When I’m entertaining, I tend to go completely overboard, with a ridiculously complicated menu and every component of every dish made from scratch. When I’m cooking for myself, I scale it back considerably – I make one-pot meals from sale items and pantry staples. On Sunday afternoons, I make a big pot of something, the something I’m going to eat for lunch all week. This past Sunday, my mom joined me for dinner to watch the Emmy Awards (a week late). We only got about halfway through the red carpet stuff, so no spoilers, please.
This week’s Sunday dinner/lunch is an old favorite of mine. It’s a simplified stovetop casserole version of moussaka. When I’m feeling hot buttered fancy, I’ll make a traditional layered moussaka, with lamb and topped with béchamel, la la la. But for lunches, it’s ground beef, a jar of spaghetti sauce, pasta, seasoning, and vegetables, mixed up messy together and dumped in a bowl, sometimes topped with parmesan cheese. I served this on Sunday in my nice dishes, which are gigantic, so the portions were way too big. Mom and I finished our bowlfuls, but were too full to finish dessert, the caramel apple crisp I made that afternoon.
I started with a butt-ugly eggplant. I bought it over a week before I cooked it, and it didn’t age well in the fridge. It cooked up great, but it looked horrible, full of dents and creases, and the stem was brown and withered. I attempted every angle, but there was no pretty picture of the eggplant.
I hear it on the Food Network all the time that I’m supposed to gently wipe the mushrooms with a paper towel to clean off the dirt. And I did that – I did! For years, I followed the Kitchen Rule of Mushrooms: do not clean mushrooms in water. They will absorb the water like a sponge, and that will ruin their texture and keep them from browning properly.
Well, I was in a big, fat rush on Sunday to get dinner ready (Mom was in the living room watching “Live from the Red Carpet” and calling me in from the kitchen now and again to gasp at something glorious or hideous), so I threw caution to the wind and briefly rinsed the mushrooms in a strainer under cold water, instead of brushing off the grit with a towel. And they turned out just fine. Great, in fact. They were meaty and earthy, and everything mushrooms should be. From now on, I will save my time and rinse the mushrooms. I don’t care what Ina Garten says.
(I totally care what Ina Garten says.)
Recipe after the fold
Radiatori with Eggplant in Meaty Tomato Sauce
On Day 1, this was a pretty mild dish, with tiny pops of heat. Each day it sat in the fridge with the red pepper flakes infiltrating the sauce, it grew spicier and spicier.
1 lb. ground beef
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 green onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large eggplant, peeled and chopped
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1 tomato, chopped
26-oz. jar spaghetti sauce (I used Ragu Roasted Garlic)
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon kosher salt
8 oz. radiatori pasta
Brown ground beef in a dutch oven (i.e. big ol’ pot). When it’s nearly browned, add oil, onion, and garlic. Sauté for a few minutes, until it smells really good.
Add eggplant, mushrooms, and tomato, and sauté for a few more minutes.
Pour in spaghetti sauce, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, and salt, and simmer while you prepare the pasta.
Prepare the pasta per package directions; drain. Stir the pasta into the meat sauce. Serve with parmesan cheese.
P.S. Cooking takes way longer when you stop to take pictures along the way.