|Here's a money-saving tip: fresh oyster mushrooms are 75% cheaper when purchased at Asian markets rather gourmet grocery stores and supermarkets. A high turnover rate also ensures optimum freshness.|
|Lots of garlic required for this pasta!|
|Sizzling garlic and dried red chilies for this Sicilian-inspired pasta entree.|
|Tender, sweet baby eggplants can generally be found at Indian and Asian markets for a song. We paid $1/lb. for these beauties.|
|Pan-fried mushrooms are added to the cooked pasta.|
|We also added about 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese.|
|Looks like we got the perfect char on the roasted eggplants.|
|Early arrivals in the Cafe Drake HRV gardens - lovage and mint - are a stunning team combined with eggplant.|
SPAGHETTI WITH OYSTER MUSHROOMS & RICOTTA
Put a large saucepan of water over a high flame, and when it's boiling, add plenty of salt and 1 box or package whole wheat spaghetti noodles. Cook until al dente, or just tender; drain and do not rinse. Reserve before draining at least 1/2 cup pasta cooking water.
While the water is heating and the pasta cooking: heat 3-4 T. olive oil in a skillet until hot. Over a medium flame saute 4 cloves of chopped garlic for a couple of minutes; do not let the garlic brown. At the same time toss in the skillet 2-4 whole dried red chilies, broken into pieces. These will add flavor but little discernible heat. After 2 minutes add 1 lb. or so of fresh oyster mushrooms, or a mixture of whatever type you have or want. Toss well and turn up the heat. Cook, stirring almost constantly, for 3-4 minutes. Adding salt will help the mushrooms release some of their liquid. Cook until all liquid has been absorbed and then season aggressively with salt and black pepper. This isn't a ton of mushrooms for a pound of pasta so they should be quite salty!
Return drained spaghetti to the large saucepan and stir in the mushroom mixture. Combine well. Now stir in 1- 1/2 cups ricotta cheese. Slowly stir in some of the reserved cooking water, just enough to make a thin, creamy coating for the noodles. Toss very well, check for seasoning and serve hot or warm. Top with grated Parmesan or Romano cheeses and additional black pepper if desired.
ROASTED BABY EGGPLANT WITH SPRING HERBS
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. while you toss 1 1/2 lbs. of trimmed baby eggplants (just remove the tops/stems) with olive oil, cayenne pepper and at least 1 t. cumin powder. Cut larger eggplants in halves or prick all over with a sharp knife. Smaller ones, leave whole. If you're going to have to cut most of the eggplants into halves, it's easiest - and less messy - to do this before tossing with oil and spices.
Place eggplants in a single layer on a large baking sheet or two smaller ones. Roast for about 20 minutes, stirring a couple of times. The eggplants should be very soft and slightly charred when done. Remove pan from oven and while hot, drizzle with 1 T. honey. Mix well, right there on the baking sheet. Make it rain salt and black pepper over all. Toss again and transfer to a serving platter. Garnish generously with chopped lovage and mint leaves. Basil makes a good substitute for the lovage. Also, a drizzle of one of your finest aged balsamic vinegars wouldn't be out of place either.