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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