Vegetable “Napoleon” and Rhubarb Muffins


It’s Friday, but in preparation for Meatless Mondays to come, I made my own take on the vegetable napoleons our students made in class.

I’ve long loved the combination of grilled eggplant and zucchini, typically with some tomatoes and grilled onions and a splash of balsamic and olive oil, so I had purchased all these things intending to make a grilled veggie salad but instead did this:

I know, I know. A better camera IS on the wish list I assure you.

I actually made this yesterday, and didn’t document it. I found it really needed the tomato sauce I added, so forgive me for the lack of pictures on stacking the veggies.  A true napoleon is made with puff pastry and is a dessert item, but calling this a “veggie stack” just doesn’t do it justice.

What’s the french word for stack?  Empilage, I guess?  So an “empilage de vegetal” then, if you’re a purist and want to get all fou fou.

First, the tomato sauce.  It should simmer as long as possible.  Mine went about an hour.

Tomato Sauce:

1 onion (small to medium), small dice
1-2 tbsp olive oil, depending on the size of your pan
2 – 4 cloves garlic (depending on your taste), minced
@ 1 cup wine.  I don’t measure wine.  Red is better, white is fine.
1 28 ounce can of whole tomatoes, crushed. Or crushed tomatoes for a smooth texture.  I use Muir Glen organic when I don’t buy San Marzano.
Salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar to taste.

I preheated my pan to low, and started with a small onion, but medium is fine.  Small dice.

This is one of the only occasions I will cook with extra virgin olive oil because I keep the pan on low the whole time and want the olive oil flavor. I also never measure oil.  Oil and I get on much better that way. Just enough to cover the bottom of the pan.

That much should do it. Onions and a healthy pinch of salt in the pan.  I use cast iron pans whenever I can.
Sweat the onions on low until they’re translucent, and mince some garlic while they’re sweating.  Into the pan, garlic.
Stir and cook for about 30 seconds, just until you can smell the garlic.
Here’s where I bend another one of my rules.  Normally, I wouldn’t cook with a wine I wouldn’t drink.  However, all I had around is the Blue Heron my mother left at Easter.  It’s far too sweet for me.  I normally wouldn’t even cook with a sweet wine, however, the sweetness works in an acidic sauce like tomato, so I’ve gradually exhausted the bottle on tomato sauces.  If I happened to have a red around, I would have used that.  I don’t drink wine in the summertime.  Summer is for beer.
I let the wine reduce until it’s nearly gone.  In the past,  I would have been tempted to jack up the heat at this point.  I just read a survey done by America’s test kitchen indicating that the pace at which you reduce wine makes a big difference in the final product.  Low and slow = round and full. Fast and high = tangy and edgy.  So, I smashed tomatoes while I waited.  I find the easiest way is in a ziploc, but if you want to be greener, a deep bowl and clean fingers works great too.

If you’re using a bag, it’s important to hold the top of the bag up like this with one hand, and smush at the bottom of the bag with the other hand on the counter.  I once did a class where I was trying to explain this to a group of children who weren’t listening as carefully as they might have. Predictably, a volcanic outpouring of tomatoes gushed out the top of the bag, onto one boy in particular, who behaved as if he had just been doused with battery acid. The tomatoes also gushed onto the unsuspecting floor, who had been listening just fine thank you and would never have done something so silly.  Luckily, the besmattered boy was wearing crocs, so I was able to wash his shoes out in the sink.  The boy, the floor, and the crocs all escaped unscathed.

I leave a little texture in my tomatoes, but you could just throw ’em in a blender if you want it smooth or buy ’em crushed and avoid the whole potential mess.  I do so love crushing them though.  Something very tactilely appealing and second-grade-halloween-party about it.

Tomatoes in the pan.
Hefty pinch of salt.  And I do mean hefty.
I don’t salt fully at this point since it’s going to reduce.  I ended up putting probably twice this much into the final product, but that’s subjective.  This here’s a good start.
Then I just let it simmer until virtually no liquid remained, stirring occasionally.
Then when it’s there, I finish with balsamic.  About this much.
Maybe a tablespoon?  ish?  Taste, adjust.  Mine needed more salt, pepper, and this would have been where I would have added herbs.  My basil plant’s been going crazy –

Anyone need some basil? Anyone? Bueller?

But I already had some basil in the “Empilage” so, I didn’t put it in the sauce.

I once made this sauce for a class for lunch, and two little girls in the class said, “That’s the best meal we’ve had in our whole lives.”  Which was flattering, but also sad, because it’s not that hard to make, and jarred pasta sauce hasn’t been around that long.  Their grandmothers would never have had jarred pasta sauce, I’ll bet.  Plus, I’d rather give my money to the tomato farmers than the manufacturers of commercial pasta sauce and the chemical manufacturers of the preservatives in commercial pasta sauce.

While the sauce is simmering, it’s a good time to prep the stack.

Veggie Stack

1 eggplant, cut into 1″ rounds
1 zucchini, cut into 1/2″ rounds
Veg oil
Fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2 inch rounds
2 medium tomatoes, small dice
1 clove garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Goat cheese, crumbled
Basil leaves, chiffonaded
Tomato sauce (recipe above)

Heat grill pan to ripping hot. Preheat the oven to 375.

Brush vegetable rounds with oil.
Grill both the eggplant and zucchini until each side is marked.  The object here isn’t to fully cook the eggplant and zucchini since they are going to be baked afterwards and could turn to mush if overcooked. If it’s summer, and you don’t want to turn on your oven, it’s ok to cook them through fully on the grill.  Just be sure in that case to do the zucchini first, eggplant next, and put the mozzarella on top of the eggplant once you’ve flipped it, to melt the cheese. The final texture should be firm but tender.
While the veggies are grilling, small dice your tomato and mince your garlic.
Put a saute pan on high heat.
Put the olive oil and garlic in for 20-30 seconds.  Add tomatoes immediately.  Toss.  Add salt and pepper. Toss.  Cook another 30 seconds.  Done. (This is one of my favorite pasta sauces when I don’t have an hour.) You can mix the basil in with this if you like.  I did.
Build napoleons (in a baking dish if you’re baking ’em).  Eggplant first for a strong base.  Mozzarella.  Goat cheese.  Basil. Zucchini. Repeat.  Top it all with sauce and pop them in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is melty.
So good.  And carbless, I might add.
But what’s a day without carbs?  Right?  Right.

Rhubarb Muffins

These are one of my favorite muffins/cupcakes O.A.T. (of all time. Yes, I say that with no hyperbole whatsoever).

I have tried to make them lower in fat and have failed miserably.  I think I’m just about to give up and embrace them in all their fatty goodness.  This was the last attempt at lowering it, but they came out alright.  I think I saved maybe 2 grams of fat per muffin, so meh.  In the future, I’ll take the 2 g and work my chia seeds in somewhere else.

1 1/2 cups All Purpose flour (or 7.5 oz)
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick butter (in this case 3 oz butter 1 oz chia gel)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream (I use crema, because that’s what I keep around.  I like it better than sour cream and it incorporates better into batters.
1/2 lb rhubarb, cut into small dice

First, I prep my rhubarb.  I start by cutting the chunks into manageable pieces

Then into planks about 1/4″ thick
Then into little batons or matchsticks about 1/4″ thick
And finally into small dice.  Small dice is important because rhubarb is very tart and not to be consumed in large chunks. Plus, it makes the final product have this charming confetti effect.  You’ll see.
Combine butter (and chia gel) and sugar in mixing bowl with the paddle attachment.
It’s hard to properly cream by hand but you can if you have the time and no electric mixer or stand mixer.
The butter should be almost white, and when you rub it, you shouldn’t feel individual granuals.

This should take 3-5 minutes at medium to high speed, so if you’re using a stand mixer, now’s a great time to whisk your flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.
Next add 1 egg to the butter mixture and fully incorporate.  Don’t add the next one until it looks like this.
No traces of eggs.
Add next egg and vanilla and fully incorporate.
Then gather together the rest of your ingredients if you haven’t.
Dry ingredients, check. Crema, check. Rhubarb, check.  Lined muffin tin, check.  Disher (scoop), check.
So now I fold in my dry and wet alternately, always starting and ending with dry.  I fold carefully, so that I don’t develop gluten and toughen the cupcakes.
1/3 of the dry.
1/2 the crema
Repeat.
Finish with flour.
This is a really thick batter.  Not to worry.  You’re not doing it wrong.
Fold in the rhubarb.
Once fully incorporated, I use the disher to portion.  I use exactly one scoop per cupcake, scraping it up the side of the bowl,
This way, each one is consistent.  They all cook at the same rate, and none of the smaller ones overbake waiting for the bigger ones to catch up.
I baked them at 350 for 15-17 minutes.
Voila –
And inside they look like confetti!
If I were eating this as a cupcake, I would top it with a cream cheese frosting.  Thankfully, they freeze pretty well, so I’m just going to have them by themselves in the morning when I need a treat and a taste of spring.
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