My Big, Silent Staycation

If you read about our life here on the Mediterranean rim, you have doubtless noticed that we travel a lot.  Inexpensive and convenient travel from Tunis is one of the big perks of living here.  You really wouldn’t believe the talk around our faculty lunch table when so much as a 3-day weekend is approaching.  Teachers are planning to take off in all directions:  Brussels, Paris, Barcelona, Istanbul, the south of Tunisia, or even down to actual Africa for a safari.  It is like choosing from an assortment of chocolates.  Yet there have been many early mornings, as we buttoned the house down to leave for an excursion, that I have glanced out past our balcony that faces the sea and thought what a great place this would be for a true vacation.  We had our last long weekend for this school year over May Day.  Allan entered a golf tournament at a nearby beach resort, and that would have been fun, too, but I chose instead to take 4 delicious days of silence for myself in my own home.

You may have read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.  I didn’t even need a Myers Briggs test to diagnose me.  I have long known that I need to have intervals of deep silence in my life to accomplish the thinking I need to do and to make plans for what I want to accomplish.  I have replied to people before that I can’t participate is some activity because I need to stay home and think, and they laugh, but it’s true.  Sometimes, I just do.  I had many items on my solitude wish list, but threw myself into redesigning the website for my custom Tibetan carpets business Knot Monkey.  30 hours later, it’s all updated and fully geared-up for new projects if you know someone who is interested in creating a beautiful, handmade carpet.

Becoming deeply immersed in a creative project, however,  doesn’t leave much time for cooking.  I cooked a small pot of beans on the first day and lived on beans, greens from the garden, and eggs for breakfast until my husband came home.  With the project finished, it was then time to make a proper meal.  This is a delicious and healthy recipe that is adaptable to all sorts of ingredients.  Has your garden gotten out of hand while you’ve been painting your living room?  Crop all of that chard and kale and use it in this savory cake.  Have you spent too long managing photos you’ve taken recently and didn’t go food shopping?  Toss together some staples like Italian ham or smoked salmon along with your withering farmers’ market prizes from last week and you’ll have a fine meal.  Don’t skip the eggplant sauce.  It takes no time to make, and it bathes the ricotta cake in savory  warmth.  Bonus:  this is as nice for brunch as it is for a simple supper.

Ricotta Cake, 2

This recipe is from my cooking mentors at NZ Cuisine.

Spinach and Zucchini Ricotta Cake with Tomato and Eggplant

serves 4

  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing
  • 150 grams mixed hearty greens, chopped in 1″ pieces
  • 1 zucchini, coarsely grated
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 600 grams ricotta
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan, finely grated
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped chives
  • 1 cup course lay chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 large eggplant, cut into 1 cm cubes
  • 1 kg tomatoes, halved and coarsely grated or 2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes

FOR THE CAKE. Preheat the oven to 200 C or 375 F.  Lightly grease an 8″ spring-form pan.  Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large frying pan over med-high heat.  Add the greens and 1/2 of the garlic.  Sauté for 1-2 minutes, just until the greens have wilted.  Remove from the heat and transfer the mixture to a sieve.  Drain and squeeze out as much excess moisture as possible.  Set aside to cool.  Reserve the liquid.  Meanwhile, whisk the ricotta and eggs together in a large bowl until smooth.  Add 1/2 cup Parmesan, the breadcrumbs, herbs, and sautéed vegetables.  Stir to combine.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Transfer the mixture to the spring-form pan and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan.  Bake for 25 minutes or until golden and set.

FOR THE SAUCE  Heat the remaining oil in the same pan over med-high heat.  Stir-fry the eggplant for about 3 minutes, stirring, until golden.  Season with salt and reduce the heat to medium.  Add the remaining garlic, tomatoes, a pinch of sugar and adjust seasonings.  Simmer the sauce for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.


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