Eggplant

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I am growing eggplant this year. I don’t really like eggplant so I thought, what can I do with these little purple things that have sprouted up and ready for me before I am ready for them. It dawned on me. Roast them. Great. I know they give a great flavor when roasted. What next. I have done other things, but wanted something new.

I looked at Eggplant Recipe titles on the internet. The one thing that intrigued me that was different was a croquet. So I thought, why not form a roasted vegetable “meatball”? I use the term meatball because that makes it very easy to sell my son on eating it. 🙂

I came up with a few ideas. I am very happy with the results and so is my son. He ate them faster than I could walk back up stairs. I did not tell him what was in it, just that it was meatballs (with a homemade quick sauce recipe included). But it has tons of veggies, protein and some fat. – but gotta have cheese.

Roasting the vegetables does not sound like something one would want to do in 90 degree temps, but it is soooooo worth it for the depth of flavor added to this dish. And my garden is not producing wonderful vegetables in the winter, and I wanted to use them fresh.

This recipe below made about 35 racquet ball-ish (or 1/5 times bigger than a gold ball) sized “meatballs”. This is vegetarian (not vegan), so everyone in the house can enjoy it.

I would love to say this is healthy. In a way it is…. until you count the cheese factor 🙂 You can always omit some of the cheese or reduce the amount. I conceived of this dish a few days ago and thinking I needed to go shopping for some of the ingredients. I didn’t feel like it today so my recipe changed according to what I had in the fridge. Fortunately, I had most of the primary ingredients, but gathering the ingredients did seem like the cliche “…everything but the kitchen sink”. Well – it worked! You can add/subtract ingredients as you see fit or find what is available to you. The steps are the most important as that is what builds the flavor.

There are several steps I took to put this together. I timed the steps so I could multi-task. For example, while the vegetables were roasting, I was putting together the cheese mix and sauteing the spinach. Below are the steps:

  1. Roast the Vegetables (about 45 minutes)
  2. Sauté the spinach, onions and garlic (20 minutes – gotta get those onions just right)
  3. Combine the Cheese Mixture (20 minutes – includes cleaning and chopping fresh herbs)
  4. Combine the Cheese and Spinach Mixtures (minutes)
  5. Remove Vegetables from the oven, remove skins if desired, and puree (10 minutes)
  6. Combine all remaining ingredients (minutes)
  7. lets sit for 5 minutes to thicken
  8. Form balls and cook (cook time is about 30 – 40 minutes)
  9. Make the Sauce
  10. EAT

You can save some time by sauteing the vegetables instead of roasting (Steps 1 and 2 can be done together) you would skip step 4. Sauteing will be about 20 minutes opposed to 45. Good flavor just not as good as roasting.

Another time saver, is to buy the vegetables already roasted or pre prepared from the deli/salad bars.

Lets get to the INGREDIENTS:

Roasted Vegetables

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3 – 6 inch Japanese Eggplants, cut into 1/4 in rounds
2 large beef steak tomatoes, cut into 1/4 in rounds, or in 8 wedges – core removed
8 large garlic cloves (skin removed or cracked open)
1/2 of a very large red onion, peel, cut in half then cut the half into quarters (save the over half of the onion)
Dried Oregano
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper (keep track of salt used, as all the salt will combine in the final dish – go easy here)

Note: you can add any of the following:

Zucchini (2 med, sliced in 1/4in rounds)
Summer Squash (2 med, sliced in 1/4in rounds)
Squash – your favorite kind (2 med, sliced in 1/4in rounds)
1 small package of mushrooms (any mushroom you like), cleaned
Asparagus
Jalapenos or other hot peppers
Red, yellow or orange bell peppers
Or other hearty favorite vegetable

Sauteed Spinach

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1 bag of pre-washed baby spinach
1/2 of large red onion (other half from above), diced
4 cloves large garlic, rough chop
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper (keep track of salt used, as all the salt will combine in the final dish – go easy here)

Cheese Mixture

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1 block Feta Cheese (about 1 in thick, 3 in long and wide), crumbled
1 4oz package Goat Cheese (can be flavored such as herbed or garlic)
1/4 – 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese (fresh, or shredded)
1/4 – 1/2 cup sharp white cheddar (dice if from block which is better than shredded)
15oz container of Ricotta Cheese (allow to drain in strainer in sink to remove excess liquid)
1/2 cup cream (I used light cream)
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup chopped assorted greek olives (pimentos a-OK) –
15 oz firm Tofu, drained, and pressed for a few minutes to remove extra liquid, crumble

Handful ea. of all or a combination of the following herbs (washed, and diced):

Fresh Parsley
Fresh Oregano
Fresh Basil
Fresh Chives (or scallions)
Fresh Lemon Basil
Fresh Thyme

To be added last:

3 Eggs (I use the whole eggs, but if you are looking to cut down on sodium, you can just use the yolks, you may need to increase it to 4 yolks if doing this method)
3 Cups bread crumbs (seasoned is OK – or make your own bread crumbs, or use brown rice)
3 Cups Panko Flakes (keep or use brown rice or other filler you prefer)
salt and pepper to taste

** Keep in mind olives and cheese do contain higher levels of sodium. One or more of these ingredients can be omitted if you are aiming for low salt or if you don’t have the ingredient. For me the Feta and Goat cheese are the most important. adjust your amounts. You can use yogurt / sour cream instead of ricotta or double the tofu and/or cut down the amounts of cheese to keep the fat levels down too.

You could even add in pureed chickpeas (hummus) to thicken the mixture and reduce some of the cheese.

Quick Tomato Sauce

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2 15oz cans of diced tomatoes (plain or seasoned)
10 – 15 leaves of basil, washed and dried
5 cloves of garlic, diced
1/2 of a medium white/yellow onion diced
1/2 cup fresh grape tomatoes (I just happened to have these on hand from my garden – not necessary to still make a great sauce)
Olive Oil
salt and pepper to taste

ADDITIONAL items you could add when you add the garlic:

Hot pepper optional
Olives green with pimentos or Greek variety
Capers
Bell peppers
leeks
Stock (chicken, veg)

*Your can eat it without the sauce.. but it becomes heaven with the sauce. 🙂

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

  1. Spread the eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, pepper, onion and other vegetables if using out across two baking sheets. Drizzle with olive oil, salt pepper, and dried oregano.
  2. Let roast for 45 – 60 minutes. Check after 20 minutes and flip and re-arrange if you find some getting done sooner or the vegetables on the outside are cooking faster, etc. then check every 5-7 minutes as some of the vegetables may cook faster than others and/or your oven may have hot spots. Feel free to re-arrange and turn them over or remove as you see proper.
  3. In the mean time, start sauteing the onions in olive oil for the spinach. You want them almost caramelized. When they are close add in the garlic. You can season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
  4. While the onions are cooking, in a separate bowl combine all of the cheese ingredients until as smooth as possible, EXCEPT the eggs, breadcrumbs, Panko Flakes and additional salt and pepper. These are the very last steps. Put the cheese mixture aside.
  5. Once the onions are close and you added the garlic, continue to cook for about 5 more minutes. Then put the spinach on top and let steam for about 1 minute, then toss so the cooked spinach on the bottom comes to the top. repeat until all of the spinach is cooked. Then remove from the heat and set aside to let cool.
  6. Check the vegetables in the oven. When they have shrunk to about 2/3rds or 1/2 the size and shriveled its time to pull them out. Let them cool until to room temp or when easy to handle for you and remove the skins from the different vegetables. My patience can be tested, so I end up burning my fingers as I handle them fresh out of the oven items. I will never learn. 😉
  7. Put the pulp from the vegetables into a food processor or blender and pulse until broken down and well combined (or pureed).
  8. Let the vegetable mixture cool slightly so it does not melt the cheese mixture when you combine the two.
  9. Once the pulp is room temperature, add to the cheese mixture and mix by hand.
  10. Now, add the panko, bread crumbs and eggs.
  11. At this point, I mix by hand, but feel free to pulse in the blender or food processor. You want the consistency of meatballs – as you will be forming balls now. Taste – adjust seasoning (salt pepper more garlic or herbs, sky is the limit)
  12. Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes before forming the balls. This will give it a change to set and thicken to the right consistency.
  13. Bake them for 25 – 35 minutes at 350 in the oven. You want them firm and cooked through. There will still be give due to the now melted cheese.Taste one more time to adjust seasoning.
  14. While the balls are cooking, make the quick sauce.
  15. Saute the onions into a fresh pan with some olive oil. Add a little salt and pepper. Let simmer until the onions are soft. Add in the chunky chopped garlic and let cook for about 3 – 5 minutes until the garlic is soft.
  16. Next, add in the tomatoes (fresh and/or canned), and let come to a simmer.
  17. Add the fresh basil on top, stir until the basil wilts (like the spinach does)
  18. Transfer contents to a food processor/blender and process the sauce (will still contain pulp that is good). taste and adjust seasoning.
  19. It is ready to eat right now, but you can simmer a little longer to remove some of the liquid. This takes less time than the meatballs, so you have time to simmer it for a few minutes.

Serve with the quick sauce and be happy! I was!

I hope everyone is enjoying the summer.

Nicole

About culinaryease

I am a single mother who loves cooking and providing tips, techniques, to get everyone out of the takeout lane and into the kitchen.

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