It started out like any other night…
You know–the kind of night where you break out some farmer’s market vegetables, your herb garden, and a bottle of wine.
When my best friend Sara comes to visit, I want nothing more than to dazzle her with my cooking skills. However, no matter how incredible your frittatas are or how perfectly you can sear a scallop–if you once burned a grilled peanut butter and jelly in college and presented it black-side-down, there’s a chance your credibility as a gourmet chef is shot.
Note to all cooks: now matter how well you hide something you’ve accidentally charred, unless you’re feeding it to yourself or your cat–you’re probably going to get found out.
It was a Friday night and Sara was making her way down route 17. Luckily I had just been to the Raleigh Farmer’s Market the previous weekend and had a fridge full of goodies. I studied the ingredients in front of me: tomatoes, eggplant, fresh basil, red wine… This Italian medley screamed eggplant parmesan. Well, they didn’t actually scream. It came out as more of a hymn really.
Although I was tempted to hum the tune of this traditional dish, I wanted to create something that Sara wouldn’t expect. Something that she wouldn’t find anywhere else but my kitchen. Unfortunately I was fresh out of burnt sandwiches…
So instead I made this:
Grilled Vegetable Napoleon with purple and baby eggplant, zucchini, creamy parmesan spinach, tomatoes and seasoned goat cheese in a homemade heirloom tomato and basil marinara surrounded by a balsamic reduction.
I know what you’re thinking, and no–I will not be your best friend too. But I will share with you my thoughts on this beautiful dinner. I’d like to tell you that the task of perfectly stacking each ingredient was done gracefully and with ease; but I would be lying. And Sara would leave a comment on this post reminding me of the high pitched squeal that came out of my mouth as a flew across the counter to rescue a fallen zucchini. This method takes patience and a set of steady hands to form such a fragile structure and the goat cheese plays a crucial role in holding everything together.
Goat cheese, take a bow.
The eggplant and zucchini were sliced into rounds, brushed with olive oil and herbs, and oven roasted. The contrast between the tender veggies, creamy white wine spinach, and crunchy ripe tomatoes created a perfect blend of textures and flavors. The richness from the herby, lemon zest-infused goat cheese was cut perfectly by the fresh marinara–made from heirloom tomatoes, sweet onions, basil, and red wine. I’m no expert (wait, yes I am, keep reading), but I believe that fresh basil is the secret ingredient to a great homemade tomato sauce.
Get the recipe for my homemade heirloom marinara here.
You need something sweet to pair with the acidic tomatoes, and earthy fragrant leaves of torn basil are the perfect complement. I didn’t want the sauce to be overly smooth because I’m a big fan of rustic, hand-made cooking and nothing says rustic like big hunks of tomato. However, I still ran the sauce through the blender once to get it to the perfect consistency. A good canned marinara is usually on everyone’s grocery list, but if you get the chance to make it from scratch–it’s worth every red splatter on your tank top.
The flavor and the presentation of the dish speaks for itself, but the true glory of this meal is knowing that almost every element came out of local soil. I can’t urge you enough to go check out your local farmer’s market for this very reason. Farm-to-table restaurants are pretty rare around this area, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t create local dishes in your own kitchen and at your own table.
Okay. So I don’t techincally have a table.
We will call this style of cooking…“farm-to-couch.”
The underlying moral of this story: not only can a locally inspired, made-from-scratch meal overthrow your past culinary errors–but if you feed your friends, they will stay. And if they stay, they just might make you a collage for your new office.