While on vacation in Santa Barbara, our sister-in-law gifted us an oil and vinegar set from Il Fustino. I never had the chance to go, but I hear the store is wonderful. Their website is worth perusing–they offer a bunch of recipes that feature use of their products. Of course, it’s not your ordinary oil and vinegar. It’s basil infused olive oil and pomegranate vinegar. Yum! She used some of the oil in a salad that night for dinner and it was very flavorful, but not overpowering. Since we got home from our trip, I have had the pair sitting in the kitchen, thinking up something to make with them.
I immediately thought of pasta. I always think of pasta. But I wanted to do a little more than just pasta with oil. My plan was to go to Sprouts Farmer’s Market and see what was fresh. I found all sorts of goodies, including Indian Eggplant–which I’ve never cooked with before. Additionally, I got some sun-dried tomato bruschetta, portabella mushrooms, vine ripe tomatoes and mini mozzarella balls. They also had chicken sweet Italian sausage on sale, so I was set with a protein for the meal. Combining all this with things I already had would be fun. Kind of like being on Chopped, but not.
I really didn’t have a plan, but I liked everything in my mystery basket. It ended up being a meal that consisted of warm eggplant salad, spinach stuffed portabellas, and chicken sausage with pasta. It was a strange alchemy, but it worked. And it was good. At least that’s what Derek said in between shovels to the mouth!
I didn’t snap a lot of photos for this one. Ella was kind of bouncing off the walls as I was cooking. Plus, I wasn’t really sure if I would pull this off.
First I made the eggplant salad. It’s a really simple dish that our mom used to make when we were kids.
- 2 cloves garlic–minced
- sliced eggplant
- 1/2 onion–chopped
- 2 tomatoes–chopped
- hoisin sauce
- basil oil
- pomegranate vinegar (you could also use balsamic vinegar)
- salt/pepper/red pepper to taste
Heat the basil oil for a few minutes and then saute the eggplant with a little salt and the garlic. Cook it down for about 10 minutes until the eggplant skin is pretty soft, then add the onions. Cook down for another 10 minutes or so. Add the tomatoes, hoisin, vinegar, salt/pepper and any other seasonings you want. Let it get good and hot and really soft, but not total mush. Once it’s done, let it cool down. Serve with grated parmesan on top.
As the eggplant cooked down, I mixed up the stuffing for the mushrooms.
- portabella mushrooms–caps only and gills removed (you could leave them on, but they have a really strong flavor to me)
- frozen spinach–cooked and drained
- 1 garlic clove–minced
- 1/4 c black olives–chopped
- 1 T prepared bruschetta mix
- handful of parmesan
- handful of breadcrumbs
- basil oil
- salt/pepper/red pepper
Once your mushroom caps are cleaned up, rub them with the basil oil. Mix the remaining ingredients together–it should be a thick mixture. Stuff them into the caps. Sprinkle a little more breadcrumbs and parmesan on top and then drizzle with basil oil. Bake at 300 for about 15 minutes. You can finish them off in the broiler if you’re in a hurry (like I was).
While the portabellas did their thing in the oven, I let the eggplant salad cool down a bit. I also made the sauce for the pasta as it boiled away.
- 4 links chicken sweet Italian sausage (you could use pork, but we like chicken sausage in our house)
- 1 can chopped tomatoes–don’t drain!
- 2 cloves garlic–minced
- 1 T bruschetta mixture
- mini mozzarella balls
I cut up the sausage and browned it in the same pan I used for the eggplant. Once it’s cooked through, add the tomatoes with their juices and the garlic. I was kind of not sure where I was going with this, so it turned into a pasta sauce. Add the bruschetta mix and let the sauce simmer for 10 minutes or so. Spoon it on to your pasta, top with mozzarella balls and sprinkle with parmesan.
Yes, it was a big dinner and would probably get me chopped if I was really on the show. But I kept the flavors consistent and stuck true to my theme. Ella and Derek liked it, so that’s all that mattered!
After dinner was over and dishes were cleaned, I wondered why I didn’t buy some fresh basil. That would have been way too obvious! Oh well.
I’d love to hear about any mystery box or Chopped challenge you’ve given yourself and how it turned out!
P.S. Please follow my blog if you’d like to get updates and new posts right to your email!