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Little Ears Filled With Eggplant & Sausage
Feb 5th, 2010 by

You can't go wrong with impromptu pasta dishes made with fresh ingredients you already have at home..

You can't go wrong with impromptu pasta dishes made with fresh ingredients you already have at home..

I can’t pass up a good-looking eggplant. If I see one at the grocery store I buy it, regardless of my dinner plans for the week. This is because a good eggplant is not always easy to find. I’d say there’s about a 50/50 chance of finding a good one.

And what does a good one look like? It should be a deep, dark purple (nearly black with lighter highlights revealing themselves under the bright grocery store lights). The skin should be blemish free, smooth, and taut. It’s also a good sign if the stem end is a bright green or at least shows signs of recently being so. And it should be heavy when you pick it up so that when you rap it gently with a closed fist it produces a low dull thud.

I won’t buy a lesser eggplant. I’ll change my dinner plans if I can’t find one. And that’s because eggplants of a lower quality are bitter and are responsible for giving all eggplants a bad name. This has resulted in cooks doing crazy things with eggplants, such as slicing it, putting it into a colander, salting it, and letting it sit until the juices run out. In my earlier cooking days, I tried that and found it resulted in an eggplant that still is much bitter than using a fresh one without all of this nonsense.

The key is using a good, fresh eggplant, and doing what you will to it quickly after peeling and slicing it. Don’t let it sit around getting brown.

I also partially peel my eggplants before slicing them. I do this by cutting off the stem end and then using a vegetable peeler to vertically peel strips off the eggplant from stem end to the bottom. This creates an eggplant with purple stripes. And then I slice it thinly — about a 1/4 to 1/8 of an inch or less.

Since cooking eggplant is often an impromptu act for me, I often come up with interesting recipes based on what I have on hand. This recipe came about on one of those occasions.

(This is a good dish to make if you have a little leftover tomato sauce. The Italians use a sparse amount of tomato sauce on their pasta, usually only enough to color it a deep orange, not a heavy red.)

Ingredients/Shopping List

  • Orecchiette pasta (or small conchiglie, also called shells). (1 pound). Orecchiette comes from the Italian for little ears and in fact looks like little ears.
  • Eggplant (1 or 2 firm and fresh specimens; chosen, peeled and sliced as described above.)
  • Sausages (3 sweet Italian links)
  • Tomato Sauce (about 1 cup, your favorite or mine.)
  • Olive oil (enough to coat the eggplant slices and 2 cookie sheets)
  • Salt (I use Kosher salt for everything.)
  • Parmesan cheese (About 1/2 cup grated, or to your taste)

What I did:

Bring a large pot of salted water (use a good amount of salt) to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente.

While water is being brought to a boil, peel and slice an eggplant as described above. Put slices on an oiled cookie sheet and brush olive oil on top of each slice. Make sure both the tops and bottoms of each slice have a thin layer of olive oil on them. Sprinkle slices with Kosher salt and cook in a 350 degree to 400 degree oven until brown on each side. Turn slices over half-way to make sure each side is a golden or dark brown. (Don’t worry about overcooking them. The thin slices will have a crisp paper texture and will taste great. Just be sure you don’t burn them!) Cook 2 cookie sheets of eggplants in this way.

When eggplant slices are done, cut them into quarters.

Crumble the sausage links into a hot frying pan with a light coating of olive oil. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper over them. Cook until done. And then transfer to a dinner plate lined with a paper towel to drain off the excess grease.

Heat the tomato sauce up over the stove.

Drain the pasta into a colander and then pour it back into the empty pot. Add sausage and stir. Add the eggplant and stir. Add the tomato sauce and stir. Add grated parmesan cheese and stir. Serve hot.

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Eggplant Parmesan Light
Sep 10th, 2009 by

This luscious eggplant casserole is low on calories. For you Weight Watchers, that means only 1-2 points per serving.

This luscious eggplant casserole is low on calories. For you Weight Watchers, that means only 1-2 points per serving.

(The first in an occasional series of low-calorie meal recipes.)

I should weigh 1000 pounds.

After making, eating and writing about food for RootsLiving - with recipes such as Ma’s Stuffed Peppers, Mac and Cheese for Adults, Chicken with Polenta,  and Italian Cheeseburgers — I need to start focusing on some low-cal dishes.

I started creating low calorie meals several years ago when my wife joined Weight Watchers. My criteria for inventing these dishes was that they not only be low calorie — and low in Weight Watcher points — but they also be healthy and just as flavorful as the fattening stuff.

This eggplant parmesan dish meets that criteria by using a red Italian sauce made with carrots that was one of my father’s favorites. He got the recipe from our cousins who live near the walled city of Lucca in Italy. And I can assure you that none of them used this sauce in their favorite dishes because they were watching their weight.

And oh, yeah, there’s one more thing: this eggplant parmesan contains no parmesan cheese.

You could add some and boost the calorie (or points) up a bit. But with the wide-variety of intermingling flavors contained in this dish, I don’t think you’ll miss it.

Eggplant Parmesan Light (About 1 or 2 Weight Watcher points per serving)

(Serves 4)

The red carrot sauce can be used on pasta too or in this case, rice.

The red carrot sauce can be used on pasta too or in this case, rice.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium to large eggplant (Pick an eggplant that is shiny with a deep, rich, purple color. It should also be firm all around, with no soft spots)
  • 1 cup or so of the red carrot sauce (see recipe below)
  • Small thin slices of low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella cheese (just enough to cover each eggplant slice)
  • 1 lemon
  • 2-3 teaspoons of olive oil
  • Salt (I prefer Kosher salt for all cooking)
  • Fresh basil leaves (about 2-4)

What I did:

Brush a cookie sheet with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil so that eggplant slices won’t stick too much.

Peel eggplant and cut into thin slices, no more than a 1/4-inch thick.

Cut lemon into wedges and squeeze juice into small bowl. Brush each eggplant slice with the lemon juice and salt. Then place on cookie sheet.

Bake eggplant slices in batches in a 450 degree oven. Turn slices over being careful not to burn.

Lightly brush olive oil into small casserole dish or baking pan. Put down one layer of eggplant slices. Top each slice with a very thin slice of mozzarella cheese and then cover with carrot sauce.

Repeat until all eggplant slices are used. Place a small piece of fresh basil on top of the top slices.

Bake eggplant in a 350 degree oven until cheese melts (about 10 minutes).

Italian Red Sauce Made with Carrots

  • 1 garlic clove (lightly crushed but kept whole)
  • 1 onion (chopped fine in a food processor or by hand)
  • 4 carrots (chopped fine in a food processor or by hand)
  • 2 celery stalks (chopped fine in a food processor or by hand)
  • 1-2 tablespoons of fresh chopped parsley
  • 1/2 can of tomato paste
  • 3 cups of water
  • 1/2 cup of red wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon of dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon of olive oil

What I did:

Heat olive oil in a sauce pan. Add garlic and onion and cook until translucent.

Add chopped carrots, celery, and parsley. Saute until soft, stirring often for about 15 minutes.

Add tomato paste and enough water to turn sauce orange (about 3 cups). Cook until water is reduced and sauce becomes thick (about 15 minutes). Stir often.

Add wine and cook for about another 10 minutes, stirring often. Add salt and pepper to taste, and basil.

(All photos by Mark Micheli)

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