Thursday, August 28, 2014

Melanzane sulla Microonda

If you know me, you will know that I shy away from most modern mechanical devices, in the kitchen at least. I think they almost always sacrifice flavor for speed. Short cuts, just as in walking, prevent you from savoring the process of cooking, which is arguably the best part of the entire gastronomic experience. I think the analogy applies to most things in life that are good. Why would you want to rush through them?

This is the exception that proves the rule, because I do believe it actually tastes better in the microwave. A conventional oven seems to make it tough and dry if cooked too long. Grilling likewise, though nothing to scoff at. But I offer you Eggplant in the Microwave.

Peel one medium eggplant and slice it into very thin rounds. Drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom of a clay casserole, sprinkle a little salt and oregano and arrange the slices overlapping a bit. Drizzle more oil, salt and oregano on top. Microwave for 20 minutes. If you like it mushy, cover the casserole. Plastic wrap is ok. This was cooked uncovered, which leaves them a little firmer and slightly chewy. If you are feeling extravagant, add some tomato sauce and mozzarella too and reheat. Or sprinkle some buttered breadcrumbs on top. Or for another flavor profile entirely some za'atar and pomegranate syrup. It even, I promise you, works with soy and sesame oil. Eggplant is sort of like the blank canvas of the vegetable world, adapting so easily to any set of flavors. And if you just happen to be in a hurry, this is a quickie, but really good.

Monday, August 4, 2014


I have been thinking lately about the way our memory distorts the past, leaving out some details, highlighting others in odd ways. I suppose this process is meant to protect us from negative experiences and maximize the positive. But it can't be that simple. Sometimes there are things we desperately want to remember but just can't. And conversely there are things we recall for no good reason. Case in point I was in Mendocino yesterday and remembered a completely mediocre meal I had over 15 years ago in a restaurant as we passed it.

Sensory stimuli are recorded in our memory the same way and with the same capricious results. I have vivid olfactory hallucinations, I guess you'd call them, that occur randomly. But for the life of me, I can't remember what these are supposed to taste like. They're roskas. A kind of sweet eggy roll, sort of like challah. My grandmother Julia made these, and I haven't had them since 1977, probably earlier. I know the word, and you can even find recipes, mostly Hispanic, which makes sense. She was Sephardic.

This recipe is in her hand. My sister and I baked them as best we could a few weeks ago in London. I have no qualms about lack of measurements or precise directions. I prefer it in fact. I know how to make bread, so it was no big deal. But when they came out, I have to say, I not only have no recollection of what they were supposed to taste like, but they were fairly unspectacular. I thought the story would be about recovering a long lost recipe, that tasted exactly as it did when I was 13. We may very well have pulled it off to perfection, but the truth is, I can't remember. If there were only a way to record taste the way you can words.