Tag Archives: mozzarella

Cheesy Eggplant Pasta Bake

Adventures in eggplant are always interesting. Mostly because I usually feel like I don’t know what I’m doing so every time I cook it it feels like an experiment. I didn’t grow up eating it…ever. Even now I don’t eat it all that often. But with my weekly surprise farm boxes, sometimes they come my way and I’m hate throwing away food so you can bet I will find a way to cook it! I’m still teaching myself to cook it, and to love it. I’m not quite there yet, but we have reached an accord, the eggplant and I.

I would call this particular eggplant experiment a success. I mean, really, when you add sauce and cheese and pasta, you can pretty much throw anything in there and it will be good, am I right? The ricotta and marinara sauce mingle into a wonderful creamy coating for the noodles and the eggplant adds great texture (and a few vitamins, yay!). If you want a little less texture, I would recommend peeling the eggplant. I left the peel on and didn’t mind it a bit.

Don’t be intimidated by all the steps. While there are several components, they are all individually easy to make and the finished dish is pretty, hearty and great for serving a crowd, or sticking in your fridge to eat all week, or gifting it to friends or family who have had a busy day.

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Cheesy Eggplant Pasta Bake

Sauce:
28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
4 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/4 cup chopped olives
Handful of fresh basil, roughly chopped or torn
Salt & pepper to taste

Crumb:
1/2 cup chopped kale, spinach or herbs
1 clove garlic
2 slices of sourdough bread (stale is best!)
Pinch of sea salt

For the bake:
2 cups diced eggplant (bite size dice) – 1 large eggplant or 2 little ones
1 tsp. sea salt
1 package penne pasta
16 oz. ricotta cheese
1/4 cup parmesan
8 oz. mozzarella

Heat oven to 375˚. Spray a large casserole dish with cooking spray or rub with olive oil. Set aside.

Put eggplant in a colander and toss with sea salt. Let it sit in the sink for 10 minutes while you make the sauce, pasta and crumb topping. The salt will help draw out the extra moisture so it isn’t mushy in your casserole.

In a medium sauce pan, heat a drizzle of olive oil. Add garlic and crushed red pepper. Cook a minute or so until fragrant but not browned. Add tomatoes and olives. Bring to a boil and then turn down and let simmer. Add basil. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Cook pasta according to package directions, removing about a minute earlier than usual so it’s still a little al dente. It will continue to cook in the oven so this will keep it from getting too soft. Drain and rinse with cool water. Set aside.

Combine kale, garlic, sourdough bread and sea salt in a food processor. Pulse to get a crumb mixture. Sauté in a large dry skillet until it’s slightly brown and crunchy. (You can also do this step in the oven, but keep a close eye on it so it doesn’t burn.) Set aside.

Spread paper towels on your counter top and put the eggplant on top of them. Press down on top with another layer of paper towels to remove the moisture that has accumulated. Heat a grill pan or large skillet over medium high heat. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Spread out eggplant evenly in one layer. Cook a few minutes on each side until slightly browned and tender but not mushy.

Build your casserole. Start with half the sauce in the bottom of the dish. Top with the pasta. Then the ricotta in dollops all around and then smear them around to form a layer. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Add eggplant. Then the other half of the sauce. Top with mozzarella, just torn into chunks. Finish with breadcrumb topping.

Bake at 375˚ for 25 minutes, or until top is crunchy and cheese is melty. Serves 6.

Right out of the oven. Mmmm.

Right out of the oven. Mmmm.

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Pizza Stuffed Peppers

I came across these giant red bell peppers the other day and they were so pretty (and so on sale!) that I just had to buy them.  And with so many spring colds going around, this seemed like the perfect way to get an extra dose of vitamin C. Did you know red bell peppers have more vitamin C than oranges?

Since the peppers were such a nice shape and good size, stuffing them seemed like the thing to do.  But stuff with what?  As it happens I had all the makings for homemade pizza, except crust.  You know, sometimes things just fall into place.  Obviously a pizza filled pepper was the solution to all my problems.

Now when you’re making a stuffed pepper, you’re faced with two choices:  lop off the top and stuff them whole, or cut them in half and make boats.  Since my peppers were so tall I opted for boats. This has the added benefit of being able to pick it up and eat it like pizza if you so desire (and if you’re willing to wait a bit for it to cool).

These were delicious.  I’m not anti-crust myself, but if you’re searching for a more healthy, low-carb or gluten-free solution to pizza, give this a try!  Feel free to vary the pizza toppings to your liking. I am not listing quantities because really it depends on how big your peppers are and how many you want to eat.

Pizza Stuffed Peppers

Pizza Stuffed Peppers

Pizza Stuffed Peppers

3-4 large red bell peppers (or any color)
Red or yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
Handful of basil, coarsely chopped
Mushrooms
Mozzarella
Pepperoni (optional)
Salt & pepper
Dry or fresh oregano

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Stuff peppers with veggies, pepperoni (if using) and cheese.  I went for random placement so I could have a bit of everything in each bite.  Don’t overfill or it will just melt everywhere.  Lightly sprinkle with salt & pepper & oregano.  Bake for 20 minutes or so, until cheese is melted and lightly browned on top.

Yum.  Pick it up to eat or slice it up and eat it with a fork.  Up to you.

Yum. Pick it up to eat or slice it up and eat it with a fork. Up to you.

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Pasta with Heirloom Tomatoes and Basil

Heirloom tomatoes are pretty cool.  All sorts of varieties that you never see in the store.  Normally I only find them at farmer’s markets and they are just about irresistible.  But this time I spied some heirloom cherry tomatoes at Trader Joe’s and just had to snatch them up.  What didn’t go directly into my mouth ended up in this delicious pasta dish.

I make about a million versions of this particular dish depending on what’s in season and what’s in my fridge at any given moment.  This version included a double bump of basil since I had leftover pesto I had made a day or two before and then I also threw in some freshly picked pesto leaves from my garden as well.  The veggies are barely cooked, just warmed really to release the juices and get warm.  It’s absolutely bursting with summer flavors.

Pasta with Heirloom Tomatoes and Basil

Pasta with Heirloom Tomatoes and Basil

Pasta with Heirloom Tomatoes and Basil

2-3 tbsp. olive oil
1 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes (or the regular ones will do), halved
1/2 cup black olives, halved
1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup basil pesto (click here for my recipe or use your favorite)
2-3 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into cubes or strips
Handful of fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped or torn
1 pound pasta (I really like some sort of corkscrew shape for this to catch all the little yummy bits)

Get everything chopped before you start cooking, because this all comes together very quickly.

All ready to meet their destiny!  Love the pretty colors.

All ready to meet their destiny! Love the pretty colors.

Boil pasta until tender.  While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add garlic and cook about a minute until fragrant but not browned.  Add onion and saute a bit until slightly tender.  When the pasta is just about done, add tomatoes, olives and pesto.  Cook and stir just a couple of minutes to heat through.  I prefer the veggies barely cooked so they still have that garden fresh flavor.  Toss in some fresh basil, mozzarella and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Drain pasta and add to pan with veggies and cheese.  Toss to combine and serve immediately.  Top with a sprinkle of parmesan if desired.
heirloomtompasta2

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Project Veggie: Day 10 – Gourmet Grilled Cheese

I went to a Greek restaurant once where I ordered flaming cheese.  They poured some sort of alcohol over it and set it on fire.  When the fire when out you had a lump of melted bliss on a plate.  At my house I try not to set things on fire intentionally.  But melted cheese still makes me happy.  I was craving some so I made grilled cheese sandwiches. Whoever invented the sandwich is a genius.  That quick, easy, thrown together lunch (or breakfast or dinner).  A sandwich can be a quickie meal, or it can be art.  Yes…ART!  With a little imagination and a few things from the pantry, you can elevate a humble grilled cheese sandwich to mouth-watering, edible art.

In Taos, New Mexico there used to be a little cafe where I had a grilled mozzarella and olive tapenade sandwich.  I never got the recipe from them but I immediately went home and started experimenting, trying to replicate it.  I don’t know if I got it exactly the same as theirs but I came close and it’s amazing.  Up until then, I thought olive tapenade was just one of those fancy things you ordered in a restaurant for an appetizer.  I had no idea it was so easy to make.  It’s just a paste made from olives, and a few other tasty things.  And who ever thought of putting it on a sandwich?  I don’t know, but whoever it was would get a big smooch right on the lips if they were standing in front of me.

I made a big batch of Olive Tapenade and added sun-dried tomatoes, just for fun and because I had them.  I have lots left so now I guess I’ll just have to find something fun to do with the rest of it.  Hmmm…I feel some experimenting coming on.

Grilled Mozzarella & Olive Tapenade Sandwich

Grilled Mozzarella & Olive Tapenade Sandwich

Sourdough or rustic french bread
Sliced mozzarella cheese (preferably fresh mozzarella)
Olive tapenade (about a tablespoon per sandwich) – Recipe below or you can buy it in the grocery store.
Butter

Heat your skillet on medium heat.  Lightly butter one side of both pieces of bread.  Put one down in the pan and cover with mozzarella.  Take the other piece of bread and spread tapenade on the unbuttered side.  Put the olive side down on the cheese.  Cook a couple minutes on each side, until golden brown and melty.

Olive & Sun-dried Tomato Tapenade

I jar pitted kalamata olives
1 tbsp. capers
6-8 sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil
1 tsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. fresh basil
1 tsp. orange zest
1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper

Blend all ingredients in a food processor.  Store leftovers in airtight container in the fridge.  It will keep for several weeks.

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