Baked Eggplant with Tomato and Mozzarella

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How quickly time passes… last week I was vacationing in the beautiful surroundings of Italy and now…well, it’s all a cherished memory as I work my way back into the daily routines of my life.  Yet, I brought back a different me from this trip.  A woman who once feared venturing out alone, pretty low on the confidence pole and decision doubting, to a renewed, refreshed, totally in awe of life and beauty, humbled by my inner strength and a new amore la vita, love of life! Continue reading “Baked Eggplant with Tomato and Mozzarella”

Eggplant Lasagna

I’m sure I’m not the only one constantly inspired by food I see or hear about.  As soon as someone mentions a new restaurant, or had an interesting dish or something deliciously sinful, I’m instantly interested.  I want to know every detail so that I can try to recreate it myself.  Sometimes it’s simply the general idea of how a dish is presented or a picture that catches my attention or a specific ingredient that has my head whirling with ideas!

For over a year now, I have heard about a coworker’s eggplant lasagna.  I’ve never had a chance to taste it, but all those that did raved highly about it.  Obviously, my interest peaked and I had to talk to Vinny (and yes, he’s Italian, which had me even more interested in his lasagna).  Then during the holidays it seemed like everyone was talking about making lasagna.  Phyllis at Food Flowers Herbs and Life posted her lasagna recipe for Christmas Eve and several other friends along with my sister were chatting about either making it or having had it at a dinner party.

Obviously my craving for it increased; I really have not made classic lasagna in a few years.  Vinny’s recipe basically swaps out the pasta for eggplant slices.  I’ve made vegetarian lasagna in the past but liked this idea of no pasta, i.e, carbs!  He peels and cuts the eggplant into thin slices, breading and frying them.  I skipped the breading part and just fried each slice.  While I normally bake my eggplant and he said he does at times also, I agreed that frying the eggplant would give the lasagna a richer taste.  And it certainly did; everyone loved it!  It was meltingly tender, full of flavor and definitely fulfilled my lasagna craving!

Eggplant Lasagna

For the eggplant:

2-3 large eggplants, peeled and thinly sliced, about ¼ inch thick

Olive oil for frying

For the sauce:

1 pound ground beef

1 pound ground pork

1 medium onion finely diced

2 28 oz cans whole tomatoes, squeezed or blended into a puree

2-3 cloves garlic minced

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 tablespoon Kosher salt

½ tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

For the ricotta layer:

1 15 oz container ricotta

1 large egg

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

½ cup shredded mozzarella

¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

For the topping:

8 oz shredded mozzarella cheese

To prepare the sauce:  In a large skillet, cook the ground beef and pork until browned.  Remove from pan and drain well from the grease.  In a large stockpot, sauté the onion in olive oil until soft.  Add in the tomato puree, basil, garlic, salt and pepper.  Simmer for 10 minutes.  Add in the browned meat and continuing cooking on low heat for about 1 hour.  Can be made ahead of time.

To prepare the lasagna:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   In a large skillet, fry the eggplant slices a few at a time until browned on each side.  Set aside.  Mix together the ricotta, parmesan, mozzarella, egg, parsley and pepper.  In a baking dish, spoon a thin layer of sauce on the bottom and begin layering with the eggplant slices, meat sauce and ricotta mixture.  Repeat and finish with the layer of eggplant slices and some sauce on top.  Cover the dish with foil, place on a baking sheet and bake for about 40 minutes.  Remove the foil, sprinkle on the mozzarella cheese and bake until bubbly, about 15-20 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly and set before serving.

Eggplant, Mozzarello and Arugula Muffuletta with Sundried Tomato Dressing

Lazy summer weekends require just a little bit of advanced planning to fall into place perfectly.  I may want to relax and enjoy my weekends, but I also want to have great tasting, good meals to enjoy at my leisure.  I’ve made pressed sandwiches in many variations; I prefer mostly to have an all veggie stuffing.  It may not be all that kid friendly but I don’t have to worry about that these days.

When my children were younger, I would make a Muffuletta with deli turkey and brie.  We’d pack up this sandwich for weekend trips to Sanibel or beach picnics.  It carries really well; prepared ahead of time and sliced when ready to eat.  Can’t get much easier or better than that!

I really miss those road trips. My daughter would carry on and on hating being in the car, her stomach always hurting.  My son and her would fight over what dvd movie to play, he liked the action type or scary ones and she liked the girly teen movies.  Once settled on the movie to watch, we dealt with her sitting too close to him, volume adjusting too loud, too quiet, fidgeting, complaints and finally falling asleep.  Some of the most wonderful memories I will always cherish.

Eggplant, Mozzarello and Arugula Muffuletta with Sun Dried Tomato and Olive Dressing

1/3 cup sun dried tomatoes

Boiling water

¼ cup pitted kalamata olives

¼ cup olive oil – or less

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons parsley leaves

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

1 loaf Rosemary bread or other freshly bakede rustic style bread

1 eggplant, peeled and cut into ¼ inch horizontal slices

2 peppers, either red or combination of red, yellow or orange

½ pound mozzarella cheese

2 cups arugula

For the dressing:

Place sun dried tomatoes in enough boiling water to cover. Let stand for 15 minutes to soften.  Drain and add to food processor along with the olives, garlic anchovy paste, parsley and pepper.  Slowly add in olive oil to form a paste; not excessively oily.  Refrigerate until ready to use, can be made a day ahead.

For the grilled eggplant:

Lightly oil each slices and grill until tender.  Season with kosher salt and black pepper.  Set aside to cool.

For the roasted peppers:

Place peppers on grill and grill until charred all over.  Or use a foil lined broiler pan and broil until charred all over.  Immediately place peppers into a paper bag and allow to cool.  When cool enough to handle, peel off skin, discard seeds and slice into large sections.  Do not rinse the peppers, just use your hands to rub off the skin and seeds. Set aside.

For the muffuletta:

Cut bread horizontally with a serrated knife.  Remove some of the bread from the inside on both halves, leaving about ½ inch crust.  Save bread in the freezer for bread crumbs or stuffing.  Spread both cut sides with some of the dressing.  Layer in the eggplant slices, top with roasted pepper slices.  Spread another light layer of the dressing and top with mozzarella slices.  Add another layer of eggplant slices and top with arugula.  Firmly press sandwich closed with top crust and tightly wrap with plastic wrap or foil.  Refrigerate until ready to cut and serve.  Also panini pressing this sandwich is awesome!!

Leaning Tower of Eggplant

I’m a big fan of the caprese salad in every way it’s presented.  From uniform overlapping slices or stacked like an Italian flag, to a jumble of tiny mozzarella balls and cherry tomatoes or roughly rustic chopped.  Summer is the perfectly ripe time for this salad and I could truly enjoy a simple caprese salad with a chunk of ciabatta bread for dinner any night!  But when I’m looking for a bit more; it’s this tower of crispy, melting, cheesy delight I go for!

Eggplants are always in my grocery basket.  Usually I have no specific plan for their use while also knowing they will find their way into something within the next few days!  Lately, I’ve been obsessed over making them into eggplant fries, which I now totally prefer over zucchini fries hands down!  Following the similar method of roasting the egg white/breaded eggplant slices instead of frying; the slices are then topped with a slice of tomato and mozzarella.  A drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar is drizzled over and served warm; totally a melt-in-your-mouth explosion of flavor!

Just recently Chicaandaluza posted her eggplant stack layered with marinara.  This too is a great idea; check it out also!

Roasted Eggplant Caprese Tower

1-2 eggplants (depending on amount to be served)

1 egg white (or 2 depending on amount of eggplant)

½ cup panko/bread crumbs (or more)

2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon dried oregano or basil

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Olive oil for drizzling

1 ball of fresh mozzarella, cut in ¼ inch slices

1-2 tomatoes (size to match the eggplant), cut in ¼ inch slices

Fresh basil leaves, enough for each slice

¼ cup Balsamic vinegar (see below to reduce to a glaze)

Slice eggplants about ½ in thick and layer with salt on a plate for 1 hour.  Drain well and press down to release any liquid.  Preheat oven to 420 degrees.  Prepare a baking sheet with a rack on top.  Spray the rack well with cooking spray.  Beat egg white well in one bowl, in another mix the bread crumbs, cheese, dried herbs, salt and pepper.  Dip eggplant slices in the egg white and then in bread crumb mix.  Place on prepared rack over the baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil and bake for 15-20 minutes.  Turn the eggplant, top with a slice of tomato, basil leaf and a slice of mozzarella.  Return to the oven and roast an additional 10-15 minutes or until cheese has begun to slightly brown and soft.  Remove from oven and stack.  Drizzle with balsamic glaze and serve.

Balsamic Glaze:  In a small saucepan, gently simmer the balsamic vinegar until reduced by 2/3.  Cool and set aside until needed.

Eggplant Fries with Spicy Mayo

On the morning of the arrival of my weekend guests, I ran out to my favorite Italian market and stocked my frig, that is two refrigerators, with plenty of fresh fruit, veggies, meats and fish for grilling, appetizers and morning breakfasts.  I had my thoughts for what I would serve but I also knew that being in the kitchen with Ayesha we would pull the “ingredients” and come up with lots of combined ideas.  And that is exactly how the weekend played out!

On Friday we took the boys to the beach.  It was really a weekend for the little guys to experience Florida; the blue skies, sunshine, sand and ocean.  For lunch that day we ordered zucchini fries.  And here is where the story begins.  I see the fries.  Kinda greasy, overpriced, but tasty.  I think… I’ve done these many times, I’ve got zucchini at home, I’m adding this to one of our grilling meals.  I make the zucchini fries, Ayesha makes up a spicy mayo dipping sauce.  We absolutely love it!  Crispy from the oven, not greasy and the sauce she made was perfect with just enough heat!

The next day we are still talking about the zucchini fries, but we are all out of zucchini.   I mention we have an eggplant but never made eggplant into fries.  I think it might not be a good idea… and then I change my mind.  And, OMG, I’m so glad we tried it out!  The eggplant fries were meatier, crisped up on the outside and tender on the inside.  Totally not bitter and we did not salt them beforehand.

We served the Eggplant Fries with grilled Florentine Veal Burgers that I adapt from my Florentine Veal Loaf recipe.  Basically I use the same ingredients from the meatloaf but omit the ricotta cheese.  The meatloaf and the burgers always turn out juicy and flavorful!  Though I didn’t take food photos of the entire weekend; we had the Grilled Tuna Salad with Roasted Peppers and Zucchini, Grilled Pizzas, No-Fail Kale Caesar Salad, grilled t-bone steaks and grilled chicken sausage spirals and for breakfast one morning a trio of pancakes with rum syrup.  Thank you to Geni from Sweet and Crumbly for the inspiration on the trio idea.  I made a trio of granola, chocolate chip and blueberry pancakes, topping the “adult” pancakes with her rum syrup!

In addition there were (soon to be posted) Jello shots, key-lime ice cream bites, a secretly filled cookie jar and probably a few others I’m forgetting… weekends just go by too quickly!

Eggplant Fries with Spicy Mayo

For the eggplant fries:

1 large firm eggplant, peeled and cut in half, then in slices and then into sticks

2-3 egg whites

2 cup mix of seasoned Italian bread crumbs and Panko

¼ cup parmesan cheese

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Olive oil to drizzle over eggplant

For the spicy mayo:

4 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons Sriracha sauce

Prepare a baking sheet with a rack on top.  This allows the “fries” to bake all around and not get soggy.  Preheat oven to 420 degrees. 

In a medium size bowl, mix together the bread crumb/panko mix, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.  Rather than dip each “fry” into egg white then bread crumbs, I place all eggplant fries into a large bowl and pour over egg whites mixing gently.  Using my hands I grab a few sticks and drop them into the bread crumb mix bowl and gently coat each “fry”.  Place the eggplant evenly onto the rack, close but not overlapping.  Lightly drizzle olive oil over the eggplant.  Bake for 20 minutes, turn the “fries” and bake until crisp about another 10 minutes.  For extra crispiness, turn on the broiler for just a few minutes, about 2 minutes.

For the dipping sauce:  combine the mayonnaise and sriracha sauce and mix well.  Adjust spiciness to individual taste.

Grilled Eggplant, Fontina,Tomato and Arugula…Sandwich?

With the burger grilling season upon us I like to include some grilled veggie options for my veggie loving friends.  I find it hard to call it a grilled “sandwich”.  The eggplant slices do function as the “bread” but it’s not a “sandwich” you’d want to hold in your hands to eat.  Okay, maybe, if you don’t mind getting a bit messy.  But then again, if Bobby Flay refers to this as a “sandwich”, then by all means, it is a sandwich!

I have followed his recipe using goat cheese and basil oil  but this time I made it with fontina cheese and sage.  It’s quite versatile and I find myself returning to this recipe often switching around the cheeses and herbs.  When I have used a smaller, thinner eggplant, the stacks are more appetizer-like though I will serve this as a side, an appetizer or an entrée’.   It’s wonderful served warm but just as good room temperature.

 Grilled Eggplant, Fontina, Tomato and Arugula Sandwich

Adapted from Bobby Flay, Boy Meets Grill

For the herb oil:

½ cup olive oil

½ cup chopped fresh sage or fresh basil

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For the eggplant sandwiches (for 8 sandwiches):

2 medium eggplants, cut crosswise into ¼ – ½ inch slices, 16 slices

2 tomatoes cut into ¼ inch slices, 8 slices

1/4 cup olive oil

4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

8 ounces fontina cheese, thinly sliced

Arugula

1/4 cup packed fresh sage or fresh basil, chopped or chiffonade the basil

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

For the herb oil:  Combine the olive oil and herbs in a food processor, season with salt and pepper.  Process until pureed, about 5 minutes.

For the sandwiches:  Combine the olive oil and garlic in a large bowl or ziplock baggie.  Add the eggplant and allow to marinate for 1 hour, refrigerated.

Preheat grill or grill pan to high.  Remove eggplant from marinade and shake off any excess.  Season with salt and pepper, grill until golden brown and cooked through about 3 minutes per side.  Place 8 eggplant slices on a work surface.  Top with a slice of tomato, slice of cheese and a few arugula leaves.  Cover with the remaining eggplant slices.  Place on grill until cheese has softened about 1 minute.  Arrange on a platter and drizzle with the herb oil and sprinkle on fresh chopped herbs.

Vegetarian Antipasto

According to the Epicurious food dictionary, antipasto literally means the Italian term “before the pasta” and can include an assortment of antipasti such as cheese, smoked meats, olives, fish and marinated veggies.  I did serve this platter before a pasta dinner, but quite frankly, my guests and I, along with a loaf of freshly baked bread, could have dined on just this!   This is great for football party food or easy, light weekend or weekday dining.  It’s both healthy and filling.

This selection was straight up vegetarian.  No cheese, meats or fish.  Slices of grilled eggplant and zucchini, roasted or sautéed bell peppers, eggplant caponata, kalamata olives, artichoke hearts and kidney beans.  I marinated the artichoke hearts and kidney beans in a bit of olive oil with dried or fresh oregano or basil, crushed red pepper flakes and salt and pepper.  I grilled the eggplant and zucchini a few hours earlier as well as preparing the caponata, see below.  Everything was served room temperature, but could also have been served warm. 

For a non vegetarian version, I will include slices of mozzarella cheese with tomatoes (caprese style) or simply marinated mozzarella balls.  Thin slices of prosciutto gently placed on the platter or wrapped around asparagus, breadsticks or melon and an assortment of sliced Italian deli meats.   Marinated shrimp with their tails on for easy picking or a seafood calamari salad.  There truly are so many options to add to this platter and I will post future antipasto platters as I prepare them. 

 For the eggplant caponata, I sautéed one large diced onion and 2 thinly sliced celery ribs until soft.  Add in one large eggplant that has been peeled and cubed (cut up earlier and salted to release bitter juices and not absorb so much oil), one 14oz can diced tomatoes, 1/2 cup chopped green olives and 3 cloves minced garlic.  Allow to simmer until veggies are soft and blended together, about 20 minutes.  Add 2 tablespoons of capers, 2-3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and about 2 tablespoons of pine nuts (optional).  Simmer to allow vinegar to evaporate and all flavors to marry about 5 additional minutes.  Serve cold or room temperature with a sprinkling of fresh basil.  Caponata will store in the frig up to 3 days.

Pasta alla Simmered Norma, i.e., Spicy Tomato Eggplant Sauce

I always follow the chef rule, first in, first out when planning my meals.  The FIFO rule is to use the foods in the order they were purchased and with fruits and veggies, I look at those peaking at their ripeness.  Sharing more of my quirkiness, I keep a list of all the fruits and veggies I purchase just to ensure they all get used and not sit forgotten in my frig!  Not only do I have one refrigerator, but I use and fill two !  And it’s just my son and I living together!!

So I have an eggplant.  And it’s going to be my dinner.  Somehow, someway.   Gluten-free, no animal products, sugar or alcohol.  I can think of several dishes, then I consider my cravings…pasta!  I am liking this cleanse as I seem to be eating more carbs!  Gluten-free, of course.

Spaghetti alla Norma is a tomato based pasta dish topped with fried eggplant slices.   The use of olive oil is permitted on my cleanse, but I opted to not fry and keep my dinner very healthy.  I prepared a basic marina sauce and added chunks of eggplant to slowly simmer and melt into the sauce.  Adding crushed red pepper is optional as it made the sauce nice and spicy, as I like it.  I used a gluten-free brown rice pasta, which to my surprise tasted very good with the eggplant sauce.  And I didn’t miss not topping my pasta with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano!

Pasta alla Simmered Norma

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion finely chopped

1 28 oz can crushed tomato sauce, I used Organic Muir Glen

1 medium eggplant, peeled and cubed, about 4 cups

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper

1 teaspoon dried basil

2 cloves garlic minced

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)

1 cup gluten-free brown rice pasta (or your choice or pasta)

In a medium –large saucepan, heat the olive oil and add the onions stirring often to soften, but not color the onions.  Add the sauce and remaining ingredients, except the pasta.  Simmer on medium low for about 45 minutes or until the sauce thickens and the eggplant cooks and softens into the sauce.

Meanwhile, prepare the pasta in plenty of boiling water until al dente.  Drain pasta and add to the eggplant sauce.  Serve immediately.

Baked Eggplant Cutlets

Eggplant cutlets are one of my favorite staple dishes.  With a platter of crispy, yet creamy slices of breaded eggplant layered with sauce and parmesan cheese, I am ready to create several meals.  Delicious on their own, I love to simply plate a slice and savor it slowly.

My dad made the best eggplant cutlets!  He knew how much we loved them and would have a dish ready when I visited.  Even though I followed his recipe exactly, my kids would tell me it’s not quite as good as Grampa’s!  My sister too, nieces and nephew could find a plate sitting out warm or at room temperature to top on fresh Italian bread.  While they were previously prepared by frying the cutlets, my Dad started the healthier baking version, using much less oil, as eggplants can soak up the oil quickly.

Once I have a platter prepared, I am ready to use the cutlets for an eggplant pizza, or as a Panini filling with ciabatta bread, or for eggplant parmesan by layering the cutlet slices with mozzarella cheese and sauce and baking for about 30 minutes until the cheese is all melted, hot and bubbly.

Baked Eggplant Cutlets

1 – 2 large eggplants sliced into thick rounds, about 1/2 inch thick
Kosher salt
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon dried basil, 1 teaspoon dried oregano – or use 1 bunch Italian parsley, chopped
Homemade or store-bought tomato sauce
Additional parmesan cheese for sprinkling between layers

Layer the eggplant slices on a plate, sprinkling kosher salt liberally on each layer.  Cover with a plate and add weight – as you see in my picture, anything will do!  Leave the eggplant for at least an hour.  Some say its done to reduce the bitterness of the eggplant, others say it is so that the eggplant will not absorb so much oil.  After an hour or so, rinse off the water and pat dry.

Preheat the oven to 420 degrees.  Lightly oil a large baking sheet, or two if necessary.

Using two breading pans, beat the eggs in one and combine the breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, dried spices or fresh parsley.  Dip the cutlets in the egg and then in the bread crumb mixture, pressing down slightly to adhere the crumbs.  Place on baking sheet.  Drizzle additional oil on top of the cutlets and place in oven.

Bake for 20 minutes.  Take out and flip each cutlet over and return to oven for an additional 15 minutes.  The cutlets will have a golden crust.

While hot from the oven, prepare a platter by spreading on a light layer of sauce and begin evenly topping with the cutlets.  Spread sauce on top of each cutlets and sprinkle on the parmesan cheese. Continue until all cutlets have been placed in the platter.  Serve warm or at room temperature or use in other dishes.  Store in the refrigerator for a few days.

 

 

Chicken & Eggplant Cutlets with Caprese Topping

This dish is a medley of tastes and textures; a wonderful mix of warm and cold, healthy and light.  With a minimum of prep work and my favorite method for making cutlets, I can enjoy this easily on a weeknight.  Candles lit, slightly chilled white wine; perfect for end of summer alfresco dining.  It almost sounds romantic; however, this dinner was only for me..but why not treat myself special!!!

Chicken & Eggplant Cutlets with Caprese Topping

4 boneless chicken breats, pounded to even thickness
1 large eggplant, peeled and sliced longwise into 1/2 inch slabs, 4 slices
1 1/2 cups fine breadcrumbs
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
salt & pepper
2 eggs beaten with 1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon dried oregano or fresh parsley
Arugula
Vinegrette
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
8 oz fresh mozzarella, cubed

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with foil or use a slipat.  Lightly brush with olive oil.  Creating a breading station, place the beaten eggs and milk in one pie plate and the breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, salt & pepper in another.  Begin with the eggplant and dip into the egg and then the breadcrumbs.  Place the eggplant slices on one baking sheet.  Continue with the chicken and place on another baking sheet.  Drizzle lightly olive oil over all the cutlets.  Put both into the oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes.  The bottom of the chicken and eggplant should be nicely browned.  Turn the cutlets over and return to oven to finish baking about another 15 minutes.

While the chicken and eggplant cutlets are baking, mix together the tomatoes and mozzarella, a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.  Allow to marry the flavor and set aside until ready to plate. 

To plate the dish, place arugula on each dinner plate.  Drizzle on a little vinaigrette.  Top with one eggplant cutlet and place a chicken cutlet on top of the eggplant.  Spoon on the tomato and mozzarella dividing among the dishes.  Drizzle on additional vinaigrette.  Serve at once.  Serves 4.