red pepper flakes

Eggplant Stuffed Conchiglie with Zucchini and Spinach

Eggplant stuffed conchiglie with zucchini and spinach is my favourite dish. It emerged out of a double need: first, to create a delicious, meaty-tasting vegetarian dish, and second to fulfill all the nutrient cravings I feel during the colder months when good fresh greens are harder to obtain.

The combination of eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms and spinach is very healthy and wonderfully hearty, especially when combined with a carbohydrate like pasta, and topped with melted, gooey cheese. The savoury goodness is likely to convert (or at least subvert) most people who claim they do not like eggplant, or zucchini, or mushrooms, or even spinach, because they merge into a rich flavour that amounts to much more than its separate parts.

This dish is a little labour intensive to prepare, but is worth it for a weekend dinner or gathering. It is worth making the tomato sauce from scratch because the flavour is richer, and there are no preservatives and less sodium to contend with (it also takes less than five minutes to prepare). Stirring garlic and (lemon) thyme with olive oil and frying it before mixing it into the vegetables adds depth to the dish.

I do save work by using a small jar of commercial tomato pesto sauce (President’s Choice Splendido tomato pesto is excellent, and widely available at Toronto-area No Frills grocery stores, and probably further afield as well; in the winter I use it as a base for quite a few pasta dishes — and suspect I’m not the only one, because in the middle of the winter it tends to sell out quickly). And I never salt and drain eggplant as many recipes suggest, allegedly to reduce bitterness. I’ve read it is not necessary to do so with most eggplants, and mine have never turned out the slightest bit bitter. I also don’t peel eggplant (or zucchini, or pretty much anything else); most of the time, I think doing so is unnecessary and wastes nutrients (and fibre, for those so concerned).

This dish had its origins in a vegetable lasagna recipe published in The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook (by America’s Test Kitchen, 2015). The original recipe included squash, which I love in almost any form but do not find works well in a lasagna or pasta dish. One weekend day last winter I had a craving for eggplant and spinach, and decided to use the original recipe as a base for invention. I used conchiglie because I am not a huge fan of lasagna noodles and because my first experiment with cannelloni ended in frustration (those things are hard to stuff!). Two things I’ve retained are the tomato sauce recipe, which is excellent, and the suggestion to mix garlic and thyme with oil to saute and then stir in with the softened cooked vegetables.

In the colder months I make this dish at least once every couple of weeks. It’s wonderful at the end of a cold day, and I don’t think anyone who has tried it has not loved it.

Print Recipe
Eggplant Stuffed Conchiglie with Zucchini and Spinach
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 25 to 40 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 25 to 40 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, stir together canned diced tomatoes (crushed tomatoes work well, too), fresh basil (and/or other fresh or dried herbs, such as tarragon), 2 to 3 cloves of crushed garlic, olive oil, salt, and red pepper flakes. Set aside.
  2. In a small dish, mix together olive oil, 2 to 3 cloves of crushed garlic, and thyme or lemon thyme. Set aside.
  3. In a large pot filled with water, boil conchiglie until cooked al dente, about eight minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.
  4. Chop eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, and onion. Saute together in olive oil in a large skillet at medium heat until softened and cooked, about ten minutes. Open up a space in the middle of the skillet, and pour in olive oil infused with garlic and (lemon) thyme. Heat mixture until garlic is softened and oil is aromatic, about one minute. Stir together vegetables with garlic mixture. Stir in pesto sauce. Stir in spinach until wilted. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.
  5. Into a large, shallow baking dish (a lasagna pan works well), pour 1 to 2 cups of tomato sauce. Pour in 1 cup of table cream or milk and stir together with the tomato sauce.
  6. With a spoon, fill each conchiglio (jumbo pasta shell) with some of the eggplant vegetable mixture and set in a single layer into the baking dish, open side up. A full package of conchiglie (jumbo shells) filled with the vegetable mixture should approximately fill a typical lasagna dish. Dot shells with remaining tomato sauce, and top with shredded mozzarella (and/or cheddar and/or Parmesan cheese). Add salt and pepper to taste. Top with additional herbs (fresh basil, lemon thyme, tarragon) if desired. Bake in oven at 400 degrees until cheese is melted and dish is bubbling, 25 to 40 minutes. Cool and serve.

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Hearty Lentil Stew with Yoghurt and Rich Cream

Served up in a beautiful Fiesta bowl.

I don’t like lentils.

I know they are healthy and, with rice, are supposedly a complete protein [although this article offers some interesting context to claims that plant-based foods like legumes lack the right kinds of amino acids to be considered “complete” proteins on their own].

But in reality, whether canned or dried and then home-cooked, lentils have always struck me as bland and textureless They remind me of the meals distributed at the many social-justice-oriented events I have attended over the years: morally unimpeachable and strenuously healthy–but flavourless, gas-inducing and somehow, as a result, more than a little bit soul-destroying.

Nonetheless, about a year ago I stopped in at my neighbour Rhea’s house and, as usual, smelled something amazing bubbling on her stove. When I asked what it was she told me it was lentil soup. LENTIL soup, I asked? Yes, she replied, and offered to share her recipe with me. The recipe turned out to be from a cookbook (unfortunately I have only an image of the recipe itself; I’ll add the title as soon as I get it from her) she had bought remaindered at Book City.  Rhea is not only an incredible cook; she also has a genius for identifying promising remaindered cookbooks, and I have come to trust her recommendations absolutely.

Beautiful vintage enameled cast iron Descoware (Belgium) dutch oven. I bought this from another neighbour for five bucks!

And so, unusually for me, every month or two I feel what for me is a very strange craving for lentils, and make a variation of the following recipe. It is adapted considerably from the instructions in Rhea’s cookbook, and could be altered even more to suit personal taste (I don’t use chiles in my version because I have a limited capacity to handle heat; perhaps in response, my husband almost invariably adds some sriracha sauce to his bowl). My version makes a large vat, suitable for several days of leftovers (like most stews, the flavours get richer over a day or two) or freezing. It is great with basmati rice or hearty bread. This is a great winter dish because it is so hearty; for a lighter summer offering, one could omit the cream and yoghurt.

As a note: in my view cardamom is the winning ingredient in this dish. Black or brown cardamom has a rich and smoky taste that adds quite a lot of depth to the dish. Buy it whole to preserve its freshness, crack it open and grind the seeds (discard husk) as needed in a mortar and pestle.

Enjoy! I’d love to hear about your variations on lentil dishes!

Print Recipe
Hearty Lentil Stew with Yoghurt and Rich Cream
A wonderful, hearty lentil stew
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
Ingredients
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Grind spices (red pepper flakes, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom) together in a mortar and pestle.
  2. Melt butter in large heavy pot (I use a big oval cast iron Dutch oven) over medium heat. Stir in onions, garlic, spices and saute for five minutes until onions and garlic are translucent and aromatic.
  3. Add lentils and vegetable stock (add stock 1 cup at a time, as needed), bring briefly to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally, for up to an hour. [Uncooked lentils will take longer; cooked lentils will require less stock.]
  4. When lentils are cooked and the stew seems 'ready,' add tomatoes and torn spinach and reduce heat.
  5. Mix cream and yoghurt together and swirl into pot. Remove from heat.
  6. Serve with basmati rice or hearty bread. This stew would also go well with chicken.

 

 

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