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Eggplant and White Bean Meatballs

eggplant meatballs

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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Breakfast Polenta Pizza

June 1, 2014 Entrees, Menu No Comments
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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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Baked Pasta, Chicken and Artichoke Hearts in a Lemon Cream Sauce

May 8, 2014 Entrees, Menu, Pasta No Comments
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For this recipe, I’m combining chicken with two of my favorite ingredients – lemons and artichoke hearts – to make a tasty and filling baked pasta casserole, perfect for the spring season. You’ll need a little bit of time to prepare this dish, as it is a multi-step recipe. For the first step, we’ll sauté the artichokes and chicken in a lemon, wine and butter sauce. For the second step, we’ll prepare Lidia Bastianich’s lemon cream sauce recipe. We’ll then combine everything and bake it for 30 minutes. This is a great dish to serve to your family and friends as a beautiful weekend afternoon meal.

 

 

 

 

Step 1: Sautéing the Chicken and Artichokes

Ingredients:
1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1″ to 2″ pieces
2 tbspn olive oil
2 tbspn butter
1 shallot, minced
zest plus juice of one lemon
1/4 cup white wine
6 oz jar artichoke hearts, roughly chopped

Directions:
Heat oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When butter melts, add chicken. Sauté until chicken is browned and cooked. Remove chicken, set aside. Add shallots, cook briefly until shallots start to soften. Add wine to deglaze pan. When the liquid starts to reduce, add lemon zest and juice, stir well. Add artichoke hearts and chicken, stir well. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until liquid reduces by half. Remove from heat, set aside.

 

Step 2: Preparing the Lemon Cream Sauce

Recipe courtesy of Lidia Bastianich
Ingredients:
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons butter
zest plus juice of 2 lemons
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup heavy cream

Directions:
Drop the butter into the large skillet, and set it over medium heat. As the butter melts, scatter in the grated lemon zest; stir it around until sizzling. Pour in the white wine and lemon juice, add the salt, stir, and bring the liquids to a bubbling simmer. Cover the skillet, and let cook for a couple of minutes.

Uncover the pan, and slowly pour in the cream, whisking it steadily into the simmering wine and lemon juice. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquids reduce to a saucy consistency you like, 2 or 3 minutes more.

Note: as you are making the lemon cream sauce, you will also start to prepare a pot of boiling water to make 1 lb of pasta (zit, rigatoni or small shells will work well with this dish). As the sauce simmers, start to boil the pasta.

 

Step 3: Combining the Ingredients

When the pasta is done boiling, you will combine the pasta with the chicken and artichoke mixture (and its reduced liquid) in a 13″x9″ baking dish. Carefully pour the lemon cream sauce over the pasta mixture and stir it until the pasta, chicken and artichokes are all covered with the sauce. Loosely cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake in a 350˚ over for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, stir, serve and enjoy.

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Cream Sauces Part 2: White Eggplant Cream Sauce

March 20, 2014 Entrees, Menu, Pasta No Comments
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In my previous post, I introduced you to the basics of béchamel sauce, along with other sauces that use a béchamel as their starting point (mornay, soubise and velouté sauces, to be exact). I also shared with you the recipe for my red pepper béchamel cream sauce. In this post, I’ll be sharing with you the recipe for my white eggplant cream sauce, which also borrows steps and ingredients from all of the béchamel inspired sauces mentioned above. I’m using 1 cup of diced and floured eggplant, which will help give this sauce a nice, earthy taste and, depending on how long you let it simmer, either a chunky or creamy texture. As the sauce cooks, you’ll notice that the eggplant will start to break down, thus thickening the sauce as it dissolves into the liquid base. You can control how thick or chunky you make the sauce by how long you keep it simmering. The longer you simmer, the thicker and smoother the sauce. Because the sauce could potentially thicken quickly, you’ll want to keep additional broth on hand while cooking, to help thin out the sauce when needed. You can also add additional ingredients to the sauce for extra flavor and texture. I added some peas and cooked bacon to my sauce. Anything from asparagus and ham to mushrooms would work. It’s your sauce…have fun with it!

One additional benefit to this sauce is that you can make it low fat. Whole milk or heavy cream are not necessary, which is a big plus for a cream-based sauce. You can use 2% or 1% milk. Soy milk or almond milk also works well!

 

White Eggplant Cream Sauce 

2 tbspn unsalted butter
1 tbspn finely chopped shallot
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup eggplant, finely diced and dredged in flour
1 cup milk (your preference of 2% or 1% milk, or even soy milk or almond milk will work)
1/2 cup broth (chicken or vegetable), plus additional if needed
1 tbspn grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
dash of nutmeg

Additional ingredients that I used in my version:
2 tbspn frozen peas
2 tbspn cooked bacon pieces

Heat a large, non-stick pan over medium heat. Add the butter. When melted, add the shallots, cook for 30 seconds. Add the garlic, stir together until fragrant (about another 20-30 seconds). Next, add the diced and floured eggplant, stir so that all of the pieces are coated with the butter, shallots and garlic (at this point, it will appear that the eggplant has soaked up all of the butter. When the liquid is added and the eggplant cooks, it will release all of the buttery flavor that it first absorbed).

Next, add the milk and the broth, stir together. Bring the heat down to low and stir occasionally. The eggplant will gradually dissolve into the liquid, creating a creamy sauce. Add the parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir together, then taste to see if additional seasonings are needed. You can also add additional cheese, but be aware that this will cause the sauce to thicken even more. Continue to check on the sauce and stir for about 5 minutes. At this point the sauce is heated enough to be served, and you have control of how thick you want to make the sauce. The longer you keep it on the heat, the thicker and creamier it will become. You can (and most likely will) add additional broth to the sauce as needed to thin it out a bit. Be sure to just add a little bit at a time so that the sauce does not become too thin and runny.

You can stir in additional cooked ingredients a few minutes before serving. I added two tablespoons of frozen peas and two tablespoons of cooked bacon bits, stirring them into the sauce a few minutes before serving.

Serve the sauce with penne.

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