Ah, writing about food again. Rusty? Maybe. But, when you have a passion about something, it’s hard to keep it suppressed for very long. Sometimes life transforms into a shit show and can divert you from things you care about. The point is, when coming out on the other side of things, to try and regain those bits and pieces that got jettisoned in the process of just trying to get through each day. Cooking for absolute pleasure never left me, thankfully, and sometimes it was therapy in and of itself. I have left some people completely dumfounded when I talk about cooking being one of the most zen things I do. People that don’t get it are in a class that leaves me shaking my head. It’s hard for me to believe, but I try and remind myself of a strange fact: Some people just can’t cook. I am grateful that for me, it’s pure joy. So let me try and revisit that habit that documents the things I cook, eat, and all that good stuff and try and share a little bit of happiness, enthusiasm, and complete geekiness.
Non-food related side note. After many hours of extremely frustrated pissed off angst, I am trying to resign myself to the fact that I am permanently locked out of my previous blog: www.mytastyplanet.blogspot.com. Recovery is simply not an option, so starting over is something I am ‘trying’ to digest. If you would like to read older content, please visit it and take a gander.
Now for dinner…
Since it is the month of January, I am doing my annual detox for the month. No sugar, no wheat, no dairy, and (gasp) no alcohol. This year I have decided to take a more paleo route, so meat and eggs have been included, where as legumes are out. People always ask me what in the hell I eat during the month when I give them the list of no-nos. They assume I subsist on heads of lettuce I guess. For me, constraints are always a catalyst for creativity. I guess I COULD live on carrot sticks and chicken breasts, but who the fuck would want to? I don’t think I have made the exact same meal twice for dinner this month. I will try and put a good many online, but I will start with my eggplant rollatini (basically strips of eggplant that you can use in place of sheets of pasta).
I traditionally do my rollatini with ricotta, but since dairy is taking a short vacay, I had to figure out a good filling that would hold together well and be both flavorful as well as satisfying. Using random tidbits from the refrigerator and some staple pantry items made this easy to put together. Prepping the eggplant is the most time consuming bit, but after that it really is very easy to make. I served mine with a side of mushrooms and greens - oyster mushrooms and guylan, because that’s what I had. A simple sauté in olive oil with salt and red pepper flakes kept them in line with the ‘Italian’ flavor profile of the rollatini.
This is a process, so be prepared to futz with a few things before dinner is ready.
Step 1: Prep eggplant.
Use large firm eggplants. Trim the sides slightly to make give them a squarish shape. This will make it easier to cut uniform even ‘sheets’ (remember you are going to use these like sheets of pasta). Cut eggplant lengthwise into 1/4” slabs. Plan on 3-4 sheets to roll up per person. I used one big guy and got 11 good ‘sheets’ and some janky bits. Not every piece will be perfect, but sometimes you can piece a couple of odd ones together to make a whole.
Heat up a skillet over a high flame and drizzle olive oil over eggplant pieces. Eggplants are sponges, so go easy on the olive oil and expect it to disappear into the flesh almost immediately. Sprinkle with salt and then cook each slice until each side gets blistered and the piece softens. Remove and stack on a plate to cool.
Step 2: Prep tomato sauce.
You can use your favorite jar of sauce, make some from scratch, or do what I did and doctor up a jar of sauce. I like Trader Joe’s Traditional Marinara as it doesn’t have any weird ingredients or added sugar. It’s a good starting point for a quick sauce. I add sautéed onions, garlic, and some Victoria Gourmet Tuscan spice blend (I love these products). Simple is good since this is just an accent to the rollatini.
Preheat oven to 350º
Step 3: Prep filling.
I blended the non-raw-chicken items first so I could taste for seasoning.
• 1 can of whole artichoke hearts (plain, not marinated - and use frozen if you have them, or hell - peel, steam and de-choke your own)
• I used about 1/2 cup of leftover steamed cauliflower, but you can leave that out
• 2 tablespoons of olive tapenade
• 2 tablespoons of pesto (I had some leftover in the fridge)
Add all ingredients to a food processor and pulse until chunky smooth.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Remove to a mixing bowl.
Cube up 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, add to food processor with one whole egg and pulse until smooth.
Add to artichoke mixture and combine.
Step 4: Stuff eggplant pieces.
In the bottom of a shallow baking dish spoon some of the tomato sauce so that there is a bed for the eggplant rolls to rest on.
Lay each piece of eggplant flat and using your hands scoop and spread a layer of the chicken filling over the entire surface of the eggplant - a little more than 1/4”. Start at one end and gently roll up the eggplant from one end to the other. Not tightly, or your filling will squish out. Place seam side down on top of tomato sauce. Repeat with all pieces and finally spooning a bit more of the sauce over each one.
Note: Yes, I cheated a LITTLE and put a tiny bit of pecorino romano over the top before putting it into the oven.
Bake for about an hour.
Serve with a salad, or another tasty veggie side like the greens and mushrooms I did - just something simple.
I was really pleased with how this turned out.
Basically any type of filling you might use in a ravioli should work here, so it does lend itself to experimentation.
Have fun and enjoy.