Dining Out

In eggplant, Paso Robles cook finds a taste of her childhood

For Lori Foster, owner of the Spice of Life shop in Paso, eggplant brings back fond memories of gardening and cooking with her large Italian family

Special to The TribuneJune 6, 2013 

Lori Foster launched Spice of Life four years ago “with a focus on motivating people to create delicious and healthy meals at home.”

In February, she opened a retail store in Paso Robles carrying more than 140 individual spices and herbs, handcrafted spice blends, a large selection of loose tea, and various other items.

“Growing up in a large Italian family, I developed an early love for cooking and a passion for sharing delicious meals,” Foster said. “With Spice of Life, I want to inspire people with recipes and different ways of using spices in their everyday meals — to take the ‘mystery’ out so people will want to branch out on their own.”

Q: Currently, what’s your favorite local/seasonal ingredient?

A: One of my favorite local ingredients is eggplant. The flavor and texture are so unique and there are so many ways to prepare eggplant. With the beautiful color and shapes, I love growing it in my garden. Picking it fresh from my garden or going to farmers market is the way to go. Local, fresh and organic!

Q: How do you prepare it?

A: My all-time favorite way is eggplant Parmesan — a comfort food for me. My family made it on a regular basis growing up, and the intoxicating aroma it creates in my home is amazing. You can put it together ahead of time and then pop it in the oven when you get home from work or when guests arrive. It’s always a big hit with family and friends.

Q: How does this particular dish represent your culinary style/background/philosophy?

A: Growing up in an Italian family, eggplant played an important role in many dishes.

Eggplant Parmesan was one of those dishes that took center stage. When I am cooking with eggplant it brings me back to my roots and childhood with memories of helping my parents and grandparents in the kitchen. Both my maternal and paternal grandparents always had a rich, beautiful garden full of nature’s bounty.

I feel a connection to my past through various foods, and eggplant is one that holds fond memories.

Q: How would other cooks approach this ingredient?

A: The whole thing about cooking is to enjoy yourself while preparing and cooking food. Have fun, experiment, and express your creativity — I believe these are key factors to whether a dish is successful or not. Using the freshest ingredients is another huge factor. Grow your own, go to farmers markets, and use high-quality ingredients. Your health depends on it and your taste buds will thank you for it.

Incorporate eggplant in dishes you’re already comfortable with so you get a “feel” for the flavor, texture, and combinations. Try sautéing or roasting eggplant alone or with other vegetables and add to pasta dishes, salads, soups, on top of a toasted baguette, or as a side.

You can simply season with salt and pepper or change it up a bit and add some of your other favorite spices. I find that eggplant lends itself to a myriad of spices and herbs, but my favorite is using our Spice of Life “Italian Traditions” blend. It combines many of the traditional Italian herbs and brings out vibrant and fresh flavors.

When you roast eggplant you’ll want to peel off the skin, either slice or cube the eggplant, toss with olive oil and seasonings, and bake at 400 degrees F for approximately 45 to 60 minutes or until golden brown (toss once or twice during that time).

Q: What is your favorite food-and-wine pairing and why?

A: My favorites are homemade Southern Italian dishes (lasagna, baked macaroni, gnocchi, raviolis, pizza, calzone, etc.) paired with red wine. I turn on some Dean Martin, pour a glass of wine, and immerse myself in creating a delicious meal. A good cabernet, merlot, chianti, table red … it’s all good. There’s no disputing the combination is a perfect balance that brings a satisfying “ahhhhh” at the end of the meal. Buon appetite!

Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at ktbudge@sbcglobal.net.

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