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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**

Mediterranean Shrimp Tacos

So the other night I was really craving fish tacos. Like real, soft tortilla, fall apart in your hand, West Coast tacos. But I have yet to master the art of cooking a mean fish/ not really sure what fish is best for fish tacos/ on that college budget. So I opted for the shrimp that was already in my freezer, and I wasn’t feeling a Mexican vibe. I wanted something crisp and refreshing, so I hopped on the internet and found the answer to my cravings in Mediterranean shrimp tacos! I skimmed through a bunch of recipes. I don’t usually follow once recipe in particular because I like to put my own personal spin on the dish, ya know? Now onto the fun stuff!

My dad always told me to get all the prep work done first and out of the way, so it’s one of the few golden rules of cooking I live by. It really makes the whole experience more enjoyable and run more smoothly. So, while the shrimp were a-thawing I prepped the marinade and salsa.

Marinade

  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • olive oil
  • chopped parsley
  • chopped basil
  • chopped cilantro
  • chopped garlic
  • red pepper flakes
  • salt & pepper to taste

Salsa

  • red onion
  • cherry tomatoes
  • oregano
  • splash of marinade

I marinade the shrimp for only a few minutes. Its important to pay attention because shrimp are one of the weaker proteins and will start to break down if marinaded too long especially in something acid like lemon juice. Sauté for 3-5 minutes on Med-High heat. Get a small sauce pan, or any flat bottom pan, warm on Low heat to heat up your tortillas. I used corn, but would recommend flour, only because the hold up better to all the good stuffins. Garnish with whatever you think will make it look pretty! I stayed in the the Mediterranean realm and went with sliced avocado, bean sprouts, and parsley.

Voila! Here we have a great version of seafood tacos that are really accessible on a college budget, and not too hard on the eyes.  This was also made with simple, healthy ingredients that you can find at your local grocer, bodega, or even better, the farmer’s market. Happy creating!