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Cooking with Myra: Enjoying nature on the run

Aug. 17, 2011 at 3:17 a.m.

Tomato and Eggplant Tart

Tomato and Eggplant Tart

2 pie crusts (rolled out) or puff pastry sheets

3/4 cup ricotta cheese

basil pesto

1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated

8 ounces cherry tomatoes, cut if half

2 baby eggplants or Chinese eggplants, thinly sliced

olive oil

sea salt and cracked black pepper

prosciutto

Variations: mozzarella cheese, spinach, asparagus, onions, zucchini (sliced thinly)

Preheat oven to 360 degrees. Trim pie crusts or puff pastry sheet to rectangle shape. Place the pastry sheets on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Combine the ricotta, pesto and parmesan and spread over the pastry leaving a 1/2 inch border. Top with cut cherry tomatoes, cut side up and thinly sliced eggplant. (I used a potato peeler for thin slicing). Brush all with olive oil and dust with salt and black pepper. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden. Serve with a salad or soup. For a winter version you can use root vegetables on the pastry sheet base.

FOOD FACT:

The eggplant is native to India. It is often referred to as aubergine, melongene or, in French, melanzana. When the fruit is raw, it tastes bitter, but after cooking it becomes tender and develops a rich, complex flavor. The flesh is smooth and contains numerous edible seeds, and the skin is also edible. China is the top producer of eggplants, but in the United States most are grown in Georgia.

By Myra Starkey

Last week, my friend Janet called to borrow Taylor's F-150 pickup. Her son was moving into an apartment in Waco, and they had to furnish it with all the college necessities like mattresses, couches and Lazy Boy recliners.

Just kidding about the recliner.

I was really excited about the prospect of being without the truck since Janet was trading me her Mini Cooper convertible.

Janet purchased the convertible several months ago when the air was more crisp and cool. She had always wanted one of these cars and still seems really excited about having it.

The Mini Cooper is black with a black interior, so I figured she would tire of it when our South Texas temperatures hit the 90s, but she loves it even though it's hot.

I have seen her cruising down Navarro with the top down, and she is always smiling.

I put the top down before I backed out of the driveway last Tuesday. I had my hat on and sunglasses and was ready for my drive to work.

As I sailed past the familiar places like Trinity School and the Speedy Stop, I felt like I was experiencing these streets and roads for the very first time.

The Mini is named what it is for good reason. I felt like I was the size of a small bug in a backyard in comparison to the vehicles beside me.

I stopped at the first intersection and a huge pickup with oversized tires pulled up beside me. He honked and I honked, and I smiled broadly.

In fact, I found that many folks waved and honked despite the fact that they did not know me. I don't know if they thought it looked like a fun car or that they were just amused as the crowds at parades are when the Shriners, in those tiny clown cars, do figure eights in the middle of the road.

My glee had to have stemmed from my driving experience because it continued for the entire drive to work. I found myself smiling inside and out. Somehow, just being so close to nature with the top down made me feel giddy. I looked up into the trees when I was stopped at a stop sign on my way home and marveled at the green canopy with sparkles of sunlight coming through.

And the wind blowing past me at driving speed was exhilarating. I hated for the drive home to be over.

I have felt this way before while I was gardening. Not to say that I think gardening is as exhilarating as driving a zippy little convertible. It's not. Gardening is satisfying in a different sort of way.

Tilling the soil and getting ready for the next season of vegetables always lifts my spirit. Down on my hands and knees, I dig, watching the earth worms wriggle from their hiding places in search of a new one. The sheer anticipation of the upcoming crop and the fact that I get to watch the transformation from seed to fruit makes me smile.

Gardening is hard work, especially in the summer heat, but the reward is worth it.

This summer I planted my garden of tomatoes and Chinese eggplants, bell peppers, corn, jalapeno peppers, basil, cucumbers and squash.

I carefully laid out each plant then dug a hole, dropped in a tablespoon of fertilizer and patted the dirt back in place. I watered every evening, careful to make sure each small transplant had the moisture it needed to grow.

After about a week, I noticed that the plants were not getting any taller and upon careful inspection found the tops had been chewed off. Apparently, a small herd of neighborhood deer had jumped my front picket fence and were dining in my garden, not even waiting for the vegetables to form or ripen.

Day after day, I tried techniques for protecting my garden such as human hair around the perimeter, a spray that promised to keep the deer away and even a motion-sensitive sprinkler. They persisted just outside the path of the sprinkler, until I was left with nothing but the basil and the eggplants.

The eggplant continued to thrive, and I have picked the small tube like fruits of purple and white all summer long. Thankfully those four-legged fence hoppers don't enjoy them like I do.

Last week, I made a tart of eggplant and cherry tomatoes, and it was delicious. It is the type of recipe that you can make your own way by adding other ingredients.

I used a prepared pie crust dough cut into small rectangles. I also tried the puff pastry dough found in the freezer section of the grocery store.

Both turned out perfectly and made a beautiful presentation. Serve this tart with a salad or cold soup and you'll have a wonderful summer meal.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email myra@vicad.com.

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