Home Cooking: Meatless Italian-inspired comfort food
So many good reasons to think about meatless meals right now. This week we enter into the season of Lent and for the next seven weeks perhaps you, like me, will be abstaining from meat on Fridays. Or perhaps, also like me, you find your appetite naturally evolving toward making meatless meals a regular part of your week instead of a rare occurrence. And for good measure, you, like me, have discovered that meatless meals are very budget friendly, easy enough for a weeknight, or special enough for a casual dinner party with friends.
Whatever your reason, I want to entice you with options that are so delicious and familiar you won’t notice that they are meatless, because they’re flavorful.
Mushroom Tart with Shallots and Goat cheese
This mushroom tart can easily be turned into a pizza. Just pick up some store-bought pizza dough at the grocery store and use instead of the puff pastry. If you’re not keen on mushrooms, substitute your favorite greens, zucchini, eggplant, asparagus, peppers, and broccoli. Let your imagination run wild!
One sheet puff pastry
1 pound mushrooms sliced
2-3 shallots, thinly sliced
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
2 beaten egg yolks
4 ounces goat cheese roll, garlic and herb
Optional — arugula, extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, curls of fresh Parmesan Reggiano, salt and pepper to taste
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out defrosted or refrigerated puff pastry. With the point of a knife, lightly draw a half-inch border along the outside edge of the pastry. Brush this border with some of the beaten egg yolk.
Sauté the sliced mushrooms and shallots in extra-virgin olive oil or a dollop of butter. While they are sautéing, mix the ricotta cheese with the remaining beaten egg yolk. Season the ricotta with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste. Spread the ricotta cheese on the surface of the puff pastry (within the border you created).
Distribute the sautéed mushrooms and shallots over the surface of the ricotta cheese, crumble the goat cheese over the mushrooms and shallots.
Bake for 15-20 minutes until the puff pastry is golden brown.
Optional: Once the tart (or pizza) is out of the oven, top it with fresh arugula, sprinkle with EVOO, lemon juice, curls of Parmesan Reggiano, then season to taste with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.
Easy Oven-Baked Eggplant Parmesan Stacks
If you have eaters who turn up their noses at mushy eggplant, try this dish. I guarantee they’ll love it. You get all the crunch and flavor of fried eggplant without the grease. Also, most recipes call for the eggplant to be salted and allowed to “sweat” before proceeding, yet when I made this recipe, I forgot that step but the eggplant was still crispy and delicious!
1/2 eggplant per person, sliced vertically into 1/2-inch slices
1-2 beaten eggs
Panko breadcrumbs (either seasoned or season them yourself with Italian seasonings)
1 jar of your favorite tomato/pasta sauce
1 pound mozzarella cheese
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Set up your breading station. Set out three plates: In No. 1, ½ cup flour. In No. 2, two beaten eggs. In No. 3, Italian-seasoned panko bread crumbs. Dip each slice of eggplant into each of the plates to coat with the flour, egg and breadcrumbs. Place the eggplant slice on a baking sheet that has been lightly sprayed with cooking spray (or brushed with a thin film of olive oil). Bake the breaded eggplant for 15-17 minutes, gently flipping over halfway through. Bake until just golden brown and fork tender. Do not overbake, they’re going back into the oven.
While the eggplant slices are baking: in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, pour a generous layer of your favorite tomato/pasta sauce. Slice the mozzarella cheese into ½ inch slices.
Now for the fun part: After you’ve removed the breaded eggplant from the oven, allow them to cool for five minutes. Then place one slice into the gorgeous pool of tomato sauce, top the eggplant slice with a spoonful of tomato sauce, two to three slices of mozzarella, add another eggplant slice and repeat with sauce and cheese.
Continue creating these stacks, one to two for each person, depending on their appetites.
Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is melted and gooey delicious.
Serve and enjoy!
Kale, Mushroom, and Onion Lasagna in a white sauce
I enjoy using oven-ready lasagna noodles for their convenience. They are time-saving and foolproof. So if you’ve ever avoided making lasagna because you weren’t confident of first tackling slippery, tearing, lasagna noodles, here’s your solution.
1 package oven ready lasagna noodles
1 bunch kale chopped into bite-sized pieces (or spinach, rappini or endive)
8–16 ounces mushrooms, sliced (depending on how much you like mushrooms)
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
14 ounce container ricotta cheese
16 ounces mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup flour
3 tablespoons butter
3 cups whole milk or half-and-half
Nutmeg, oregano, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste
In a large frying pan, sauté the kale, mushrooms and onions, until softened and the mushrooms are golden. Remove the vegetables to a plate, lightly wipe out the pan, add the butter and flour. Allow the flour to “cook” in the butter until golden. Slowly add in the milk (or half-and-half), whisking continuously until a thickened sauce forms. Add the minced garlic and allow it to “bloom” without burning, two to three minutes. Grate in nutmeg, season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste.
Now, let’s assemble the lasagna! Into the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, ladle some of the white sauce, add one layer of lasagna noodles, spread with ricotta cheese, add a layer of the sautéed vegetables, sprinkle with mozzarella cheese, add noodles, spread a layer of ricotta, then vegetables, mozzarella and repeat so that you have three layers of sauce, vegetables and cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes to allow the cheese to get bubbly and lightly golden brown in spots. Remove from oven and allow to sit for 15 minutes for sauce to set, then serve and enjoy!
Suzanne Anderson writes a weekly food column for the Summit Daily New and lives in Breckenridge.
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