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!
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