Mozzarella and Eggplant Stacks

It's Monday, so there's an attempt to be saint-like with what I eat after a weekend of indulging. But, not that much. So today's recipes are a perfect combination of naughty and nice with homemade mozzarella (yes, HOMEMADE MOZZARELLA!) and eggplant stacks (obviously using the mozzarella).

If you're from New Jersey (like I am) you have vision of the "mozzarella counter" at your local Italian specialty shop and the (generally) larger/hairier/jollier Italian man pulling warm soft mozzarella. I don't know whether I'm drooling, turned-on or both? If you don't have this mental image, that's what YouTube is for, right? 

Making mozzarella is easy using a couple of short cuts. Mainly, mozzarella cheese curds. These can be purchased at a local cheese monger (just ask!), an Italian specialty store or sometimes even an Italian restaurant that makes their own cheese. Don't be afraid to call and ask, it's generally not sold retail, but again, those Italian men are charming, they're usually open to wrapping some up for you on the side.

The Easiest Homemade Mozzarella
makes 1 lb. mozzarella

1 1/2 mozzarella cheese curds
Fine sea salt

Cut cheese curds into 1/4 - 1/2" pieces, being careful not to make the curds "crumble" too much. This will create tough cheese. Place the curds in a large heat-proof bowl, allowing for as much surface area as possible. Bring the curds to room temperature, they shouldn't be cold to the touch. 

In the meantime bring a large pot of water to a boil (as you would pasta) and salt generously (it should taste like the sea!). In addition, fill another large bowl with luke warm/slightly cool and salt  lightly. This second bath will be your brine after the cheese is formed. 

When the cheese curds are room temperature slowly pour the boiling water down the sides of the large bowl (not directly on them!) until the water just covers the curds and allow the mixture to sit for 1 - 2 minutes. This takes patience, don't touch it!

Slowly pour out most of the water, leaving about 1/2 cup of milky white mozzarella water to work with and using your hands (it'll be hot, I warn you!) begin to fold the cheese over itself, as you would kneading bread. Work fast! The cheese will begin to get silky and smooth, immediately when they happens pull off and ball or brain pieces or the piece of mozzarella and place in the brine bowl. 

Keep the cheese on the counter for a few hours to allow it to relax. If the cheese is placed immediately into the cold it will shrink up and toughen. Use as you would normally and chill after the cheese has reached room temperature. 

Roasted Eggplant Stacks
Serves 4 (about 2 stacks each)

Roasted eggplant stacks make the perfect weeknight dinner; fresh ingredients, minimal prep and a delicious outcome. For an even simpler assembly, roasted eggplant at the beginning of the week and stack as desired. 

  Photo: compliments of Neilly Robinson, Heirloom Kitchen 

Photo: compliments of Neilly Robinson, Heirloom Kitchen 

1 eggplant
1 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more for assembly
2 large tomatoes
1 bunch basil
1 lb. fresh mozzarella
Extra virgin olive oil, optional drizzle
Balsamic vinegar, optional drizzle 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. 

Slice eggplant into 1/2” slices and place in a colander. Salt generously and allow them to sit for 30 minutes. Using a paper towel squeeze (hard!) out excess moisture. 

Place eggplant on a cookie tray and roast for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned and tender. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool slightly.

Slice tomatoes and mozzarella into 1/4” slices and stack accordingly. Salt lightly within each layer, making sure to hit each component. Layer in slices of basil and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic if desired.