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Creamy Portobello & Thyme Pappardelle

Mmmmm this was so SO good. It was Friday evening. We got in late after another rousing round of house hunting. We were really tired and just wanted something comforting and quick. This really delivered. Mushrooms are amazingly versatile and so delicious in so many ways. They impart a really satisfying and robust umami to this pasta that plays so well with the creamy and sharp cheese. Combine that with the herbaceous quality of thyme and spice of pepper and it makes for a really flavourful dish. I happened to have roasted garlic in the fridge from the day before, so it was a no brainer to toss it in. It would be pretty simple to make some:

Roasted Garlic

Turn oven on to 400 F / 200 C. Make a sort of bowl out of aluminum foil by cupping it in your hand. Place about 7 unpeeled cloves of garlic in and drizzle with olive oil. Close up the bowl of foil and put it in the oven (even if it’s still preheating). Leave it in there about 20 minutes. That’s probably how long it’ll take you to prepare the rest of the ingredients and cook the mushrooms. When ready remove from oven, peel and mash cloves and put them in the sauce.

A splash of white wine would also be lovely. Overall, I think it took me about 30 minutes. The mushrooms need to release their liquid and soften which is probably what takes the longest. This isn’t at all a finicky dish so feel free to make it on a weeknight!

Ingredients

4 servings egg pappardelle or pasta of your choice

About 1 TBSP olive oil for sauteeing

1/2 yellow onion

4 large portobello mushroom caps

2 TBSP salted butter

2 cups milk

1 TBSP corn starch

100 grams / 3.5 oz grated parmigiano reggiano plus another 25 grams / about an ounce petals for garnish (I used a mandolin to make the petals but you can also slice thinly or buy them pre-made)

1.5 tsp fresh thyme

7 cloves roasted garlic (see recipe above)

Fresh cracked black pepper and salt to taste

Drizzle of olive oil for pasta

Method

Boil pasta per package directions.

Heat oil in a skillet on medium heat.

Add onions and sauté until translucent.

While onions are sautéing, slice the mushrooms into 1 cm strips.

Add mushrooms to pan and cover (it might seem like a lot of mushrooms but they’ll reduce down significantly)

Uncover when they’ve reduced in size and darkened in colour. Use a spatula to gently turn them in the pan. Recover until they are consistently cooked. The mushrooms are very fragile until they cook through so they can break easily if moved. I wanted my slices to stay intact but it’s up to you how you want them to turn out. You may notice some liquid in the pan as the mushrooms release their water.

Once all of the mushrooms are roughly the same colour, add the milk to the pan and gently mix in. Sprinkle on the cornstarch and use your spatula to mix it in.

Add the thyme, roasted garlic, and grated cheese and mix to combine. Simmer uncovered for another 5-10 minutes until the milk has reduced to a sauce consistency. If it doesn’t reduce enough add a bit more cornstarch and simmer another 5 minutes or until it reaches desired consistency.

Salt to taste.

Garnish with fresh cracked black pepper, thyme, and parmigiana petals. Beautiful. Simple. Enjoy.

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Spiced Sweet Potato & Parsnip Medallions

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Ok, I have to be honest: this isn’t really a recipe. I feel sort of bad even posting it because it’s really simple and normally wouldn’t be worth posting but the pictures are so beautiful I had to share it at least for the sake of sharing presentation inspiration.

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I had been planning on making a sweet potato and parsnip purée to go with a lemon and herb roasted chicken. When it came time to make dinner a purée seemed like infinitely more work than just roasting along with the chicken in the oven. I cut two medium sized sweet potatoes and one parsnip into 1 cm thick medallions as shown above.

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I tossed them in olive oil with a touch of cinnamon and savoury and laid them out in one layer on parchment paper on a half sheet pan. I baked at 230 C / 450 F for 10 minutes then took them out, seasoned again this time with kosher salt, garlic powder, and chili flakes – enough to cover each medallion with a light dusting (about 1 tsp garlic and chill flakes, 1/2 tsp salt). I seasoned the tops first, flipped them and seasoned the bottoms and put them back in the oven like that so they would brown on both sides. Bake for another 10 minutes and they’re done.

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They don’t crips up very much but sweet potato is especially hard to crisp so I wasn’t surprised. They do have a bit of texture to them just nothing outstanding. That’s not what makes them special though. The real winning feature is how they look. Aren’t they a lot more striking than cubed roasted root vegetables?

Also, I don’t know how I have lived this long without ever having tried sweet potato and chili flakes. They belong together.

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Romanian Eggplant Spread With Heirloom Cherry Tomato, Cucumber & Parsley On Toast Medallions

No matter how many times I eat this eggplant spread it still brings back memories of long summers spent in Romania. You know how they’ve found that the very process of recalling your memories also permanently alters them? Well making this spread is like recalling a memory that doesn’t seem to ever change.

In Romanian it’s called salatã de vinete or eggplant salad, a common name for this type of spread throughout the Balkans and Mediterranean. It takes quite a while to make (3 hours at minimum) so we didn’t always have it when I was growing up. It was reserved for balmy summer evenings when, exhausted from the heat of the day, we would sit around the grape trellis covered rectangular table in my grandparents yard eating the foods of summer: fresh made sheep’s milk feta, sweet tomatoes still warm from the sun beating down on them in the garden, crisp cucumbers, crusty bread from the bakery up the hill, and oftentimes this eggplant spread.

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Picking grapes in my grandparents yard circa late summer 2011.

Romanian food doesn’t have the sexy reputation of Greek or Italian but I’ve made this spread for non-Romanian friends before and they couldn’t get enough. The eggplant is cooked thoroughly so it takes on a really luxurious texture. When it’s ready I usually add sweet yellow onion, but this time I used red and it tasted almost the same. The cooking also imparts a smokiness that rounds out the raw onion nicely. A creamy element comes in the form of either  canola oil or mayonnaise (which I prefer).

The eggplant releases a lot of liquid while it’s cooking so if you’re making it in the oven make sure you place a foil lined pan underneath it as shown here.

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You’ll know the eggplant is ready when it’s totally deflated and the skin crumbles when you flip it with tongs. This is what my eggplants looked like when they were ready.

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Depending on the eggplants and your oven it could take longer than an hour. You should also make sure not to skip draining. My mother used to tell me that they needed to be drained to prevent a bitter flavour from developing. Being the rebel that I am I once skipped the draining and went straight to blending and refrigerating. The amount of liquid that pooled in my eggplant spread was unbelievable. A lot of liquid comes out of the eggplant and if you don’t drain it properly you’ll be disappointed. Also, even if you do drain properly some separation might happen. In that case just mix it before eating

Salatā de vinete is best served cold on toasted bread with tomato and cucumber. For the pictures shown here I used a round glass to cut circles out of bread, which I then toasted. I smeared a thin layer of mayonnaise on the toast medallions, and layered a slice of cucumber, a teaspoonful of eggplant spread, diced heirloom tomatoes on top and a sprinkle of diced parsley. If you really wanted to go for the gold, you could even whip up some homemade mayonnaise. That recipe is for olive oil mayonnaise but canola could easily be substituted (and would be more authentic).

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Ingredients

2-3 large eggplants
Half a yellow or red onion
Salt to taste
1-2 TBSP mayonnaise (optional, you can substitute with 1 TBSP canola or olive oil)

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Method

Oven Method
Preheat oven to 400
Set up your oven racks as shown in the picture (one on the bottom and one half way up)
Cover a half sheet pan with aluminum foil and place on lower oven rack
Wash eggplants and place directly on upper rack right above the foil lined pan
Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes to an hour, turning every 15-20 minutes (eggplants are done when they’ve deflated and the skin pulls from the flesh as shown in the picture)
Remove from oven and splay out in colander or bowl to cool and start drain
Once eggplants are cool, remove the skin by peeling it off from the flesh
Discard skin and allow the remaining eggplant to drain for up to an hour (you can also squeeze it to make this go faster)
Place in a food processor and blend with onion until smooth (if you don’t have a food processor you can also use a blender or finely dice the onion and use a potato masher)
Salt to taste and add mayonnaise if you want to
Serve chilled or at room temperature

Barbecue Method
Cook eggplant on a hot barbecue turning frequently until deflated (approximately 15-20 minutes)
Follow the rest of the instructions for oven method

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