Potato and Tomato Casserole with Olives and Herbs (D)

August 22, 2006 at 7:32 pm (F (0 stars, inedible), Italian, Jack Bishop)

This southern Italian casserole is supposed to be sort of like a lasagna, except with potatoes instaed of pasta and a “pungent herb paste” instead of tomato sauce. The recipe is again from The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook by Jack Bishop.

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
3 large garlic cloves
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1.5 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
4 medium baking potatoes (about 2 pounds), peeled and sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
10 large black olives, pitted and chopped
6 small, ripe but firm tomatoes (about 1.5 pounds), cored and sliced crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick rounds

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the herbs and garlic in the work bowl of a food processor or blender. Pulse, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until the ingredients are finely chopped. With the motor running, slowly add 2 Tbs. of the oil to form a thick paste. Scrape the herb paste into a small bowl and stir in the salt and pepper.

2. Place the bread crumbs in a small bowl and drizzle 1 Tbs. oil over them. Mix just until the crumbs are moistened.

3. Brush a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil. Cover the bottom of the pan with one half of the potatoes, overlappiing the slices slightly. Sprinkle half the olives over the potatoes. Cover with a layer of half ot he tomato slices and then dot each tomato with a tiny bit of the herb paste. Repeat the layering of the poatoes, olives, tomatoes, and herb paste. Sprinkle the crumbs over the top.

4. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the juices are bubbling and the bread crumbs are lightly browned, about 25 minutes more.

5. Let the casserole cool on a rack for 10 minutes so the layers solidify. Cut into squares and serve immediately.

I had extremely high hopes for this recipe, maybe because I love lasagna so much. But it was utterly disappointing. Now, I do have to confess, as usual, I didn’t correctly follow the recipe. I didn’t have fresh oregano so I used some dried and added some fresh parsley. I also didn’t use the bread crumbs, but instead sprinkled a Tbs. of parmesan on the top layer of potatoes. My kalamata olives were small so I used double the number called for. Finally, and probably most importantly, I forgot to add the salt. I suppose it is possible that this would have transformed the dish, but I doubt it.

The tomatoes let out a lot of water as they cooked so the bottom half of the dish boiled rather than baked. The herb paste was actually surprisingly watery. I added an extra Tbs. of olive oil to it because the processor blades wouldn’t turn, but still the end paste was watery. Maybe I didn’t dry my herbs well enough. The tomatoes had a sort of stringy texture, and the peel often became separated from the flesh, so there were lose circles of tomato peel floating around. There weren’t enough olives to really infuse the dish with olive flavor, and the herb paste tasted dull and watered down. It’s possible that the salt would have helped the herb paste stay bright tasting, but then again it did get boiled for almost an hour… The only part of this dish I enjoyed were the crispy potato slices on the very top of the casserole, that had the browned parmesan on top of them. Clearly, I would have rather just eaten oven-fries.

I gave the rest of this dish to a coworker who is always happy to try my “disasters”, and he ate it all up. He said he thought it was pretty good, and was surprised because the most flavorful part of the dish was the potatoes.

Rating: D

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Sauteed Mushrooms with Garlic and Herbs (B-)

August 22, 2006 at 7:27 pm (C (2 stars, okay, edible), Italian, Jack Bishop, Quick weeknight recipe, Vegetable dishes)

I bought mushrooms to make white bean pate, but radically overestimated the amount I needed. I bought two pounds instead of two cups. So I decided to use the rest up in this simple dish from The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook by Jack Bishop.

1.5 pounds white button mushrooms
3 Tbs. olive oil
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup minced fresh herbs

1. Clean mushrooms. Halve small mushrooms and quarter larger ones.
2. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and saute over medium heat until golden, about 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and raise the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms are golden brown and the liquid in the pan has mostly evaporated, about 8 minutes.
3. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir in the herbs. Cook for 1 to 2 minute just until the pan is dry. Serve immediately.

Bishop suggests using sage, oregano, thyme, marjoram, basil, parsley, and/or chives. I used a combination of sage, basil, parsley, mint and dill. Unfortunately, as is typical, my small deviation from the recipe was unsuccessful. The mint and dill flavors didn’t quite work with the earthiness of the mushrooms. I also used slightly less olive oil than called for, but I think that worked fine. The mushrooms weren’t as decadent, but they still tasted rich enough and they browned nicely (although I did have to add a few spoonfuls of water to start the cooking process). The texture of the mushrooms was pleasantly chewy in my opinion, but I know Derek wouldn’t have appreciated it at all.

Although these mushrooms were reasonably tasty, I think they were a bit boring for a side dish, and would work better as a component of a more complex dish.

Rating: B-

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