the heads and tails at home, so my fishmonger removed them for me. He’s better equipped to dispose of trimmings like that than I.

I took the trout home and searched for a boning video.  YouTube has several and all are pretty much the same.  It was helpful to watch the video chef make a slice on either side of the spine and gently cut under it to remove it from head end to tail end.

She then carefully slipped her knife under the rib bones and cut a paper thin slice of flesh under them and carefully used the blade of the knife to lift them out. Kitchen tweezers helped remove a few pin bones that were left. That maneuver was repeated on the other side.

I was able to remove the spine just fine, but the rib bones were a little more challenging.  The were removed, but not as quickly or gracefully as the TV chef did hers.

The charred tomato vinaigrette and the stuffing took some prep time, but were worth it for the flavor.  I learned one lesson from charing the tomatoes.  I thought I’d loosened the  fond from the pan with a splash of water and add it to the blender. It turned my vinaigrette brown instead of pink like the original recipe’s. Ah, well, lessons learned.

The experience with boning fish was a good lesson. I’ll be prepared if I ever want to stuff a fish again.  the stuffing is bright and colorful and just might appear as a side dish one day. I will have to make the tomato vinaigrette again just to get the color right.

FYI, I only prepared two trout and it was not difficult to halve the recipe.

My chard-stuffed trout with an accidentally browned charred tomato vinaigrette. It was still delicious!

Chard-Stuffed Trout with Charred Tomato Vinaigrette

 The Vinaigrette

Ingredients

2 large tomatoes, cut into ½ inch slices

¼ cup fresh flat-leaved parsley leaves

2 Tbsp. capers, drained and rinsed

6 Tbsp. oilive oil, divided

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary

2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

2 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely divided

1/2 tsp. kosher salt, divided

3/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, divided

Method

Heat a large cast-iron pan or grill pan over high heat.

Add tomato slices to pan; cook 6 minutes on each side until well charred.

Place tomatoes in a blender. Add parsley, capers, ¼ cup olive oil, rosemary, juice, vinegar, garlic cloves, salt and pepper and blend until smooth.

 

The Stuffing

Ingredients

1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and sliced into thin strips

1 yellow bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and sliced into thin stripps

1 shallot, thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 bunch chard, leaves and top portions of stems thinly sliced

¼ cup chopped fresh basil

Method

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 Tbsp olive oil to pan. Add bell peppers, shallot, and sliced garlic cloves; sauté 4 minutes or until tender. Add chard; sauté 2 minutes or until chard is just wilted. Remove from heat, stir in chopped basil.

 

The Trout and Assembly

Ingredients

4 (6 oz.) butterflied boneless trout, heads and tails removed

¼ up pitted Niçoise olives

5 thyme springs

Preheat oven to 400° F. Spread tomato mixture in a bottom of a 9X13 inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Sprinkle olives over mixture and arrange thyme sprigs over mixture.

Sprinkle trout inside and out evenly with ¼ tsp. salt and1’2 tsp pepper. Place about ½ cup stuffing in each butterflied trout and fold halves back together. Reserve a little stuffing for garnish when plating.

Heat remaining Tbsp olive oil in large non-stick pan. Add 2 stuffed trout to pan; cook 2 minutes or until skin is golden brown. Turn trout over and cook another 2 minutes until skin is golden brown. Place browned trout on mixture in baking dish. Repeat browning on remaining two stuffed fish. Place baking dish in oven and bake at 400° for 12 minutes until trout is just cooked through.

Some memories just keep getting better

Something most of us grew up with was salmon croquettes.  Pan fried salmon, vegetable, herb and breadcrumb golden goodness with a big glob of tartar sauce to smear on them. It was simple goodness way back when salmon was much less than today’s $5.00 a can!

Several years ago, I took friends to a very nice, but sadly now defunct, restaurant, to celebrate their engagement. They are good, sweet people from a small Texas town that boasts all of two cafes.  He gets to travel in his job and has been to some nice places. Her job keeps her pretty much in their town and her dining experiences are limited. It was my pleasure to provide a big city-treat.

I suggested a grilled salmon dish with a pineapple and jalapeño sauce. The young lady was impressed with the restaurant and the menu. She enjoyed the salmon, but the sauce was a little spicy for her.  She finally said, “My, that was good! I ain’t never had salmon excep’ in croquettes before.”  I sometimes use those very words when enjoying new salmon recipes at home or on the town.  It preserves a good memory of a very nice evening reminds me how it was growing up in a small town.

I thought of  them and that night when I ran across a recipe for salmon cakes and arugula salad.  It sounded good and decided to give it a try.  No celery and chopped onion and bread crumbs croquettes in this one.  And no iceberg lettuce and tomato salad. These cakes had gone to town!

Salmon cakes and arugula salad with yogurt dill sauce, its like a croquette gone to town.

 

SALMON CAKES AND ARUGULA SALAD
INGREDIENTS
20 ounces canned skinless, boneless pink salmon
1/4 cup whole-wheat panko breadcrumbs
2 tbsp plus 1 1/2 tsp grainy mustard, divided
2 tbsp light mayonnaise
1½ tbsp chopped dill, divided
1 tbsp plus 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped shallot
2 tsp capers, chopped
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/4 cup 2-percent-fat Greek yogurt
2 tbsp lemon juice, divided
2 cups baby arugula
Lemon wedges, for serving
METHOD
Heat oven to 400°. Drain salmon and flake into a bowl; stir in breadcrumbs, 2 tablespoons mustard, mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon dill, 1 tablespoon shallot and capers until well combined.
Form into 8 patties (1/3 cup each); let rest 5 minutes. In a large, ovensafe pan over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon oil; cook patties until golden brown, 4 minutes per side. Transfer to oven and bake until hot to the touch, 10 to 12 minutes. In a bowl, combine yogurt, 1 tbsp lemon juice and remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons mustard, 1/2 tablespoon dill and 1/2 teaspoon shallot; season with salt and black pepper.
Toss arugula with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Serve salmon cakes with yogurt sauce, arugula salad and lemon wedges.Note: I used a 14 ounce can of salmon to make four cakes. I reduced the ingredients for the cakes by an eyeballed 15 – 20% and they turned out fine.

Caldo de Pescado

The lenten season is over. My favorite seasonal bread pudding, capirotada, is off the menu until next year in local Mexican restaurants. Fortunately, many offer Caldo de Pescado, (fish soup) year ’round so all is not lost.

Last night was chilly and called for a Mexican style fish soup. I didn’t want to go out to a restaurant. How difficult could it be, I figured, so it was a quick trip to the store and back to the kitchen to play with my food!

Jim’s fish soup with cod, shrimp, vegetables, jalapeños and hot sauce. Just right for a cool and windy evening.

Caldo de Pescado al Jim

Ingredients to play with

For starters, there are plastic packets of ready cut vegetables for caldo in most of our groceries.  I picked up one that had a wedge of cabbage, two carrots, two small potatoes, a shucked ear of corn, a small onion, a Mexican gray squash, half a turnip, a lemon and two jalapeños.  I picked up another ear of corn and two small potatoes to be sure there was enough. Good thing I did; the corn in the package had started to dry up and one potato was past its prime. That spur of the moment decision saved the day.

Better than Bullion cooking bases are a staple in my pantry and refrigerator.  They are thick pastes reduced from meats and vegetables.  While salty, they are not as salty as bullion cubes and ever so much better.  They come as beef, chicken, vegetable and fish bases and are the company is starting to offer lower sodium versions.

I used a good size dutch oven about 3/4 full of water and roughly three tables spoons of  fish base for starters.  That’s easier than the tradition Mexican recipes calling for boiling grouper heads and bones to make a broth. Besides, being from El Paso, it wouldn’t know a grouper if I met one..

One Mexican thing was boiling the potatoes and carrots separately because they are starchy and can cloud the water.  The other vegetables went into the dutch oven for about 20 minutes. As the veggies were got tender, I added a pound of  bite size chunks pacific cod for an additional 10 minutes.  Pacific cod is firm yet tender and not too fishy tasting. It is still reasonably priced.  Next came a half pound of raw shrimp peeled and tails clipped before going into the soup.  A can of diced tomatoes (non-traditional ingredient) rounded out the flavors of the broth.  Just before serving, the potatoes and carrots went into the big pot and it was all stirred together.

On the side, lemon wedges, a seeded and sliced jalapeño and a bottle of Franks Red Hot Sauce stood by to liven things up.

This first-time fish soup goes on the “Let’s have it again” list.

 

Lemon-Roasted Salmon

Have you ever wondered about the Active Times on recipes?  I think the times listed must be for people who have a kitchen staff at a sous chef and a prep line.  I allow at least twice the time under Active Time for my prep work.  I think my knife skills are pretty good, but somehow prep just takes time with all the washing, trimming, peeling, chopping and measuring.  It is worth the work when a finished recipe tastes as good as it reads. And, when all the work with sharp things is finished, the cook should be rewarded with a cocktail sipped as the dish cooks!

Such was the case with Lemon-Roasted Salmon topping a salad with a lemon and dill vinaigrette  that took bout 45 minutes of active prep and closer to 30 minutes of cooking time that the 20 minute Active Time and 20 Minute cooking time listed.

The recipe suggested escarole, but I did not find it in either of the two stores I visited.  I used curly green leaf lettuce and maché rosettes as my salad base.  The maché had just enough bite to complement the other flavors of the dish.

Lemon-Roasted Salmon with asparagus, new potatoes, roasted orange bell peppers on a bed of leaf lettuce and maché and topped with crumbled feta and dill fronds. So worth the prep time it took!

LEMON-ROASTED SALMON WITH SPRING VEGETABLES

YIELD: Serves 4

ACTIVE TIME: 20 minutes TOTAL TIME: 40 minutes

INGREDIENTS

For the salmon:

1 1/2 pounds skinless salmon fillet

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon finely chopped oregano

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 ounces roasted bell peppers from a jar, thinly sliced

For the salad:

1/2 pound small new potatoes, halved

1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound), trimmed

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon honey

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup finely chopped dill, plus sprigs for serving

1/2 head of escarole, coarsely chopped (about 8 cups)

3 ounces feta, crumbled

METHOD

Cook the salmon:

Preheat oven to 300°F.

Place salmon in a baking dish and rub with lemon zest, oregano, salt, and pepper on all sides, then coat with oil. Arrange peppers around salmon.

Bake until salmon is firm but still pink in the center, about 20 minutes (if you prefer salmon more well done, cook an additional 5 minutes).

Meanwhile, make the salad:

Set a steamer basket in a large pot filled with 2″ water. Cover pot and bring water to a boil.  Add potatoes, cover, and steam until tender, 10–12 minutes. Add asparagus to potatoes, cover, and steam until crisp-tender, 3–5 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk oil, lemon juice, honey, salt, pepper, and 1/4 cup dill in a small bowl or measuring cup. Toss escarole with half of the dressing in a large bowl, then transfer to a serving platter.

Toss potatoes and asparagus with remaining dressing in same bowl, then arrange over escarole. Flake salmon into large pieces and arrange on platter. Top with feta, peppers, and dill sprigs.

Hard to Spell Dinner

Sometimes, I get the urge for things that are easy to make, yet hard to spell.  They are inspired by Greek, Italian and French dishes I’ve enjoyed. And they have z’s and double l’s and i’s that must be remembered and put in the right order. The other day, I saw a lamb frittata recipe online and bought some ground lamb, thinking I’d make it.  I decided to go another direction because I didn’t want to buy four packs of fresh herbs that together, cost more than the lamb.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to used them up before they went beyond wilt in the crisper.  Instead, I decided to make stuffed lamb meatballs with an eggplant dish on pasta. Of course, I didn’t have a recipe, but that seldom deters me.

Stuffed lamb meatballs with tzatziki sauce, ratatouille and bucatini with grated parmesan, a hard to spell dinner.

Stuffed Lamb Meatballs with a Ratatouille and Bucatini

INGREDIENTS

Meatball Sauce: about a half cup Greek yogurt, one snacking cucumber, grated and squeezed in paper towels to reduce moisture content and chopped mint, minced garlic and chopped lemon zest. A little salt.

Meatballs: half a pound of ground lamb, a handful of panko crumbs, one beaten egg, and chopped mint, lemon zest, minced garlic in quantities that looks right on the cutting board.

One mozzarella cheese stick cut into six pieces. a little salt and pepper.

Eggplant: one medium to small eggplant, cut into one-inch cubes, two Roma tomatoes,  one small onion, coarsely chopped and two or three minced garlic cloves.  Some olive oil. A little salt.

Pasta: two servings bucatini pasta.  I measure the pasta by measuring enough to fill the circle made by my thumb and forefinger.  Works for spaghetti, fettuccine and bucatini, with a few extra bucatini noodles added because they are thick and take up more room in my measurer.

METHOD

Meatball Sauce: Stir chopped, minced and grated ingredients into yogurt and let sit while you cook everything else. Before serving, taste and adjust salt, if needed. Because the sauce has cucumber in it, you could call it tzatziki.

Meatballs: Beat egg in medium bowl, stir in panko, herbs and zest.  Add pinches of ground lamb and squish it all together with your fingers until well mixed.  Shape into six mostly same sized meatballs.  Make an indentation in each meat ball with a finger and insert one piece of the mozzarella.  That warm bit of cheese in the middle make the meatballs special! Cover the cheese and roll the ball round again.  Brown on all sides in a deep skillet. Cover and let cook until an internal temperature of 145º – 150º.  Remove from pan and cover while they rest.

Eggplant:  Put a healthy splash of olive oil in a deep saucepan.  Soften eggplant a little in the oil.  Add onion and garlic and a little more oil an let the onion begin to soften.  Eggplant will take up the oil, so keep and eye on it all the first few minutes.  Quarter the tomatoes and squeeze the quarters into the pan with the other vegetables. Tear juiced tomatoes with your fingers and add to pan.  Add a little water and simmer until vegetables are tender.  Season with salt and pepper when cooked.  If you added chopped red and green bell peppers and squash, you could call this Ratatouille.

Pasta:  Boil pasta in salted water per package directions. Don’t overcook the pasta.  Save about a cup of pasta water and drain off the rest.  I return the drained pasta to the empty pot, cover it and keep it warm until serving.  A quick swirl with the reserved pasta water refreshes the pasta. Drain again before serving.