Eggplant and White Bean Meatballs

June 29, 2014 Appetizer, Entrees, Menu No Comments

Could it be? A meatball recipe that doesn’t include beef, pork and veal, and isn’t fried? I’ve preferred baking meatballs over frying them for a long time now…but a meatless meatball? Truth is, there are a lot of interesting vegetarian meatball recipes out there. I find that eggplant is a fun vegetable to experiment with, and a little research led me to quite a few eggplant meatball recipes. I picked and chose from a bunch and put together my own version, which also includes white beans. While obviously not the same taste and texture as a true meatball, these are loaded with great flavor, and are very hearty and filling. Crunchy on the outside, moist and chewy on the inside…it was a perfect substitute for the real deal. What’s best is that my youngest daughter Ava, who is a meatball aficionado, powered through a dish of these! Serves well on their own or with a dish of marinara on the side for dipping.

 

 

Eggplant and White Bean Meatballs

Makes approximately 12 meatballs

1 large eggplant, skin removed, cut into 1″ pieces
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tbspn olive oil
1/4 cup warm water
salt and pepper
1 tbspn fresh basil, finely chopped
1 tbspn mint, finely chopped (you can use 2 tbspn basil if you do not have mint on hand)
1/2 cup canned canellini or garbanzo beans, rinsed
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 cup bread crumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 375˚. Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add shallots, cook for one minute. Add eggplant, then add water. Stir so that all of the eggplant pieces are coated. Season with salt and pepper. Place a lid over the pan, lower the heat to medium and let eggplant cook until soft and tender, about 10-12 minutes (stirring occasionally). Remove eggplant from the pan, set aside to let cool.

When cooled, place eggplant in a food processor with remaining ingredients. Pulse until well mixed, but not puréed. You can mix by hand if you do not have a food processor, but the meatballs will have a chunkier consistency. Shape the mixture into small balls as you would with traditional meatballs. Placed the meatballs onto a lightly sprayed baking sheet. Lightly spray the meatballs. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

Serve with marinara sauce.

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Caprese Garlic Bread

June 10, 2014 Appetizer, Menu, Salads No Comments

A few weeks back, a friend of mine was telling me that she was planning to make Caprese Salad sandwiches for a family dinner. Just thinking of the classic combination of fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella nestled between crusty bread had my mouth watering. Her sandwich combination was the perfect inspiration for this week’s recipe…Caprese Garlic Bread. The marriage of Caprese Salad and crusty, rustic garlic bread is a no-brainer. Think of it as a crispy, fresh and flavorful home-made pizza, served as an appetizer.

While the ingredients are very simple and basic, I cannot stress enough that you should use all fresh ingredients. Forget about pre-made frozen garlic bread, dried basil or garlic powder. While they all serve a fine purpose, you will quickly agree after one bite that fresh ingredients are the way to go.

The ingredients for the garlic bread itself are very simple and basic. You can either go with a garlic-butter spread or a drizzle of olive oil topped with garlic and sea salt, then lightly dusted with grated parmesan cheese. Normally I would add additional herbs to the mix, such as oregano, parsley, marjoram or thyme. But for this recipe we’re going very basic with the garlic topping, while letting the fresh basil, tomatoes and mozzarella handle the bulk of the flavor. This recipe is very quick and easy to assemble – you can have it prepped, baked and plated in about 20 minutes or so. Just pour yourself a nice glass of wine, and 20 minutes later you’re ready to dig in!

Caprese Garlic Bread

1 loaf Italian bread or French bread, sliced in half length-wise
12-oz fresh mozzarella, sliced about 1/4″ thick
4 roma tomatoes, sliced about 1/4″ thick
10-12 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
2 tbspn grated parmesan cheese

Version A: Garlic-Butter Spread
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter, mixed with 3 cloves minced garlic

Version B: Garlic and Olive Oil topping
1/3 cup olive oil
3 cloves minced garlic
sea salt

Pre-heat oven to 350˚. Place both halves of the bread, cut side up, on a baking sheet. If using the garlic-butter, spread it evenly on both pieces of the bread. If using the garlic and olive oil,  lightly drizzle both pieces of the bread with the olive oil so that the bread is lightly but evenly coated, then spread the minced garlic and add a light sprinkle of sea salt. Once the bread is topped, add a light dusting of grated parmesan cheese.

Next, place the sliced mozzarella evenly onto both halves of the bread. Place the bread into the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, add the chopped basil and the tomato slices, then place back into the oven for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool for a minute or so. Slice, serve and enjoy!

The garlic bread topped with fresh cheese prior to baking.

The garlic bread topped with fresh cheese prior to baking.

Caprese Garlic Bread, plated and ready to serve!

Caprese Garlic Bread, plated and ready to serve!

 

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Breakfast Polenta Pizza

June 1, 2014 Entrees, Menu No Comments

I am often asked when an Italian breakfast will be featured on my food blog. A true Italian breakfast is very simple, usually consisting of a café e latte or a cappuccino, bread, some pastries and biscotti and maybe some fruit…which doesn’t really leave me with much to discuss. I have, however, always had the intentions to put some sort of breakfast meal together using Italian inspired ingredients. I’ve talked about breakfast strata in the past (you can visit my recipe by clicking here), and of course there are the meat pies and frittatas that are enjoyed during the Easter season. Using the key ingredients from the Easter pies as a starting point (meats, cheeses and eggs), I decided to put together a breakfast pizza.

When I was a kid, breakfast pizza meant enjoying a left-over cold slice from the night before as I watched my Saturday morning cartoons. But for this recipe, I’m going a little more elegant and classy, starting with the crust. Instead of a traditional bread crust, I’m making a crust out of polenta (corn meal or corn grits mixed with hot water, salt, butter and parmesan cheese for additional flavor). Making a polenta crust may sound intimidating, as polenta usually involves a good 25-30 minutes of consistent stirring. But for this polenta crust recipe, you actually only have to stir for about 5-7 minutes, until the polenta pulls away from the pot as you stir. The batter then gets poured onto a baking sheet and shaped into a crust. After baking the crust for 20 minutes, you are now ready to top your pizza with whatever toppings you like. Anything from traditional bacon, eggs and cheddar to sausage and peppers, to spinach, tomatoes and feta. Another ten minutes in the oven, and you’re ready to enjoy your breakfast pizza. This is a dish that allows you to be creative and to have fun. It’s also a good meal to get the kids involved…which as all parents know is always the trick to get your kids to eat something new! And be sure to leave your comments on this post to let us know what breakfast pizza topping you have come up with.

Breakfast Polenta Pizza

Step 1: The Crust
3 cups water
1/2 tspn salt
1 cup corn meal or corn grits (either will work)
1-1/2 tbspn butter
*Note – these measurements will make a crust that will fill a half of a 9×13 baking sheet. You can double the ingredients for a full pan

In a large pot, bring the water and salt to a boil over high heat. Gradually stir in the corn meal/corn grits. Reduce heat and stir frequently with a wooden spoon for about 5-7 minutes, until the mixture pulls away from the side of the pot. Stir in the butter until mixed in.

Carefully pour the mixture onto a 9×13 baking sheet that has been lightly greased and lightly dusted with additional corn meal/corn grits. Using a spatula, start to flatten out the batter and shape it into a square crust in the middle of the pan (see note above for measurements to fill the entire pan). Next, as the mixture starts to slightly cool, lightly oil your hands and continue to press the mixture into a crust shape, about 1/2″ thick. Be sure to add a slightly higher lip around the edge to prevent any toppings from running off. You can also make small divots in the crust with your thumb, which will also help contain any liquid toppings. When the dough is shaped, place the baking sheet into a 400˚ oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and proceed to add your toppings.

Step 2: The Toppings
Once the crust is removed from the oven and is slightly cooled, it is time to add your toppings. For my first attempt, I kept it simple and added cooked bacon bits, topped with 3 beaten eggs and some shredded cheddar cheese. You can add whatever toppings you like. Peppers and sausage, and spinach, tomatoes and feta pies are next on my list. Be sure that your meat toppings are pre-cooked before adding them to the pizza. Whatever you choose, add the toppings to the polenta crust first, then add the beaten eggs, then top with shredded cheese if you wish. Three eggs will be enough for the smaller crust. Six eggs should be enough for a full size crust, but you can adjust accordingly. When the pizza crust is topped, place it back in the 400˚ oven for another 10 minutes. Carefully remove it from the oven, slice it up and enjoy.

The polenta crust, shaped and ready to bake.

The polenta crust, shaped and ready to bake.

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