Fennel Orzotto with Roasted Baby Eggplants (or Chicken) – 25/67

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Today (well, Friday, when I wrote this), the sky is blue, the sun is shining, and the weather feels like it should for September. This morning, students all over the country went to climate strikes, and let the world know they aren’t afraid to use their voices. Earlier this week, Elizabeth Warren held a rally in Washington Square Park and talked about how she’s here because of women’s work. And she took selfies with the crowd for 4 hours. And she had people in the crowd introduce themselves to their neighbors (the best way to quickly form community, imho). I can’t help but be excited. (Feel free to listen to this episode of The Daily and then talk about it with me.) Change and plans and revolt are in the air. 

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Also today, I had my first rehearsal for a new kid’s puppet show I’m directing. It felt like the right group of humans in the room, and we joked around about Ritz the Rat (“The name’s Ritz, Puttin’ on The”) and silly songs. It was goofy and fun and optimistic. Today I’m marginally hung over from drinking two carafes of wine last night with friends over pizza and burrata. Today I have happily consumed leftovers from Daniel’s last night solo cooking adventure, a rice-bean-veggie instant pot affair, even though it includes some little pieces of chicken. I have come to accept I am more flexitarian than vegetarian these days. I will not go out of my way to order or buy meat. But if someone has already purchased it and made it, I don’t have to be as strict, especially when it means free lunch. I’m still not particularly interested in cooking chicken (and that’s really the only meat I’d broach the subject about), but please don’t get mad at me for eating a soup dumpling and still calling myself mostly a vegetarian. (Nobody actually does this, everyone I know is quite even-keeled and open-minded, I’m just putting it out there as a generality.) I realize the earth doesn’t need more meat eaters, and I never want it to be a regular part of my diet. But also, meat dumplings taste better than veggie dumplings. 

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All this to say, I don’t mind a couple Daniel-made chicken-adjacent ingredients. A cup of chicken broth goes far in an otherwise vegetarian dish, and usually makes Daniel more excited to eat whatever it is we’re cooking. I was okay eating this orzo, even though it was browned in chicken fat. I know this isn’t the case for real vegetarians, and apologize if I’ve offended you or lead you astray. So I give the caveat of this delicious recipe — I’ve only made the meaty version of the orzotto (which is, uh, orzo cooked like risotto). And I loved it. So much flavor! However I’m sure it would be equally delicious as a purely veggie main, using just butter or some olive oil in the early steps. The eggplant was a wonderful chicken replacement. Let me know if you try it. 

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three years ago: miso mizuna soup
five years ago: spicy micheladas

Fennel Orzotto with Roasted Baby Eggplants (or Chicken) 

thank you Molly for this delicious dinner recipe! (that I totally hacked to make it more veg-adjacent)

Baby Eggplant – a riff on this real simple recipe 

2 baby eggplants
1 lemon, half in slices, half juiced
Herb sprigs such as thyme, oregano, or rosemary
A couple sliced garlic cloves
Olive oil
s&p

Preheat oven to 450F. Make a slit in your eggplants, and stuff with lemon and garlic and herbs if you got them. Drizzle with half a lemon’s worth of juice and some olive oil. Liberally salt and pepper. Place in a small dish and cover with foil. Roast for 40ish minutes, flipping occasionally, until puckery and soft and tender. Take foil off for last 5 minutes of cooking.

 Chicken and Fennel Orzotto 

2 tablespoons butter
3 chicken legs, bone-in and skin-on (This recipe originally called for 6 pieces of chicken, but I decided the eggplants were a good sub for half the chicken. All other amounts from Molly’s original recipe have remained) 

1 fennel bulb, chopped small (fronds chopped and reserved for garnish)
1 leek, white and pale green parts, in half moons
1 cup dried orzo
⅓ cup dry white wine
2½ cups broth
Zest and juice from half a lemon, plus extra wedges to serve
Chopped fresh parsley
s&p

(This is the part about Chicken)

Preheat oven to 400F. 

Melt butter in a biggish cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper your chicken legs. Place chicken in pan, skin side down. Make sure chicken is in a single layer. If it doesn’t all fit, nestle in new pieces when old ones have slightly shrunk. Cook until meat is opaque around the edges and skin is deeply golden, about 6-7 minutes. Turn chicken so the skin side is up, and transfer skillet to oven, where your eggplant may already be cooking. If so, turn oven down to 400 for this part. Bake until chicken is cooked through, 10-15 minutes. Or until a sticky pokey thing says 160F. Transfer chicken pieces to a plate. Turn oven back up to 450F if roasting eggplant. 

(Start here for Veg Orzotto)

Return skillet to medium heat. (If veg version, add EVOO or a nub of butter.) Add fennel and leek, sprinkle with salt, and saute for about 5 minutes. Veggies should be starting to turn golden brown. Add orzo and toast for a couple minutes, or until evenly browned. 

Deglaze the pan with wine and cook for some moments, until absorbed. Add broth in half cup increments, stirring fairly frequently. Wait until each dose is mostly absorbed before adding the next half cupful. Don’t let the pan get too dry. Taste around 2 cups of broth to see if orzo is cooked, if not, keep adding broth until it’s al dente. This process should take 10-15 minutes. 

Remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to your liking, and lemon juice and zest. Place chicken and/or eggplant on top. Sprinkle with chopped fennel fronds and parsley. Serve with lemon wedges. 

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great leftovers!

Roasted Eggplant and Pepper Soup with Orzo

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As soon as that well-deserved mythical short-lived apparition called Spring in New York City appears, I notice my fellow city-dwellers in what can only be called trendy clothes. Gone are the layers of coats, grandma hats, tights-under-leggings-under-jeans, and here is…fashion. As someone not particularly privy to this world of fashion, due to a combination of genes, money, and just not caring very much, I still feel the pull to present myself as, well, presentable. And instead of rushing to a thrift shop or *gasp* an actual store with regulated price tags and employees who are really freaking good at folding, I head to the strange and wonderful world of the back of my closet.

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And so this is how, year after year, I find myself wearing this same dumb light purple, zip-up, three-quarters sleeved, stretchy-fabric abomination. Originally purchased circa 2005 at Marshalls/TJMaxx, the shirt has since made an appearance in my senior yearbook photo and whenever I try something high-waisted.

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Today is one of those days. Today I feel 10 years younger, stressing out about my geometry test and writing notes to the cute boys who would play poker during class as our batty teacher Mrs. Corbasero looked the other way and I memorized lines for my Starring Role of the Moment, and I angstily daydreamed about moving to New York City and Living the Life, which probably involved frosting for breakfast and a movie star boyfriend. Well, 10 year ago me, frosting for breakfast leads to expensive dental appointments and actors (tend to) suck as boyfriends. Try soup instead. (And programmer-climber-photographers.)

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leftover vegetable-skin detritus has taken over the table.

This soup is goooood. For dinner or breakfast or whenever. It tastes freaking delicious and doesn’t give a shit about your 15-year-old (or 25-year-old) insecurities. Also I didn’t follow a recipe, so who needs math now, Mrs. Corbasero?

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Roasted Eggplant and Pepper Soup with Orzo 

a Swanky original

3 bell peppers (I did 2 red and 1 green)
1 large eggplant
olive oil
1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes
3 sprigs rosemary
1 head garlic (or ¾ of a head, if that’s what you’ve got…)
1 large onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 T sherry
½ c dried orzo
1.5-2 c veggie broth
¼ c parsley, roughly chopped, plus extra for garnish
1 big T tahini

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Okay, you’ve gotta roast 4(!) separate vegetables. But don’t worry; it’s easy! Stick all trays in the oven at the same time.

  1. Arrange whole peppers on roasting tray. Stick in oven. Turn peppers every 12 minutes or so with tongs. Don’t worry when skin darkens. Peppers are done when they’re completely charred, anywhere from 35-50 minutes. Out of the oven, wrap peppers individually in foil and let sit for about 10-15 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Peel, discard skins, and roughly chop. Two peppers will be pureed for soup; 1 should be reserved to give texture (if that’s your kinda thang…)
  2. Cut stem and bottom off eggplant. Cut in half lengthwise. Score inch-thick diagonal lines across eggplant halves, careful not to pierce skin. Working quickly, rub olive oil on scored flesh; about 1-2 t per side. Place on roasting sheet, cut side down, and stick in oven. Eggplant is done when skin is puckered and flesh is soupy and browned. Depending on the size of your eggplant, this could take anywhere from 20-40 minutes. Check frequently! After eggplant cools for 5 minutes or so, scoop flesh into a bowl; discard skins.
  3. Cut garlic head in half lengthwise. Rub with olive oil and s&p; wrap in foil. Toss in oven (on eggplant or pepper tray) for 45-60 minutes. When cool enough to touch, smoosh out individual roasted segments and add to eggplant. Discard skins.
  4. Drain canned tomatoes, reserving liquid. Cut tomatoes in half; place on a third roasting tray with rosemary, a drizzle of olive oil, and s&p. Cook for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes are a bit browned and shrunken. Discard rosemary.

Meanwhile, heat a large pot with 1 T olive oil to medium-low heat. Add onions and a big t salt and sauté for about 10 minutes. Add carrots; cook for another 10 minutes. Add sherry, scraping up any browned bits that have stuck to the pot. Keep on a low flame until ready to use.

In small saucepan, cook orzo according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Once all parts are ready, it’s blender time! Combine: eggplant, roasted peppers (reserving one to give the soup some texture), half of roasted tomatoes, most of onion-carrot mixture, 1.5 c broth, and parsley. Puree until smooth, adding extra broth and s&p as needed.

Pour pureed soup over remaining onion-carrot mixture in big pot; add sliced roasted peppers, chopped roasted tomatoes, tahini, ¼ c tomato liquids, s&p. Simmer together until warmed through.

Serve topped with orzo and chopped parsley.