Sunday, January 30, 2011

Eggplant Stuffed with Veggie Sausage, Peppers, and Mushrooms

Italian sausage, peppers, and mushrooms are a classic combination for sandwiches, pasta, and other delights. In this recipe, I use Italian-style veggie sausage to stuff eggplants with this classic combination.

Some varieties of veggie sausage crumble easily, but others have a firmer texture. Either type works fine. Just coarsely chop the sausage links before cooking, and it won't matter if they don't further crumble.


1 large eggplant, halved lengthwise
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
2 links (2 individual-size portions) Italian-style vegetarian sausage, coarsely chopped
1 small clove garlic, chopped
1/4 cup chopped yellow onion
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
8 ounces fresh mushrooms, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons Italian-seasoned dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Slice eggplant in half lengthwise.

Using a tablespoon or soup spoon, scoop out the flesh of each eggplant half, leaving enough around the sides and bottom to form a sturdy shell.

Coarsely chop the eggplant meat and set aside.

Brush the eggplant shells with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, place them cut side up in a in a deep oven-proof baking dish or pan, and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage and saute for a 3-4 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove the sausage from the skillet and set aside.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the same skillet. Add the garlic, onion, and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low and saute for a minute or two, until soft and fragrant. Do not let the garlic turn brown.

Add the mushrooms and chopped eggplant flesh to the skillet. Raise the heat to medium, and saute for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked and tender.

Add 2 tablespoons of the parsley. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Saute for 1 minute.

Add the wine, and saute for 5 minutes.

Return the sausage to the skillet, along with the breadcrumbs and 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese. Mix thoroughly. If the mixture seems too dry, add more wine and/or olive oil, to taste. It should be moist but firm.

Stuff the mixture into the eggplant shells, and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese.

Cover with foil, and bake for 20 minutes.

Remove and discard the foil.

Bake the eggplant, uncovered, for another 20 minutes, until tender and lightly golden.

Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of parsley.

If using as an entree, serve one eggplant half per person. If using as an appetizer or side dish, cut each eggplant half crosswise into 2 or 3 pieces.

-- 2 entree servings or 4-6 appetizer or side servings

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cauliflower Fritters with Middle Eastern Spices

For this recipe, I started with our recipe for Cauliflower Fritters with Lemon and added cumin and coriander to the batter to give the fritters a lovely, aromatic Middle Eastern flair.


1 head of cauliflower
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2-4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 or 2 lemons, cut into wedges

Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cut the cauliflower into medium-size florets. Cook in boiling water or steam in microwave for 7-12 minutes, until tender but not mushy. Drain. Coarsely chop the cauliflower florets and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until well beaten. Whisk in the milk, and then whisk in the flour, baking powder, cumin, coriander, salt, and pepper. Whisk until smooth.

Add the cauliflower and parsley, and stir to coat all of the cauliflower with the batter.

Heat 1 or 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Use just enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of the skillet. Do not let the oil get too hot, or the fritters will brown too quickly on the outside and remain uncooked inside.

In batches, drop the cauliflower mixture into the skillet by tablespoonfuls, as many as will fit in the skillet at one time. Cook until the underside is golden, about 4-8 minutes. Turn the fritters and press down gently with a spatula to slightly flatten them. Cook until the other side is golden, about 4-8 more minutes. Add more oil as needed in between batches to keep the bottom of the pan lightly oiled.

Transfer cooked fritters to a baking sheet lined with paper towels to drain any excess oil. Keep cooked fritters warm in the oven until all fritters are finished.

Serve with lemon wedges for squeezing over the fritters as desired.

-- 6-10 servings

Note: Leftovers should be refrigerated. To reheat, bake covered at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes, and then uncover and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes until hot.

Steaming Vegetables in the Microwave

Long ago, before microwave ovens, blanching or steaming vegetables used to involve big pots of boiling water on the stove. While that is still a popular method for many cooks, I find it more convenient to steam my vegetables in the microwave. Much less water is required this way, which not only preserves water but also might keep vitamins and other nutrients from "boiling out".

To steam vegetables in the microwave:

Rinse vegetables well and cut up as desired.

Place the vegetables in a deep microwave-safe baking dish. Add enough water to make a shallow layer on the bottom of the dish.

Cover and microwave on high until done.

Note on blanching:

To blanch vegetables (prior to freezing or further cooking in a recipe), microwave just for a minute or two, until crisp-tender but not fully cooked.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Classic Marinara Sauce

It seems like every cook has her own unique way of making marinara sauce. The version below is pretty close to how my Italian grandmother made it. Grandma grew up in a small village on a hill outside Rome, so you know it's authentic.

Marinara sauce is, by definition, meatless. The name "marinara sauce" translates in Italian to "sailor sauce". Legend has it that Italian sailors made this meatless sauce because they couldn't keep meat on their ships for long periods of time, as it would spoil. Their alternative was to dress their pasta with a sauce made from canned tomatoes, olive oil, and aromatic vegetables and herbs that could keep for long periods of time without spoiling.

This recipe is very versatile. If you don't feel like chopping onions, leave them out. If fresh basil is not available, use dried. (Just be sure to reduce the amount of dried basil, using only about 1/3 of the amount of fresh basil you would use, as dried herbs have a much stronger flavor.)

Grandma would make her marinara using tomatoes that she canned from the family garden. Each summer, she would cook, crush, and can enough tomatoes to last us until the following summer. But, living in an apartment without enough sunlight to grow them even on my balcony, I must resort to the canned crushed tomatoes from the store. The result is still delicious.

Some American cooks like to add sugar to tomato sauce. That, Grandma would say, is a sacrilege. While the basil helps to sweeten the sauce, you can add a splash of white wine to sweeten it further. But please don't add sugar if you really want an authentic Roman-style sauce.

Ditto with the oregano, which some people like to add to a marinara. Per Grandma, oregano makes it a pizza sauce. Basil makes it a good marinara.


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 large can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1/2 tablespoon fresh basil leaves, shredded or coarsely chopped, or 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large saucepan or dutch oven, saute the garlic and onions in the olive oil over medium-low heat for 2-3 minutes, until soft and fragrant. Do not let the garlic burn.

Stir in the tomatoes, basil, salt, and pepper. Raise heat to medium high and bring the mixture just to a boil.

Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Use within 2-3 days, or freeze for future use.

-- Approximately 3 cups of sauce

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Roasted vegetables are as elegant and delicious as they are easy to prepare.

This recipe is dedicated to my dear friend Kaye, whom I've known since we were six years old. Brussels sprouts are one of her favorite vegetables, and she recently asked me for a good recipe for roasting them.

I've tried several variations, but my recipe below always seems to work out best. Here, as when roasting most vegetables, I like to cover the pan with foil for the first part of the roasting process, so they don't get too brown, just beautifully golden.


12 ounces Brussels sprouts
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Rinse the Brussels sprouts, trim the ends, and remove any of the outermost leaves that are yellow or discolored. Cut each sprout in half lengthwise.

In a bowl, toss the sprouts with the olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Arrange the sprouts in a single layer in a baking dish or roasting pan. Cover with foil.

Roast the sprouts in the oven for 10 minutes.

Remove and discard the foil.

Stir the sprouts.

Return the sprouts to the oven and continue roasting, uncovered, for another 10-20 minutes, or longer as needed, stirring once or twice, until the sprouts are nicely golden on the outside and tender inside.

-- 3-4 servings