Eggplant and Arugula Sandwiches

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Hello and happy August. It feels strange to come back without acknowledging why I was gone. Life, essentially.  Two weddings (one in Texas, one in Illinois) meant there was quite a bit of travel. We drove to Chicago  so that I could scream the lyrics to my desert island album with 70,000 other people. (Seeing U2 was everything I had hoped it would be. After the show I told a friend it was like being baptized.) We spent a week with Aaron’s parents when they came up to Minneapolis for the 4th of July where we took them to a few of our favorite restaurants and went for a lot of walks. We spent the next week with my family in the North Woods of Wisconsin where we had a bonfire every night and drank about a case of wine. When we weren’t traveling places and hanging with people I was working my new second job leaving me with only Mondays off. And all my creative juices had been funneled into writing. Three weeks ago I wrote the last sentence of the first draft of a novel. It’s been full in the way that life gets full- messy and good and hard and ugly, all at the same time. So here’s some things I’ve been thinking about for the past few weeks, and a killer new recipe.

Writing a first draft of a novel is a heady thing. Revising it will be harder. I’ve been steadily working my way through the podcast Magic Lessons by Elizabeth Gilbert, and every episode is like a balm for my uncertainty. Gilbert is equal parts guru and fairy godmother in addition to being a brave and lovely writer herself, and I find that whenever I’m feeling blah or uninspired or struggling that listening to her (or reading a passage from the accompanying book) helps get me sorted out.

There’s so much darkness going on in our country. The events in Charlottesville have left me shook, and probably you as well. I have never seen, in my lifetime, so many people empowered to say and do such hateful and destructive things. White supremacy is a disease that’s been festering in the soul of America for too long. There is no room for such things here. I have no hot takes about Charlottesville, and it will be a long time before my thoughts are coherent enough to write them down here, but this essay was floating around Facebook after Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of Philando Castille. I think it’s still deeply relevant, and it’s heartbreaking. Smaller, and Smaller, and Smaller.

Someone who always has words about the darkness and light of our country is my good friend A. If you are a fan of getting the thoughts of supremely intelligent and highly empathetic people in your emails, I’d recommend checking out her tinyletter. She signed her most recent update as “Stay Angry. Stay Safe. Take Care of Each Other.”, and that might be some of the best advice I’ve heard recently. She also includes pictures of her good dog in almost every letter, so that’s also worth checking out.

Can we acknowledge how weird our language around food has become? We talk about “clean eating” rather than dieting and “getting healthy” rather than losing weight. We get preached to about body acceptance as if it was that simple to ignore all the complicated, contradictory messages about our bodies and ourselves. It’s good that we’re not talking so much about numbers on a scale anymore but instead now we’re cloaking our language about food and weight in terms of virtue and vice in a way that’s sneaky and dangerous. I found this article from the New York Times to be illuminating and resisting easy answers. I don’t think we have easy answers. Anyone who says anything else is lying to you.

On the topic of food, I’ve been mostly riffing on leftovers and following other people’s directions. There are seasons when I feel super inspired in the kitchen, but summer isn’t one of them. I know, I know, everything’s fresh and beautiful and so simple, but cooking at its core is about transformation. And when it’s too hot to turn on the stove you end up doing a lot less transformation and a lot more grocery shopping. When following other people’s leads I made this farro with tomatoes, which was tasty and as simple as promised. I finally made Northern Spy’s kale salad (with apples instead of squash) which is, indeed, genius. I made these tacos multiple times, and declined to post them for fear of this becoming an Anna Jones fan blog. (Let’s ignore the fact that it kind of already is.) (See also: her California miso and avocado salad, this warm tomato and kale salad,  and the pasta that convinced to put avocados in spaghetti.) I’ve riffed multiple times on my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. And I made these killer eggplant sandwiches, brought them to trivia one night, and proceeded to make everyone jealous.

It’s a simple conceit. Roast eggplant, brushed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, sliced thinly and piled onto bread. A couple big handfuls of arugula, and a smear of butter. It almost sounds unremarkable, but while reading Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year, lazily looking for inspiration, I stopped. Something about these sandwiches seemed elegant and delicious and simple and unexpected. And I’m so glad I did- these sandwiches are all those things, as well as phenomenal. I’d highly recommend you make them for your next opportunity to bring your dinner with you.

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Eggplant and Arugula Sandwiches

I call for smoked salt here, as I like the way it accentuates the meaty, savory flavors of eggplant. If you can’t find smoked salt (I’ve had luck at co-ops, Whole Foods, and gourmet stores at a wide variety of prices) regular salt will still be perfectly lovely. Ruth suggests using ficelles to make these sandwiches, which I had never heard of before this recipe and Google informs me is like a very thin baguette. While it does sound particular, having made these sandwiches I can attest that you want a higher filling to bread ratio than you generally think. My game plan moving forward is to shave out the center half inch or so of my baguette.

adapted from My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life by Ruth Reichl

Makes 2 sandwiches

2 medium sized eggplants, compact and shinny
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for cookie sheets
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, plus extra for drizzling
smoked salt
ground black pepper
a couple big handfuls of arugula
one baguette
a few tablespoons softened unsalted butter

Preheat your oven to 425. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on two cookie sheets, and then set aside.

Trim the edges off of the eggplants. Using a mandolin or very sharp knife slice the eggplant longways into thin, crisp strips about 1/4 inch in thickness. Lay those slices out onto an oiled cookie sheet. In a small bowl or jar, whisk together the olive oil and the balsamic vinegar. Using a pastry brush, brush the olive oil-balsamic blend onto the upwards facing side of the eggplant, then sprinkle with the smoked salt and black pepper. Place both trays into the oven, and roast for 10 minutes.

Carefully remove the trays, and using tongs, flip the eggplant over. Brush the new side of the eggplant with the remainder of the olive oil-balsamic mixture, sprinkle with more smoked salt and black pepper, and roast for another 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

To assemble your sandwiches, slice the baguette into two pieces, and slice through the middle of each piece. Smear each side of the baguette with butter. Layer the now-cooled eggplant as you would lunchmeat, folding and draping as you go. On the other side heap on a generous handful or two of arugula. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Eat, and make everyone around you jealous.

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Fried Egg and Arugula English Muffin Sandwich

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Breakfast is the most wonderful and vexing of meals. It’s the beginning of the day and a chance to start things right. It’s the time for omelettes and scones and waffles and pastries and parfaits. It’s also a hurried, uncertain time. Breakfast is the meal I’m most likely to almost not eat.

Maybe you do the same. I don’t skip breakfast, but I’ll have just a piece of toast and peanut butter. Or I’ll eat a slice of leftover pizza, still cold. Once in a while breakfast is just an apple. Aaron’s even worse- he’ll survive on coffee until lunch, unless I make him toast. Toast which he will nibble on for an hour, before setting aside the remaining half. Aaron claims to not be hungry in the morning. I don’t understand. I am always hungry. I just have a serious case of morning brain.

But, of course, I love breakfast. It’s full of bread with butter, runny yolks, hot tea, and taking a moment to center myself before the day. I’m trying to get better about eating  breakfast, rather than consuming a meal that slightly resembles breakfast.

These breakfast sandwiches take inspiration from the ones my dad made my mom through my childhood. He would toast an english muffin, fry an egg over medium, and add some ham. My mom ate these on her commute with a thermos of coffee for many years. There’s a good chance she still does. Meanwhile, I was trying to master the perfect butter to eggo ratio (1:1 was my conclusion).

In my adaption of my parent’s standby I sub out the ham for arugula and picked red onions. If I’m going to make a savory breakfast rather than reheat breakfast-approriate foods, I want there to be vegetables. The arugula brings a fresh bite and peppery taste, and the onions provide a crisp bright contrast to the egg.  I also fry my eggs sunny side up. It does make the sandwich a bit less portable than my mom’s, but in the interest of civilized breakfasts the runny yolk is a good thing. It creates a luscious sauce that lingers in between the leaves of the arugula and nestles in the crevices of the the English muffins.

How good are these? I made one for Aaron this morning. Five minutes later it was gone- before he had even finished his coffee.

Wishing you a happy Thursday, full of runny yolks, hot tea, and maybe an election cake or two.

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Fried Egg and Arugula English Muffin Sandwich

I cook my eggs sunny side up, because I think this sandwich needs the richness of a runny yolk. If you’re absolutely opposed to a runny yolk, then I might add a bit of creamy cheese, such as brie, to boost the luxury factor.

Makes 1 sandwich

 

1 egg
Butter
Salt
Pepper
1 English muffin, preferably whole wheat
A handful of arugula
Pickled red onions

Place a small, nonstick skillet (either cast iron or other nonstick) between low and medium-low heat. Melt a small amount of butter in the skillet, enough that it forms a layer on the bottom of the pan but not so much that it’s swimming. Crack an egg and season with salt and pepper. Cook gently, moving the egg as necessary, until the white is set and the yolk is just warm. Remove the egg from the heat as soon as it’s done.

Meanwhile split and toast an English muffin. Once the English muffin is toasted spread both sides with a small smear of butter. On the bottom half of the English muffin place a generous handful of arugula. Top with the fried egg, a flurry of pickled red onions, and the top half of the English muffin. Eat immediately.

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Arugula Pizza

Arugula Pizza

In an future/possible/alternate life, I get to make dinner at home. I would get to spend an hour or so every evening making food for people I love. I want to make it clear that I love what I do, but my schedule is a casualty of my job. One of my favorite parts of the day when I was teaching preschool was getting home and turning on the oven. I’d play music, chop vegetables, and drink a glass of wine. When I started to plan my dinners when I was supposed to be planning lessons I had a feeling I was working in the wrong field.

But back to this in this daydream life where I get to make dinner. In this imagined utopia I have a schedule. It’s not too strict, but it includes pizza every Friday. Some weeks that might be pizza ordered in with a glass of red wine on the side. Other weeks we’ll host friends over, and everyone can top their own pizza. We’ll have bottles of red those nights. But most Friday’s I would make the dough, throw on some toppings, and after fifteen minutes in the oven would have something wonderful and bubbling. It would be the most wonderful cheap and romantic date night. We could drink bubbly and watch a foreign film while eating a homemade pizza.

That fantasy’s not likely to happen any time soon. But I can adapt. Because I can’t cook dinner, I make lunches. And pizza lunches are just as delicious as pizza dinners, and even a bit more special.

This is one of my absolute favorite pizzas to make. Aaron stole this idea from a restaurant he used to bartend at. The restaurant was a good Italian place in an area that had a shortage of good restaurants. It was always busy, loud, and boisterous. The pastas were tasty, but the pizzas were delicious. There were some revolving seasonal pizzas, and a handful of standbys. And Aaron’s favorite was the arugula and mozzarella. He left that place years ago, and we still make it whenever we can find arugula. Over the years we’ve added feta to the pizza, and shallots to the arugula and way upped the amount of arugula topping the thing. It’s creamy and salty and fresh. It’s a pizza that you feel okay about eating that forth piece, because there’s so many vegetables to eat. It’s a pizza that adults who claim to despise vegetables still devour. It’s a fantastic pizza, equally suited to date nights, pizza parties, and sit down lunches.

Arugula Pizza

I haven’t included very particular measurements for this pizza, because I rarely measure carefully when making pizza. The measurements below are approximations-  use your best judgement to make a pizza that you’ll love. For this pizza, you could use your favorite pizza dough. For an easy homemade crust I’m partial to Jamie Oliver’s, and I’ve included my version of it below.

1 ball pizza dough
one 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces mozzarella (about half of a lage ball), shredded
4 ounces feta (two handfuls), crumbled
2 ounces (4 cups) baby arugula
1 small shallot, sliced
olive oil
juice of one lemon
salt
pepper

Preheat the oven to 500. Drizzle a pizza pan with olive oil. Gently stretch the pizza dough into a circle and place onto the prepared pizza pan. Let sit for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, blend the tomatoes with the half teaspoon of salt. Taste, and adjust seasonings as necessary.

To prepare the pizza, top with sauce. You won’t need even close to all of the sauce- a quarter cup is the perfect amount for me. Top with your desired amount and spread to the edges. The rest of the sauce will freeze well.

Top with the mozzarella and feta. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil. If you’re so inclined, sprinkle with flaked salt. Bake for 15 minutes, checking at the 10 minute mark. The cheese should have golden patches and the crust should be slightly darker than golden.

While the pizza bakes, toss the arugula, shallots, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper together in a medium bowl. Taste to check for seasonings, and adjust as necessary.

When the pizza is finished baking top with the arugula mixture.

Pizza Crust

adapted from Jamie Oliver

1 pound (about 3 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar

In a large bowl whisk together the flour and salt. Make a well in the center.

In a small bowl combine the warm water, olive oil, yeast, and sugar. Set aside for a few minutes until it begins to froth.

Pour the water-yeast mixture into the center of the flour mixture. Use your hands to mix the water into the flour, pulling the flour into the center of the water. Keep going until you have a damp, shaggy dough.

Turn out onto a well-floured surface. Knead for 5 or so minutes, adding more flour as necessary, until you have a smooth, elastic dough. To knead dough I push it away from me with the palms of my hand, fold the dough over on itself, and give it a quarter turn. I then keep repeating, adding flour as necessary, until the dough is smooth and not sticky.

Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel. Let it sit until it’s doubled in size, which will take about an hour. Turn out onto a floured surface and push the air out a bit. Divide into two balls. The dough can be used now, refrigerated, or frozen. If you do refrigerate (or freeze)  it, make sure the dough comes back up to room temperature before using.

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