Smoky eggplant-pistachio mince, and Turnovers with eggplant mince, white beans, roasted peppers and olives

Eggplant and white bean turnovers

Eggplant and white bean turnovers

I have a new job. I like it a lot, but I still feel like I’m just getting used to it. I have these strange anxiety dreams that have nothing to do with the actual job–waitressing anxiety dreams, or middle school anxiety dreams (although these probably have more to do with Malcolm actually starting middle school). My old job was a lot of walking and talking to people. My new job is lots of sitting and writing and looking. Part of my work is deciding if images are ready to be made into prints that artists can sell–if they’re cropped correctly, and in focus, and of a sufficiently large size. This part of the job was hard for me at first. I’m naturally a second-guesser. I don’t always trust my eyes. I don’t really like to be the decider, especially if it involves someone else’s work. But here’s the funny thing. Each artist’s work is wildly different from every other artist’s work. Some are sweet, some are pretty, some are disturbing. Some are oil, some pastel, some drawings or prints or mixed media. Obviously I don’t love everything I see. Nobody would. I like certain kinds of art just like everybody else does. But it’s my job to look at the work as closely as I can, to zoom right in and make sure everything is in focus. And I’ve experienced such a strange phenomenon. When I look at each image as closely as I possibly can: too close to see the subject matter, but close enough to see each brush stroke or pencil scratch, too close to even read the signature, when I see them like this I love each one. I often wonder why people do what they do–why they say what they say and write what they write and sing what they sing and draw what they draw. Why that particular thing, why bother at all? Well, when you see them up close like this, you realize that this is a useless question. It doesn’t matter why. It doesn’t matter what. It’s beautiful just that they tried, they created something with their own hands, with strokes that no other hands could have made in exactly the same way. Many of them are just Ordinary people with day jobs, for many of them art is not a career, it’s a passion. But I like to think about them going about their day thinking about their art, with that bright spark in their mind and then giving that spark life with strokes on canvas or paper. I like to think about that.

Eggplant and white bean turnovers

Eggplant and white bean turnovers

More eggplant! This was sort of a failed dish that turned into something better. I was going to make eggplant cutlets or kofta, but they fell apart, and I ended up making a sort of mince. I thought it was really good! We made a fire in the back yard and put the eggplant right into the fire, till they were charred and melty. When they were cool enough I peeled them and mashed them with some pistachios and garlic and herbs. And then I ended up frying them almost like I was making scrambled eggs or hash browns. The first night we ate this with sautéed chard and some bread that I made and a creamy pistachio sauce. The next night I made turnovers or empanadas with leftover eggplant mince and white beans, olives, roasted red peppers and leeks. Even Isaac liked them! He ate seconds!

Here’s the Velvet Underground with Sweet Jane, because I’m currently obsessed with it, and because you could be a clerk and still make art.

Eggplant mince

Eggplant mince

EGGPLANT MINCE

2 medium sized eggplants, tops cut off, skin pierced here and there

1/2 cup pistachio kernels

1 clove garlic, roasted

2 t rosemary

3 fresh sage leaves, minced

2 pieces sandwich bread (preferably whole wheat or oatmeal)

1 t baking soda

1/2 cup sharp cheddar, grated

1 egg

salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper

about 1/4 cup olive oil

You want to cook the eggplant until it’s charred outside and meltingly soft inside. We did this by sticking it right in the middle of a fire in our fire pit for about half an hour. You could also put it on a hot grill or roast it for about 45 minutes to an hour. Obviously, the more fire involved, the smokier it will taste in the end. When it’s very soft, remove from the heat and let cool and drain in a colander. Peel, roughly chop, and pop it in the food processor.

Add the nuts, herbs, cheese, egg, garlic, bread, salt, pepper, and baking soda and process until the bread and nuts are broken down. But you don’t want it to be completely smooth. A little texture is nice.

Warm the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the eggplant mixture and fry as you  might scrambled eggs. When the bottom gets browned, scrape it up and mix it in and let the bottom get browned again. Eventually, when you feel as though everything is cooked through, after ten minutes or so, you can form it into a more cohesive patty, and let the bottom get nice and brown, and then flip it so it gets browned on the other side. You’ll have some nice big chunks and some more crumbly pieces. We ate this with sautéed chard and garlic, tomatoes, basil and mozzarella, and some flatbread I made. It was very good. With the leftovers I made…

Turnovers with eggplant mince, white beans, roasted peppers and olives

THE CRUST

2 cups flour

1/2 t salt

lots of black pepper

1 stick (8T) butter, frozen

Mix the flour with the salt and pepper. Grate in the butter and mix with a fork until coarse and crumbly. Add just enough ice water to pull everything into a cohesive ball. Knead briefly, for about one minute. Flatten the ball a bit, wrap in foil, and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.

THE FILLING

2 cups (+/-) eggplant mince

1 can white beans, rinsed and drained

2 smallish leeks, cleaned

1 T butter

1 large red pepper, roasted, peeled and chopped

1/2 cup castelvetrano olives, pitted and roughly chopped

a few ounces sharp cheddar, grated (or more if you like it cheesy)

1 egg, beaten, reserve 1 T to brush on top

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Slice the leeks lengthwise and then cut into 1/8th inch slices. Put these in the butter and fry until they start to brown and wilt. If the pan dries out you can put a splash of water or white wine.

Put everything in a large bowl and mix together. Preheat the oven to 400 and lightly butter a baking sheet. Break off a golf-ball sized piece of dough. Roll it into a circle about 6 inches wide and 1/8th inch thick. Put a heaping spoonful of filling on half of it, leaving about 1/2 inch to the edge. Fold the dough over, seal it with a fork. Place on the baking sheet and brush with a little egg. Prick it in one or two places with the fork. Repeat until all the dough and filling are used up.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until the tops of the empanadas are nicely browned. Let cool slightly, and eat.

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