Bud, remember that babe who came through TSA loaded with chili powder? Well, here she comes again, with her suitcase loaded with several cans of ready-to-serve Cajun-style beans!” My friends Joyce and Harold LaCour brought enough supplies of Louisiana’s specialty for all of us at our reunion near Dallas to cook with and take home for future enjoyment.
We all agreed that there are many products ready to heat which are almost as good as prepared from scratch, and so convenient. Joyce jazzed up her red beans to serve with rice by slicing some green onion smoked sausage diagonally and sautéing in olive oil before simmering in the spicy beans. That was our second day of such delicious meals, which began with a stiff pot of coffee.
That morning before our gracious hosts, Sue and George Stoner, could beat us to the punch, we got breakfast going on Sue’s remarkable range, and I pushed the button on the all-in-one Cuisinart automatic coffee maker which ground the beans and then brewed the java. Little did I know that George had already done step one, so the joe came to us double-strength — a jug of hot milk then provided us with a European experience.
“Laissez les bons temps rouler! (Let the good times roll!)” Harold drank his straight up.
For two different meals out, we enjoyed a couple of international versions of our mutual favorite, the eggplant. I have picked up a fresh quart of pomegranate juice at the Cambria Farmers Market to see if I can replicate the wonderful pomegranate eggplant which was a specialty at the Middle Eastern buffet owned by a Lebanese family. The food line was piled high with a great variety of vegetarian marvels, and also some of the biggest lamb shanks I have ever seen!
At a small Sicilian-Italian pizza house, we ordered Sue and George's favorite eggplant casserole, which the owner and his brother-in-law, the chef, had devised in preference to the usual breaded and fried eggplant Parmigiano. I tried to be unobtrusive as I tasted, probed and determined how to prepare the delicious dish myself. According to the owner, I nailed it, as I also nailed that his accent was not Italian. He was Macedonian, raised in Albania, and the chef was Sicilian!
Eggplant Casserole for Two
1 small eggplant or two Asian eggplants
3 cups fresh spinach leaves
1 clove fresh garlic, minced
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1-1/2 cup marinara sauce
Fresh Parmesan cheese, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
This was prepared only when it was ordered, to ensure the freshest quality. Peel and slice the eggplant lengthwise, about 1/2 inch thick. (Asian eggplant has fewer seeds.) Salt on both sides, and pat dry when moisture forms. Sauté over medium heat until translucent; meanwhile sauté garlic and spinach together in a separate pan just until wilted.
In a shallow casserole, splash a little sauce in the bottom, layer the eggplant with the ricotta, then the drained spinach; pour most of the sauce over all and top with Parmesan. Heat in a preheated, 375-degree oven uncovered until hot and bubbly, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately. We ate ours with a side of French bread which we dipped in chopped fresh garlic swirled in olive oil. “Molto bene!”