I saw and tasted pesto for the first time in college. My mom didn’t make it and the Italian restaurants in my area didn’t offer it. Or I just ignored it, because I didn’t know about it. A group of students studying German stayed in the dorm for the summer. Some of them were Italian and occasionally cooked for the people who spent their summer there as well. I was among them. And they offered me some dark green mass to go with my pasta. Of course I had to taste it. Wow. It was a very intense and wonderful taste. I didn’t really know fresh basil until then either. I was impressed and eventually tried to find out how to make it. Here’s the result:
- 2 cups of basil leaves
- ¼ cup of nuts (pistachio, pine nuts, even cashew or walnuts)
- 3-5 cloves of garlic
- 3 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- ¼ teaspoon of pepper
- Put the nuts and the garlic cloves into a small food chopper
- Pulse it a couple of times and start adding the basil leaves
- Add olive oil until it becomes a paste
- Add the grated cheese
- Add pepper and salt to taste.
This is a rather involved recipe, but my wife loves it and I get to prepare it quite often. I originally discovered it at the southern food section of About.com. It’s a two part recipe. The first part is easy, layer a casserole dish with eggplant slices and fill it up with some ground beef mixture. See this article for some instructions how to prepare eggplants
It gets tricky for the uninitiated with part two. The first couple of times it felt more like I am doing a chemistry experiment, fearing to get the timing wrong. The first critical moment to me is already the mixing of the molten butter and the flour. It’s supposed to turn into a paste, but it usually is just a bunch of yellow clumps sizzling in the pan. And then I have to add milk. I hate hot milk. I hate the smell of milk boiling over. Who doesn’t? But that usually goes well, since you can just move the pan off the heat before it gets gross. Slowly adding the cheese is an easy step, but adding the egg to the mix is not. The eggs would quickly congeal if we just poured them into the sauce. Thus, we warm them up a little at first by adding some warm sauce into the beaten eggs. Once warm, we can pour them safely back into the mixture.
And honestly, I actually haven’t messed up the cheese sauce so far. Most of it is just stressing out, since you have to stay focused and keep moving once you get started. And the result is just wonderful. A smooth, cheesy sauce on top of your meat. Made me think of the time when I helped my dad leveling the concrete for the driveway.
- 1 large eggplant
- 1 pound ground beef
- 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
- 8 oz can tomato sauce
- 5 oz shredded cheddar cheese
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup milk
- 2 eggs or egg substitute
- 3 cloves garlic
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- Slice the eggplant in ½" slices, prepared as mentioned above
- Butter a casserole dish and layer half the eggplant slices in the casserole dish
- Brown the ground beef in a pan
- Add tomatoes and tomato sauce
- Add minced garlic to the meat as well as salt, pepper, oregano and a dash of cinnamon
- Pour the mixture into your casserole dish on top of the eggplant
- Layer the remaining eggplants on top.
- Beat the eggs in a mixing bowl or use egg substitute
- Melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour
- On low heat add milk slowly until it comes to a rolling boil
- Slowly spoon cheese into the mixture while stirring continuously
- Add a spoonful or two of the cheesy sauce to the beaten egg and whisk it in
- Now pour all of the egg mixture into the cheese sauce and stir until smooth.
- Pour the cheese sauce over the top layer of eggplant and smooth it with a spoon.
- Bake at 400F for 30 minutes
I found this recipe by accident while looking for a Cheese Spaetzle recipe. By that time I had already some experience with casseroles and there wasn’t anything scary about baking something in the oven. We are also perfectly fine with vegetarian dishes and this one seemed perfect. What I didn’t know, was what an intense flavor leek adds to a meal. It is not as sharp as raw onions, but it gives the dish a distinctive flavor.
Note to self: Article/Rant about ethnic food pricing. $5 for one pound of noodles if your standard super market even carries it. Don’t despair. I’ve found Aldi is selling it for $2.29 or so.
- 1 pound spaetzle noodles
- 1 large zucchini
- 2 stalks of leek
- 5 oz of spinach
- 12 oz shredded swiss cheese
- 1 table spoon butter
- Pre-heat the oven to 375 F
- Butter a casserole dish (at least 2" deep and needs a lid)
- Slice the zucchini and leeks in ¼" slices
- Boil the spaetzle in salt water, typically for 12-13 minutes.
- Drain the spaetzle and layer ⅓ of them on the bottom of the casserole dish.
- Next layer is half your spinach, half the zucchini.
- Push the half the leek slices apart into rings and add them on top.
- Salt and pepper this layer.
- Add ⅓rd of your cheese.
- Repeat this with another layer of spaetzle, spinach, zucchini, leeks and again cheese.
- You may have to push it down a bit, since your casserole dish is most likely full by now.
- Add the remaining spaetzle and top them with the remaining cheese.
- Bake it in the oven for 20 minutes, with lid on top
- Bake it for 5-10 more minutes without a lid
Cheese Spaetzle, the German answer to Mac & Cheese with a twist. Or with onions. You’ll find this dish all over southern Germany, in a small Gasthaus or in not so fancy restaurants. It’s a quick fix if you don’t want to go for a fully featured entree. Or something used as a foundation if you are out to get some serious beer drinking done. Or get the munchies while drinking serious beer. You get the idea.
But it’s also easy to make in a hurry or in a bind and once you have the spaetzle covered, the remaining ingredients should be available in every kitchen.
- 1 pound spaetzle noodles
- 1 medium-large onion
- 8 oz Swiss or Emmentaler cheese, shredded
- Boil the spaetzle in salt water, see bag for duration.
- Dice the onion and saute them in oil.
- Drain the spaetzle once they are done and put half of them in a bowl.
- Add one layer of onions (about ⅔rds) on top.
- Add one half of the shredded cheese.
- Add the other half of the noodles, the remaining onions and top with the remaining cheese.