Savory Pies with Olive Oil Crusts

Tomato pie

Tomato Pie; Source: Food Network

I ate a lot of pies in university. Not the sweet, fruit sort. But a savory kind. My friends and I were CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members and would get huge boxes of vegetables each week. The only problem was that it was a lot of the same vegetable. Whether it was summer tomatoes, fall kale, or winter squash, we always had too much of something. As agriculture students we were used to dealing with excess produce. We just needed  to get creative with our ingredients.

One of the most interesting ways creations, that I learnt, were savory pies. You can think of them as similar to a quiche but without the eggs. You almost always cook the vegetable before using it as filling. I lived in France so cheese was a part of all pies. As with all of my favorite foods, the possibilities for fillings are endless. A few of my favorites include, roasted tomato and Emmental cheese, squash/ pumpkin with Béchamel sauce, and potatoes with Reblochon cheese.

Savory pies are meant to be a quick and easy dinner. A slice of pie, a salad, and a glass of wine was a lazy but nice meal. For a while, I was very hesitant to make this on a regular basis because making pie crust is a pain. That’s when a friend shared a trick. Make a press-onto-pan pie crust. It’s similar to a cookie or graham cracker crust used in some sweet pies.

Method:

Mix flour (I think whole wheat actually tastes better in this case) with a decent bit of virgin olive oil and a few tablespoons of water. You don’t need a dough; just a crumbly mixture. Using too much water will lead to a chewy crust.

Dump the crumbly mixture into the pie pan. Use your fingers to press the mixture around the bottom and edges of the pan.

You do not need to pre-bake the crust. Just add your fillings and bake. The liquid from the filling will help the crust to come together a little better during the baking process.

 

The Incredibly Versatile Eggplant

Aubergines_Three_Types

Types of Eggplant; Source: Wikimedia

 

I eggplant aka aubergine is my favorite vegetable. It is extremely versatile and has been incorporated into cuisines from around the world. Summer is eggplant season and the best time to think about the many ways in which one could use this vegetable. I eat eggplant at least once a week during this season and I still don’t get sick of it because there seem to be an unlimited number of ways to consume it. Here I will mention a few ways in which I like to eat it and briefly describe my version of eggplant parmesan.

Choosing and preparing eggplant

HK_SYP_Best_of_Best_Vegetable_purple_Eggplant_Aug-2012

Japanese Eggplant; Source: Wikimedia

Eggplant comes in hundreds of shapes and sizes. The 3 types I see most often, are the small egg shaped Indian kind, the long skinny Japanese kind, and the more common, large, American grocery store kind.

Pick eggplants that look shiny and taut. As eggplants gets older, the skin tends to look dull. When you cut it open, pay attention to the seeds. A lot of seeds are also an indicator of an older vegetable. An older vegetable is much more likely to be bitter. If have an older eggplant, cut, salt and drain the vegetable for 10-15 minutes before you use it. This should help reduce some of the bitterness. 

What to do with eggplant

These are just some suggestions for my favorite ways to eat eggplant.

In Italian style cooking- in pasta, in a veggie lasagna, or an eggplant parmesan.

In ratatouille.

In a Middle Eastern eggplant dip – Baba Ganouj

Since eggplants originated in Asia, there seem to be a million ways to cook them Asian-style. In India, we stuff them, fry them, or make a spicy roasted side. You could stir fry them Chinese style with a sauce. You can make the Korean side dish, Gaji-namul. It goes well in Thai style curries. You could even pan fry it Japanese style.

 

No- Fry Eggplant Parmesan

When cooking for a group, eggplant parmesan is one of my go-to recipes. You make some noodles to go with it and you have an easy dinner. A 13 by 9 inch pan of eggplant parmesan makes about 10 servings. As always, I do not have exact measurements, just a general idea of what I do. This dish does require some advance preparation but not much hands-on time. 

Method

Slice the eggplant into circles and salt well. Leave in a colander for about half hour. The eggplant should lose some water as it sits. Rub off some of the excess salt from the eggplant and coat in a mixture of flour, salt and pepper. Dip pieces in beaten egg and then coat with breadcrumbs. Place on oiled baking sheet and cook at 350 degrees for about half an hour or until it is cooked. Once eggplant is roasted, layer your baking dish with red sauce (recipe here), eggplant, mozzarella, and repeat until complete. Add some parmesan to the last layer of cheese and bake for another 15 minutes. Let cool for a bit before cutting into it.