Ever since the spring, when our family decided to eat vegetarian for Lent, our meat consumption has decreased significantly. In fact, there are entire weeks when we go without meat, and even my master-meat-smoking-and-grilling husband has loved the way we have transformed our diet.
We’ve found lots of great ways to still make dishes “hearty” without the meat. Beans and legumes are a great stand-in for meat in lots of different dishes, from casseroles to enchiladas. Tofu and other soy products work especially well in stir-fry meals and Indian recipes. Cheese and eggs can represent good complete proteins in baked pastas and rice meals. But a new idea to add heartiness has recently graced the Sweet Pea kitchen: eggplant.
Eggplant, when prepared properly, can have an almost meaty flavor to it. Especially in Italian dishes, the flesh of this not-often-prepared vegetable takes on a great substance and meatiness. But there are a few things to remember when preparing eggplant: first, salt the eggplant.
Eggplant has an inherent bitterness to it that is extracted with a sprinkling of salt and allowing it to set for 10-15 minutes. Second, slice the eggplant in fairly thin slices (about ½ inch thick or so) to allow it to be cooked fully. If eggplant is under cooked, the flesh can be tough.
Once you salt and cook the flesh of eggplant fully, it will become super tender, and easy to incorporate into a sauce or dish. With this recipe, SPH and I collaborated to create a very hearty marinara sauce, loaded with the healthfulness of vegetables.
Eggplant Marinara Pasta
1 medium to large eggplant
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 – 28 ounce jar marinara
¼ cup fresh basil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 pound pasta, your favorite type
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Slice the eggplant in ½ inch slices.
Sprinkle both sides with salt. Set aside for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, you may cook the pasta according to the package directions and drain and set aside.
Heat the marinara over medium-low heat. Add the basil, oregano and pepper. Stir and let it gently warm.
Drizzle the eggplant with olive oil and cut each slice into cubes (this allows for quicker cooking).
Cook in the oven for 15 minutes or until it is very, very tender and completely transformed into this:
Add the eggplant to the marinara sauce.
Stir well and serve over the pasta.