I'm always lamenting that there is no regular farmer's market near my home in Fort Lauderdale. The closest thing is a little gourmet market that sets up on Las Olas Boulevard every Saturday. Hoping to be inspired to cook by fresh, local produce, Mike and I went to check it out one recent Saturday. They bill it as a "farmer's market," but there's not a single farmer in the mix. There are about 6 vendors including a guy giving Eastern-style massages; a gal hawking homemade hummus; some buttery, sugar-laden baked goods; gourmet honey and olive oil; and finally, a produce stall.
This produce stall was proudly advertising their "California peaches" and "Virginia tomatoes." It was one step above what I would find at my supermarket, but local it was not. At least we tried. One thing they did have that I never see in the supermarket were Sicilian eggplants. They are round instead of oblong, kind of like little pumpkins. All it took was this one new, yet familiar food to ignite my creative spark.
Besides ground meat (we used pork), all you need are some basic ingredients to make stuffed eggplant. This dish can involve frying the eggplant and splashing everything with lots of oil, but it's not at all necessary. This version is very healthy, but due to the meaty filling and luscious roasted eggplant, it is a filling meal. Mike and I bought some great-looking trout to cook as well, but we were so satisfied with the stuffed eggplant, we saved the trout for a late Sunday breakfast.
If you can't always buy local produce in your area, where do you get your inspiration? Any ideas for me?
This makes a satisfying light meal for two. You can add bread and salad for a complete supper. Just double the recipe if you need to feed more people.
1 large Sicilian eggplant
1/3 lb. ground pork (turkey, beef or lamb would also work)
salt and pepper
1/2 white or yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
1/8 tsp. dried thyme
1/8 tsp. dried rosemary
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
pinch red pepper flakes
2-3 tbs. panko
2 tbs. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Fresh parsley or basil for garnish
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Trim off the stem and cut the eggplant in half through the stem end. Line a baking sheet with foil, cover nonstick cooking spray and place eggplant halves face down on foil. Roast for 10-15 minutes, or until skin is a bit slack and the flesh side is lightly browned and soft when you poke it with a fork. You don't want the skin to totally lose it's shape, but the flesh must be soft enough to scoop out, so judge the roasting time based on that. Remove from oven. When eggplant is cool enough to handle, use a spoon to scoop out the flesh, leaving a thin layer of flesh inside the skin to help hold its shape. Reserve flesh. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet to medium-high and add the ground pork. Season with salt and pepper and stir, breaking it up as you go, until the meat is cooked through. Remove meat to a paper-towel lined plate to drain any excess fat. Reduce heat to medium and add the onion to the same skillet, cooking until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the tomato, season with salt and pepper, dried herbs, allspice and pepper flakes. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the eggplant flesh. Cook for an additional 1 to 2 minutes, stirring to combine all the ingredients.
In small bowl, combine the panko and cheese. Season with pepper. Fill the eggplant skins with the pork mixture. You may have some filling left over. Sprinkle the panko mixture all over the top of the stuffing and bake for 15 minutes or until the panko turns golden. Cool for 10 minutes, garnish with fresh herbs, and serve.
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