Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Appetizer Challenge

Appetizers are a real challenge for me. I’m constantly looking for new things to try but tend to end up making the same few things over and over. Usually I plan the rest of the meal first and by the time I get to thinking about the appetizers I’m spent. I end up making things like roasted pepper bruschetta, grilled calamari and caprese salad. All of which are good appetizers but I make them so frequently that I'm getting kind of board.

So last week, when I had a small dinner party for my mom’s birthday to plan, I was determined to come up with a new vegetable appetizer to go with my standard meat and cheese plate.

After much thought and several trips to the market to see what looked good I finally decided on two recipes: Marinated Zucchini and Fried Eggplant both found in Molto Italiano a new cookbook by Mario Batali. I know you’re probably thinking fried eggplant? Did I really need to follow a recipe for that? But this recipe is truly something special. I think the secret was the touch of butter added to the frying oil and the balsamic vinegar drizzled over the finished dish.

Both appetizers were winners and now I have two more options to add to the mix.

Fried Eggplant

1/2 cup flour 3 large eggs 1 cup bread crumbs 2 lbs small young eggplant, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/3 inch thick half-moons 1/4 cup olive oil 1 Tbs unsalted butter 2 Tbs balsamic vinegar Spread the flour on a plate. Lightly beat the eggs in a shallow bowl. Spread the bread crumbs on another plate. Dredge the eggplant in the flour and bat it against your hand to remove any excess, then dip in the eggs, turning to coat completely, and dip in the bread crumbs, coating completely. Set aside on a sheet of wax paper. In a 10 inch saute pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat just until smoking. Add the butter and heat until it foams and subsides. Add the eggplant, in batches, and cook, turning occasionally, until both sides are dark golden brown. Remove from the pan, season with salt and pepper, drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Transfer to a platter and drizzle with balsamic vinegar, serve immediately. Marinated Zucchini

1/4 cup olive oil 3 medium green zucchini trimmed and cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch thick slices 3 medium yellow Zucchini trimmed and cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch thick slices 6 medium cloves garlic, finely minced 2 tsp red pepper flakes 1 cup fresh basil, cut into chiffonade 2 Tbs Kosher salt 2 Tbs freshly ground black pepper 1/4 cup red wine vinegar In a deep 10 inch saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat until just smoking. Add 5 or 6 zucchini slices and cook, turning once, until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining zucchini. In a small bowl, gently stir together the garlic, red pepper flakes, basil, salt and pepper until well mixed. Line the bottom of a deep dish pie plate with one quarter of the zucchini slices. Sprinkle evenly with one quarter of the herb mixture and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the vinegar.

Continue layering the remaining zucchini and herb mixture, with the remaining vinegar. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Serve chilled or at room temperature.

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