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.

No Mayo Tarragon Chicken Salad with Yogurt

This chicken salad sings with flavor from anise-like fresh tarragon and fennel, balanced by thyme, lemon, and a bit of scallion.

I do NOT like mayonnaise,  plus it is loaded with calories (10 grams of fat in one tablespoon!), so I usually avoid chicken salads in delis and restaurants.  I use Mediterranean-style nonfat plain yogurt such as Karoun, which I find in Middle Eastern or South Asian markets. It is very thick like Greek yogurt, and has only 70 calories in a half-cup.

You can make the peas ahead of time. I suppose you could cook  frozen peas, but they won’t have the same crunch as parboiled fresh ones.

You can use a mix of light and dark meat, or just white meat, depending on what you want or have on hand. For the first batch I made, I used leftover roast chicken.

For the next batch, I poached boneless chicken breasts.  I salted them and browned them in olive oil. I then poured boiling water over it, and added a splash of white wine and a squeeze of lemon, several sprigs of tarragon and thyme and a spoonful of salt, and covered the pan, and boiled it for 10 minutes. I then turned off the flame and let it sit for  10 minutes. You can make the chicken ahead of time.

When making a large quantity for a crowd, I shredded the chicken by pulsing in the food processor. Then I transferred it to a large bowl to stir in the yogurt and other ingredients.

This recipe is pretty versatile for substituting vegetables. I added 2 Tb chopped pecans since my  South Texan husband loves pecans in almost anything.

1 cup shelled English peas

1 cup shredded cold chicken.

1 cup diced celery and/or jicama

2 Persian cucumbers, chopped.  (If you can’t find those, use 3/4 cup regular cucumbers.)

1/4  cup diced fennel root

½ cup plain nonfat Mediterranean or Greek yogurt

1 tsp minced fresh tarragon

½ tsp minced fresh thyme

1 tsp. minced shallot or red onion

1 Tb. minced green onion (scallion) about 1 stalk.

¼ salt or to taste

3 grinds pepper

1 Tb lemon juice (juice of 1 small lemon or ½ large lemon) preferably Meyer lemon

Shell about 1 pound English peas to make 1 cup, then parboil them for 2 minutes. Immediately cool them in ice water. I pour them through a strainer, then place the strainer in a bowl of ice water.

cooling peas in ice water

Dice chicken, cucumber and jicama, mix with cooled peas, and yogurt. Mince tarragon, thyme, shallot and green onion, add to chicken. Add salt, pepper and lemon juice. Mix well.

I bought some pita bread when I picked up the yogurt, so I tucked my chicken salad into  it.