Evidence abounds for pizza as the ‘perfect food’

Pizza has enjoyed a lot of attention from food writers over the past month or so. As one article put it, pizza is in many ways the “perfect” food.

Conveying all the main food groups in a single dish, pizza also is the great equalizer: beloved of gourmets and fast-food fans alike. But the most satisfying pizzas, as today’s food section acknowledged, are simple. Just a few ingredients, thoughtfully chosen, come off so much better than a smorgasbord.

This blog has mentioned pizza no fewer than 70 times over the past nine years and posted dozens of recipes. So I’m eager to expand on recent suggestions, having many times mused that there’s hardly a food that doesn’t go on pizza.

That brings me to broccoli, one of the few ingredients that I’ve averred over the years has no place on pizza. But the Chicago Tribune’s pairing of lightly steamed broccoli rabe and sausage could convince me otherwise. My preferred companion to sausage, however, remains thinly sliced eggplant, which soaks up all the sausage grease to tender, savory effect.

Blue cheese and Kalamata olives are among my go-to pizza toppings — just not together, as the Tribune recommended. Each is very salty and needs a sweet counterpart. Sun-dried tomatoes are perfect partners with the olives while fig jam, mentioned in a previous post, is a surprising foil to blue cheese when applied as a sauce.

And lest anyone overlook pesto and cherry tomatoes, the Tribune offered that up too. While both the season’s basil and tomatoes hold out, here are two more variations to consider, courtesy of Tribune News Service.

Tribune News Service photo

Although par- or prebaked pizza crusts could be used, prepared dough available in grocers’ cooler and freezer cases, or from local pizzerias, adds just a couple of minutes to the process but yields vastly superior results. My favorite is Bread Stop brand dough, made in Eugene and sold at Medford’s Food 4 Less. The only sticking point is the necessity of a pizza peelfor transferring your pie to the oven.

Artichoke-Pesto Pizza

Heat oven to 450 F.

Spread 1/4 cup pesto (homemade or prepared) thinly over a 9-inch par-baked pizza crust or unbaked dough. Scatter 1 (6-ounce) jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained, evenly over top; sprinkle with 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts. Cover with 1 cup shredded mozzarella.

Bake pizza in preheated oven until crust’s bottom is golden and crisp and cheese has melted, for 7 to 10 minutes. Makes 2 servings.

 

 

Tribune News Service photo


Cherry Tomato-Walnut Pizza

Heat oven to 450 F.

Brush an unseasoned, prebaked (12-inch) pizza crust or unbaked dough with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Scatter 2 cups baby spinach leaves over crust. Top with 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved, and ¾ cup chopped walnuts. Season with 1 1/2 teaspoons herbes de Provence and salt and pepper to taste. Top with 8 ounces shredded mozzarella.

Bake pizza in preheated oven, for 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before slicing. Makes 4 servings.

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Small eggplants rival squash for stuffing status

Southern Oregon’s Indian summer lived up to its reputation for the visit of my dear friend who often misses the region’s weather.

Too bad my garden didn’t do the same. Not a single ripe tomato could I procure for a care package to accompany her home.

Fortunately, she picked plenty of summer squash, chilies, cucumbers and collard greens. Although I questioned her appetite for zucchini, she swore that four large squash wouldn’t go to waste. I foresee stuffed zucchini in her future.

And if there had been more eggplants small enough to suggest halving lengthwise, rather than slicing, she could stuff those too. While halving and roasting eggplants for baba ghanoush is an annual exercise, the idea of stuffing them like squash never occurred to me, until I encountered this recipe from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Stuffed Mini Eggplants evokes both Greek moussaka with its bechamel sauce and an Indian approach to harmonizing various vegetables in a single dish. I could effortlessly adapt it to collards or kale instead of cabbage and garden chilies, rather than mini peppers.

Tribune News Service photo

Stuffed Mini Eggplants

6 cabbage leaves, finely shredded

1 large carrot, julienned

Handful of green beans, trimmed and finely cut

5 mini eggplants

5 teaspoons vegetable oil

Salt to taste, divided

Freshly ground black pepper, divided

2 tablespoons butter

1 large shallot, peeled and finely chopped

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

3 tablespoons breadcrumbs

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

5 mini peppers, halved lengthwise

2 tablespoons peas

Heat oven to 350 F.

Microwave the cabbage, carrot and beans for about 5 minutes or until tender.

Cut the eggplants lengthwise in half; scoop out pulp. Brush outside and inside of eggplants with the oil. Set aside.

Add eggplant pulp to vegetables, then season lightly with some of the salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, then add the shallot. Cook, stirring, until shallot is softened, for about 3 minutes.

Stir in the flour, and continue stirring for about 3 minutes until smooth. Whisk in the milk and add salt and pepper, continuing to stir until sauce thickens and loses its raw flour taste.

Combine sauce and vegetables; gently mix together.

Fill eggplants with vegetable mixture. Top with the breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese.

Arrange eggplants in a baking tray lined with foil and bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes or until tender and tops are golden-brown.

Garnish with the peppers and dot with the peas.

Makes 5 servings.

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Relish freezing this classic tomato-eggplant dish

Canning home-grown tomatoes has taken a backseat in the past couple of years to freezing.

Starting when we have too many to consume fresh, or give away, my mother-in-law starts to freeze tomatoes whole. It’s a convenient alternative to canning because very little prep or time is required. Firmer paste and Roma tomato varieties are ideal because they release less water, and their skins fall off, when thawed for soups, stews and sauces.

But sauce also is lovely to pull from the freezer as the clock ticks down to dinnertime. A quart-sized, resealable, plastic bag of sauce thaws in warm water in nearly no time. Boiled down even further, tomato essence can be captured, and frozen, as paste. We even play it safe and freeze our dried tomatoes, the subject of this blog’s previous post.

Add a dozen or so jars of pesto, several bags of smoked and roasted chilies and a few packages of corn kernels cut fresh from the cob, and we’ve extended the garden’s bounty well into the cooler months. There’s one item, however, that I consider the culmination of our gardening efforts. It also freezes extremely well for an impromptu appetizer on fresh-baked bread when we’re craving the fruits of warmer weather.

Caponata is a relish that accents eggplant, tomatoes and onion with capers and olives, all held in thrall by a bit of vinegar. I posted a stream-of-consciousness explanation of the process back in 2009. And as I mentioned then, this is a forgiving dish, reliant more on proper proportions than a precise recipe.

I recently ran across this version and likely will adopt its inclusion of celery, which we also have in the garden. I probably won’t sacrifice some of our tomato sauce to this formula but rather would peel and chop up a juicy beefsteak that will melt into sauce within minutes.

Tribune News Service photo


Caponata

2 pounds small, firm eggplant cut into 3/4-inch cubes

Fine sea salt, as needed

Vegetable oil, for frying

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup olive oil

1 onion, peeled and chopped

3 stalks celery, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch curls

1 cup tomato sauce

1 1/4 cups meaty green olives, pitted and coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and patted dry

3 tablespoons sugar

4 to 6 tablespoons white-wine vinegar

3 tablespoons coarsely chopped, fresh, flat-leaf parsley

Toss the eggplant cubes with some of the salt. Heap into a colander set over a bowl. Set a plate on top and weight it down with something heavy. Let drain for 1 hour. Pat dry.

Heat 3 tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. When oil is shimmering, add one-third of eggplant; do not crowd. Fry, stirring now and then, until cubes are browned (adjusting heat so they don’t scorch), for about 4 minutes. Drain on paper or kitchen towels. Season to taste with the pepper. Repeat, adding oil as needed, frying eggplant and seasoning with pepper in 2 more batches.

Wipe any remaining vegetable oil out of skillet. Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Tumble in the onion and cook, stirring often, until golden-brown, for about 5 minutes. Stir in the celery; cook until just beginning to soften, for about 5 minutes. Pour in the tomato sauce; simmer for 5 minutes. Add the olives, capers, sugar and 4 tablespoons vinegar. Simmer for 5 minutes to allow flavors to mingle and sauce to thicken.

Add fried eggplant and the parsley; stir to coat. Taste and add more salt, sugar or vinegar if you like. Cook just until eggplant is heated through. Remove pan from heat. Let cool completely.

Serve on crostini, as a side to roast chicken, grilled lamb or sausages. Or top with an egg for a simple meal. Leftover caponata keeps for at least 1 week, refrigerated.

Makes about 6 cups.

Adapted by the Chicago Tribune from “Preserving Italy” by Domenica Marchetti.

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Skip sun-drying and oven-roast those tomatoes

Safely sun-drying tomatoes, like canning salsa, can be fraught with pitfalls even for seasoned cooks.

As this month’s Oregon Healthy Living article explained, actual sun-drying is difficult to achieve without a stretch of hot days of low humidity, which are pretty much past. The food also must be screened from insects, transferred indoors at night and still frozen for at least 48 hours to kill larvae and microorganisms. Meanwhile, drying then freezing plays havoc with tomatoes’ texture, particularly if the ultimate goal is to pack them in oil.

Better to confine tomatoes to an electric dehydrator, or an oven that can maintain a temperature low enough to keep tomatoes from getting too toasty while drying out. My oven, which is a convection model, has a setting specifically for drying and yields slightly better results than in a conventional oven because the fan keeps air moving.

Or just stop fussing over temperature, humidity and air flow and use your oven the way it was intended to roast a few batches of tomatoes. They won’t keep as long as fully dehydrated tomatoes. But these slightly caramelized morsels probably won’t stick around that long. Submerge them in olive oil and use as a topping for bruschetta or crostini, as a sauce for grilled or sautéed fish or as a flavor booster for soups and stews. Be sure to store them in the refrigerator.

Tribune News Service photo


Oven-Roasted Tomatoes in Oil

2 1/2 pounds ripe Roma (plum) tomatoes, about 10 large

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to cover

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

A few fresh thyme sprigs and/or crushed fennel seeds (optional)

Preheat oven to 275 F.

Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and arrange them on a large rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Drizzle the olive oil over tomatoes and season with the salt and a generous grinding of pepper. Scatter the thyme and fennel seeds on top, if using.

Slow-roast tomatoes until they are partially collapsed, crinkled and somewhat dried out, but still soft and juicy, even a little caramelized, for about 3 hours. Be sure to check on them from time to time to make sure they are cooking evenly and are not developing any scorched spots. Rotate pan if necessary for even cooking. Let roasted tomatoes cool completely.

Pack tomatoes into a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Pour in enough olive oil to cover them and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 months. As you use the tomatoes, top off those in the jar with oil to keep them covered.

Makes 1 pint.

Recipe adapted by Tribune News Service from “Preserving Italy,” by Domenica Marchetti. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016).

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Stick to tested recipes for pantry-stable salsas

Fresh salsas of the sort featured in this week’s A la Carte will headline the annual Eat Local Celebration.

Locally grown ingredients will dictate the direction of entries in the Sept. 17 Salsa Festival & Showdown. Beyond that requirement, along with the mandate that salsas are fresh, not cooked, just about anything goes.

That’s a far cry from making salsas to preserve for the pantry. Master Food Preservers caution every canning season against deviating from tested salsa recipes. Many of the essential ingredients, such as garlic, are prime breeding grounds for botulism, one of the most dangerous forms of foodborne illness that thrives in low-acid environments.

Give in to those temptations to add more garlic, onion and chilies, and you’ve cooked up a recipe for potentially dangerous salsa. Using a hotter variety of chili, rather than increasing quantities, is one work-around that keeps salsa safe for water-bath canning.

Here’s a recipe to try while chilies and tomatoes are abundant. It requires basic canning equipment and the restraint to adhere to its instructions.

Tribune News Service photo

Charred Tomato and Chili Salsa

6 pounds plum tomatoes, cored and halved lengthwise

8 ounces red jalapeño chilies (about 10 small), stemmed and halved lengthwise

2 ounces garlic (about 12 cloves), peeled

1 pound onions (about 2 small), peeled and quartered

1 cup cider vinegar (5-percent acidity)

1 tablespoon salt, or more to taste

2 tablespoons sugar

Wash 5 pint canning jars, lids and screw bands in warm, soapy water. Rinse. Set aside. Place rack in bottom of a canning kettle. Place jars on top of rack. Fill canner with water until jars are covered by about 1 inch. Bring water to a simmer.

Preheat broiler to high and set a rack about 4 inches from heating element. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Working in batches, put the tomatoes, cut-sides down, on prepared baking sheet and broil in oven for about 10 minutes, until skin is blistered and black in places. Put tomatoes in a large bowl and set aside. Broil the chilies, garlic and onions until blackened.

When tomatoes are cool enough to handle, pull off skins and return only charred bits to bowl. In three batches, put all broiled vegetables in a blender and pulse until just coarsely chopped; transfer to a wide, 6- to 8-quart preserving pan and add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes.

Using a jar lifter, remove hot jars from canning kettle, carefully pouring water from each back into pot, and place them upright on a folded towel.

Spoon hot salsa into hot jars, leaving ½ inch head space. Use a damp paper towel to wipe jar rims, then put a flat lid and ring on each jar, adjusting ring so it’s just finger-tight.

Return jars to water in canning kettle, making sure water covers jars by at least 1 inch.

Bring to a boil and boil for 40 minutes to process. Remove jars to a folded towel and do not disturb for 12 hours. After 1 hour, check that lids have sealed by pressing down on center of each; if it can be pushed down, it hasn’t sealed and jar should be refrigerated immediately. Label sealed jars and store.

Makes 5 pint jars.

Recipe from “Canning for a New Generation,” by Liana Krissoff (Abrams, 2016).

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Summer staple has spot on back-to-school menus

Watermelon is an icon of summer. Yet even as the leaves start to turn and kids head back to school, locally grown melons recall warmer, more carefree days.

Seven Oaks Farm is one of the primary sources locally. Owner Doreen Bradshaw pledged unusual melons, among other items of produce, for a farm-to-table dinner planned for next Tuesday, Sept. 13, at Southern Oregon Research & Extension Center. The event has sold out since Wednesday’s feature in A la Carte.

Raising melon’s gourmet profile is within reach for the home cook, however. Pairing sweet and salty flavors is the first step in this recipe, courtesy of Tribune News Service. Finishing with a balsamic glaze sets this version of watermelon-feta salad apart from others I’ve seen.

Tribune News Service photo

Watermelon Salad With Cucumber, Feta and Mint

3 1/2 cups chilled, seedless watermelon cubes (cut into bite-sized pieces)

1 medium English cucumber, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch pieces

2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh mint leaves

3 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese

2 to 3 tablespoons balsamic glaze (recipe follows; may use store-bought, if available)

Arrange the watermelon evenly on a medium platter with short sides. Scatter the cucumber and mint evenly over watermelon. Sprinkle with the feta cheese. Drizzle with the balsamic glaze and serve immediately.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

BALSAMIC GLAZE: In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup balsamic vinegar and 2 tablespoons brown sugar or honey to a low boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer about 20 to 30 minutes or until the mixture is reduced by half. Cool. Cover and store in refrigerator. This also is excellent as a glaze on grilled salmon or in salad dressings. Bottled balsamic glaze is stocked by vinegars in grocery stores.

Recipe developed for The Kansas City Star by professional home economists Kathy Moore and Roxanne Wyss.

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Had your fill of sweet corn? Combine it in fillings

It wouldn’t be summer without sweet corn and, once we’ve had our fill of munching it off the cob, recipes for the season’s remainder.

Longtime columnist Jan Roberts-Dominguez acknowledged as much in this week’s A la Carte. Her recipe for corn vinaigrette, in particular, is one I plan to try with ears of corn that just don’t make the cut for on-the-cob presentation.

For the first time since I started gardening with my mother-in-law about a decade ago, we’re growing corn. She previously said the crop took too much space, too much water and feeds too heavily on the soil. And besides, 7 Oaks Farm is fairly close.

But over the years, she hankered for a variety that she couldn’t purchase locally. So four tidy rows of corn occupy one end of our garden for this year, at least.

Corn, of course, doesn’t produce that many edible parts compared with the inedible ones. So we’ve contented ourselves with an ear here and there, usually cut off the cob to augment taco filling, succotash and last night’s creamy polenta. We’ll probably harvest enough at once in the next few weeks for one indulgent side dish of grilled corn on the cob.

Until then, and afterward, I’ll keep combining corn with the rest of what’s in the garden. This empanada recipe, if scaled back, would fill the bill nicely. Elotes, mentioned in a previous post, is popular Mexican street food. If you’re corn-rich, these also would be handy stashed away in the freezer.

Tribune News Service photo

Elotes-Inspired Empanada Filling

1 tablespoon butter

1 leek, dark-green leaves trimmed and discarded, white and light-green parts chopped

1 teaspoon minced garlic

3 poblano peppers, seeded and divided

2 serrano peppers, seeded and divided

4 ears of corn, grilled, kernels cut from cobs

1 zucchini, sliced into thin rounds

1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut in small dice

1 teaspoon cumin

Salt and pepper, to taste

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup vegetable stock

Heat the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat until melted; add the leek and garlic. Cook until translucent. Cut 1 each of the poblano and serrano peppers into small dice. Add them to skillet, along with the corn, zucchini, bell pepper, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. Saute until fragrant.

In a separate pan, over medium heat, combine the cream and stock. Chop remaining 2 pobalano peppers and 1 serrano pepper add to pan; season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook until cream reduces by one-quarter. Stir well. Add to corn mixture. Cook until heated through; serve as is, or cool and use as an empanada filling. Leftovers make a great salad or side dish.

Makes 4 side-dish servings or enough filling for 32 empanadas.

From Tania Merlos, owner of Tomate Fresh Kitchen in Evanston.

 

Empanada Dough

3 cups flour, plus extra for rolling

1/3 cup lard or 6 tablespoons unsalted butter

3/4 teaspoon salt

About 3/4 cup very warm tap water

Pour the flour into a large bowl. Work in the fat with your fingers until homogenous. Dissolve the salt in the hot water; work it into flour mixture, creating a medium-stiff dough. Knead just enough to bring dough together.

Divide dough into 16 portions, roll each into a ball, set on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and let rest for at least 30 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out a ball of dough into a 5-inch-diameter circle. Lightly brush perimeter with water. Add about 3 tablespoons of filling on 1 side. Fold uncovered side over filling, expelling as much air as possible; press edges together. Place empanada on a baking sheet. Seal edges together with tines of a fork. Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake in a 400-degree oven, for 15 to 20 minutes. Or, fry in 350-degree oil until deep golden, for about 4 to 5 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels before serving.

Makes enough for 16 empanadas.

Adapted by Tribune News Service from chef and restaurateur Rick Bayless’ empanadas de picadillo recipe.

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Eggplant Parmesan done right is worth the wait

August’s arrival simplifies things for the food gardener. Water well and faithfully, preferably early in the day. Then pick as if your very life depends on it.

I’ve harvested enough cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, basil and beans in the past two weeks to share with at least eight other households. The only item my friends haven’t reaped in large quantities is eggplant. Reposing this year in a shadier spot, the Japanese and globe varieties have taken their sweet time while almost the entire month has passed without a household favorite dinner: eggplant Parmesan.

This blog has made several mentions of the classic, comfort-food dish over the years. But I’ve never posted an actual eggplant Parmesan recipe. My own is the product of observation, intuition and demonstration to several fellow eggplant lovers over the years.

Since the first time I made this dish in middle school under my mom’s direction, I’ve perceived eggplant Parmesan as straightforward if somewhat time-consuming. To lots of sliced eggplant, add breadcrumbs, oil, tomato sauce and cheese. Seasonings and other nuances are open to interpretation.

Health concerns aside, subtracting the breading and frying eliminates most of eggplant Parmesan’s appeal. So just make peace with the process (and extra fat) and enjoy this recipe a few times a year the way it’s meant to be made. The Chicago Tribune offered up this version last summer as the next best thing to an Italian grandmother’s.

The only points on which I disagree are salting the slices before breading and whether or not to peel. The Tribune’s writer James P. Dewan claims that the latter is personal preference, but I find eggplant peel to be an essential visual and textural aspect of the dish. As for salting, Dewan says he rarely bothers, but I believe that allotting an extra 30 minutes for this step yields crispier and tastier eggplant.

I have no quibbles with Dewan’s explanation for minimizing the mess that so easily materializes with breading. First, arrange your breading station according to whether you’re left- or right-handed, starting with the flour closest to your dominant hand.

  1. Using your dominant hand, dredge eggplant completely in flour, shaking off excess.
  2. Slip eggplant into the egg wash, flipping it with your other hand to cover completely.
  3. Grab some breadcrumbs with your dominant hand, then use your other hand to move the slice into the breadcrumb bowl. Drop the other breadcrumbs over the top and use your dominant hand to flip the slice, shake off excess breadcrumbs and lay it on a platter. (Your dominant hand should still be dry even if your other hand is damp with egg wash.)

Tribune News Service photo

Eggplant Parmesan

2 (28-ounce) cans Italian plum tomatoes

Chicken stock or water, as needed

1/2 teaspoon salt, divided

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste

2 pounds eggplants

2 cups flour

3 eggs, lightly beaten with 2 tablespoons water

2 cups breadcrumbs

Oil, as needed

Cooking spray, as needed

3/4 pound mozzarella cheese, grated

2 ounces grated Parmesan, or as needed

Pulse the tomatoes in a food processor until you have a coarse puree. Bring to a boil in a large saucepan, then reduce heat and simmer to reduce, for 15 to 20 minutes. If too thick, add the chicken stock or water as needed to adjust consistency. Season with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, or more to taste, and black pepper and crushed red pepper to taste.

While tomatoes are simmering, cut the eggplants into 1/4- to 1/2-inch slices. Season with remaining salt. Set up a breading assembly line: put the flour in 1 shallow bowl, the egg wash in a second and the breadcrumbs in a third. Dredge eggplant slices in flour, then coat in egg wash and coat with breadcrumbs.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add enough oil to cover bottom of pan by 1/8 inch. Wait 30 seconds to allow oil to come up to temperature, then fry eggplant slices in batches, until golden-brown, for about 2 to 3 minutes per side.

If, between batches, oil is gone and breadcrumbs in pan are starting to burn, take pan off heat, let it cool a bit, then wipe it clean-ish with several layers of paper towel. Put it back on heat, add more oil and proceed.

When the slices are golden-brown on both sides, transfer them to a paper towel-covered platter or a flat, paper grocery bag to soak up extra oil.

Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with some of the cooking spray; ladle in just enough tomato sauce to cover bottom. Cover tomato sauce with a layer of eggplant slices, then top with a thin layer of the mozzarella cheese. Cover with tomato sauce, then repeat process of eggplant, cheese and sauce, creating at least 2, maybe 3 layers. Cover final layer of eggplant with sauce and the Parmesan cheese. (You may have leftover sauce.)

Bake in a 350-degree oven until top is brown and bubbly and eggplant is heated through, for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven; rest for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

Makes 8 servings.

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Local blackberries a budget-wise boon to health

Scorching heat is parching fruits and veggies on the stem and vine, particularly those that must fend for themselves.

Oven-like air is one of the few inhibitors of Oregon’s “wild” blackberries. Actually invasive species, save one, blackberries at least offer up a sweet reward for those intrepid enough to brave the brambles. The most tenacious tangles found close to streams and creeks should harbor juicy berries for the next few weeks.

The payoff isn’t just inimitable flavor, usually obtained without spending a penny. Blackberries also are nutritional powerhouses, acknowledged in this month’s issue of Oregon Healthy Living magazine.

The article highlighted blackberries’ fiber, vitamins, antioxidants and potential to prevent disease. Here are some more specifics courtesy of the Detroit Free Press.

Tribune News Service photo


1. High in antioxidants — Blackberries have the highest antioxidant content per serving size (1 cup), ranking No. 1. “The antioxidants, their role is to protect the cell from free radicals,” says Erica Owen, registered dietitian, manager, nutrition & weight management University of Michigan Health & Well-Being Services. “So it puts an extra protective coating on our cells so they stay healthy.”

2. Low in calories — One cup of blackberries has about 62 calories.

3. Brain food — An American Journal of Nutrition 2014 study shows that eating berries may help in protecting against Alzheimer’s and dementia as well as enhancing cognitive function.

4. Colorful choice — Deep, dark color comes from a flavonoid called anthocyanin (an-tho-cy-a-nin), the pigment that gives blackberries their deep purple-blackish color. These pigments are thought to play a role in helping to prevent diseases like certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.

5. Energy booster — Blackberries contain five B vitamins. “So you eat carbohydrates, proteins and fats and at some point they have to get into the body’s bloodstream to be used as energy,” says Owen. “B vitamins help that process by changing carbohydrates, proteins and fats into usable energy.”

6. Full of fiber — Blackberries are a winner in the soluble (nuts, seeds and beans) and insoluble (whole grains, bran and vegetables) fiber camp. Soluble helps slow digestion and insoluble adds bulk and helps food pass through the intestines quicker. One cup of fresh raw blackberries has about 8 grams of fiber.

7. Heart healthy — There is a general association with eating fruits in general and lower risk of cardiovascular health. But it’s the antioxidants found in the darker fruits and vegetables that further promote cardiovascular health.

8. Hypertension prevention — The anthocyanins found in blackberries are thought to help lower blood pressure.

9. Oral health help — Blackberries contain tannins — an astringent — so they can help with oral health. “It breaks stuff down but also treat any inflammation you have in your gums,” says Owen.

10. Vitamin value — Like many fruits, blackberries contain a host of vitamins, especially vitamins A and C. Consuming foods high in vitamin C, some studies have shown, may help keep your skin younger looking with fewer wrinkles. Vitamin C also helps decrease inflammation.

Sources: Free Press research, University of Michigan Health & Well-Being Services, American Journal of Nutrition.

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Cheeses, sauces, toppings take burgers beyond

Just one out-of-the-ordinary element can make for an extraordinary burger.

Mix-and-match suggestions in this week’s food section should see us through what’s left of summer and beyond. I’ll add a few more of my own.

On the topic of quick pickling, try marinating sliced tomatoes in balsamic vinegar 30 minutes before assembling your burger. This trick recently convinced my husband that I’d compiled the “best sandwich ever” for his lunch. If the tomatoes alone are that good, consider stacking them with fresh mozzarella and basil leaves, or a smear of pesto, for Caprese salad on a burger.

Burger fans likely can agree that blue cheese and mushroom-Swiss patties are fairly standard fare by now. But stuffing the patty with cheese is a move that many home cooks overlook. It’s an ideal technique for softer cheeses that otherwise would ooze all over.

I impressed some guests this weekend by encasing a bit of goat cheese in ground lamb. Just remember to get the ratio right. A one-third-pound patty needs less than an ounce of cheese to keep the combination from becoming messy.

Bacon on burgers, as this week’s story acknowledged, is old hat. Wrapping a patty in prosciutto, however, imparts all of bacon’s saltiness and savor in a streamlined process and presentation. There’s no need to cook such a thin slice of cured pork in advance. Indeed, it adheres to the burger and ideally creates a crunchy coating around it, particularly if seared in a cast-iron pan or on a griddle.

Regarding sauces, don’t be afraid of something sweet in lieu of ketchup. Fig jam provides the perfect contrast to the prosciutto and goat cheese recommended above. The trio constitute one of my all-time favorite burgers, detailed in a 2009 post. I said it then, and I’ll say it again: Just trust me on this one.

And I’m taking the Chicago Tribune’s word that marrownaise is the next Sriracha mayonnaise. I suspect I’ll need extra to accommodate dipping fries.

Until I can source some beef marrow, this compound butter likely would wow my husband, who never met a mustard he didn’t like. It’s also courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.

Tribune News Service photo

Grilled Burgers With Mustard Butter

Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for grilling. Divide 1 pound ground beef into 4 equal portions. Gently shape each portion into a patty. Season with salt and pepper.

Beat 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted, softened butter until creamy; blend in 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard and 4 sprigs fresh parsley, chopped.

Grill patties, for 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium. Place patties on bottoms of toasted buns. Top each burger with a dollop of mustard butter while still hot, then the bun top.

Makes 4 servings.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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