Dirty Work: Marinated Japanese Eggplants with Homemade Ricotta from Bobby Hellen of GG's
Bobby Hellen is the chef at Manhattan pizza and small plates spot GG's and he's no stranger to urban gardens. His restaurant's own backyard garden might rival ours, but he stopped by and created some dishes we couldn't come up with in a million years.
Welcome back to Dirty Work, our new series of dispatches from the MUNCHIES Garden. We're inviting chefs, bartenders, and personalities in the world of food and drink to explore our edible playground and make whatever the hell inspires them with our rooftop produce. The results: MUNCHIES Garden recipes for you, dear reader.
Bobby Hellen is the chef at Manhattan pizza and small plates spot GG's, and he's no stranger to urban gardens. At his East Village restaurant, he uses fresh herbs and vegetables grown just outside the kitchen in the long-cooked tomato sauce that he spreads atop his locally famous "Grandma pie," a square-shaped mashup of a classic Margherita with thick-cut pepperoni. He does round pies, too, but they're hardly classic: the "Ron Darling" is a Mexican take on a Hawaiian with pickled pineapple, ham, and al pastor sauce, while the "Italian Wedding" tastes like Nonna's favorite soup in pizza form.
Alas, the MUNCHIES Garden wasn't growing pineapple this season, but Bobby had a field day (literally) in our plots nonetheless. He immediately gravitated toward the husk cherries—a semi-sweet sort of tomatillo that plays well with savory flavors, too—and our crop of narrow, corkscrewed Japanese eggplant.
Chef Danny Bowien has described our husk cherries, a.k.a. ground cherries, as tasting like straight "Angel food cake" while MUNCHIES' beer columnist, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, thinks they taste like cheese. Whatever the case, they're known for their sweet, tart flavor profile, making them a great ingredient for sweet and savory dishes alike. Plus, they're up to food safety code thanks to their built-in husk, which looks like a green paper lantern that you can peel off in a matter of seconds.
After harvesting a bundle of purple Japanese eggplant and enough husk cherries to satisfy a small army of hamsters, Hellen went back to the kitchen at GG's to see what he could create from his haul.
First, Hellen tinkered around with the eggplant by searing them on a scorching hot griddle after etching some hash marks to help crisp them up and draw out the bitterness (with a sprinkle of salt).
As soon as he pulled them off the griddle, he doused them in a shiny vinaigrette bath of Chinkiang (rice wine) vinegar, smashed lemongrass, and black pepper and made a quick homemade ricotta with anise hyssop plucked from the MUNCHIES garden.
He topped it off with our purple heirloom carrots and Chinese long beans to stay color coordinated and then quickly moved on to dessert.
To properly say au revoire to summer, chef Hellen combined fresh corn and husk cherries in a creamy tart. After adding heavy cream, honey, and fresh corn kernels to the husk cherry filling, he baked the tartlets in a buttery crust for 25 minutes while we sized up the backyard garden at GG's and decided it's just as nice as ours.
And within a matter of minutes, we devoured everything in sight. Thankfully, he left us these recipes as evidence so that you can recreate the experience at home.