Eggplant Crockpot Pasta Sauce

served with Parmesan and basil

ingeredients

The last 10 minutes of San Francisco’s Heart of the City Farmers Market are filled with vendors shouting “$1 a bag!” which is how I ended up lugging home 2 bags of eggplant and a huge bag of tomatoes home on the Bart train!

We’re in the middle of one of those rare but scorching Bay Area heat spells, so I decided to use my Crockpot to cook the eggplant and veggies instead of roasting them in the oven. Although not as toothsome as roasting, they came out tasty and ready to mix with penne or rigatoni pasta.

chopped vegetables

Ingredients:
A very large bag of tomatoes. It’s fine if they’re a little soft, and that’s what you’re going to get with bargain bag tomatoes anyway.
5 long Italian eggplants and 4 small globe eggplants
1 ½ small onions, (or one large onion)
2 bell peppers (or a bag of frozen sliced bell peppers).
5 large mushrooms
6 spicy chicken Italian sausages (you can use sweet if that’s too spicy for you)
8 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
Parmesan rind
4 bay leaves,
Sprig of rosemary
1 Tb oregano
1 ½ tsp salt
A few grinds black pepper
1 Tb of olive oil
1 Tb red wine
1 Tb of sugar

Add after cooking sauce:
1 can artichoke hearts
1 fresh bunch of basil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2/3 pound of penne or rigatoni pasta

Chop the vegetables and sausage and add the other ingredients in the first list to the Crockpot. I went to the trouble of dipping the tomatoes in boiling water and peeling them, but it’s not really necessary to do that.

in the crock pot

Cooked sauce in the Crockpot

I started the sauce after work and let it cook all night. (You can also start yours in the morning and cook it all day.) I was a little worried that there wouldn’t be enough liquid to cook it properly, but in the morning I realized that the vegetables had released plenty of liquid. I removed the Parmesan rind, which had given up its flavor to the sauce.

I added a can of chopped artichoke hearts. I chopped half the bunch of fresh basil I had bought at the farmers market and stirred it in with the freshly grated Parmesan. I let it sit in the fridge until dinner time so the flavors would develop.

At dinnertime, I boiled 2/3 of a pound box rigatoni pasta  and mixed it together with the sauce. I chopped up the rest of the fresh basil and sprinkled it on top with more Parmesan. This made 9 meals. Yay for leftovers!

layered with Parmesan

layered sauce with Parmesan

Minestrone Soup

Fall in the Bay Area brings a few weeks of sunshine to ripen tomatoes, then rainy and chilly days, perfect Minestrone Soup weather. Pick those ripened tomatoes off the withering vines, combine them with broth and chopped veggies and herbs in a big pot. This is a pretty forgiving recipe, so if you want to clean out the veggie bin of your fridge, throw in what you’ve got. You could use frozen veggies  or canned tomatoes. There is a use for everything, even Parmesan cheese rinds! The rind lends a wonderful flavor to the soup. If it doesn’t break up, leave it in the pot when serving.

10 servings:
1 or more Parmesan rinds
1 large onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 bunch red Swiss chard, leaves torn off ribs and chopped fine, to make about 3 ½ cups, dice the ribs
1 large red bell pepper, diced to make 1 cup
1 large green bell pepper, diced to make 1 cup
1/2 pound crimini mushrooms
1 Tb salt (to taste)
½  tsp fresh minced rosemary
1 Tb fresh minced oregano
1 tsp dried basil
6 cloves garlic, minced
several grinds black pepper
One package (4 links) Aidells chicken sausages. either artichoke and garlic or sun-dried tomato with mozzarella cheese (optional)
1 bay leaf
several shakes red pepper flakes
10 cups (2 1/2 quarts) homemade chicken or vegetable stock Roz’s Jewish Chicken Soup or vegetable broth (you can use boxed stock, but it won’t be as good!)
1 can tomato paste
4 cups diced tomatoes (Roma is best)
OR 28 ounce can San Marzano peeled tomatoes to sub for tomatoes and tomato paste
4 dried Porcini mushrooms
1 rind Parmesan cheese
1  cup peeled and diced carrots (2 large carrots)
2 peeled and diced red potatoes
2/3 cup small pasta (I used the tiny tubes called ditalini for my last batch, but I have also used salad macaroni)
4 small zucchini, diced to make 1 ½ cups
1/2 pound green beans, chopped
1 15-oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed.
1 cup frozen or fresh corn kernels
1/2 cup frozen or fresh peas
1 small bunch Italian parsley, chopped.
1 Tb fresh minced basil (about 5 leaves)
 
Garnish:
a few pinches dried oregano to taste
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

 

Heat stock, Parmesan rinds, tomato paste, tomatoes or canned tomatoes  in a large pot.

Grind dried Porcini mushrooms in a coffee grinder or small food processor and add to the stock. Add salt to taste.

Scrub mushrooms and rinse well. Dry in paper towel. and cut off woody ends from the stems. Place mushrooms on toaster oven tray and spray with olive oil spray. Broil for 10 minutes. When they cool, cut them in quarters and add to stock.

Stir-fry onions, red bell pepper, chard ribs, garlic, celery, and herbs in  olive oil in a heavy skillet until translucent. Add to stock.

Slice sausages in quarters lengthwise and then into half-coins. Stir fry in the same skillet as the onions were in for about 4 minutes, until browned. Add to soup, then ladle some soup into the frying pan and scrape the browned bits into the soup, then pour back into the pot.

Stir in carrots, chard leaves, canned beans, and potato and cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in pasta, green beans, zucchini, parsley, corn and peas. Cook 10 minutes on medium. Stir in fresh basil.

Discard bay leaf and ladle into bowl. Stir in a pinch of dried oregano, fresh basil, and a few spoonfuls of grated Parmesan cheese. Enjoy with a slice of good bread such as Acme herb slab, foccacia, olive bread, or sourdough baguette. Manga!

Seven Vegetable Lasagna

This lower-fat lasagna is filled with delicious veggies, 7 in all if you use  Eggplant Marinara I put in fresh picked young squash when I made it in late summer.

Ingredients

1 recipe of Eggplant Marinara sauce (In a hurry or just too tired to do all that? Add one cup sliced mushrooms and 2 tsp. fresh basil to 2 jars of sauce.)

½ package lasagna noodles

One head of spinach or a 10 oz bag of spinach or 1 pound bag of frozen spinach

4 small zucchinis and/or Mexican white zucchinis

2 Tb olive oil

14-oz. can of artichoke hearts

16 oz container ricotta cheese (Calabro is the best brand)low fat is lower in calories but full fat is so creamy

2 eggs

3 Tb. minced Italian parsley

12 oz. low moisture, low fat mozzarella cheese, grated

8 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated

Directions:

Wash spinach well and remove  long stems. Microwave it in a covered container for 1 minute until just wilted. If using frozen spinach, microwave until defrosted. Press cooked spinach through a sieve to drain, then squeeze by handfuls and place in a bowl or casserole.

Slice squash thinly and saute in batches in olive oil with a sprinkle of salt. Drain artichoke hearts well and slice in quarters, then saute for a few minutes.Mix with spinach.

zucchini-spinach-and-artichoke-hearts-in-pan

Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions. Add 1/4 cup cooking water to homemade sauce. The starch in the water will help emulsify the sauce. In a colander, drain noodles well and rinse with cold water. Line up noodles flat on smooth kitchen towels. This will prevent them from sticking together.

lasagna noodles on towel

Mix ricotta with beaten egg and parsley. Grate Parmesan and Mozzarella cheeses and mix together in a bowl.

Spread marinara sauce on an 8 x 11 oiled baking pan.

Place lasagna noodles over sauce.

Spread ½ of the prepared ricotta over noodles

Place half of the artichoke hearts, zucchini and spinach mixture over the ricotta.

veggie layer on lasagna

Cover with sauce and noodles, then top with rest of ricotta, vegetables, remaining sauce,  and mozzarella, and Parmesan cheese.

Bake in 375’ over for 45 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and browning on top. Let cool before serving. Garnish with fresh basil. It’s even better the next day!

out-of-the-oven

Eggplant Marinara


eggplants roasted with peppers

Rich with eggplant, mushrooms and tomatoes, spicy with Italian sausage,  garlic and pepper, and fragrant with Italian herbs, this marinara sauce is ideal for pasta or Lasagna. It’s got 1/2 teaspoon red pepper for a nice heat but if you are sensitive to spiciness, just put in 1/4 teaspoon. There are two ways to make this marinara: with chopped oven-roasted globe eggplant, or sliced Italian eggplant. You could even use both for an extra helping of vegetables. I roasted the mushrooms to bring out their earthy flavor.

I took a tip from The Breakaway Cook Eric Gower, and added ground dried mushrooms for umami, (Japanese for savory deliciousness), which wonderfully expands and rounds out flavors.

Along with my homegrown herbs, I add a fresh bay leaf. I pick them when I get the chance to hike in the hills around Berkeley and Palo Alto. Their aroma brings me memories of my youth hiking and biking those hills. Just be careful about leaving them in too long – the fresh ones are very strong and can overpower the sauce, making it bitter. Just leave it in about 15 minutes. You can substitute 2 dried bay leaves and leave them cooking in the sauce until ready to use.

Serves 8 (with pasta)

3 links turkey Italian sausage or vegetarian sausage. (optional)

1 Tb olive oil

1 onion, chopped fine

1 Tb  salt (to taste)

½ tsp. red chili flakes. Less if you don’t want it spicy

5 cloves garlic, crushed and minced

3 Tb minced fresh oregano OR  1 Tb dried oregano

1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary

1 tsp. minced fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp dried tarragon

1 tsp dried basil

several grinds black pepper

2 green bell peppers and 2 red bell peppers. (can substitute 3 cups frozen or 2 cups jarred roasted red peppers)

1 small (6 oz) can tomato paste

¼ cup red wine (If you don’t have red, then substitute a dry white)

2 lbs or 14 large soft Roma tomatoes (substitute 48 oz can of crushed tomatoes (Cento brand is best) and 24 oz diced tomatoes

1 Tb sugar to taste

1 fresh bay leaf or 2 dried bay leaves

3 dried Shiitake mushrooms

1 large or 2 medium roasted globe eggplant  and/or  4 Italian eggplants, cut in rounds and quartered

1 cup quartered mushrooms: use about 12 medium crimini mushrooms or 7 criminis and 1 large Portobello mushroom, or whichever combination you dream up. If criminis are not available you can use regular white mushrooms.

1  14-oz can artichoke hearts, quartered

1 tsp fresh tarragon

I bunch (1/4 cup minced) fresh basil

Italian eggplant method: Roast or barbecue eggplant and peppers. Discarding ends, slice eggplant into rounds, then quarter the rounds.

peppers and eggplants

Globe Eggplant Method: Pierce globe eggplant with a fork, and roast in a heavy oiled baking pan in 425’ oven for 1 hour until it collapses.  Roast red and bell peppers  for the last ½ hour alongside the eggplant. Roast mushrooms for 15 -12 minutes until soft. You can roast the vegetables a day ahead of time.

You can also barbecue the eggplant peppers and mushrooms.

While eggplant is roasting and cooling, make the rest of the sauce.

Slice, quarter and brown sausages and drain the fat.

onions

Cook onion and salt in olive oil over low heat, covered for 20 minutes until it softens and is translucent.

onions and spices

Add chili flakes, garlic, dried basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, and black pepper. cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes until herbs release their fragrance. If using frozen bell pepper, add them now. Add browned sausages.

Add tomato paste, then fill tomato paste can with water then stir in the tomato paste that has stuck to the can. If using canned tomatoes, add them and rinse out the cans with a bit of water and add it to the onions.

If using fresh Roma tomatoes, halve them and scoop out seeds and fibrous ribs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pulse tomatoes in food processor until desired consistency is reached. I did mine on the chunky side. Stir into tomato paste and herb mixture. Add sugar to balance the acidity of the tomatoes.

If using chopped Italian eggplant, add it to sauce.

If using globe eggplant, scrape it out from the peel and mince it. Stir it into the sauce. Peel the bell peppers and mince them, then add to the sauce.

Quarter crimini mushrooms and chop Portobellos and mix in the sauce.

Grind the dried mushrooms until pulverized in a clean coffee grinder or spice grinder. Stir into sauce.

Add 1/4 cup wine and sip some on the side…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If using roasted bell peppers, stir them into the sauce.

Stir well and let simmer for an hour. You can make this in a crock pot and let it simmer for several hours.

Add quartered artichoke hearts and fresh tarragon for last 10 minutes of cooking. Just before serving over pasta or making lasagna, stir in fresh basil and cook a couple of minutes.

Tomato-Basil Hamburgers with Mushrooms

Just in time for summer barbecues!  Nice topped with applewood-smoked bacon (to make up for the lean hamburger meat), avocado, lettuce and tomato.

Basil has been described as the tomato herb. I just got a new plant for my garden and took a few leaves off for this burger creation. Did you know you can take leaves off your basil plant and it will keep growing as long as you leave the bottom two leaves?

Combine in a bowl:

¼ cup diced basil

¼ cup diced onion

2 lg mushrooms, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

½ large Roma tomato, diced (¼ cup)

1/4 tsp. minced rosemary

1/8 tsp red pepper flakes (several shakes)

about 3 grinds of black pepper

a few shakes of sumac

½ tsp salt

Fold 1 lb lean hamburger into all ingredients except salt. Form 4 patties. Salt top and bottom. Grill on medium-high until desired doneness. Turn often for optimum cooking.

Have leftover burgers? Put them in spaghetti sauce for a quick and easy meal. If you made the barbecued eggplant, you can add leftovers to the spaghetti sauce too. I added a little fresh basil and oregano to the jarred sauce for extra flavor.

Italian herb Eggplant with chicken and/or garbanzo beans

on pasta with grated parmesan

Italian herbs

Serves 4  time: about 40 minutes

Eggplant is the food of the gods, especially when roasted. I don’t add any oil to it.  Roast it whole for an hour in a  425′ oven, until soft. You can put in the same roasting pan while you are baking a whole chicken, and use it the next day or two. The time will vary with the size of the eggplant of course, but for this recipe I used a medium eggplant. My other favorite vegetable is artichokes. My family teases me that I put artichoke hearts in almost everything (ok not desserts). They add a subtle sweetness to the dish. I use the pale green zucchini which doesn’t have the bitterness of regular dark green zucchini. Small zucchini have a better taste.

For a vegetarian version, just omit the chicken. Vegans can omit the parmesan cheese as well.

ingredients

ingredients italian chicken

1 medium eggplant

1 Tb olive oil

1/2 onion, chopped

1 chicken breast (2 halves), chopped

1 sprig oregano, diced to make 1 Tb.

1 sprig rosemary, minced to make 1 tsp.

3 cloves garlic, minced, or 3 cubes frozen garlic*

1 cup fresh red bell pepper or frozen sliced bell peppers*

4 Roma tomatoes, chopped

10 mushrooms, chopped

15 oz. can garbanzo beans

1 tsp salt to taste

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

1 Tb red wine

1 tsp sugar

2 small pale green zucchini, chopped

1 bunch spinach, leaves only, chopped

14 oz. can artichoke hearts in water,* drained and sliced

3 sprig basil, diced to make 1 Tb

*(you can get these at Trader Joe’s)

Roast eggplant (prick it with a fork before putting in the roasting pan to prevent an explosion!) and let cool; then scoop out and chop.

Pick fresh herbs: 1 sprig each of oregano and rosemary, and 3 sprigs basil.

Sauté onion in 1 Tb olive oil for one minute, then add chicken breast.

Add garlic, chopped mushrooms and sliced bell peppers, eggplant, Roma tomatoes,  garbanzo beans, rosemary, oregano, and  salt. Add balsamic vinegar, wine and sugar. Cook for 10 minutes.

Add zucchini, and artichoke hearts . Cook for a few more minutes until zucchini and artichoke hearts are hot. Place spinach on top and cook covered a few minutes, until spinach is wilted. Mix in basil.

Serve over ½ lb  penne or spaghetti, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Italian chicken and veggies cooking in pan