To meat or not to meat

I realize that all my posts so far have probably given the impression that I am a vegetarian, which I’m not.  I was for several years in college and then I got married and this is how that story goes: We got back from our honeymoon and the next morning Jeremy fried bacon in our newly-shared apartment. End of story. If you can resist the smell of bacon after 7 days of eating Jamaican food, you should probably see a doctor, cause something is wrong with your olfactory system.

Although I do eat meat now, I still try to reduce my meat consumption as much as possible for several reasons including health, cost and the impact meat has on the environment. This is nothing new – there’s a whole “Meatless Monday” movement, in fact.
Most of the meat we do eat is locally raised – Hampton Roads has several wonderful farms producing high-quality, ethically-raised, pastured and free-range, hormone and antibiotic-free meats including beef, pork, chicken, lamb, goat, rabbit, and turkeys. Seriously. Although none of that matters much for this post, which is yet another vegetarian meal. One day, I promise, I will share a meat recipe.

This recipe came from a Rachael Ray inspiration. I don’t generally watch her show (or any daytime television) and I have a huge grudge against her for making the whole world think that ALL RACHELS spell their name RACHAEL – which just isn’t true. But I was at the dentist one day, confined to a chair with a TV in front of it and her show was on. She was making a pasta dish where instead of a traditional sauce, she roasted an eggplant and used the eggplant-meat as a sauce. Then she slapped some real meat on top of it, but that seemed unnecessary, so a few nights ago with an over-abundance of vegetables from my co-op, including a beautiful eggplant, I decided to riff on this idea.

eggplant Rotini

roasted vegetable rotini with eggplant sauce

There is one thing I share in common with Rachael Ray, and that is a tendency to not really have a “recipe” but instead to use kind of general directions and measurements. I once saw her instruct in a recipe to use a “palm-full” of something, and that is definitely how I cook. Measuring and following directions takes precision and patience – two things that I do not possess. It’s why you’ll never see a baking recipe on this blog.
So below is my best re-construction of what I did here.

Eggplant Rotini with Roasted Vegetables

Serves: 2 hungry people. Double for your fam.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Medium Eggplant
  • 1 small/medium zucchini
  • 1 smell/medium yellow squash
  • 1 large portobello cap
  • 1 small onion – red, yellow or white is fine
  • a handful of snap beans
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • a handful of fresh basil
  • olive oil
  • 8 oz (half a box) of whole wheat rotini or other curly pasta
  • Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Cut the eggplant in half, lengthwise, brush the cut sides with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lay, cut side down, on a rimmed baking sheet and put in the oven at 375 F for about 30 mins.
  2. Take all of your veggies that you are putting in the pasta (I listed what I used above, but feel free to improvise or substitute here with whatever you have on hand), cut into pieces, mince one clove of garlic and dump it all into a bowl and coat with olive oil, salt, pepper and a little Italian seasoning, if you’d like. Pour onto a rimmed baking sheet. Stick in the oven with the eggplant for 25-30 mins of until they are done to your liking (I like mine to still have some bite, without tasting raw)
  3. When the veggies only have a few minutes left, start the pasta – cook according to package directions. Save half a cup of pasta water before draining.
  4. Take the eggplant out of the oven and let cool for a few minutes. The halves should look “deflated” and the inside should be runny and almost liquefied. Once they are cool enough to handle, scrape the insides of the eggplants out into a medium sized bowl and with the flat end of a wooden spoon, mash the eggplant. Stir in the other minced garlic clove, salt and pepper to taste, and Parmesan (a palm-full??), then stir in freshly torn or cut basil, stir until you have a nice paste going. (You can see a picture of this in the collage above, upper left-hand corner).
  5. Add the drained pasta to your eggplant paste and stir – adding in the reserved pasta water until the noodles are coated in a starchy sauce (you probably won’t need the whole half cup). Take the roasted veggies out of the oven and toss them into the pasta as well. Grate in some more Parmesan and mix. Top with fresh basil and little extra Parmesan.

We had this with some locally made hummus and whole wheat pita chips. This roasting and mixing method really takes the bitterness out of the eggplant that keeps a lot of people from eating this super-nutritious veggie. Eggplants are low in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol; they’re also a good source of Vitamin K, Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Potassium and Manganese, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber. The fiber in the eggplant, the other veggies and also in the whole-wheat pasta (about 6 grams per cup) make this a super filling meal. Fiber is known for keeping you full for longer, so you don’t have to eat as much of it in the first place, and then you’ll be less tempted to have a midnight snack later.

So don’t get me wrong – meat is great. But when it’s mid-July and I’m looking at all those beautiful vegetables, I can’t help but go back to those pre-bacon days and let the produce steal the show.

What is your favorite meatless meal? Are you reducing your meat consumption or are you a vegetarian? If so, what are your tricks for making filling meatless meals? 

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Going once, going twice . . .

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this yet, but I pretty much have the best job ever. Case in point, yesterday for my “job” I met with two women who have just started a Food Truck business called Wrap-N-Roll and are interested in sourcing some of their ingredients for their healthy-but-yummy wraps from local producers. Let me re-cap: 1. Food Truck 2. Healthy but yummy 3. Local ingredients. FTW!
Here’s their food truck, which is actually a re-vamped RV from the 80’s, which I LOVE:

Wrap-N-Roll Food Truck

This beast has been given a second life!

I met them at the Virginia Beach Farmers Market, which hosts a produce auction every Wednesday night. This was my first time at a produce auction, but I thought it would be a good place to take them so they could purchase local product in bulk, meet the farmers, get a feel for local food pricing, etc etc. The whole thing is a little daunting and the auctioneer is seriously talking a mile a minute. For a southern girl like me who is used to hearing people talk …. uh…. slooowwweeerrr….it was a little hard to keep up with. Halfway through the auction the market manager and my former boss showed up and suggested I only try to catch every 10th word or so. He was right, but fortunately I wasn’t bidding, although it was incredibly tempting – everything looked so good!

Produce Auction

Peaches, cabbage, watermelon and a mixed box of corn, egglplant, tomatoes and peppers.

Yeaaaaa….THAT good. My food truck ladies bought what they needed and the whole thing worked out great. Maybe next week I’ll go back and do a little bidding . . .
Produce auctions are great for restaurants, retail outlets and just ordinary people wanting to buy in bulk for canning, jams or jellies, or other preservation methods. The prices are a steal and the product is incredibly fresh. Most of farmers who grow the product are actually there at the market. In fact, two of my very favorite farmers were there yesterday – Jim and Anne Bright.

Jim and Anne Bright

Anne and Jim are long-time family friends and Anne was even the mistress of ceremonies at my wedding. I love anything where I get to talk to farmers about what they’re growing – they are the most knowledgeable and helpful people. In fact, one of the ladies I was there with wanted to purchase a box from them, but along with other products she needed, it also included beets, which she had no idea what to do with (for shame!). Before she could even finish bemoaning this fact, Anne had given her an easy, but no doubt delicious, recipe for them. Which brings me to my next point:

New Local Food Program with USDA

Click on the image to go to the USDA food compass

If you can talk to the person who grew your food, then you don’t have to worry about things like “what country did this come from? What are their safety and food standards? Was it sustainably grown? Were herbicides or pesticides used? How fresh is this? What do I do with it? How do I store it?” All the answers to those questions are standing right in front of you! And then when you support restaurants (like Wrap-n-Roll) and other outlets who are also sourcing local product, you don’t have to worry about the same things when you’re eating out. Yay for food safety! And sustainability! And supporting your local economy! You get to eat fresh, local, delicious food and as a bonus – you’re a superhero! FTW!