Most foodies crave truly delicious fresh vegetables, especially since they can be tough to find. Imagine my delight when fresh produce from Chickadee Creek Farm’s stand at the Denville Farmers Market included outstanding ingredients that resulted in more than one delicious meal. The eggplant, most notable for its mild, mellow taste, was the star of the selection. As a home chef who has purchased eggplant so bitter that it was unusable, I could particularly appreciate this lovely purple beauty. But please note: the kale and tomatoes that I served as simple sides were also excellent–tasty and fresh.
Chickadee Creek Farm, a certified organic and certified transitional organic vegetable, flower and herb farm, is located in Pennington. The farm boasts agriculturist Jess Niederer, who was honored as the state’s National Outstanding Young Farmer in 2016. Visit the website for more information.
Potato, Beef and Eggplant Casserole
Large eggplant, peeled and cut width-wise into ½ inch slices
3 medium potatoes, white or Yukon gold, peeled and sliced
¾ lb ground beef
½ large white onion, thinly sliced
1 8 ounce can tomato sauce
3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
½ cup dry red wine
¼ cup flour
2 tablespoons butter, 1 cup milk (not skim)
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
1 small box raisins (1 ounce) – optional
Canola cooking spray
2 quart gratin or similar broiler-safe pan
1. Salting each slice lightly, stack up eggplant and weigh pile down. (I used a plate with some heavy items on top.) After an hour, rinse off salt and let slices sit in colander to drain.
2. Cook the potato slices in salted water until just tender. Drain.
3. Brown the meat. Drain.
4. Cook onion in oil until golden. Add meat, tomato sauce, spices, wine, ½ teaspoon salt and black pepper to taste. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.
5. Coat the bottom of a large fry pan with olive oil. Place eggplant into pan, turning over quickly so both sides have oil on them.
6. Lightly brown eggplant, working in batches so pan is not crowded. I used canola cooking spray when things started to look dry.
7. Place on paper towels to cool.
8. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
9. Spray bottom of casserole and add potatoes.
First layer: eggplant, raisins, tomato sauce.
Second layer: eggplant, ¼ cup cheese, tomato sauce.
1. Melt butter. Turn off flame. Mix in flour until completely dissolved. Over medium flame, whisk in milk, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Turn flame down and cook until thick. This will take about 30 seconds. Stir constantly to prevent scorching.
2. Pour sauce on top and sprinkle on remainder of cheese.
3. Bake uncovered for about 25 minutes. The casserole should be very hot in the middle.
4. Broil for about 2 minutes to brown top, if desired.
5. Let stand for about 15 minutes before cutting. I served the casserole with sautéed kale and sliced heirloom grape tomatoes, also from Chickadee Creek Farm. The fresh oregano was from my miniature herb garden, a first-time endeavor. Now that’s what you call Jersey Fresh, if you ask me.
Photos by Chris Mathieu/The Red Wagon Group
Kathleen Mathieu, September 2, 2016