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Elegant Bridal Shower Meal: (Vegetarian) Eggplant Timbale

12 Jan

Need a casserole recipe that’s hearty, yet elegant enough for entertaining? I highly recommend an Eggplant Timbale. Full of fresh, delicious flavors and wrapped up in thinly sliced, sautéed eggplant strips, this casserole looks like a beautiful present.  It will impress your guests with both its looks and taste.  

Traditionally, this Italian dish includes ground beef and Italian pork sausage, but for a recent bridal shower I adapted the original recipe, which I found in a cookbook by Food Network’s Giada de Laurentiis, to be vegetarian. Stacked high with layers of roasted root vegetables, the dish is just as hearty and satisfying as it is with meat, and I think all the different colors of the vegetables–yellow, orange, purple–makes for an even more beautiful presentation.

Traditional Eggplant Timbale (with meat)

* Note: You will need a springform pan for this recipe, in order to make the pie shape of the casserole. While you can certainly make it in a regular casserole dish and it would taste just as delicious, I recommend using the springform pan if you are using this recipe for entertaining, as the pie shape is what gives this recipe its elegance.  

For this recipe, using a springform pan is key to a beautiful presentation.

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium eggplants, sliced lengthwise into thin strips, about 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 sweet potatoes, sliced lengthwise into thin strips, about 1/2 inch thick
  • 4 parsnips, peeled and sliced into thin medallions, about 1/2 inch thick
  • 4 carrots, peeled and sliced into thin medallions, about 1/2 inch thick
  • 2-3 golden beets, peeled and sliced into medallions, about 1/2 inch thick
  • 2-3 red beets, peeled and sliced into medallions, about 1/2 inch thick
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and sliced lengthwise into thin strips about 1/2 inch thick
  • 1 jar of tomato sauce
  • 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese
  • 1 cup of chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 pound of penne pasta
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Start by washing and peeling your eggplants. Then, slice the eggplants lengthwise into thin 1/4 inch slices. Lay the slices out on a clean towel and sprinkle kosher salt over them, then let them sit for 20-30 minutes while you prepare the other vegetables. Eggplants have brown seeds in them that contain a bitter liquid. By salting or “degorging” the eggplant slices before you cook them, you can draw out the bitter moisture, leading to a better taste and firmer texture.   

    You should be able to see liquid coming to the surface of your eggplant slices within 20-30 minutes after salting them.

  3. While your eggplant slices are degorging, you can prepare the other vegetables. Wash and peel the sweet potatoes, butternut squash, parsnips, carrots, and beets. Then, slice the sweet potatoes and squash into 1/2 inch strips lengthwise, and slice the parsnips, carrots, and beets into 1/2 inch medallions.

    All the bright, vibrant colors of the fresh root vegetables make for a beautiful presentation when you serve a slice of this timbale.

  4. Roast the veggies: Put all your sliced veggies onto baking trays, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and put them into the oven to roast. This should take about 15 minutes, depending on your oven.  Since the eggplants, which will form the “wrapping paper” on this casserole, are already salted because of the degorging process, you can go very light on the salt for the veggies.
  5. Saute the eggplant: If it’s been about 15-20 minutes, your eggplants should be ready to cook. With a paper towel, pat them dry, and try to absorb all the moisture you can. Place a medium-large nonstick pan over medium high heat and drizzle the pan with olive oil. When the pan and oil are hot, place 2-3 strips into your pan (depending on how many will fit comfortably) and saute the eggplant slices on both sides. As they cook they’ll become tender and slightly translucent.
  6. Cook the pasta: While your veggies cook, put a large pot of salted water on the stove and bring it to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 min. You want the pasta to be slightly more on the toothy side than al dente because when you put the casserole in the oven to reheat it, the pasta will cook further.
  7. Assemble the Timbale: When your eggplants are sautéed, your root vegetables are roasted, and your pasta is cooked and strained, the timbale is ready to assemble. Start by brushing your springform pan with a little bit of olive oil, to ensure that the sides don’t stick to your eggplant when it comes out of the oven. Then, lay down strips of eggplant so they line the pan. Because the eggplant will form the “wrapping” on your casserole, you want to make sure that the slices overlap and hang over the edge of the pan, so you’ll have enough eggplant to fold over and cover the top of the casserole after you’ve added all the veggie layers. You may want to reserve a few sautéed slices to cover any holes in the top.
  8. Add layers of veggies: When your eggplant liner is in place, add your roasted vegetables, one layer at a time. In between each layer, spread a very thin coat of tomato sauce, then sprinkle on a light dusting of the freshly grated Pecorino cheese, then add a few pinches of some freshly chopped basil. Before I add the sauce, cheese and basil, I always press each layer down firmly with the palms of my hands, to make sure there will be a nice tight fit. When you get to the middle of the casserole, add a layer of penne pasta which should have extra sauce and cheese.  TIP: I like to alternate the veggies sliced lengthwise (sweet potato and squash) with the medallion shaped slices (beets, parsnips, carrots) to create an alternating color scheme and add structural support to the casserole–by alternating the lengthy pieces with the medallion ones, the casserole will keep its pie shape nicely and won’t collapse when you cut into it. Also, you don’t want to add too much sauce in between the veggie layers or else your casserole will be too mushy.

    A slice looks so pretty on the plate--and tastes delicious!

  9. Reheat: When your layers are complete, fold over the eggplant slices, add another dusting of cheese. You can wrap it in aluminum foil and refrigerate for a few days until your party. To reheat it, put it into a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, until the timbale is warmed through and the cheese has melted. You’ll begin to smell the delicious aroma of the roasted, carmalized veggies–yum!  
  10. To serve: let the reheated Timbale rest for 10 minutes. Then, unclasp the springform pan, and use a sharp knife to slice. Hopefully your guests will rave about the different flavors and the different colors that create such a beautiful presentation.

There are lots of different ways you could modify this recipe–if you have a gluten-free crowd, don’t include the pasta layer. If you have a dairy-free crowd, skip the cheese or use a soy substitute. If you want the meaty texture of the original recipe but a vegetarian version, you can use Morningstar farm crumbles instead of the meat and pork sausage.

Hope you enjoy!

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Easy and Healthy Friday Night Dinner: Salmon with Roasted Carrots, Sweet Potato, and Colored Cauliflower

10 Sep

Fall semester began this week, and with the first week of classes were some quick take-out meals and half dinners (nothing like a couple handfuls of Kashi cereal). As a result, tonight Trusty and I were craving a healthy, satisfying dinner, and nothing seemed to fit the bill better than a thick piece of fish and some hearty roasted vegetables. So we splurged on two pieces of wild Alaskan King Salmon and picked up some carrots, a sweet potato, and a package of colored cauliflower. Colored cauliflower, you say–what’s that?! We said the same thing. A little research revealed this information:

  • Orange cauliflower contains 25 times the level of Vitamin A in the traditional white variety. The color comes from a natural mutation originally found in cauliflowers grown in a Canadian field in the 1970s.
  • Green cauliflower has been available in the US since the early ’90s. It’s actually cross between broccoli and cauliflower (and to me tastes more like broccoli than cauliflower).
  • Purple cauliflower is caused by the presence of the antioxidant anthocyanin, which also is found in red cabbage and red wine. It has a milder taste than traditional cauliflower, but is still very creamy, sweet, and slightly nutty.

    Delicious and pretty!

The preparation for this meal is wonderfully minimal. And lucky me, Trusty did all the cooking. Basically, you cut, season, then throw everything into the oven. This makes clean-up easy too–everything is roasted on baking sheets covered in aluminum foil, so you just throw the foil away–no scrubbing involved.

Here are our cast of characters: 1 sweet potato, a package of colored cauliflower, 2 carrots, and just under 1 pound of Wild Alaskan King Salmon (not pictured: 1 lemon (he's camera shy)).

Because the veggies will need to cook longer, get them prepped and in the oven first, then prep the salmon. When the veggies have 15 minutes left to cook, slide the salmon into the oven and there will be just enough time for it to cook, then rest, before the veggies finish up and it’s time to eat!

yum yum yum

To prepare the vegetables:

  • First, wash your veggies! Pre-heat the oven to 400°F.
  • Slice the carrots and sweet potato into wedges–either quartered or halved depending on the thickness. If you didn’t buy pre-sliced cauliflower, cut it up into florets.
  • Line 2 baking sheets with aluminum foil. This makes for really easy clean-up.
  • Place the carrot and sweet potato wedges on one baking sheet, and the cauliflower on another (this is because the cauliflower take a little longer to cook, so they need their own tray). Drizzle a little olive oil (about 2 tablespoons) and sprinkle salt and pepper over both trays of veggies.  Then, sprinkle some garlic powder over the cauliflower, and some chili powder over the carrots and sweet potatoes (this is only personal preference!).
  • Put both trays in the oven. Sweet potatoes and carrots will need about 30-35 minutes, and the cauliflower will need  about 40 minutes.

To prepare the salmon:

  • Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and add a dab of olive oil to the spot where you’ll place the fish fillets (this will make it easier to remove them).
  • Sprinkle salt, pepper, chili powder, and garlic powder on the salmon fillets. Slice up a lemon and add some slices on top.

    Cooking salmon in the oven is my favorite way to prepare it, or almost any kind of fish. It's hands-off and fool-proof, as long as you take the salmon out of the oven when the fat begins to appear. In my opinion it's the best way to keep a piece of fish moist, flakey, and flavorful.

  • Put into the oven (preheated to 400°F) for around 10 minutes (these were thicker pieces of salmon–about 1.5 inches–if you have a thinner fillet, you won’t need as much time).  When the fat/protein begins rising to the surface/sides of the fillet (it’s a whitish liquid), remove the fish from the oven and let it rest for 3-5 minutes.

Enjoy!

Look how pink and moist that fish is--YUM! King Salmon is especially delicious because it has a higher oil content, which gives it a rich (but not fishy) flavor and firm meat.