“Ratatouille” Gratin

All of us love ratatouille, one of our favorite summer side dishes, especially for my grandson. So when I saw a recipe for a summer vegetable gratin it occurred to me that if I added some eggplant to it, it would be a ratatouille in a casserole with a nice crunchy top. Sounded delicious and indeed, it turned out succulent and indeed the top was very crunchy. The most important thing is to cut the vegetables all about the same so they cook at the same rate. It does take time since getting the water out of the squash and tomatoes, and the bitter out of the eggplant takes about a half hour of sitting but that time can be used to make really delicious caramelized onions. But it’s very easy to make. While I used yellow and zucchini squash, one or the other will work.

First thing is to cut up the vegetables:

1 pound zucchini squash, smallish, about 2

1 pound yellow summer squash, smallish again about 2

1 medium eggplant, peeled (about 6″ long)

6 medium size, ripe tomatoes

Wash and slice the squash, eggplant and tomatoes about 1/4 inch thick. Place the vegetables on baking trays covered with paper towels, sprinkle with salt and let sit for at least 1/2 hour. Wash off the salt (except from the tomatoes) and dry thoroughly between paper towels to get the squash and eggplant as dry as possible.

While the vegetables are sitting, cut:

3 large or 4 medium size onion

Peel and then cut them in half and slice each half into thin slices. Should have about 4 cups of onions. Heat in a 12″ skillet:

1 tablespoon olive oil

Add the sliced onions and cook for a minute over medium high heat before reducing to medium heat. Cook, uncovered, stirring every few minutes so that they don’t stick to the bottom of the skillet, for approximately 30 minutes or until golden brown. The heat may need to be reduced if they begin sticking. I wasn’t patient enough and mine didn’t get as brown as they should have but still tasted delicious.

Preheat oven to 400 degree. Spread in the bottom of a 9×13″ baking dish:

1 tablespoon olive oil

Begin by layering the squash.

Now layer the eggplant on top of the squash. Next, mix together:

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon fresh thyme (pull the leaves off the tough stems)

1/2 teaspoon of ground pepper (or to taste)

Sprinkle half the mixture over the eggplant and then turn the eggplant over so that the mixture also gets to the squash. Now layer the onions on top of the eggplant and then the tomatoes on the onions.

Sprinkle the remaining mixture (garlic oil) over the top of the tomatoes and again, turn over the tomatoes so the oil can mix with the casserole. Bake for about 40-45 minutes until the vegetables are tender and the tomatoes look a little brown. Remove from the oven and spread on top:

1 cup gluten-free bread crumbs, plain

1 cup dairy-free parmesan cheese, grated (Follow Your Heart makes an excellent one)

1 tablespoon fresh thyme (again, pull the small leaves off the tough stems)

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper)

Return to the oven and bake about 15 minutes more or until the topping has browned.

Sprinkle with:

1/4 cup roughly chopped basil

Feel free to half the recipe. The 9×13″ size will easily serve 8-10.

Moussaka (Greek Lasagna)

My mother loved moussaka. When I made it for her, I used ground lamb, ricotta cheese, eggs, and homemade pasta sauce. Things and times have changed so here’s one that’s dairy, gluten and egg free and uses jarred (or homemade if you have the time and desire) sauce. Just in case, I’m including my recipe for pasta sauce.

First, start the tomato sauce if making homemade by heating in a small Dutch oven:

1 tablespoon olive oil

Add to it when hot:

1 diced medium onion

1 diced sweet pepper, any color

1/2 cup sliced carrots (or grated)

6 ounces shitake mushrooms

Stir to combine, lower heat to medium and cook until the onions and mushrooms are sweating and onion is translucent. Add:

1-2 teaspoons minced garlic

32 ounces small diced tomatoes

16 ounces tomato puree

1 teaspoon mixed Italian dried herbs (basil, marjoram, thyme)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Cook over medium low heat for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. This gets rid of much of the water in the tomatoes so the sauce can thicken. If it boils too vigorously, reduce the heat to low. When reduced by about 1/3, add:

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon agave nectar

Use an immersion blender to cream most of the vegetables, leaving a few whole. I do this because then the eggplant slices sit better in the sauce but it is optional. In a large skillet, heat:

1 tablespoon olive oil

When hot add:

1 pound bulk Italian sausage (or if you want this vegan, diced tofu)**

Cook the sausage through and then drain off the fat and add to the tomato sauce, stirring to combine. Set aside. If using jarred sauce, this will take more than 1 large jar.

While the sauce is cooking, peel and thinly slice:

1 large eggplant

Place the slices on a large, sided baking sheet in a single layer and salt generously. Once salted, another layer of eggplant can be added on the top of the first, again salting generously. Place a slightly smaller baking sheet on top of the eggplant and then weight it down with large cans. Let sit at least 30 minutes, 60 is preferable.

After sitting, wash each eggplant slice to remove the salt and whatever liquid was expelled from the slices. Dry between paper towels. Heat in a large skillet (12 inch) or flat griddle:

1 teaspoon olive oil (just to coat the bottom of the pan)

When hot, add eggplant slices until the bottom is covered but the slices have room to move. Let brown for a minute or two and then turn and brown the second side. Repeat until all the slices are browned.

Still while the sauce is cooking, add to a large saucepan:

1/2 cup olive oil

Begin heating over medium high heat. Add:

3/4 cup gluten-free flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon allspice (or nutmeg)

Whisk to combine. Cook over medium low heat for 2-3 minutes to cook the flour then add, 1 cup at a time:

3 cups oat milk (or any other non-dairy milk except soy)

Whisk each portion of milk into the flour and cook, whisking every minute or so, until the white sauce is thickened. It should be the consistency of a pudding or mashed potatoes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray the bottom and sides of a 9×13″ baking pan with non-stick spray. Line the bottom of the pan with slices of eggplant.* Add a layer of the meat sauce and repeat ending with a layer of eggplant (3 layers of eggplant and 2 layers of sauce). There may be a little meat sauce left over. Slowly pour the white sauce on top of the last layer of eggplant (I didn’t quite have enough eggplant to cover the entire top but it still worked okay). The white sauce on mine was only about 1/2 inch thick but if your pan is deep enough, use all the white sauce, it’s that yummy on the top! Sprinkle the top with:

1-2 cups grated parmesan cheese

Place baking pan on a large baking sheet because if it’s full, it will bubble over and put in the oven. Bake for 30-45 minutes or until the middle is bubbling. Let cool for about 15-20 minutes before slicing.

*Don’t think you have enough eggplant? Peel and thinly slice 1-2 medium to large Russet potatoes and place those on the bottom layer of the moussaka, using the eggplant for just other 2 layers.

**I used sweet Italian sausage but feel free to use any ground meat.

Stuffed Eggplant

One of my (and my grandson’s) favorite vegetables is eggplant. I’d stuffed zucchini but never an eggplant but this turned out very luscious, a classic combination of an onion, garlic, sweet pepper and tomato base with rice. It’s a great side dish or add some protein, like sweet Italian sausage, and make it a main dish.*

Serves 2 (or double to serve 4). Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Wash and cut in half:

One medium to large eggplant

Score the middle, being careful not to cut through the skin, leaving about a half inch of meat around the edges. Use a spoon to scoop out the meat to leave a “boat”. Salt and pepper to taste, sprinkle with 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil. Place in a greased baking dish and bake for roughly 30-40 minutes until the meat is softened and slightly browned.

While the boats are cooking, heat in a large skillet:

1 tablespoon olive oil

Add:

1/2 cup diced onion

1/2 cup diced sweet pepper (any color you like)

2 teaspoons minced garlic

Eggplant meat, chopped

Sauté over medium heat until the onion is translucent and the pepper is softened. Add:

8 ounces finely diced tomatoes (half a can)

2 cups cooked brown rice

3 tablespoons of fresh basil, chiffonade

1 tablespoon avocado oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Stir to combine and cook until heated through before removing from heat.

When the eggplant boats are ready, stuff them with the filling, sprinkle with:

2 tablespoons grated non-dairy parmesan cheese

Return to the oven and bake for an additional 20 minutes before increasing the oven heat to broil. Broil until the cheese is slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Serve.

*To make it a main dish, reduce the rice to 1 cup and add 1 cup ground Italian sausage.

TIP: This is an Italian stuffed eggplant. For a more Moroccan style, leave out the basil and cheese and instead add:

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 cup roasted pine nuts (or pumpkin seeds)

Pinch of date sugar

Chicken Saltimbocca

If you like sage, think about your Thanksgiving stuffing, you will LOVE this recipe! I especially enjoyed the fried sage on the top, something I’d never done but oh how delicious! This recipe is fairly easy as long as each individual step is followed and the chopping and slicing is done in advance.

This recipe serves four:

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 ounces prosciutto, sliced

8-10 large sage leaves, plus 3 tablespoons minced (or 3 teaspoons dried sage)

1 pound boneless chicken, breast and/or thighs, sliced (the thinner its sliced the faster it will cook)

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 onion, minced

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon all purpose gluten-free flour

3 cups chicken stock

8 ounces gluten-free vermicelli or spaghettini

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed (optional)

2 tablespoons butter substitute

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest plus 3 tablespoons juice

First, in a large skillet (or a Dutch oven) with high sides, heat, medium high, 1 tablespoon olive oil until it shimmers. Add the prosciutto pieces as individually as possible because unlike bacon, they will not fully separate as they cook, cook until crisp, about 4-5 minutes, reducing heat slightly if needed. Remove the prosciutto from the skillet and place the sage leaves in the oil and cook them until crisp, about 30-40 seconds. Place prosciutto and sage on a paper towel.

Next, dry the chicken, then sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Heat another 1 tablespoon of oil in the skillet, again medium high heat, add the chicken in a single layer and cook, not stirring, until it starts to brown, 1-2 minutes. Then stir it and cook until nearly cooked through, about 2-3 minutes or longer depending on thickness. Remove to a bowl, cover and keep warm.

Add the last tablespoon of oil to the skillet and add the onions. Cook over medium heat until translucent and starting to brown. Stir in the garlic and minced sage and cook until just fragrant, about 30-40 seconds. Stir in the flour and cook for about 1 minute. Add 1 cup of chicken stock, scrape down the sides of the skillet and stir to smooth out any lumps, simmer until reduced by about half, about 5-6 minutes.

Stir in the remainder of the stock and the pasta. Increase heat to medium high and cook at a slow boil until pasta is tender, about 10-12 minutes. Stir frequently. The sauce should thicken more during this cooking.

Lastly, add the chicken back in along with the capers (if used), butter substitute, lemon zest and juice, stir to combine and cook for another minute or two until the chicken is heated. Remove from heat and add any additional salt and/or pepper that may be needed. Cover and let sit for about 5 minutes and it will absorb any extra sauce into the pasta.

Sprinkle with the prosciutto and fried sage leaves and serve.

Stuffed Tomatoes

Sorry I haven’t blogged in a couple of days. The other main activity in my life is learning the craft of screenwriting and I’ve been at a virtual screenwriting summit all weekend. Just ending today so I have a little time to put up an old recipe of mine that I learned from a friend who was a caterer. Very easy to do and can be used as an appetizer or an entrée. Stuffed tomatoes can be stuffed with any kind of salad you like, egg, chicken, ham, etc. Tip from my caterer friend, use your food processor to process the meat into a well grated product so that it’s easier to stuff into the tomato, especially if you’re using very small tomatoes. It can also be put into a piping bag to fill the tomatoes. Use any size of tomato you like. I prefer to use Campari tomatoes, large for smaller tomatoes and large enough for 2 bites, a good size for an appetizer. If I’m making this as an entrée, a larger tomato is of course needed, like a Big Boy.

If you want the tomatoes to sit neatly on the plate, you can cut a very small amount from the bottom. Just be careful not to cut through the meat of the tomato.

Begin by making the salad. Put into the bowl of a food processor:

1 pound of ham, 1 large chicken breast, 8-10 hard boiled eggs, etc., cut into large chunks

1 large celery stalk, cut into large chunks

2 tablespoons dill relish (this is a sugar free relish; for a sweeter salad, add a little sweetener rather than use a sweet relish which contains sugar)

1-2 scallions, cut into large pieces

Blend until the meat is in small pieces. Add:

1/2 to 2/3 cup vegan mayonnaise

Blend until well mixed, be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl before finishing processing. Remove the completed salad to either a piping bag or a medium bowl.

For the tomatoes:

16-20 Campari tomatoes

36-48 grape tomatoes

or 2-4 large tomatoes

Begin by washing the tomatoes.* Then cut off the very top of the stem end of the tomatoes. Then, using a small sharp knife, cut around the inside of the tomato next to the meat and use a sharp ended spoon to scoop out the seeds and veins of the tomato.

Set the tomatoes on a paper towel, upside down so that some of the moisture drains out. Leave for about 5 minutes before filling. Place on a plate, garnish with scallions, chives, or thin slices of dill pickle.

*I hope all my followers know that you should NEVER store tomatoes in the refrigerator! Take this from a girl who grew up on a farm. Refrigerating them steals their flavor and also toughens the skins. Also when buying tomatoes, smell them. If they don’t smell like a tomato, they won’t taste like a tomato. Same with most fruit that has a distinct odor like strawberries.

Marinara Sauce

This is a remake of my Aunt Jean’s marinara sauce. I started making this recipe for my family as a teenager and have continued using it ever since. Many times, I made this for my roommate and son, brings back many memories.

Needed:

1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 1 bell pepper, any color, diced

Cook for several minutes until onion is translucent before adding:

  • 2 garlic cloves diced
  • 1/2 cup grated carrot
  • 64 ounces of pureed tomatoes
  • 16 ounces diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1/2 cup tomato paste
  • fresh oregano, thyme, and parsley (about 2 tablespoons of each)
  • monk fruit powder, stevia, or agave nectar if needed for additional sweetness

In a large skillet, saute the onion and bell pepper for a few minutes and then add the diced garlic and the grated carrot.  Saute until softened, about 3 minutes over medium heat.  Add the red wine (or mushroom stock) and cook off the alcohol.  Add the pureed and diced tomatoes and simmer over a low heat, covered, for approximately 1 hour.  Uncover and simmer an additional 15 minutes.  Add the fresh herbs along with salt and pepper to taste and the tomato paste.  If needed, depending on your taste, add additional sweetener. 

Easy Ratatouille (dairy-free, gluten-free, sugar-free)

I don’t generally blog recipes that don’t originally contain allergens. But I love vegetables so I thought it was time for me to share more of my basic go-to vegetable dishes like ratatouille. So delicious, one of my grandson’s favorites, and easy to put together. Like Chinese food, the hardest and most time consuming part of this dish is chopping the vegetables.

You’ll need:

1 small yellow squash

1 small zucchini squash

1 medium eggplant (I prefer to use Japanese ones because they don’t have the bitterness but pick one with a green stem and inward bottom where the blossom was; also try to pick one that’s reasonably thin and firm to the touch)

1 cup diced onion (sweet, yellow, white, red, whichever you have on hand)

1 tablespoon to minced garlic

1 16oz can diced tomatoes

2 tablespoon tomato paste

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

1 tablespoon agave nectar

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onions, squash and eggplant. Stir to combine. Cook over medium heat for 5-7 minutes turning several times. Reduce heat to low and cook another 5 minutes or until the vegetables are just getting tender. Add the canned tomatoes, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. Cook 1-2 minutes to heat, stir in the agave nectar. Serve. Serves 4-6.

Carrot Chowder (dairy-free, gluten-free)

Carrots are so versatile. Not only are they great in savory dishes like soups, salads, stews, curries, and stir-fries, but they also work very well in desserts. Here’s a great carrot soup with a hint of creamy tomato soup that’s hearty and satisfying. If you want a vegan soup, substitute the ground turkey for a ground vegan product and the chicken stock for vegetable stock.

In a Dutch oven pot, heat:

1 tablespoon olive oil and add:

1 pound ground turkey or chicken, when browned add:

1/2 cup chopped celery and

1/2 cup chopped onion and cook until onion is translucent

Add 2 1/2 cups grated carrots

32 ounce can of tomato puree

1 cup non-dairy yogurt

1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1/2 teaspoon thyme, marjoram, and/or basil (I use a pre-mixed Italian blend that includes all three)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon date sugar

Cover, reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. I like to serve this with seasoned croutons (gluten free of course) or gluten free rolls. Serves 4-6 depending on if you want it for an appetizer or a main dish.

Spicy Spanish Meatballs (dairy free, gluten free, soy free, egg free)

Just like with meatloaf, I love meatballs. I’ve gotten lazy in my old age and simply made meatballs with some of my meatloaf mix but I recently saw a recipe for Spicy Spanish Meatballs and thought I’d give them a try. Here’s my revision of that recipe that used beef, veal and eggs, none of which I can eat.

You’ll need for the meatballs:

2 teaspoons cumin seeds (or ground cumin)

2 teaspoons coriander seeds (or ground coriander)

2 whole cloves (or 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves)

9 ounces ground turkey

8 ounces ground pork

2 teaspoons allspice (or you can use nutmeg, I don’t happen to like it so substituted allspice)

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

4 garlic cloves crushed

1/2 cup chopped dates (if you used dried dates, be sure to rehydrate them before adding)

1 small hot red chili pepper (I used a red finger pepper, seeds and veins removed), finely chopped

flax gel (3 tablespoons ground flax mixed into 1/3 cup hot water; let stand 5 minutes)

You’ll need for the sauce:

1 teaspoon cumin seeds (roast and grind as above) (or 1 teaspoon ground cumin)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium red onions, peeled and sliced

2 tablespoons diced garlic

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon paprika (I used 1/2 teaspoon regular paprika and 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika)

1/2 cup wine (if you can have it) OR 1/2 cup chicken stock

28 ounces (1 large can) diced tomatoes

2 dried bay leaves

1 teaspoon dry oregano or marjoram

2 tablespoons date syrup

Make the meatballs: In a dry skillet, heat the cumin and coriander seeds and whole cloves over medium heat until aromatic, a minute or two. Let cool for a few minutes and then grind in either a mortar and pestle or spice grinder (I used my coffee grinder that I never use for coffee).

Add to a food processor, the flax gel, dates, dried spices, garlic, cinnamon, allspice and chili pepper and grind until smooth. Remove to a bowl, add salt and pepper (about 1/2 teaspoon of each) along with the meats and blend until mixed. Try not to overmix to avoid tough meatballs. Form into about 1 ounce meatballs with wet hands (makes about 16-18). Place on a greased, small baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator.

Whwn the sauce is simmering, take the meatballs out of the refrigerator and remove plastic wrap. Cook in a 350 degree oven for 20-30 minutes.

To make the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a small Dutch oven, add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the garlic, salt and pepper (again about 1/2 teaspoon each), cumin, cinnamon and paprika and cook for a few minutes over low to medium heat being careful not to let the spices or garlic burn. Add the wine or chicken stock and boil for several minutes until almost evaporated. Add the chopped tomatoes and bay leaves, turn the heat down and simmer for 20-30 minutes uncovered, stir occasionally.

Add 1-2 tablespoons tomato paste depending on how thick you like your sauce, and the oregano or marjoram along with the date syrup (don’t have any? Use maple syrup or agave instead).

Add the meatballs to the sauce, remove the bay leaves. If you wish, you can sprinkle the dish with chopped fresh parsley. Serve over any small grain such as quinoa or faro, couscous would also work. Or serve with slices of gluten free bread to sop up the sauce.

Serves 4 people generously.

Spicy Lentil Vegetable Soup

(dairy free, gluten free, vegan, soy free) Makes approximately 8-10 servings

Lentil are very versatile, allowing cooks to be imaginative in using them. They seem to like being pairs with a wide variety of other foods and spices. Lentils were not something we had growing up, don’t know which parent didn’t like them but my mother never cooked us lentil soup even though both parents loved pea soup. In this recipe, I’ve paired my favorite vegetable soup with lentils. There are various other ingredients you can use in this recipe, depending on what your family likes. Here’s the basics along with some variations. You’ll need:

1 3/4 cups (an 8 oz package) of lentils, no specific type, I used a mixture of green, black and brown

6 cups of liquid (water, stock, etc., I used a combination of water and vegetable stock)

1 cup sliced carrots

1 large onion diced

3-6 stalks of celery diced for approximately 1 cup

1 tablespoon oil

1/2 cup sweet potato diced

1/2 cup regular potato diced

1 teaspoon curry powder (or 2 tablespoon curry paste)

1 cup diced tomatoes (I used canned)

1 cup frozen peas

1 medium turnip peeled and diced

Add the oil to the bottom of a heated Dutch oven. Add the curry powder and heat for about 15 seconds or until you can smell the curry, but be careful not to burn it. Reduce heat to medium and add the onion, celery, potatoes, and turnip. Once the onion is translucent, add the lentils and the liquid. You can also add the tomatoes at this point along with the peas. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for approximately 45 minutes or until lentils are tender (if you’re using sprouted lentils, they don’t take as long as regular lentils). If you use curry paste rather than powder, add it here. Remove from heat. Using an immersion blender, blend until you have the consistency you want. Add salt and pepper to taste (I used about 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper). Serve.

Variations: Don’t want vegan – use chicken or turkey stock instead of the vegetable stock. You can also add some cooked sausage (either bulk or links cut into slices) or diced ham before serving.

If you don’t like potatoes, leave them out and add 1/2 cup quinoa when you add the lentils. This will also up the protein!

Don’t like curry? Leave it out and use 1 teaspoon oregano, 1 bay leaf, and 1 teaspoon thyme instead. Or, you can add 2 teaspoons cumin seeds and 2 teaspoons turmeric. Add either of these when you add the lentils.

Want it more tomatoie? Stir in 1 small jar of tomato paste before you use the blender.

Don’t have an immersion blender? Cool the soup in the frig for about an hour and then blend in a standard blender. You might want to leave a couple of cups whole for texture.