Eggplant Parmesan

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Friday was another day for the files. I was booked in the morning to help get ready for the annual rummage sale to benefit the youth programs at our church. Rich and I were planning on a date night that evening, while Calvin attended a lock-in at church to get ready for the sale. I had it all planned out in my head – volunteer at church in the morning, clean house and cook in the afternoon. By the end of the day I would be ready for a relaxing evening at home with Rich – eating eggplant Parmesan and homemade bread.

Plans so quickly went awry. The morning started later than I expected, and with one thing and another I didn’t get home until 3:30. And I was exhausted from sorting rummage sale items all day. All plans for cleaning house flew out the window without much protest from me.

After a short break to chill with Calvin and hear about his day at school, I started on the dough for Middle Eastern flatbread. It was 4:30 by now, and Calvin had to be at church by 6:00 (yes the bread comes together that quickly, it is a marvelous recipe). While the bread was rising I prepped the eggplant for the oven. I bake my eggplant instead of frying it, both to make the dish a little healthier and to streamline preparation. The eggplant went in the oven and I shaped the bread into loaves. The eggplant came out of the oven and the bread went in. A quick minute to assemble the casserole and dinner was virtually ready. The bread came out of the oven, the eggplant went in and I was ready to run Calvin to church for his lock-in.

The drop off portion of the day took just about 30 minutes and I was back in time to whip the eggplant out of the oven before it got too brown. If Rich and I had a different kind of marriage (that no one has had since “I Love Lucy” days, if even then), I would have pretended to be cool, calm and collected as I put dinner on the table, in my heels and pretty dress. Those of you who know me personally can stop laughing now. In the real world that we all live in, I sat down in my old jeans and shared a laugh with my husband about my crazy day. He said all the right things about my herculean efforts to get it all done and never once asked why I didn’t buy a loaf of bread or order take-out for dinner. He is a smart man, as I often say.

If you are smarter than me, you will plan eggplant Parmesan for a slightly less hectic day, but know that it is a dish that you can easily make, even when you are short on time. Trust me.

Download or print recipe here.

Eggplant Parmesan
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4-6

I don’t like to use the seediest middle portion of the eggplant. This is wasteful, I know, but I really don’t like all those seeds. If you don’t mind them, use all of the eggplant. You may only need one large eggplant if you use the whole thing.

2 cups tomato sauce (use your favorite pasta sauce, homemade or purchased)
1 cup breadcrumbs (I used panko, but you can use any breadcrumbs)
salt
pepper
dried basil
garlic powder
cayenne
paprika
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
2 large eggplants (see head note)
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ pound mozzarella cheese, grated
additional Parmesan cheese for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease one or two large baking sheets. Set aside. Lightly grease a large (9 by 13) casserole dish. Add tomato sauce to dish and set aside.

Place breadcrumbs on a plate or large shallow bowl and add spices to taste. Mix in Parmesan cheese and set aside. In a large shallow bowl or plate, beat eggs until well combined. Set aside.

Peel eggplant, if desired (it’s not necessary, unless the skins are extremely thick or tough) and slice crosswise into ¼-inch slices.

Dip each eggplant slice into egg and then into breadcrumbs, pressing crumbs into eggplant with your fingers. Arrange coated eggplant in a single layer on greased baking sheets. Drizzle eggplant with olive oil. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown and tender when pierced with a fork. If you are using two baking sheets, switch them top to bottom halfway through the baking time.

Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees. Layer baked eggplant in the casserole dish on top of the tomato sauce, overlapping edges slightly. Sprinkle top with grated mozzarella.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling and cheese is golden brown. If cheese browns too fast, lay a piece of foil loosely over the top of the casserole dish.

Serve eggplant with extra Parmesan cheese. Leftovers reheat well in the microwave.

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Eggplant Lasagna

The road to developing this recipe took several directions. Rich loves eggplant, especially in restaurants where they fry it – not something I usually do. Once or twice he had a dish that included eggplant slices rolled around ricotta and then baked with tomato sauce. We did that a few times before we decided that it was too much trouble to roll up the eggplant. Several times I made lasagna and added a layer of eggplant instead of one layer of noodles. Then I wondered what would happen if I totally replaced the lasagna noodles with eggplant. And thus, eggplant lasagna was born.

Warning: you really have to like eggplant to like this dish. Don’t try to pass it off as regular cheese lasagna to your kids or other picky eaters. It won’t work. The eggplant is delicious, but it is not easily disguisable as a noodle. I do not speak from experience as I have never been in the “sneak it in camp,” but trust me, it won’t work.

Eggplant Lasagna
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4-6

This is easy to double. It reheats well, and makes great leftovers.

2 large eggplants, or the equivalent amount of small ones
Olive oil
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 egg
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided*
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
14 oz. crushed tomatoes or plain tomato sauce**
1 small can tomato paste
2-3 teaspoons dried basil or 6-10 fresh basil leaves, minced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
Several dashes paprika
Several dashes cayenne
1-2 teaspoons brown sugar
Several dashes salt
A few grinds of black pepper
Parmesan cheese for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease one or two baking sheets, depending on size.

Peel eggplant, if desired or if skins are thick or scarred. Cut eggplant into 1/4 inch slices, either lengthwise or crosswise, or both, if you are like me. I don’t like to use the part with the most seeds, as they can sometimes be bitter. Feel free to use the entire eggplant, if you like. Arrange eggplant slices touching, but not overlapping on lightly greased baking sheets. Drizzle with a little olive oil.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until soft. Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees.

While eggplant is baking, mix ricotta, egg, 1 cup mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses in a bowl and set aside. In another bowl mix crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, garlic and spices to taste. Sauce will be thick.

Lightly grease an 11 by 7 inch or 9-inch square casserole. Cover bottom of casserole with a thin layer of tomato sauce. Cover sauce with one layer of eggplant. Dollop cheese mixture over the eggplant and gently spread it out. It doesn’t have to completely cover eggplant. Add about half of the remaining tomato sauce, and gently spread to cover cheese. Add remaining eggplant in a single layer and then cover with remaining sauce.

Sprinkle top with remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese.

Bake, uncovered, for about 35-40 minutes, or until bubbling around edges and brown on top. Remove from oven and let sit for a few minutes to firm up. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

*You can adjust the ratio of mozzarella cheese and ricotta cheese to suit your taste. This ratio makes a fairly stiff cheese layer, with lots of stringy mozzarella. If you like a creamier cheese layer, use less mozzarella.

**I like using plain tomatoes to control the salt and to tailor the spices to my tastes. Feel free to use already spiced tomato sauce.

Download the recipe here.

From leftovers to frittata in a flash

I have wanted to make a frittata for a long time, but have never actually done it. Thanks to a couple of recipes I have come across lately and The Great Leftover Challenge issued by Danny’s Kitchen on his blog, I came up with my own frittata recipe.

We had cheese fondue last Friday night for family movie night (Back to the Future, if you’re curious). We had extra Gruyere and Emmentaler left over. I started thinking about scrambled eggs and cheese, but we have that all the time and it isn’t exactly exciting. Then I thought of a frittata for something different. I was already planning on roasted vegetables with pasta for one dinner this week, so I planned to make extra veggies so I would have some left over for the frittata experiment.

I wish I had done a frittata sooner. It’s better and healthier than quiche. And as easy to make as scrambled eggs, but infinitely more interesting. Rich gave it two thumbs up and Calvin gave it three (not sure how that works!). So here it is – Roasted Vegetable Frittata with Cheese.

You can see the sections that reflect our various veggie preferences.

Roasted Vegetable Frittata with Cheese
from The Cook’s Life
Serves 4

The cheese makes this plenty salty enough, you can always add salt at the table if you think it needs it.

1 tablespoon olive oil
6 eggs
¼ cup milk
3 cloves roasted garlic, diced or mashed
1-2 cups grated sharp cheese (I used Emmentaler, Gruyere and sharp cheddar)
1-2 cups roasted vegetables (I used leftover zucchini, eggplant, carrots and garlic)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Start an ovenproof skillet heating over medium heat and add the olive oil. Beat the eggs with the milk, garlic and about a cup of cheese, and pour in the hot pan. Stir gently and cook until the eggs are starting to set and are about half-cooked. There should still be liquid eggs. Add the vegetables and stir briefly to mix them in a bit. Sprinkle the top with ½-1 cup cheese and place the skillet in the hot oven. Bake until the eggs are set and starting to puff and the cheese is starting to brown, 10-15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Download the recipe here.

Roasted veggies galore

After yesterday’s chocolate cake, I figured I should do a healthy post. Last night’s dinner was roasted vegetables and pasta. We had it last week, and I liked it so much I put it on this week’s menu too. I also needed to fine-tune the directions, since I neglected to write anything down when I made it the first time. This is a totally vegetarian meal, which we eat several nights a week. If you just can’t face a meal without meat, you could add cooked chicken, but it really doesn’t need it.

I used carrots, zucchini, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, shallots and garlic. Feel free to add or subtract veggies, or change the proportions,  to suit you and your family. I started the carrots first, because I really dislike crunchy veggies. The garlic and shallots went in with them, then the zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes went in the oven 15 minutes later. When they were caramelized, soft and sweet, I put them on top of whole wheat fettuccini and added some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and dinner was served.

Be sure and post back with what veggies you like and what variations worked for you.

Roasted Vegetables
from The Cook’s Life
serves 4, or 2 with leftovers

Use the ingredients as a guideline and change the vegetables to suit your tastes. This recipe is easy to double if you have the oven space.

4 large carrots
1 head of garlic
2 shallots or 2 small onions
2 medium zucchini
1 eggplant
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, approximately
Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease two large baking sheets. Peel carrots and cut into sticks, like you are making carrot sticks. They will shrink quite a bit with cooking. Remove most of the papery skins from the garlic, without separating the cloves, and cut off the tips of the cloves. Peel the shallots or onions and cut in half. Place carrots, garlic head and shallots or onions on one baking sheet and drizzle with a little olive oil. You don’t need a lot of oil, about a tablespoon for all three. Place in oven and let roast for 15 minutes while you prepare the rest of the veggies.

Slice the zucchini into thin slices and place them in a single layer on the other baking sheet. Drizzle with about a tablespoon of olive oil and set aside. Cut tomatoes in half and toss with a little olive oil in a bowl. Dice eggplant into about 1-inch cubes and set aside.

After 15 minutes, remove carrots from the oven and push them to the side of their baking sheet. They should have reduced in volume a bit. Add eggplant and tomatoes to the baking sheet. Drizzle eggplant with a little olive oil and return sheet to oven, along with the baking sheet of zucchini. Roast for 30 minutes, or until all vegetables are soft and caramelized. They will greatly reduce in volume. Check them after 15 minutes and stir them if parts are starting to get too brown.

Before serving, remove garlic cloves from the head and mash or chop. Let each diner add desired amount of garlic to his or her plate. There will be garlic left over, most likely. Save it in a covered container in the fridge for another use – serve with chicken, fish or use on pizza or to make garlic bread.

Serve vegetables over pasta, or as a side dish.

Download recipe here.

Weeknight dinner: Pantry Pasta

It is nice to have a few recipes in your repertoire that you can whip up in a minute’s notice, without going to the store. They are great for busy days, evenings when you just can’t face another restaurant meal, or nights when it is pouring and 40 degrees and you don’t want to step foot outside to go to the store. We have been making variations on this pasta dish for years. In the summer this can showcase fresh veggies from the farmers market or your own garden. Be sure and check out the variations at the end of the recipe to adapt the pasta to your own family’s tastes. Add a salad, some steamed veggies and some garlic bread and you will have a dinner to rival a restaurant meal, right from your own kitchen. Be sure and post your variations in the comments section.

Pantry Pasta
Serves 4, or 2 with leftovers. Easy to double.
½ pound dried angel hair, spaghetti or other pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small shallot or onion, diced finely (optional)
1 clove garlic, diced fresh or from a jar
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, or petite diced tomatoes (unsalted or low-sodium preferred)
1-2 teaspoons dried basil, to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
2-4 tablespoons white wine, optional
Ricotta cheese, optional
Mozzarella cheese, diced into small cubes, optional
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Fill a large pot with water and place over high heat until it comes to a full, rolling boil. While water is heating, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion or shallot, if using, and sauté until soft. Add garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes, until you can smell the garlic. Start pasta cooking when water boils, being sure to set a timer so you don’t forget about it. Drain the tomatoes if you want a drier dish, or use all the liquid if you want more of a sauce. Add the tomatoes. Add the basil, crushing it in your hand as you drop it in, to release more of the flavor. Add a dash of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Stir well and simmer for a few minutes. Add a few splashes of white wine, if desired. Drain the pasta when it is done and add it to the sauce. Toss with tongs. Add dollops of ricotta cheese or cubes of mozzarella, if desired. DON’T STIR after you add the cheese. Remove skillet from heat and let stand for several minutes to melt the cheese. Serve right from the skillet, adding grated Parmesan at the table.

Variations: Add other vegetables, after you sauté the garlic. You could add zucchini, green or red sweet peppers, eggplant, yellow squash or even carrots. Be sure to sauté them until they are done, so you aren’t eating crunchy vegetables, unless you like them that way.

Feel free to use fresh tomatoes, in season. We love to make this in the summer with garden tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant. But I was going for a pantry recipe here, hence the canned tomatoes.

If you want more protein, you could add a can of drained cannellini beans or garbanzo beans when you add the tomatoes. Or you can add a cup or two of cooked chicken or even cooked ground beef, if you want a heartier dish. Use your imagination and be sure to share your variations in the comments section.

Download the recipe here.