Monday, July 27, 2009

Stuffing Stuff!

Fact: It was Thomas Jefferson (well known for his promotion of horticulture) who introduced the eggplant to the United States in 1806 after receiving one from a friend in France.

I love eggplant; its spongy texture and ability to soak up any flavor make it a versatile and widely-used ingredient. Although the roof of my mouth tingles when I eat it, I am never intimidated by this allergy and I continue to indulge... I am not one to give up!

If you weren't aware, as eggplant contains numerous seeds, it is classified as a fruit. However, it is mostly cooked as a vegetable, with other savory ingredients. Eggplant is capable of absorbing large amounts of cooking oils and sauces, allowing for very rich dishes, although sometimes producing soggy and mushy eggplant. Before cooking the eggplant, it is a good idea to "salt" it as this reduces the amount of oil and/or sauce that is absorbed.

I decided to try something new: baked stuffed eggplant. I've seen this done before with ground beef and other meats, however as I don't eat meat, I wanted to make a vegetarian version. In addition to stuffing the eggplants, I used the same filling and stuffed that right into bell peppers, to add some variety.

Baked Stuffed Eggplant & Bell Peppers

1 large eggplant
3 bell peppers (color is up to you!)
2 shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large yellow squash, cut into 1/4 inch thick pieces and quartered
2 bags fresh spinach
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
3 cups cooked quinoa (follow directions on packaging of quinoa)
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup grated cheese (pecorino romano, Parmesan, asiago - my faves)
1/4 cup pine nuts

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Preparing the eggplant:
Remove and discard the stem and half the eggplant lengthwise. Remove inside, leaving about 1.5 inches as a shell. Place hollowed eggplant in baking dish. Cube the removed part and set aside for stuffing. Season all eggplant (both hollowed and cubed) with salt.

Preparing the peppers:
Remove and discard the tops, seeds and membranes of each pepper. Trim the bottom as well so the pepper can stand upright. Place peppers hollowed side up in baking sheet.

Preparing the stuffing:
In a large skillet, heat about 3 tablespoons olive oil on medium high. Add shallots and saute about 3-4 minutes or until transparent. Add the garlic and saute for about 3 minutes (DO NOT BURN). Add cubed eggplant to skillet (seasoned with salt) and squash and saute for 5-7 minutes. In increments, add fresh spinach. I like to add a few handfuls at a time, allowing it to shrink down before adding more. Once all of the spinach has been incorporated, the tomatoes are ready to be added. Rather than pouring in the whole can, scoop out the tomatoes adding only some of the liquid, reserving the remaining liquid to top the stuffed eggplant and peppers. Add the quinoa and season with a little cheese and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Your stuffing is completed.

Vegetarian Stuffing Mixture

Stuffing the eggplant/peppers: the FUN part!
Fill both halves of the eggplant and each pepper half way with the stuffing. Add a little cheese, a small handful of pine nuts and a touch of fresh basil. Fill all the way up with the stuffing and layer again with cheese, pine nuts and basil. Before placing the stuffed eggplant and peppers in the oven, pour a spoonful of the remaining tomato sauce from the can of diced tomatoes onto each .

Cover with tinfoil and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Serve with your favorite loaf of bread.

This vegetable dish can either be served as a side dish or as a main meal. It is the epitome of what comfort food should taste like and how it should make you feel. It warmed up my day and I sure hope it warms up yours!

Love and stuffings,

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