Eggplant Lasagna

I’m sorry it’s been a while since my last post. I have certainly been cooking enough and have a backlog of recipes waiting to share, but I’ve been distracted by case calls 122 miles away multiple times a week, a hunky Canadian visiting, and…(drum roll please)… getting accepted to grad school! I can barely believe that this Fall I’ll be living with my boyfriend – like normal couples do, ha! – in Halifax, Nova Scotia as I finally begin to study Astronomy.

When I was a senior in high school sifting through mountains of University pamphlets and trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life, I thought a career that allowed you to study something as beautiful and extreme as the stars would be perfect. I was told, however, that to be taken seriously as a astronomer one had to nab a degree in Physics first. Never being very good at Physics, this was pretty discouraging news to my 18 year-old self. Still, I decided to give it a try.

I won’t lie, it wasn’t easy. After getting past the boring basics, though, Physics becomes really interesting and – at times – absolutely crazy. Nuts. Looney. Anyone who’s read Brian Greene’s books probably has an idea of what I’m talking about, but for those who haven’t: try to imagine such things as quantum foam, understand something as eerie as entanglement, or just watch a “star in a jar“. Sonoluminescence still gives me goosebumps simply because it is so cool.

The old “truth is stranger than fiction” adage definitely applies to Physics, but the cool factor only just balanced out the equally crazy math (at least for me) and I found myself completely burned out when I graduated in 2006. I always intended to continue with my plan of studying Astronomy in graduate school, it’s just taken me a while. Now, almost eight years later, I’m going to finally be studying what I’ve wanted to all along – I can’t wait!!

Eggplant Lasagna

(adapted from Joy of Cooking: All About Vegetarian by Becker, et. al.)

Ingredients:

8 lasagna noodles

1 medium eggplant

6   oz. fresh mozzarella

6   T   unsalted butter

6   T   AP flour

3    C   milk

¼  C   tomato paste

1   t   salt, divided

¾   C   parmesan cheese, grated

* Note: this recipe deliberately makes extra bechamel sauce which you can store in the fridge for up to three days and use in other pasta dishes or over vegetables.

Procedure:

  1. Bring lightly salted water to a boil in a large 8-quart saucepan and add noodles. Cook until al dente, drain, and set aside.
  2. While pasta is cooking, slice eggplant into ½” thick slices. Steam the eggplant in batches over boiling water until very soft, but still intact – about 10 minutes. Spread cooked slices on a plate and sprinkle lightly with salt.
  3. For the bechamel: melt butter in a saucepan over Medium-low heat until it begins to foam. Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly, for a few minutes to remove the taste of the raw flour. Do not allow the flour to darken.
  4. Remove bechamel base from heat and gradually whisk in milk. Continue to whisk until sauce is smooth and lump-free. Return sauce to low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened – about 10 minutes. Lastly, add tomato paste and ½ t of the salt, whisk well, and set aside. Give the sauce a good stir every few minutes to keep a skin from forming.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375°F and prep a 12 x 9″ lasagna pan with butter or cooking spray. Begin stuffing the noodles by laying a noddle out on a clean work surface, adding a Tablespoon or so of the bechamel sauce, a slice of eggplant, and a slice of mozzeralla. Fold the top of the noddle over to cover the stuffing and add to pan. Repeat with the remaining noodles.
  6. When the pan is full with the stuffed noodles, pour ¼ Cup of additional bechamel sauce over the top of the bundles and sprinkle the grated parmesan cheese over the dish. Bake for 15 minutes and then increase the temperature to 400°F and cook for 5 minutes more or until a nice golden crust forms on top. Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Beezer’s Notes:

This vegetarian lasagna is gooey, rich, and satisfying enough that even those of us who enjoy meat won’t miss it here. I was a bit disappointed in the lack of flavor depth, however. Even though I significantly reduced the amount of butter and salt from what the source recipe calls for, about 90% of what I tasted was a combo of cheese and butter – which sounds obvious, but I guess I was just hoping for the eggplant to shine through a bit more. In the future I’m going to try roasting the eggplant slices instead of steaming them and do as my friend recommended and add a layer of spinach or kale (or some other dark leafy green) to the stuffing. The recipe now is an excellent starting point for an amazing dish, but I guess now that I’ve grown to love more veg in my meals I missed having more of it here.

Overall Enjoyment: ♥   ♥   ♥



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Tilapia Piccata

In my quest to balance my growing love of cooking with the growing demands of school, I snatched up a copy of Cooking Light’s 5 Ingredient 15 Minute Recipes from this fall. I’m usually skeptical of recipes claiming minimal ingredients for rather fancy dishes because, more often than not, their “ingredients” are prepared store-bought shortcuts – Sandra Lee style. Now I don’t mean to offend anyone; semi-home made is better than fast food or takeout any day when you are faced with only thirty minutes to feed your family. My personal goal though is not only to feed myself, but to improve my cooking skills in the process. Therefore convenient shortcuts like using store-bought white sauce or frozen patties really won’t help me any. I’m trying to find recipes that use a minimal number of unprocessed ingredients to make simple but delicious dishes. Luckily, I found one.

Now, I suppose you could debate whether or not capers count as a “processed food”. I did not pick and pickle the berries myself (by the way, did you know how beautiful caper flowers are?? I had no idea), so I guess I cheated a bit there. You’ll have to forgive me. 😉 Overall I was very impressed with this and other recipes I found in the magazine and how many of them use only raw ingredients. You’ll see more of them in the future for sure.

Tilapia Piccata (adapted from 5 Ingredient 15 Minute Recipes, Fall ’10)

Ingredients:

½   lb   angel hair pasta

2    6-oz tilapia fillets (or other white fish)

1     T   EVOO, plus a teaspoon or so

¼   t   salt

¼   t   freshly ground black pepper

½   C   dry white wine

2     T   fresh lemon juice, reserve a few slices of lemon

2     T   capers

2     T   chopped fresh herbs (like parsley or thyme)

Procedure:

  1. Heat the 1 Tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. While pan is heating, season fillets with salt and pepper. Add fillets to pan and cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side, until slightly browned and cooked through. Remove fish from pan and keep warm.
  2. As fish is cooking, bring a large sauce pot of lightly salted water to boil and add pasta. Every few minutes, test pasta for doneness as light pasta such as angel hair cooks quite fast. Strain pasta when it tastes ever-so-slightly under-cooked. Place pasta in a bowl, toss with a teaspoon or so of EVOO, and set aside. As long as you don’t rinse with cold water it will continue cooking to al dente.
  3. Add wine and juice to fish pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for a few minutes or until slightly thickened, scraping pan to loosen browned bits.
  4. Stir in capers and herbs and remove from heat. Plate pasta, overlay the fish, and spoon sauce over the whole dish. Garnish with a few slices of lemon and enjoy with the left-over wine. 🙂

Beezer’s Notes:

This dinner was one of the best I’ve cooked for myself in a long time. It’s healthy, quick, and easy! I’m trying to work more fish into my diet so this twist on a dish traditionally made with chicken was a tasty choice.

The source recipe called for snapper, but since I already had tilapia in the freezer I didn’t think twice about subbing it in. I’ve never had snapper, but I’m guessing it is slightly more meaty than tilapia and maybe has a bit more flavor. I think any white fish will work great in this recipe, so use what you prefer. Also, for the same amount of sauce the source recipe called for 4 of the 6-oz. fish fillets. I was cooking only for myself so I used 2 fillets without reducing anything else, making enough for dinner plus one leftover meal. I found that amount of sauce to be absolutely perfect for 2 fillets and my pasta. I may just like more sauce than normal, but since the flavor is so light I feel like it’s almost necessary. Try it out and tell me what you think!

Overall Enjoyment: ♥    ♥    ♥

Spaghetti Carbonara

Ok, I’m going to fess-up: as much as I hate to admit it, I really do enjoy Olive Garden. Their Ravioli di Portobello was the first dish I ever tried and it continues to be my favorite. Zuppa Toscana, Chicken Piccada, and Spaghetti Carbonara are also winners in my book. I don’t eat out often – and when I do it’s usually Thai – but a great dinner/movie combo for my boyfriend and I involves Olive Garden. You’d think I’d be more inclined to try to replicate scratch versions of my favorite movie night meals, yet a recipe for Zuppa Toscana has been collecting dust in my recipe box for almost a year now. Bacon must trump sausage in my mind, ’cause when I found a recipe for Spaghetti Carbonara in America’s Test Kitchen‘s 2010 Light & Healthy edition (!!!) it jumped to the top of the stack. The raw egg worried me a bit and if you are pregnant, feeding children, and/or are immunosuppressed you should use pasteurized eggs (learn how to pasteurize them yourself) or leave them out entirely. I am a healthy child-free young adult, so I took my chances and was fine.

Spaghetti Carbonara (from America’s Test Kitchen)

Ingredients:

1  1/3     oz.     grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese (about 2/3 C)

¼          C        fat-free evaporated milk (I only had regular)

2            T        mayonnaise

1     large   egg

1     large egg white

2          oz.        Canadian bacon, chopped coarse

2        slices      bacon, chopped coarse

3        cloves     garlic, minced

1             t          pepper

1/3         C         dry white wine

1         pound of spaghetti (I used whole-wheat)

1             T        chopped fresh parsley (I used thyme)

Procedure:

  1. Process the cheese, evaporated milk, 1 ½ Tablespoons of the mayonnaise, egg, and egg white in a food processor until smooth – about 15 seconds. Leave the mixture in the processor.
  2. Cook the Canadian bacon and bacon together in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until the fat has rendered and the bacon browned – about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels and blot gently. Set aside.
  3. Add the garlic and pepper to the fat left in the skillet and cook over medium heat about 30 seconds or until fragrant. Stir in the wine, bring to a simmer, and cook until thickened slightly – around 1 minute. Cover to keep warm and set aside.
  4. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the pasta and 1 tablespoon of salt and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve ½ Cup of the cooking water then drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Toss the pasta with the remaining 1 ½ teaspoons of mayonnaise until evenly coated.
  5. Back to the food processor: with the processor running, slowly add the wine mixture and ¼ Cup of the reserved cooking water to the egg mixture, and process until smooth and frothy. Immediately pour the egg mixture over the pasta and toss to combine, adjusting the sauce consistency as needed with the remaining cooking water as desired. Stir in the bacon and season with salt to taste. Sprinkle with parsley (or herb of your choice) before serving.

Beezer’s Notes:

This “low fat” version of Spaghetti Carbonara could fool anyone, it certainly tastes rich and flavorful enough to be served at any restaurant. I know that – with the bacon and mayonnaise – this dish still isn’t the healthiest choice out there, but man if this is the healthier version of Spaghetti Carbonara I don’t think I ever want to eat the original again. America’s Test Kitchen did a great job on this recipe (as per their usual) and while it is a bit more complicated than my usual Spaghetti with Parm & Pepper (very self-explanatory, I won’t insult you by posting a recipe), I won’t hesitate to make it again…especially for certain members of the family that love everything with bacon. Have you ever tried bacon-flecked milk chocolate? Well this guy loves it. *shudder*

Overall Enjoyment: ♥    ♥    ♥


 

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