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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Pasta, Vegetarian, on May 16th, 2016.

pasta_alla_trapenese

Oh my goodness, was this stuff delicious. Mostly it’s eggplant (see it on the bottom?) – with tomatoes, almonds, garlic, some good Italian cheese and crispy bread crumbs. Lick the plate good! It’s vegetarian (no protein) and the eggplant is the star of the show.

As you know if you’ve read my blog for a long time, I don’t post pasta recipes very often. Not that I wouldn’t like to, but I convince myself that pasta’s not good for me when I’m trying to eat lower carb. But then, a month or so ago I posted a delicious recipe for linguine with cauliflower and peas. It was SO good too. Now, here I am, a month later and I’m craving pasta.

Rachael Ray prepared this on her show. I’ve been recording her show for awhile now, and I glance at the show notes to see if the recipe looks interesting, or the guests. Half the time I delete before I’ve even pressed the “play” button. This one, though, I watched to get to this recipe. Rachael explained that this is Sicilian (her heritage). And it’s not only prepared a bit differently, but it’s also served differently. The PESTO isn’t pesto like we know it – ground up mushed stuff – no, the “pesto” is just a cooked mixture of fresh tomatoes, herbs, almonds, and garlic. And oil, of course. But first, you prepare the eggplant – Rachael specifically mentioned that you need a very FIRM eggplant, so I sought out one. I used more eggplant than the recipe indicated – I wanted this to be more about the eggplant than the pasta. The eggplant is cut into small bite-sized planks – about 2” long by 1/2” wide, and browned in just a tiny bit of oil, it was just cooked through to the soft, silky stage. The other difference in this dish was the serving – you put the eggplant into the pasta bowl first, then the mixed up pasta on top, then garnished with cheese and toasted bread crumbs.

From the photo, you can hardly tell the pasta was mixed with anything – there isn’t much sauce, as we might be used to. Almonds are toasted (she used whole almonds – I used slivered ones) and set aside, bread crumbs are toasted and set aside, then you cook some fresh tomatoes with olive oil, herbs, crushed red pepper flakes and basil. The almonds are added back in and cooked briefly – THEN you add in some of the cooking water from the pasta – it helps spread the flavors of the tomato almond pesto. Next time I make this I’ll add in more tomatoes. Rachael’s recipe calls for 4 plum tomatoes – I just think it needs a bit more than that.

But, you see, as an American, I probably like the sauce more than I like the eating of the pasta. Italians eat pasta to savor the flavor and texture of the pasta itself. The sauce is an aside! Only there to slightly enhance the pasta. This dish has quite a bit of eggplant in it, however, so since you serve it with the eggplant on the bottom of the bowl, it seems more likely the eggplant is the star of this dish. It sure was for me. I didn’t have any Pecorino cheese – only Parmigiano – but they’re very similar.

And whatever you do, don’t eliminate the bread crumbs. I used panko, and they were toasted in olive oil and they add such a different dimension to the dish. No flavor particularly, but with every bite I got a little bit of crunch. Loved it all.

What’s GOOD: As I said – I loved the whole dish. Love-loved the eggplant. Wanted more of it, so next time I will nearly double the amount – just cuz it was so delicious. The whole dish came together in about 30 minutes, even with the cooking of the eggplant and heating the water for the pasta. I also loved the crunch of the toasted panko crumbs.

What’s NOT: There is a bit of chopping and mincing, and brown this, and brown that, removing, setting aside, etc. But IF you have everything set out and ready when you start, it comes together very quickly.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pasta alla Trapenese with Almond Pesto and Eggplant

Recipe By: Adapted a bit from a Rachel Ray show, 2016
Serving Size: 4

1 large eggplant — very firm, cut into planks then pieces 2-inches long by 1/2-inch wide (see NOTE in directions)
1 tablespoon salt — to sprinkle on the eggplant
8 plum tomatoes — or vine tomatoes [I prefer double this amount]
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil — divided
1/2 cup panko — or homemade breadcrumbs
3/4 cup almonds — peeled
4 cloves garlic — chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves — chopped
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup basil leaves — torn into small pieces
3/4 pound strozzapretti — or other short-cut pasta [I used penne rigate]
1/4 cup Pecorino cheese — freshly grated
1/2 cup starchy pasta water — saved from the pasta pot

NOTE: I prefer more eggplant – the original recipe called for a medium one, but the eggplant shrinks a lot – so use more is my advice. Don’t eliminate the bread crumbs – they give a lovely crunch to nearly every bite.
1. Salt eggplant and let drain on a kitchen towel for 20 minutes; press off excess liquid.
2. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Score the tomatoes on the bottom with an X and blanch them for 30 seconds; cold shock and peel. Seed the tomatoes and finely chop. (You may also use canned tomatoes, drained and hand crushed if you prefer.). [If using smaller tomatoes, cut them in half, then scoop out the seeds, then chop – this method doesn’t require the blanching.] Reserve pot of blanching water to cook the pasta.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil, 2 turns of the pan, in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook eggplant until golden brown, turning them at least once, about 10 minutes, remove and reserve. Add another tablespoon of oil to pan and toast breadcrumbs to golden; remove and reserve.
4. Add nuts to the skillet to toast; remove and set aside.
5. Add final tablespoon olive oil and garlic, and stir 30 seconds. Add chopped tomatoes and season with thyme, salt and pepper. Stir 2 minutes.
6. Add almonds to the tomato/garlic mixture. Stir in chili flakes, basil and EVOO, about 1/4 cup.
7. Turn the heat back on under the pot of blanching water. Salt water and cook pasta to al dente, reserve 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water and add it to pesto. Drain pasta and toss with pesto.
8. Arrange the eggplant in shallow bowls and top with pasta. Combine cheese and breadcrumbs and sprinkle over pasta to serve.
Per Serving: 921 Calories; 57g Fat (54.1% calories from fat); 20g Protein; 88g Carbohydrate; 10g Dietary Fiber; trace Cholesterol; 1646mg Sodium. (This is high in sodium because of the salt on the eggplant; most of that is wiped off. But Pecorino is also salty.)

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  1. Marlene

    said on May 16th, 2016:

    This looks great, Carolyn. I love eggplant pasta dishes. So many calories, though! I always oven roast eggplant instead of pan sautéing, sometimes brushing it lightly with olive oil. That would make the dish easier. Thanks for sharing.

    Thanks, Marlene. I like baked eggplant too, but this one used very little oil, so I think I’d stick with the method of frying. Hope you try it – let me know what you think. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on May 17th, 2016:

    This one’s right up my alley–I love eggplant. I’m the only one in my household who does, though–but this looks worth making for just myself.

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