tuscan

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**

Fresh Pasta, and Why There is No Need for Boxed

I don’t think I would have fulfilled my role as a food blogger studying in Italy if I didn’t post about how to make fresh pastas. Quite honestly, that would be sacrilege! Last week I took a cooking class with the amazing Andrea and Julio, chefs of Florencetown, where myself and 20 other lucky participants got a tour of Il Mercato Centrale through a local’s eyes, and a hands on lesson in fresh pasta, Bolognese sauce, and tiramisu.

Prior to this class I had been to Il Mercato Centrale many times to buy my fresh, local produce, but was always so overwhelmed with the variety of butchers, fishmongers, and cheese counters to know which ones were the most authentic, a rip-off, or a diamond in the rough. Although, exploring it on my own has definitely helped improved my Italian. Thankfully, Julio was kind enough to introduce us to all of his favorite vendors, such as the butcher who sells the best Florentine steak, the bakery with the best olive and truffle oils, and tastiest cantucci, known to others as biscotti, but they are not the same! Throughout the tour Chef Julio was picking up the ingredients for our meal, and once we were ready we headed around the corner to the kitchen to get started.

The one thing I didn’t expect was how easy it is to make pasta from scratch! All you need is 2 simple ingredients!

That’s right, just eggs and flour.

  • 3 cups of “00” flour
  • 3 eggs

Now it’s time to get handsy. Pour your flour onto a cool, smooth surface and make a small well in the center for the egg. Crack the eggs into the well, and working from the center, begin to incorporate the flour with a fork until a thicker consistency begins to form and sticks to the fork. Then get in there with your hands and begin to knead. Be very liberal with the flour here folks and continue to add until dough is smooth and doesn’t stick to your hands.Lastly, wrap it up real tight in plastic wrap and let sit for 15-30 minutes. During this time you can start prepping your sauce or ravioli filling.


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Once the pasta is ready to be cut, roll it out so you can barely see through to the table underneath (about 3 mm thickness). Then fold the dough over itself using at 3-finger width and cut it length wise. The size of your pasta is up to you! Are you in the making a thinner, creamier sauce? Then go for linguine (0.5cm thick) or are you making a hearty Bolognese that needs a pasta strong enough to carry all that meat? If so, pappardelle (2cm thick) is what you’re looking for. You can also cut off the ends and make one wide panel to fill, and make ravioli. During this class our ravioli was a simple Tuscan ricotta and parmesan mixture, but the ingredients you can use are endless. Ravioli are receptive to pretty much anything you can squeeze into them! Just make sure you seal of each ravioli properly, free of air pockets, so they don’t burst. Make them extra secure by pressing down the edges with the prongs of a fork!

The final step, before you get to enjoy the delicious fruits of your labor, is to boil the pasta in salted water for 2 minutes, until al dente. Al dente here in Italy is slightly different from in the states. Italians would consider the way we eat our pasta overcooked. Upon tasting it, the texture should seem slightly more underdone than your used to. But, don’t second guess because it’s actually perfect!

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Ravioli w/ Tuscan ricotta & parmesan in sage butter sauce

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Pappardelle w/ Bolognese sauce

Serve with the sauce of your choice. In class, the chefs prepared a butter and sage sauce to accompany the cheese ravioli, and added the Bolognese sauce to our fresh pappardelle.

I had never imagined making fresh pasta would be this easy, and now I can’t wait to add my own innovative touches! Chef Andrea suggested adding chopped herbs such as sage and rosemary, or even pumpkin puree to the dough to create a more earthy flavor profile. I plan on experimenting with coffee grinds and cocoa powder as well!

It is really as easy as it looks. Also, notice we didn’t use a pasta roller. Everything was done by hand with a little flour, a rolling-pin, and some elbow grease. No, it’s not as quick as 10 minute, boxed pasta, but it isn’t that much longer. Plus, c’mon you gotta know that the texture and flavor is 10 times better, and you get this warm fuzzy feeling from enjoying something you prepared from start to finish!