Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cheesy Pasta + Eggplant Bake

When I studied abroad in Italy in college and my Italian host mom asked me what foods I liked I told her vegetables. No, I'm not crazy, of course I LOVE pasta but from what I had heard from older students, I should try to eat as many veggies and salads as possible since I would generally be force fed pasta at all moments no matter what.. Mangia! Mangia!

My Italian mom, however, listened to me quite literally and cooked me a LOT of vegetables. I'm talking trays of broccoli. When my classmates and I went out to eat and other students ordered meat or pizza as a break from the pasta fest they were eating at home, I would order the pasta since I was getting my vegetable needs met and then some! This may sound bad to some of you but let me tell you --- that women knew how to cook her vegetables. She would make sauteed broccoli so tender and flavorful that I would literally pack it into my roll and make a broccoli sandwich for lunch. Her eggplant, like all amazingly prepared italian eggplant was tender and salty with the nicest flavor of olive oil and not a trace of bitterness. I had an amazing semester and a full on love affair with the food. The pasta was amazing, the wine unforgetable and I really do miss my italian mom's eggplant!

I've always had a hard time making eggplant that's not bitter because I'm always too impatient to spend the time salting it, but this past Sunday I finally put in the effort, prepped the eggplant right and then made a delicious baked pasta dish on Monday night with it. It was worth the effort and the final product was yummy!

It may not be as good as an italian mama's but this eggplant dish was tasty, hearty and pretty healthy. Here's the recipe and the tips on how to take the bitterness out of an eggplant!

Eggplant Pasta Bake
Makes 3-4 servings or in our case it made two... I split ours into a big dish and a small one to make Nic's with white pasta and extra cheese and mine was wholewheat pasta and less cheese. Because we are ridiculous :)

-1 large eggplant or two small ones
-5-6 Turkey Meatballs (thawed if frozen)(precooked frozen ones are easiest - I like Trader Joes)
-Eggplant, peel and slice into rounds and then cut the rounds into quarters (so you end up with bitesize pieces
-2 cups Fusilli or Rigatoni Pasta or anything with a lot of ridges to catch the sauce.
-3 cups Basic marinara sauce - I like Trader Joe's Rustico
-3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (flat leaf italian style parsley of course.)
-1/2 cup shredded low-fat or fat-free cheese
-3 spoonfuls of fresh grated parmesan
-Salt and Pepper

How to prep the eggplant so they will be less bitter and spongey...
-Put the cut pieces of eggplant in a colander in the sink. Sprinkle lots of salt on the eggplant.
-Let sit for an hour. At this point the eggplant should look wet --- almost like they have been sweating for the last hour.
-Pat them dry with paper towels. Then rinse off with water to get rid of the excess salt.
-pat dry again with paper towels.

Cooking instructions:
-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
-Boil the pasta per the directions so that it is al dente

While the water/pasta is boiling...
-Put a large frying pan over medium high heat and spray with Pam
-Place the thinly sliced egg plant onto the pan and cook until they are getting slightly browned
-Add the marinara sauce and parsley
-Saute for about 8 minutes or so until the sauce has thickened and the eggplants are super soft
-Season well with salt and a little bit of pepper.
-Slice the turkey meatballs into smaller pieces.
-Spray your lasagna or casserole dish with pam

-Pour your strained pasta back into the empty pot and add your sauce/eggplant mixture as well as the turkey meatballs. Mix together with a little more salt and pepper and pour into the casserole pan.

-Top w/ shredded cheese and then the parmesan
-Cover with tinfoil and put in the oven. Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes and then an additional 5 minutes without the tinfoil cover.
-Take out of the oven and let cool for a couple minutes before serving.


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