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

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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
1 stalk celery, diced to make ½ cup
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
1/2 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 sun-dried tomato with mozzarella cheese chicken sausage (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)
1 tsp sugar
3-4 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 and sugar 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.

Fry onions, red bell pepper, chard ribs, garlic, crimini mushrooms, celery, and herbs in  olive oil in a heavy skillet. Add to stock.

Slice sausages in half 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, and potato and cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in pasta, canned beans, 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 sourdough, Acme herb slab, foccacia, olive bread, or 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

3 small zucchinis

One 14-oz. can of artichoke hearts

16 oz container low fat ricotta cheese (Calabro is the best brand)

2 eggs

3 Tb. minced Italian parsley

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

8 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated

1 Tb olive oil

Directions:

Wash spinach well and remove  long stems. Microwave it in a covered container for 1 minute until just wilted.

Slice squash thinly, then quarter slices. Drain artichoke hearts and slice thinly, then mix with squash.  Saute in olive oil with a sprinkle of salt for a few minutes until vegetables just begin to soften. Stir in spinach. Drain any liquid.

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.

Mix ricotta with beaten egg and parsley.

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

Place lasagna noodles over sauce.

Spread ½ of the prepared ricotta over noodles

top with 1/3 the mozzarella and 1/3 the Parmesan.

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

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

Cover that with the rest of the sauce, noodles,  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


Rich with eggplant, mushrooms and fresh tomatoes, spicy with Italian sausage,  garlic and pepper, and fragrant with fresh herbs, this marinara sauce is ideal for pasta or Lasagna. There are two ways to make this marinara: with eggplant purée 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.

Serves 8 (with pasta)

3 links turkey Italian sausage or vegetarian sausage

1 Tb olive oil

1 onion, chopped fine

1 Tb  salt (to taste)

½ tsp. red chili flakes

5 cloves garlic, crushed and minced

3 Tb minced fresh oregano OR  3 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary

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

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

several grinds black pepper

2 bell peppers and/or 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

2 lbs or 14 large soft Roma tomatoes (substitute 24 oz can of crushed tomatoes and 24 oz diced tomatoes

1 Tb sugar to taste

1 bay leaf

3 dried mushrooms

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

1 cup quartered mushrooms

1  14-oz can artichoke hearts, quartered

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.

Globe Eggplant Method: Pierce globe eggplant with a fork, and roast in a heavy oiled baking pan in 400’ oven for 1 hour until it collapses.  Roast red peppers and mushrooms for the last ½ hour alongside the eggplant. 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.

Sauté onion and salt in olive oil until it begins to soften, about 2 minutes Add sausage, chopped fresh or frozen bell peppers (if not roasting them), chili flakes, garlic, oregano, rosemary, thyme and black pepper. Sauté another couple of minutes until herbs release their fragrance.

Add tomato paste, then fill tomato paste can with water then stir in the tomato paste that has stuck to the can.

Halve Roma tomatoes and scoop out seeds and fibrous ribs.

Pulse tomatoes in food processor until desired consistency is reached. I did mine on the chunky side. (If you are using canned tomatoes, add them instead.) 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.

Quarter mushrooms and mix in 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 tarragon for last 10 minutes of cooking. Just before serving over pasta or making lasagna, stir in 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