Happy Saturday, lovelies! Need an idea for a fancy yet healthy dinner this weekend? I’ve got you covered!
For days now, I’ve been thinking about eggplant. I’m not sure how, against all odds, I became an eggplant lover. I suppose it has something to do with being an adult and broadening my horizons, but I used to think it was a barely edible ball of slime. As a kid, my mom made an eggplant recipe that she found in the newspaper, and…ahem. Let’s just say my whole family, my mom included, decided that we were not eggplant eaters after that day. My mom is a decent cook, don’t get me wrong, but whenever she pulled recipes from the paper, they never seemed to work out. I don’t trust newspaper recipes to this day!
But back to the glorious eggplant. I have learned to love it for its gorgeous, deep purple color, its versatility, its ability to replace meat in sandwiches and add texture to casseroles. Not to mention its nutritional benefits. Eggplant contains powerful antioxidants, Vitamin A, B vitamins, folate, and vitamin C, and is also rich in minerals.
For last night’s dinner, I wanted to make something that felt like comfort food, but was also light and healthy. It was the perfect time, I decided, to pick up a spiralizer! I have been wanting one of these babies for a long time now, and it did not disappoint. I was so excited to make zucchini noodles for the first time!
As someone whose knife skills leave something to be desired, I took great pleasure in the perfectly uniform, colorful noodles.
Having never made zucchini noodles, I headed over to The Clothes Make the Girl and followed her directions for Basic Paleo Zucchini Noodles. It’s so easy! Simply toss the noodles lightly in salt and leave to drain in a colander for 30 minutes. Then, rinse and pat dry. You can choose to let them dehydrate a bit longer in the fridge (1-2 hours), or simply cook them right away, depending on how “al-dente” you want them to feel. When you’re ready, throw them in a pan and sautee for 1-2 minutes, then toss with a little olive oil.
Since the noodles have to sit for a bit, I would start by spiralizing them (why not start with the fun stuff!), so they can sit while you work your magic with the eggplant and filling. Preheat the oven to 400°. Slice the eggplant lengthwise into 1/4-1/2 inch thick slices. This is pretty challenging for knife-novices like myself, so just watch your fingers! And don’t worry if the slices aren’t perfectly even — I prefer to think of my uneven slices as “rustic.” 🙂
Brush the eggplant with olive oil and throw it in the oven for eight minutes or so, until it is soft and most of the water is cooked out. Set those aside to cool while you make the filling, with lean, organic, ground turkey, ricotta cheese, fresh oregano and basil, salt and pepper. Mix the turkey in a bowl with oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Sauté a diced shallot and garlic, then add the turkey mixture and cook until juices run clear and turkey is cooked through.
Then add the ricotta cheese and some more fresh basil and mix until well blended, continuing to break the turkey up as small as possible.
Meanwhile, have some marinara sauce going. You could make your own, but if you’re like me and need dinner to get ready a little faster (start cooking at 9:00 p.m., anyone?), you can also totally use a jar. However! Not all jarred sauces are the same, my friends. Most of these sauces have added sugar. No one needs that! In fact, this is one of the ONLY sauces I could find that doesn’t have added sugar in some form. And, it’s delicious:
I got it at Whole Foods. When the filling is done, spoon a couple tablespoons onto each eggplant slice and create little rolls. Then nestle them into a baking dish and spoon marinara over the top. Sprinkle with a little parmesan, cover with foil and poke holes in the top for air. Then stick those back in the oven at 400° for 20 minutes.
While those were baking I had a few minutes to play with the family.
All eagerly awaiting the fruits of my labor! (And no, we don’t give the dogs people food. Well okay, sometimes a little chicken or something. But I know not to give dogs tomatoes.)
When the rolls are almost done baking, sauté your zucchini noodles and toss in a little oil. Then plate up each dish with noodles on bottom, two rolls on top, and garnish with a little “Italian salsa” — diced roma tomatoes with fresh basil, salt and pepper, and a sprig of basil. And there you have it!
I loved this dish because the flavors are nice and light but oh so complementary. It feels like eating an indulgent, comfort-food type dinner but with none of the heaviness of pasta and minimal oil. I never expected to like zucchini noodles this much. They really are an acceptable substitute for pasta, as far as that noodle-in-your-mouth feel. The light flavor adds a refreshing touch, and you have zero guilt. This dish is super healthy, being almost all vegetables. If you want to lighten it up, you could use part-skim ricotta and/or lessen the amount of cheese used. You could also easily make this Paleo by omitting the cheese, and it is naturally gluten-free. Perfect for late summer since it’s still warm during the day, but the fog is rolling in at night.
We paired this dish with a glass of Paradise Ridge Cabernet (the winery where we got married!) and it felt like fancy yet cozy date night at home.
Tonight we have a real, outside the house date night to see Chelsea Handler! I am so excited for this. A couple of years ago I saw her in San Francisco, and laughed until I cried. I’m off now to start reading her latest book, “Uganda be Kidding Me,” to get ready. Hope everyone has a fantastic weekend, and make sure to impress someone you love with this beautiful dinner soon!
Turkey-Ricotta Eggplant Rotini over Zucchini Noodles
For Zucchini Noodles
4 zucchini, spiralized
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb. lean ground turkey (preferably organic)
2 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped fine
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 tsp. olive oil
2 eggplants, sliced lengthwise to 1/4-1/2 inch wide
1 jar marinara sauce (I used Dave’s Gourmet Red Heirloom Organic Pasta Sauce)
parmesan cheese (to sprinkle on top; optional)
For Italian Salsa:
4 roma tomatoes, diced
2 Tbsp fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400°. Lightly salt spiralized noodles and let sit in a colander for 30 minutes. Rinse, drain, and pat dry with paper towels. Stick back in colander and place in refrigerator for additional 1-2 hours (optional).
Lay eggplant slices on baking sheet and lightly brush with olive oil on both sides. Bake for eight minutes or until soft and pliable, and when most of the water has cooked out. Set aside.
In mixing bowl, combine ground turkey with basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Heat a skillet with a teaspoon of olive oil over medium high heat. Sauté shallot for 1-2 minutes, until it starts to sweat. Add garlic and sauté another 30 seconds. Then add turkey mixture and cook until juices run clear and turkey is cooked through. Add the ricotta cheese and blend, breaking up the turkey bits as small as possible. When evenly mixed, turn heat off.
While turkey is cooking, heat marinara sauce in separate saucepan over low heat. Dice your roma tomatoes and combine in a bowl with basil, salt and pepper. You could also add garlic or olive oil to this mix, but it’s not necessary. (I’m sensitive to raw garlic so I left it out.)
Place a couple tablespoons of filling onto each eggplant slice and roll up. It takes some finesse to keep it together, but just kind of prop it up against the walls of the baking dish you place it in, and allow the rolls to support each other in the dish, it’s okay if they touch. Once you have all your rolls, cover the top with marinara sauce (I used half the jar here.) Sprinkle some parmesan cheese over the top if desired. Cover the dish with foil, wrap tightly and poke a few ventilation holes in the top. Place in the 400º oven for 20 minutes.
When your rolls only have a few minutes left, toss the zucchini noodles in a pan and sauté over medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes, just enough for the color to brighten. Then turn the heat off and toss in a tablespoon of olive oil.
Plate up your beautiful creation by placing noodles on bottom, two rolls on top, and garnish with some Italian salsa and a sprig of basil. Then stuff your face! 🙂