How to: Recipe Makeover – Eggplant Parmesan

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We’ve been teased with a few days of warm weather over the last couple of weeks.

But I’m on to you, Mother Nature.  I’ve been a Canadian gal long enough to know you’re about to screw us over with a blast of icy garbage.

This ‘spring is just around the corner’ optimism hasn’t got me fooled! On the contrary. I’m still cooking comfort food. Crikey. I’m still cooking casseroles.

I promise, this one will take the edge off when winter does return with a vengeance.

And oh. It will.

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Do we have any eggplant haters out there?

Confession. I used to be one. In fact I was an extremely picky eater as a kid, but I had an especially big hate-on for bitter, spongy eggplant.

It turns out, all an eggplant needs to taste goddang delicious is a little love.

I haven’t had a bitter eggplant in a long time. Most of the bitterness long associated with eggplants has been bred out of the ones we’d find at the grocery store. Farmers 👈🏻 geniuses. Choose eggplants that have smooth skin and a very firm texture for freshness.

Salting the eggplant in this recipe isn’t to cut the bitterness, but to remove some of the excess moisture. Following the roasting step, you’ll be left with creamy, dreamy smokey slices of slightly salted eggplant that will be almost impossible to avoid eating on their own. You really can’t skip this step for this recipe because excess moisture will result in a really soupy final product.

As for the sponginess factor, eggplant, if given the chance will absorb a boatload of oil.  In this recipe we control the oil it can absorb by brushing lightly with oil.

Remember our AMAZEBALLS Eggplant Parmesan Sandwiches? Here, we’re avoiding super spongy eggplant by providing a coating for the slices before we fry them up in oil.

And so there we have it. Eggplant: unmasked!

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As you read through the recipe below, you may find this tomato sauce recipe to be familiar. It’s a slight take on the insanely simple Three Ingredient Sauce we shared with you last year. No time for homemade sauce? Use your fave store bought. No brainer.

Half homemade is awesome too, guys. (Maybe just a smidgen of fresh basil to sprinkle in though?)

Now, layer away!

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Get your slippers ready, pour yourself a glass of red and scoop out an extra large portion of eggplant parm.  You are now prepared for winter’s final blast.

Erin

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Eggplant Parmesan

Serves 5-6
Prep time 10 minutes
Cook time 1 hour
Total time 1 hours, 10 minutes
From magazine Inspired by Eggplant Parmesan from Food and Drink Winter 2017

Ingredients

Tomato Sauce

  • 1 can (796mL) Canned Whole Tomatoes with juices (preferably San Marzano Tomatoes)
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 Medium yellow onion (peeled and quartered)
  • 2 Large cloves garlic (peeled and left whole)
  • 8-10 basil leaves (chopped)

Eggplant Casserole

  • 2 Large eggplants (sliced into 1/4 inch rounds)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil (divided)
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese (about 300g, grated)
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 cooked garlic cloves (removed from cooked tomato sauce)

Directions

Tomato Sauce
1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, add tomatoes, butter, onion and garlic and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, add basil and cook for 15-20 minutes until thickened. Remove from heat.
2. Remove onion and discard. Remove garlic and set aside to cool. Crush any large tomato pieces with the back of a spoon.
Eggplant Parmesan
3. Preheat oven to 400F. Sprinkle eggplant slices with salt on both sides and lay them in a single layer on a wire rack or over some paper towels. Let sit for 15 minutes, pat extra moisture dry with paper towels.
4. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet and brush slices on both sides with 2 Tbsp of the canola oil. Bake 25-30 minutes, flipping halfway through, until browned.
5. Meanwhile, mince cooled garlic cloves and combine with breadcrumbs, remaining Tbsp of canola oil and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.
6. Spread 1/3 tomato sauce over bottom of oiled 8"x11" casserole dish. Place single layer of slightly overlapping eggplant sliced overtop. Combine mozzarella and remaining 3/4 cup parmesan and sprinkle 1/3 of the cheeses over eggplant slices. Repeat layering 2 more times.
7. Sprinkle bread crumb topping over casserole.
8. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until sauce is bubbling, cheese is melted and panko is golden brown. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes before serving.

How to: Healthy Side – Simple Brussels Sprout Slaw

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Simple is best, don’t you think?

When it comes to food and using quality ingredients, I am definitely on team KISS.

Recently, friends had me over for dinner (word up Amy and Gord!) and as we chatted and sipped on wine, I watched Gord casually prepare a simple side salad with finely chopped brussels sprouts.  It was perfectly elegant for a dinner party, yet simple enough for a week nighter.

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I’ve made a few more involved versions of this salad in the weeks since, but I’m always drawn back to the most basic version, using high quality ingredients.

Yup, really good extra virgin olive oil (or canola!) costs a little more, as does parmesan reggiano.  Pine nuts aren’t cheap either. But! These are what make a humble bowl of wee little heads of cabbage taste… *kissing the tip of my thumb and index finger*.

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The brussels sprout chopping is the only real work here, which took about 5 minutes for the ½ pound.

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Pine nuts are sweet and creamy and really delicious when toasted, and a couple of tablespoon won’t break the bank, either.  I’ve used toasted sliced almonds and walnuts for this salad, too.  Both really great alternatives.

As for a parmesan substitute, you could try pecorino romano or grana padano. Something hard, salty and sharp is the ticket.

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You’ll also notice the recipe calls for cold pressed canola oil. While the canola oil you may know and love is very very mild in flavour, a cold pressed canola oil can have an incredible range of flavours (as can olive oil) depending on where the seed is grown. I’ve done a couple of canola oil tastings and I’ve tasted everything from butter to grass to sesame seed to asparagus in the oils grown across Manitoba alone!

You may be able to find cold pressed canola oil at a specialty food shop near you, but you can also use a good quality olive oil in its place.

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Enjoy,

Erin

Brussels Sprout Slaw

Serves 3-4 as a side
Prep time 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • ½lb brussels sprouts (about 12 medium, trimmed of any spotted leaves)
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • ½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 1½ tablespoon cold pressed canola oil or extra virgin olive oil
  • 1½ tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon pepper

Note

This salad is best served within a couple of hours.  You can prep all of the ingredients up to a day in advance and toss with oil and lemon juice just before serving.  Leftovers can be spruced up with an additional splash of oil and lemon juice just before serving.

Directions

1. Cut each brussels sprout in half. While holding on to the stem end, slice crosswise very thinly.
2. In a dry frying pan, toast pine nuts over medium heat, stirring or tossing occasionally until lightly browned.
3. In a medium bowl toss brussels sprouts, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, oil, lemon and s&p until well combined. Serve within a couple of hours for best results.

How to: Healthy Sides – Creamy Polenta

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Here’s something you don’t see every day.

A side dish that’s warm, satisfyingly starchy, creamy and wait for it…

healthy. Yup, cross my heart.

IMG_5696Polenta is made from ground whole grain corn which is cooked in a liquid until soft. It can be eaten right away in a porridge-like state or allowed to cool, solidify and later sliced for baking, frying or grilling.

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Water, stock or milk can be used as the liquid in this recipe.  Milk adds a little oomph by supplying not only creaminess, but protein too.

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Stirring in fresh herbs at the end will add bright flavour and a boost of colour. Basil and chives are my other two faves.

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If you don’t get through the whole batch, try spreading the warm leftovers on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet to a thickness of about ¼” – ½” and allow it to cool.  Refrigerate or freeze it and use it later as a pizza crust. Ya, I went there. 

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That’s a spoonful of heaven.  The addition of parmesan adds a nice depth, but it’s really delicious without cheese too.  Or maybe you want to try a old big pile of cheddar? No one’s stopping you you crazy cat.

IMG_5740This recipe serves as a great base and soaker-upper for various saucy things.  I’ve pictured it here with one of my all time favourite vegetarian stews – mushroom bourguignon, a Deb Perlman/ Smitten Kitchen Recipe.

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The recipe calls for full bodied red wine so when in Rome….

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Our sausage and peppers, braised beef or roasted tomatoes would all be best friends with this polenta too, though.

IMG_5757Give the old standby sides a break and try it.  Promise you won’t be sorry.

Erin

Creamy Polenta

Serves 4-6
Prep time 5 minutes
Cook time 1 hour
Total time 1 hours, 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole grain corn meal
  • 4 cups 1% or 2% M.F. milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a (approximately) 1.4 Litre oven safe dish, combine corn meal, milk and salt.
2. Cover and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Stir in parmesan and parsley. Cover, let stand for 5-10 minutes and serve.