baking

Eggplant Flan

I am so thankful that one of the many cooking class I’ve taken in Florence was hosted by Mama Florence cooking school because they opened my eyes to the thriving gastronomic scene here! Chefs are taking inspiration from classical Tuscan cooking and creating modern, conceptual dishes. I feel so inspired and exhilarated by the food culture here, from the classic cooking traditions that are centuries old, to the new innovative dishes.

The most recent class I took was called ” Italian Savory Baked Goods“. It was a very intimate class of 4 people and 2 chefs, and was as far from your average “baking” class as you could possibly imagine. We made such a wide variety of baked goods, utilizing the freshest seasonal produce. Our dishes consisted of traditional Tuscan bread, a pumpkin loaf, eggplant flan, escarole salt pie, and a rustic apple cake. However, the star of the class was, without a doubt, the eggplant flan. However, I hesitate to call this a flan because it’s the farthest things from the sweet, sticky dessert we’re familiar with in the states.I had never seen anything like it before and was amazed at how simple it was to prepare, and the amazing flavor profile we were able to coax out of the eggplant. The recipe also utilizes all parts of the eggplant so there is no waste!

Ingredients

3 tsps extra virgin olive oil

2 large eggplants

1 red onion, diced finely

2 tomatoes

2 bunches either mint or basil

2 eggs, lightly beaten

2.25 ounces grated parmesan cheese

bread crumbs

1 1/4 tsps fine grain salt

butter and flour (to prepare baking dishes)

Add half of the olive oil into a sauté pan and add diced onion. Allow to cook until softened, approximately 10 minutes. Peel the eggplant, conserving the peels in order to line the baking container for your flan. Cut eggplant into cubes about 1/4″ in size, and add to the softened onion. Raise the heat slightly, add the bunches of either mint or basil. Add salt and let cook for approximately 25 minutes, adding water if necessary to avoid sticking to the pan (keep in mind that at the end of cooking, the eggplant should be dry without any excess liquid in your pan).

While the eggplant is cooking, boil water in a large sauce pan. Add salt and lower the heat. Add the eggplant peels and let cook between 2-3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the peels from the boiling water and lay out on a dish to allow to cool. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour each muffin form in a standard 12-muffin tray. Gently place eggplant peels on the bottom of each muffin form in the shape of an “x.” Press each peel to the bottom of the form, and let excess drape outside of form. Fill with eggplant flan and use the extra peel from outside the form to sit on top of the flan, as if you’re closing a lid over the flan.

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Greased breadpan lined with blanched eggplant skins

Once the eggplant and onion mixture is cooked, allow to cool. Once at room temperature, blend well in either a blender or using an immersion blender. Combine lightly beaten eggs with parmesan cheese and a pinch of salt, then add to the eggplant mixture. Mix well with a wooden spoon. The eggplant mixture will look fairly soft, so you will need to add enough breadcrumbs to the mixture to give it a slightly denser, more robust consistency. Add salt to taste, and now you’re ready for baking!

Hot out of the oven!

Bake for 25 minutes. Remove flans from oven, and allow to cool for a few minutes. Flip onto plate, and slice each flan either horizontally or vertically in  3/4″ thick pieces, plate and enjoy!

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Eggplant Flan

You and your guests, because you should share this great recipe with as many people as you can, will fall in love with the light and airy, but still oh so creamy consistency of this unique dish. It’s not too filling so it would make a nice side dish. It would also work great as a main dish on a bed of greens topped with fresh pomegranate seeds, balsamic reduction, and a nice grated parmesan.

Never be afraid to push your culinary boundaries! This dish may look complex and intimidating but it was one of the easiest dishes I have made thus far. Embrace the Tuscan gastronomic chef within!

**Recipe and instruction courtesy of Mama Florence Cooking School**

The Island Market

I am lucky enough to have a second family that lives on a little strip of paradise in Maine called Islesboro. I am also lucky enough that these amazing people own The Island Market, a specialty grocery store open all year round that caters to both the locals and summer vacationites. This store has everything from the freshest fish and shellfish to the most mouth-watering prepared foods and desserts. The two behind this gem are David and Linda Mahan (better known as Shake and Loony); chefs, butcher, grill master, baker, hostess, inn keeper…they do it all! As is expected and anticipated every year, they serve the most delicious food, and as a special house guest (a title I earned by spending many a hot summer day stocking shelves) I have access to the plethora of fresh ingredients in their fridge and cupboard. Some of those goodies include fresh eggs from Loony’s chickens, homemade broccoli-cauliflower hummus, fresh greens grown right there on the island, and much more.

Shake and Loony also previously owned a restaurant together on the same island so their cooking game is out of this world! One can anticipate the most phenomenal variety of meats from Shake such as a pork tenderloin cooked to perfection, addiction-inducing chicken wings, a killer piece of steak, or THE ORIGINAL bacon wrapped hot dog (his specialty). Loony’s specialities (seen below) include pies with minimal ingredients and maximum flavor, cakes with buttercream frosting that carries you away on a cloud, and recently added gluten free options. She also makes a kick-ass platter so appealing to the eye (and stomach) you’ll ask no questions and want to eat everything on it!

 

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Asiago Bagel (Scratch Bakery, Portland, ME) topped w/ Broccoli Hummus, Avocado, Tomatoes, and a Farm Fresh Egg

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Charcuterie & Broccoli Hummus Platters

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Pork Tenderloin w/ Mushroom Sauce, Baked Rosemary Sweet Potatoes, Walnut Brussel Sprout Slaw, and Steam Green beans

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Vanilla Cake w/ Marscapone Filling & Orange Buttercream Frosting

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Blueberry Pie w/ Blueberries, Cinnamon, Lemon Zest & a Handmade Crust

If you are ever looking for a get away that will completely remove you from reality I highly suggest a vacation to this special little island. A quick 20-minute ferry ride across the Penobscot Bay will transport you to another world full of lush scenery, delectable fresh & local foods, and amazing people!

**All of this delicious produce, meat, and recipes can be found at the fabulous Island Market!!**