What I had for dinner:
Yesterday was pig-out time at the 9th Avenue Fair, so dinner consisted of a drink and a few olives while attempting to finish the London Times puzzle in NY mag (unsuccessfully, as most often).
Today's dinner started with an idea: I had an eggplant in the fridge, so I thought of making an eggplant salad (Moroccan style, with tomatoes but hardly any tahini, unlike the more common Lebanese version), and with that maybe some poached or broiled seafood.
Things did not go that way. The first shop I visited, at 110th street, had absolutely superb artichokes, so that preempted the appetizer slot immediately. The eggplant had to go somewhere else. It can be served many ways, but my absolute favorite is in a stew, the classic ratatouille. The only fish that I feel comfortable with on the side of a ratatouille is monkfish (besides the unaffordable lobster and similar shellfish), but there was none at 116th street, so I decided to go for lamb, especially since they has some very nice shanks; cheap and tasty.
The shanks should be cooked Greek style, i.e. very well done, until falling off the bone; a pressure cooker is invaluable here. A little oil to brown the meat, half an onion, some celery, one clove of garlic (bruised), and an inch or so of water. Braise under pressure for 45-60 minutes.
Meanwhile peel and cube the eggplant, add to it 1 can (1 lb) of crushed tomatoes, 2 each chopped jalapeno and Anheim peppers, 1 very large Spanish onion cut in wedges, 2 red peppers cut in strips, 1 bay leaf, a tablespoon (not packed) of dried sage, and a small stick (1/2 inch) of cinnamon. Cook covered over low heat until done.
Cube 2 zucchinis, and brown them in a wok with a little olive oil. Cover the wok and continue cooking until just done but still firm (a few minutes). Add the zucchini to the stew, top with pieces of lamb, and douse with the defatted, reduced cooking juices from the pressure cooker.
And to complete the Mediterranean mood, a homemade Pastis is de rigueur.
Pastis (to be prepared a week ahead, at least):
In a 1 liter glass jar (orange juice for instance), place 2 oz (4 tbsp) sugar, a small handful of chopped licorice (hunt for that in Chinatown; it is very inexpensive), 1 oz of pure anise extract (Mc Cormick works very well), and add 1 bottle of the cheapest vodka or 80-100 proof grain alcohol. Mix well over several days, then strain through a coffee filter. Serve 1 part of pastis to 4-5 parts of iced water and ice and enjoy.
Then have another one while writing up the recipe. Nothing beats a tried and true, and tried again, recipe ...