Shelled In

Hello. Hi there. How’s it goin’? It’s nice to see you here. It’s nice to know I can move across the country, start a new job, move again, unpack, unpack some more, and then get my internets hooked up and see your smiling faces. Well, not really see you, but you get my drift, yes?

I’m glad you’re here, and I’m glad I’m here.

I’m also glad to have my kitchen back. As of Sunday night, all boxes are unpacked. Now, this doesn’t mean everything is in its place, but great progress has been made on the home front. I will say that it’s hard to move to a smaller place, but I think we’ll manage just fine here.

I think we’ll eat a lot of good dinners together, and I think that, once we procure another dining room table (and chairs of course. chairs are good here.), we’ll eat a lot of dinners with other people too.

But for now, it’s just the two of us (we can make it if we try; just the two of us). That works out  nicely when I make a dish I don’t enjoy sharing, which happens often. Of course, stuffed shells aren’t exactly a novelty, but considering I had an unopened box of jumbo shells in my pantry that made it’s way here all the way from Chicago, I felt it worthy of a housebreaking meal.

Also, my favorite mother-and-father-in-law mailed me some extra-tasty fine Italian cheeses for my birthday, and I took this as an opportunity to use some of them. Now, you don’t have to go all out and put your best cheese on this dish, but you could if you wanted. In our house, cheese has to get used quickly, or else it risks getting eaten by a certain cheese-lovin’ boy.

But why eat cheese alone with you can eat it with more cheese, the best tomatoes ever, and pasta? No brainer.

Swiss Chard Stuffed Shells
serves 4

time commitment: 1 hour (30 minutes active)

printable version

ingredients
20 jumbo shells (~1/2 box)
1 15-oz container part-skim ricotta cheese
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 bunch swiss chard, chopped
salt and pepper
1 28-oz can San Marzano tomato puree
1/3 c Asiago cheese, shredded
1/3 c Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shredded

instructions
preheat oven to 350 F. bring a large pot of water to boil. cook pasta shells according to package directions, being careful not to overcook them. drain and rinse with cold water; pat dry.

meanwhile, make filling. in a medium bowl, combine ricotta cheese through chard. season with salt and pepper.

taking one shell at a time, stuff with filling until overflowing. place in small baking dish (you want them to all be touching one another, not spread out). pour tomato puree atop stuffed shells and top with the two cheeses. bake, covered with foil, for 30 minutes. uncover, and bake another 5 minutes.

This is How I Roll

When I told you I was going pescaterian for a month, you didn’t think I was going to talk about super-healthy dishes for the duration of May, did you?

If you did, and it’s ok if you did, I wanted to layeth the smacketh down relatively early, so as not to further confuse anyone. I do not roll that way. And as a matter of fact, not eating meat does not necessarily = eating healthier, per se. Because, quite frankly, you might find yourself loading up on cows and cows worth of cheese instead, and I do love cheese. It is for that reason that I will never, ever understand why a vegan becomes vegan. But I’m not here to understand everybody, that’s for sure.

I am here to report on my recent feelings about eggplant, however. I’ve never been a big fan of meat imitators. I suppose I should retract that statement, since I like tofu and tofu is, by all accounts, a meat imitator. But veggies such as mushrooms and eggplant that make their way between two pieces of bread and are called “burgers” usually come off resembling mush and downright soggy messes. I’ve also never really liked eggplant parmesan, as it is again, too mushy and not reminiscent of the real thing, chicken parmesan, which is far more chewy, and in a good way, than eggplant.

Of course, the fact that I’m spewing this and that about eggplant and all its ickiness may seem strange since you’ve by now noticed that this recipe is all things eggplant. I never said I wasn’t a hypocrit, people. But to rewind a little, I did say that I’ve never been a fan. Never, until now. Or honestly, until our Seattle trip where I ate the crunchiest eggplant fries (fries!) that were flecked with sea salt and honey (honey!); fries that melted in your mouth and made you forget where you were, what your name was, and certainly that you were in fact, eating eggplant.

Those fries, I will perfect one day, but last Friday was not the day. The ones I made were (surprise!) mushy, cut too thickly, and water-logged (still edible though, with the honey on top).

In this case, you get the best of both worlds. You get the eggplant and the parmesan, and with those you get plenty of other goodness – swiss chard, kale, ricotta, and even mint. And instead of thick, spongy eggplant that’s breaded and fried so the oil gets soaked in too, you get baked, thin rolls that when folded up nice and pretty, look and taste a lot like stuffed shells, or lasagna, or something else equally yummy.

And oh yeah, the sliced mozzarella on top really seals the deal. Like I said, where I cut back in beef, I more than make up for it with cheese. It’s a give and take sorta thing – and somehow, I’m still on top.

Eggplant Parmesan Rolls w/ Swiss Chard, Kale, & Mint
Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2010

this is an easily adaptable dish, honest. the original recipe called for chard and mint, and i added some leftover kale i had frozen away. you could also use spinach, which is probably more traditional, and instead of the mint you could use any other herbs. the tomato sauce here is canned, but you could easily make your own or add spices to the sauce if you so choose. do it up!

printable version

ingredients
2 medium eggplants, trimmed, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (or as close as you can get it)
kosher salt
evoo
1 bunch red Swiss chard, center ribs removed and stems removed
1 small bunch Tuscan kale (cavolo nero), about 2 c
2 large eggs
1 15-ounce container part skim ricotta cheese
1 c finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 T chopped fresh mint
freshly ground black pepper
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 8-oz ball fresh water-packed mozzarella, drained, thinly sliced

instructions
spread a layer of paper towels on cutting board or other flat surface. place eggplant slices down (1 layer), and sprinkle liberally with salt. let stand at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour. rinse eggplant slices to remove excess salt; dry thoroughly with paper towels.

position oven rack 5 to 6 inches from heat source and preheat broiler. line a large-rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. arrange eggplant slices in single layer on prepared baking sheets (will take 2-3 rounds). brush both sides of eggplant slices with olive oil. broil 1 sheet at a time until eggplant slices are tender and beginning to brown, flipping slices once and watching closely, removing eggplant slices as needed if cooking too quickly, 3 to 4 minutes per side. remove baking sheet from oven, repeat as needed, and cool eggplant while preparing filling.

meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. add chard and kale to pot and boil just until tender, about 2 minutes. Drain; rinse with cold water. Squeeze chard and kale very dry, then chop coarsely. squeeze chard and kale dry again between paper towels. whisk eggs and pinch of coarse salt in medium bowl. Stir in chopped chard, ricotta cheese, 3/4 c Parmesan, mint, and black pepper to taste (I used close to 1 t).

spray a 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. spread half of tomato sauce evenly over bottom of dish. divide chard-kale-ricotta filling among eggplant slices, placing about 1 heaping tablespoon filling at short end of each. Starting the short end with the filling, loosely roll up eggplant slices, enclosing filling. Arrange rolls, seam side down, atop sauce in baking dish. spoon remaining tomato sauce over. place mozzarella slices in single layer over rolls. sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. if making in advance, cover with foil and chill until ready to bake.

preheat oven to 350 F. bake eggplant Parmesan rolls, covered with foil, until heated through, about 30 minutes if freshly made or 40 minutes if refrigerated. uncover and bake until brown in spots and sauce is bubbling, 15 to 20 minutes. serve hot.