I love eggplant parmesan, but restaurant versions are way too oily and leave me with a heavy feeling in my stomach. This version is not only much lighter, but faster and easier too. In the summer, I often make a quick fresh tomato sauce which can save you $$$ over buying a good one at the store. I’ll give you this recipe too which you can use over pasta or spaghetti squash. If you see “seconds” at the tomato stands at the farmers market, you can take advantage of them for this sauce or anything that calls for cooked tomatoes.
I love this eggplant parmesan as a hearty main dish with a salad in the summer and I also use this recipe as a vehicle for adding in leftover cooked veggies like sautéed greens, mushrooms or even swapping in roasted zucchini for the eggplant.
When I am hungry, I am not picky. I can find a lot of different options in my refrigerator or pantry that will do the trick. Give me last night’s roasted sweet potato or a couple dates stuffed with pecans and coconut or even a sprouted grain tortilla smeared with almond butter and wrapped around a banana. Instant gratification. My kids don’t yet have the ability to see the potential lurking in our kitchen that I do. That or they are incredibly lazy. While we are blessed to have an ample supply of food in our house, my children still manage to complain…”there’s never anything to eat around here!” I know. Insane.
In my former life, this may have made me feel inadequate, like I’m a bad mom. I don’t want to have the house where there’s nothing good to eat! But I’m onto my kids. I can read between the lines. They’re not whining about the lack of food. They’re whining about the lack of prepared-ready-to-eat-tasty-not-leftovers-from-dinner food. And serve it on a silver platter while you’re at it! I’m sure my kids would love it if I had the pantry stocked with orange, crispy cheese-flavored curls or boxed cookies. But that’s not food and it sure won’t help them get through their homework or a 90-minute soccer practice. Unfortunately, despite what you might think, I don’t have the time to cook up homemade snacks all day, as much as I would truly enjoy that.
Instead, I have taken some advice from the Chinese proverb,”Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” The point is that I think it’s more beneficial to my kids if they learn how to make a thing or two in kitchen especially when I’m not available to whip up something fabulous. This has been a s-l-o-o-o-w process, which I might need to speed up since Daughter #1 is supposed to be leaving for college in a year and a half (gasp.) Among other things, I have taught the girls to make one of their favorite snacks/lunches of the last 10 years. Pizza Quesadillas is a very popular and oft-requested after-school snack in our house, and not just by my girls, but their friends, as well. They take minutes to make and I usually have the simple ingredients on hand. I don’t know that they’re any better for you than a typical quesadilla, which is merely cheese (cheddar or jack) melted in a flour tortilla. This is just a fun twist on a quesadilla and a pizza, where you use mozzarella and also a little marinara sauce. I can’t help but sneak in a few veggies, usually leftover from the night before. Anything with which you might top a pizza is fair game here. In general, I love using whole grain tortillas, either sprouted grain or whole spelt, both of which are more nutritious and more digestible than white flour tortillas. Are you gluten-free? There are fantastic brown rice tortillas by Food For Life! With all that fiber and protein, the girls fill up more quickly than if they had eaten a mess of packaged snacks and they also get the benefits of long-lasting energy until dinner time.
You my have noticed that I haven’t mentioned the apple of my eye, Mr. Picky in this post. I have taught him how to make a couple of snacks including smoothies, acai bowls, toast, and peanut butter and jelly on a rice cake. But cheese is just not on his “must try list.” One of his new years resolutions is to be less picky, which I find very endearing. But in the same breath he also added that he would sooner try eating insects before he ate cheese. Did I mention “s-l-o-o-o-w process?”
1 pound frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed of excess water (I do this in a thin, clean dish towel)
sea salt to taste
4 whole spelt, sprouted grain or your favorite tortillas
½ cup marinara sauce
1 cup shredded mozzarella or vegan cheese (Daiya is my favorite vegan cheese)
Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, to taste
Preheat your griddle to 350 degrees or a large, heavy skillet over medium heat.
Heat the olive oil in a medium sized skillet over medium heat, add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add spinach and a pinch or two of salt and break up with wooden spoon or spatula. Sauté until heated through, about 5 minutes.
If you are using a cast iron or non-stock griddle or skillet, place a tortilla on the griddle or skillet dry without any oil or butter. If using stainless steel, you may need a teaspoon of oil to prevent sticking. Spread 2 Tablespoons of marinara sauce on half of the tortilla. Follow with ¼ cup mozzarella cheese, a sprinkling of pecorino or parmesan, if desired, and ¼ cup spinach mixture on top of cheese. Fold the tortilla in half to make a quesadilla.
Allow quesadilla to sit on griddle until underside is lightly golden brown and flip over. Cook until cheese is melted.
Slice in half or in thirds and serve.
This could be made with any leftover veggies, other options include: mushrooms, peppers, broccoli, kale. It also makes a nice lunch for school if your kids don’t mind eating it at room temperature.
I feel like my universe is in a state of transition right now. Although I’m sensing this shift in energy in lots of people, not just me. We’ve transitioned from vacation to school, about to move from summer to fall, and we’re starting to change what we wear. It’s natural for us to adapt from warmer to cooler weather by adding an extra layer or wearing warmer clothes. We can think of food in the same way. It has the ability to warm us up or cool us down. Even the way you cook or don’t cook your food can change how “warming” or “cooling” it is. The most cooling form of a vegetable is its raw state, which is why I favor lots of salads and raw soups like gazpacho in the summer. But today we had the first break in our heat wave and as I scoured the farmers market feeling a little chilly in my short sleeves, I had a hankering for roasted vegetable lasagne.
But before you think of the lasagne you eat in the dead of winter — the heavy, cheesy, carb-y, stick-to-your-ribs-and-thighs kind — think again. Let’s call this one “Transition Lasagne.” It’s warm, flavorful and satisfying, but it’s mostly vegetables with a mere couple of ounces of pasta in the entire pan, so it’s super light too. I also use mozzarella only on the top layer and no one seems to have noticed the difference. If you’ve made lasagne before, you follow the same basic steps of layering except here we use thick slices of roasted vegetables in place of sheets of pasta. There’s still one layer of pasta, though. I tried this with all veggies and it was a little too watery. The top layer of blanched collard greens is really pretty too. I got the idea from NY Times columnist, Martha Rose Shulman, who published a beautiful “Lasgana with Collard Greens” a few months ago. Just like Ms. Shulman’s, not only is this lasagne lighter and fresher than the traditional, but no doubt more healthful too.
This is exactly what I wanted on a day like today and my family was pretty psyched when they came to the table, too. Mr. Picky psyched about vegetable lasagne? Ok, no, he wasn’t. He picked it apart, scraping the cheese off both the pasta and the zucchini so that it was more palatable to him and the eggplant came over to my plate. This is actually progress. Last year he wouldn’t have eaten any of it! Does this make me crazy? Not really. Because I know that transitioning to being a good eater doesn’t just happen with a change in the weather.
1 ½ pounds of zucchini, about 3 medium, trimmed and cut lengthwise into ½-inch slices
Olive oil for brushing on vegetables
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 large collard green leaves
3- 3 ½ cups of marinara sauce (depending on how saucy you like it)
15 ounce container whole milk ricotta
1 large egg (helps to bind the ricotta)
½ cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, divided
4 sheets no-boil lasagna noodles or your favorite gluten-free pasta, cooked and drained
4 ounces grated mozzarella cheese, about 1 cup
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with unbleached parchment paper.
Slice the stem off the eggplant and with a vegetable peeler, peel a few strips off the eggplant so that you don’t get 2 end pieces that are all peel. It will be hard to cut through the lasagne otherwise. Slice the eggplant lengthwise into ½-inch slices. Arrange the eggplant in one layer on one baking sheet and the zucchini in one layer on the other. Brush both sides of the vegetables with oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Roast until tender, about 30 minutes. Then lower the temperature to 350 degrees.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a tablespoon of kosher salt and the collard leaves. Pull them out after 2 minutes.
In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, egg and 6 Tablespoons of Parmesan cheese.
Spread ½ cup of marinara sauce on the bottom of a 13 x 9 baking dish. Arrange the roasted eggplant slices on top of the sauce in one layer, squishing them together a bit so there aren’t too many open spots. Take ⅓ of the ricotta mixture (about ⅔ cup), and with a spoon gently spread it over the eggplant slices. Spread ⅔ - ¾ cup of marinara sauce over the cheese mixture.
Next, spread half the remaining ricotta mixture over the pasta sheets (I usually hold the pasta in my hands to do this.) Arrange the pasta in one layer over the eggplant/cheese/sauce and top with another ¾ cup of sauce.
Repeat with the zucchini slices, remaining ricotta mixture and ⅔ - ¾ cup of sauce.
Finally, place the collard greens in one layer on top. Spread ⅔ - ¾ cup of sauce on top of the greens, then sprinkle the mozzarella cheese and Parmesan over the sauce. Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, uncover and bake another 15-20 minutes until cheese is bubbly and golden. You can broil the top if it doesn’t brown enough. Lasagne is easier to cut (use a serrated knife) if you allow it to sit for a few minutes.
You can replace one of the layers of vegetables with a layer of pasta, if you prefer. You can also make this “cheesier” by adding a sprinkle of mozzarella in between each layer.
Vegetables can be cooked the morning of or the day before to save yourself some time.