Many of us quibble about the question, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" But it seems to me there is a larger issue here that asks who cares about eggs OR chickens unless they're under a marinara sauce??? In fact, do we really need anything BUT the marinara? Why, the discovery of tomatoes is when the clap of consciousness MUST have occurred. At least if you love Italian food. And who doesn't???
According to Fork and Plate, Marinara sauce originated in southern Italy, with both Naples and Sicily being cited as its possible birthplace. It could not have been invented before the 16th century when tomatoes, a New World food, arrived in Europe, since the first mention of tomatoes in Italy dates to the mid-1600s. And even though the 1600's are not necessarily synonymous with the Big Bang in terms of calculating the history of the universe, I think we all consider it one of the greatest inventions of all time.
Choosing something with a marinara, and in this case with meat added, is the perpetual brilliant idea. It's as though when we suggest it, the whole room looks at us like we've just written the screenplay for the next Oscar winning film. You hear things like, "Oh my GOSH! That sounds good. What a GREAT idea!!!...And maybe that's because tomatoes are more than a fruit, they make us feel good. As John Thorne writes in a blog on Saveur, "Tomatoes were born to give pleasure."
Tomatophogia, or the actual craving for tomatoes is based on some pretty scientific stuff. We know that lycopene is important for keeping us healthy with the benefits of tomato-noshing far exceeding any small reason NOT to eat them. Speaking of cravings, check out this amazing blog called Organic Daily Post. It is brimming with some of the best content, videos, and how-to out there on food, herbs, oils, and nutrition. It is here you can discover the 'right' way to start tomatoes from seeds. (A must try if you happily suffer from tomatophogia!)
But let's get back to the post. And my recipe. And why you read my website: YUMMY FOOD!
AHHH, AND what better vehicle to transport us into our "vivid Italian-ness" than eggplant? Especially when it's wrapped around ricotta cheese and smothered in the sauce of the gods? Ah yes, ahhhh.
Here's the best news. If you're not feeling like making your own sauce, although I highly recommend it, you can have these beauties ready in just an hour or so with a quality bottled version. Don't believe me? I double dog dare you to try this recipe yourself. You'll be swaying and saying "Mama-Mia!" in no time.
RECIPE: Ricotta Parmesan Stuffed Eggplant with Meat Sauce
Serves 4 - 6 / Click here for printable version.
2 medium to large eggplant, more tall than wide
1 15 oz. tub whole milk ricotta
1 heaping 1/3 C fresh grated parmesan
½ t fresh grated nutmeg
½ lb. 80% lean ground beef
1 24 oz. bottle spaghetti sauce (I used Bertoli organic with onion and garlic or make my recipe by clicking here! )
5+ T kosher salt
½ t cracked black pepper
3 large garlic cloves, chopped finely
1/3 C white sweet onion chopped finely
…and just keep a bottle of olive oil handy. You’ll need it!
LOTS of fresh basil for topping the mixture before baking, and for the garnish when plated.
Slice off the top and bottom of the eggplant so you can stand it on end easily. Cut it into long slices, about ¼ inch thick. You will need about 10 to 12 good slices. Don’t use but don’t discard the outside slices with the skin on…go ahead and chop them into 1/4 inch cubes for adding to the meat sauce. Now, place all the eggplant in a large bowl and GENEROUSLY rub with salt. Seriously…think of a salt scrub in the shower. GO FOR IT. Make sure they’re covered by using your hands. Now place them in a colander inside another bowl and let rest for 20 minutes while the moisture drains. Drain the liquid, RINSE the pieces thoroughly, pat them completely dry with paper towels and lay them out on a large, slightly oiled baking sheet (they can touch a bit so you can fit them all on one sheet), and rub them with a bit more oil. NO SALT. Bake in a 425 degree F oven for 13 minutes. Remove and let come to room temperature so you can touch them. Lower the oven temp to 375 degrees F for later and keep oven on if you’d like.
While eggplant is baking, pour about 1 T oil into a large sauce pan. When almost to smoke point, add the meat and break it up to cook it. Let it brown slightly on medium high heat. Add the onion and the chopped eggplant pieces, about 1 t kosher salt, and stir until onion is translucent and eggplant is cooked. About 4 – 5 minutes. Now add the garlic, stir and let get fragrant. Add the whole bottle of sauce, and stir well. Lower heat to let it simmer and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring often.
In a large bowl combine the ricotta, the parmesan, about ½ t kosher salt, the black pepper, and the nutmeg. Stir well and set aside.
To assemble. Put about 1 to 1 ½ C sauce on the bottom of a greased glass baking dish. I find that a size close to about 7” by 10” worked great for me. Place 1 of the slices of eggplant on an oiled surface (Not the counter. It will stick!), place about ¼ - 1/3 C of the cheese mixture at one end. Roll up and place seam side down on the meat mixture. Repeat until all 12 eggplant have been stuffed and arranged evenly in the dish. Cover with the rest of the meat sauce, sprinkle generously with torn or chopped basil, and cook for 20 minutes, or until bubbly but not burning.
Remove, serve and garnish with more basil!
At about 2 a.m. Friday night I conceived this crazy idea that I could create a beautiful round tower of deliciousness for dinner. I've been watching my Culinary DVD's that I got for my birthday and its giving me all kinds of ideas that I have no business thinking. I am a good Au Pif cook ("by the nose," or by feel as the French call it) and even though my daughter insists my disasters are so few and minor they don't need mention, I still am more of adventurer than a professional.
It started while my husband was a few feet away, in the garage, putting new batteries into one of his electric cars; a Zenn to be specific. I could see it would take him awhile so I started in on creating the dish that had awakened me about 12 hours earlier. I knew the tower would have to hold together, it needed to be colorful, and I wanted to use the leftover shredded roasted chicken and pan drippings. I was dying to try a pesto I had seen assembled on TV, and there was an eggplant languishing in the fridge. And so the stage was set.
Often when he passes by, things are unassembled and a bit messy. He usually just smiles and asks what step I'm on. This time I was thoroughly entertained by his unfamiliarity with one of our most beloved vegetables.
"What's that?" My husband inquired.
"Eggplant. Pretty, isn't it?"
"Never knew it looked like that. Interesting..." and he was back outside.
I decided that the topping should be a cold vegetable salad so I started with tomatoes (blanching and then peeling them and then de-seeding them before adding to the eggplant, which is I have learned is a simple tomato concasse,) and then the eggplant which I diced and then quickly tossed with lemon juice and a bit of oil to keep it from turning brown while I figured out what to do with it. A quick saute and some apple cider vinegar and garlic and then in the fridge it went.
Next was the pesto, a parsley pesto to be exact. Chopping Italian parsley along with garlic, capers, lemon and olive oil and then whirring it all into a beautiful green mixture that would go into the potatoes and serve as a garnish was so fun!
After boiling the potatoes and mixing in the requisite butter, milk, sour cream and salt and pepper I rough mashed them with a fork and then blended in about a tablespoon of the pesto. It was the perfect light green color. And by improvising with the measuring cylinder I got from Pampered Chef that I thoroughly coated with oil on the inside, and tamping down each of the ingredients with the pestle so it was snug and tight, soon my masterpiece emerged!
I think I will try this technique in the future. In the meatime, enjoy the recipe for all the levels, and don't forget a squirt of lemon juice on top. It really makes it tres magnifique!!!
Get the simple recipe for all these elements by clicking here.
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Meet the Cook...
My name is Camine Pappas and I love to create beautiful and delicious food that anyone can make. My signature style centers around a love for combining things in a way you might not expect as I work to find a hidden combination of colors, textures and flavors from the things that are in my pantry and/or easy to obtain.