Monthly Archives: August 2014

Eggplant Ideas from Lidia

I picked up two new thoughts on cooking eggplant last night from renowned chef, cookbook author and restaurateur Lidia Bastianich, while watching her television program about making eggplant Parmesan with rice.

For those who wonder whether to skin or not to skin, Lidia suggests a compromise: Peeling away about half of the skin, so you end up with a stripped effect, and then slicing the eggplant the long way. It’s important to note that she recommends buying thin eggplants, which contain fewer seeds, and that she believes in salting, draining and drying the slices before cooking them to avoid the possibility of bitterness.

A big controversy still rages about whether to salt or not to salt, some saying that it’s no longer necessary because today’s eggplants are not bitter and others insisting that salting still is essential. Most seem to agree that salting is a smart idea for very big eggplants, which probably are older and contain a lot of brown seeds, the ones most likely to cause bitterness.

Coincidentally, just the other day I came across a note that I made in a cooking course manual that offers another reason for salting. It explains that by removing excess moisture from the eggplant, salting lessens the absorption of oil when you fry eggplant slices. For what it’s worth, I gave up salting some time ago and haven’t noticed a difference. But, then, I always cut out any large sections of seeds and I bake my breaded eggplant slices.

Another surprise from Lidia was that for this dish she did not bread the slices and threw them into the tomato sauce she was making in a large frying pan, simmering them as the sauce thickened until they were tender but firm. Then she layered them with the sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese, grated Parmesan and partially cooked short grain rice and baked the casserole in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes covered before uncovering it and baking it for another 10 minutes.

I’ll be taking a little time off as this summer comes to a close. Look for my next post on Tuesday, Sept. 26. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear about your eggplant prepping practices.

Vinegar Clarification

The other day I was following a recipe that called for white wine vinegar. Once again I wondered if I could substitute distilled white vinegar. This time I took the trouble to investigate.

I had always assumed that white wine vinegar was just a fancier version of distilled. As it turns out, the two are entirely different!

Although according to Webster’s New World Dictionary of Culinary Arts (Prentice Hall, 2001) the word vinegar comes from the French vin aigre or sour wine, distilled white vinegar (also called spirit or grain vinegar) is made from molasses, sugar beet or grain alcohol “distilled before all the alcohol has been converted to acetic acid.” It has an acidity of 5 percent.

Made from wine, white wine vinegar, may have higher acidity (5-7 percent) but it also has more flavor. Mark Bittman’s book How to Cook Everything (Wiley, 2008) includes a valuable two-page chart that describes “everyday vinegars,” lists their uses and suggests the best substitutes. Distilled, which is “very, very inexpensive,” is good for pickling or acidulated water or in cooked dishes when you want straight acidity with no added flavor, he says. He recommends white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar (only the most expensive of which really is made from champagne) for use in vinaigrettes and refrigerator (not preserved) pickles. It may be “dull or delightful” like white wine itself, Bittman explains. You may want to experiment to find the product you prefer.

So if you don’t have white wine vinegar, should you replace it with distilled? No. Rice vinegar or fresh citrus juice would be better choices.

Ina to the Rescue

Making the meal in advance is one of the best ways to reduce home entertaining anxiety and to enjoy your own party. Now former caterer and specialty food store proprietor Ina Garten, Food TV’s Barefoot Contessa, has put together a book entirely devoted to make-ahead meals.

I already own too many cookbooks, but I can’t wait to add this one to my collection! Make Ahead Meals: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook will be released by Crown Publishing Group on October 28, but it can be ordered in advance at a discounted price from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.