This weekend flew by like most of the others. Aside for a fun evening spent with friends in San Francisco Saturday night, I spent most of my time at home focused on a fun, blog-related project (details coming soon) and the rest in the kitchen. I should really consider setting up a bed next to my stove. Some weekends it feels like I don’t do much else but cook.
This is not a complaint, mind you. I am finding more pleasure in blogging/cooking than ever (so many dishes I’d love to make). In fact, when I find myself with some free time, I seem to gravitate towards the kitchen wanting–no, needing–to cook. I can’t relax.
But, I may be letting some other activities fall by the wayside because of it. My husband has mentioned a few times that he misses riding our bikes together. Until the last couple of months, cycling was a big part of our time together. We used to log 150-200 miles a week on our bikes–all other activities revolved around that.
To be honest, I miss it, too, not to mention the exercise would help offset the uptick in baking these days. I have promised him that as soon as oak worm season is over in a few weeks (those little green worms that dangle from oak trees this time of year–can’t stand them and the bike routes here are lined with oak trees), I’ll be back in the saddle…literally.
Balance. I need to find balance.
To make up for my neglect and also to reward my husband for putting his skills with the power saw and power screwdriver to use in helping me with my project, I decided to prepare this simple lunch for him. Instead of going out or serving him leftovers after returning from his bike ride, I wanted him to have a meal he would enjoy. Penne is my husband’s pasta of choice and eggplants are a staple in our home. I decided to roast the eggplants to lend a bit more flavor to the dish but then I spotted the leftover shiitake mushrooms from a pot of soup I made a few days ago. Why not roast them, too, I thought. Almost everything gets a flavor boost from being roasted so I decided to give it a try.
The last bit of inspiration came from my morning round of visiting other food blogs. I have been following Market Manila for years, well before I started Lemons and Anchovies. One of his recent posts was of his version of Sambal Eggplant, apparently a popular southeast Asian dish. I am never without Sambal Oelek–I love it the way others love Sriracha–and I use it to brighten not only rice but also pasta dishes (I’ve also used it on my version of Huevos Rancheros). In this case, Marketman sautéed the eggplant with sambal so instead of just topping the finished dish with the latter like I normally do, I decided to substitute it for the chili flakes.
“Do you think you can make this dish exactly the same next time?”
This was my husband’s reaction and I have to admit that I agree wholeheartedly. I serve roasted eggplants about once a week so there was no surprise on taste here. But the shiitake mushrooms–oh, my! The quick-roasting lent such depth to their already meaty flavor. All they needed was a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper–the oven made them crisp and yes, more complex–what a huge umami boost! They were like pieces of fried bacon–I could not stop eating them right out of the oven. The sambal was also a great call. The chili paste doesn’t overpower the flavor of other ingredients it is combined with and here, the subtle kick was the perfect complement to the rest of this Asian-inspired pasta dish. At least in this dish, I’ve found balance.
**I’ve got a great giveaway coming soon–stay tuned!
- ½ - ¾ pound penne pasta
- 4½ ounces fresh shitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced (6-8 mushrooms)
- 2 eggplants, cubed
- 4 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
- ½ cup stock of your choice (or reserved pasta water)
- 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped (you can use any other fresh herb you like)
- 1 - 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 - 1½ teaspoons sambal
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- a splash or two, white balsamic vinegar (optional)
- To roast the eggplants and mushrooms, preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. In separate bowls, toss the eggplant cubes in olive oil, salt and pepper (and white balsamic vinegar, if using. I like to add this just for help with caramelization but you can omit). Do the same for the mushrooms in another bowl but without the vinegar. Be a bit more generous with the salt and olive oil here since the two absorb a lot of oil and the salt brings out their flavor. In separate baking sheets, arrange the eggplants and mushroom slices in a single layer. You can line your sheets with parchment paper to prevent sticking.
- Roast the mushrooms for about 7 minutes or until they are golden. Remove from the oven and set aside. The eggplants will need a bit more time, about 20-25 minutes total.
- To prepare the pasta, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook until al dente.
- While the pasta is cooking and when the eggplants are done, Sauté the garlic and chopped oregano over medium heat in a skillet. I like the garlic to have a more pronounced flavor here so I cooked it for about 3 minutes; just be careful so that it doesn't burn.
- After about three minutes, the garlic should be quite fragrant. Add the sambal. Try it with one teaspoon first. This will add some kick but the dish won't be hot. I used 1½ tablespoons to suit our taste. The sambal will sizzle and the oil will turn a reddish color. When it starts simmering, add the chicken stock (or pasta water) and lemon juice. When the mixture starts simmering again, add the mushrooms, eggplants and pasta. Turn off the heat. Toss everything together, plate and serve.