Italian Eggplant Marinara

Eggplant Marinara

This recipe has become one of my absolute favourites to have in the fridge. Not only does it go so well on top of pasta, but it makes an incredible side dish for meat, fish, tofu and legumes.If you are not a fan of eggplant, it is still worth it to make this marinara sauce! It is my go to homemade pasta sauce. A good tomato sauce isn’t really about the quantity of ingredients but more about the quality. From my travels throughout Italy, I realized how SIMPLE every dish was. When you have great quality fruit, veggies, oils and so on, your meal will be amazing without having to do much to it. So for a healthy and truly delicious meal, spend a little extra money on your ingredients and you will notice a huge difference in flavour. Hope you love this recipe as much as I do. It will keep you nice and toasty as we head into fall.
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Ingredients

• 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
• 1 shallot (chopped)
• 2 tbsp garlic (minced)
• 1 cup red wine (I like any Chianti)
• 2 cans San Marzano tomatoes in puree
• 1/2 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
• 2 tbsp basil (chopped)
• 2 tbsp salt (or to taste)
• 1 tsp freshly ground pepper (or to taste)
• 4 italian eggplants (diced)

Directions for sauce

1.In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add shallot and cook until translucent, then add garlic.
2.Stir in the wine and cook over medium-high heat for 3-5 minutes. Add your tomatoes, chilli flakes, basil, salt and pepper. Using the back of your spoon, break apart the tomatoes until desired texture is achieved. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.For a smoother sauce, transfer to a blender.

Directions for eggplant

1. While the tomato sauce is simmering, clean and cube eggplant. Steam the eggplant for 8-10 minutes. This ensures a really tender eggplant without having to fry it in loads of oil.
2. Once the eggplant is tender, transfer into tomato sauce and serve!

Eggplant Marinara

Bolognese with Spaghetti Squash

Photo 2014-07-28, 7 22 41 AM
I have only been blogging for a few months now and it has been a great learning experience. I really went into this with more confidence in my passion for cooking then in my writing. Both finding my voice and determining what exactly I want to share with my readers has been a truly interesting experience. I really don’t know if readers want to know more about me personally, less about nutritional information etc…What is so great about a blog however, is that the writing is truly reflective of a moment in time for the writer, reader etc… Today for example, I feel like showing a side that most bloggers don’t. A truly honest side that will show insecurities, mistakes and a general confession of my ‘go with the flow’ attitude. So here it goes…

To start off…I am an amateur photographer. I still have barely any idea of what I am doing with my amazing Canon Rebel. I highly recommend this camera because without any knowledge of this device I have been able to capture some pretty sumptuous looking pictures. All I know about taking great pictures is to ALWAYS use natural lighting. Most of my pictures are taken right on the windowsill. The bolognese pictures came out so horrible because I was rushing against the sun that was setting very quickly. It was already a rainy day to begin with so odds were not in my favour. In turn, my so called “food styling” was non-existent and I ended up with some pretty drab looking pictures (notice the dark/yellowish hue). But lets face it. If I wasn’t photographing this food for my blog, that would be what a home-cooked dish looked like in most homes, including my own. And that truly is why I decided to do this post. It is to encourage you to make more time to make home-cooked meals! So many people look at photographs taken in recipe books, magazines and blogs and think that they are too difficult. I always hear people say “I could never make that, I am the worst cook!” They also might think that if they make a dish and it looks slightly different in the picture that they have failed. I’m here to tell you that is simply not true.

I beg you to try to reach out of your comfort zone and try attacking a recipe you never thought possible. They don’t have to be my recipes, and they definitely don’t need to be gluten, dairy or refined sugar free. However by simply making more meals yourselves (and with loved ones) you will be more conscious of ingredients, flavours and what’s in season. Even if you are making shepherds pie, the home cooked version will always be healthier because it isn’t laced with loads of preservatives, chemicals and other gross stuff. So although my pictures don’t look as appetizing as they normally would, I am only human. I am just like you, doing the best I can. And now, on to the bolognese…

Ok, so I am sure many of you are surprised to see bolognese on here. Many of my recipes are friendly to vegans because my recipes do not contain dairy. Although I do not eat meat on a daily basis, I do still enjoy good quality meat from time to time. (Vegan readers, just skip this recipe for now and check back later!) Especially in the winter, there is nothing more comforting then diving into a bowl of brown rice spaghetti and meat sauce. By substituting the pasta with spaghetti squash, the dish has now become a summer staple. I know many clean eaters have different opinions on eating meat. But if you truly enjoy it, then there is no harm in having anything in moderation. Especially if you are getting organic, grass fed beef that has a lower fat content. That is just my philosophy, and many people will agree or disagree.

I love food too much to say NO forever to something I really enjoy. This blog is really all about that. I take foods that I truly love and adapt them to make them more wholesome and cleaner without compromising on flavour. So here is my favourite recipe for clean bolognese, I hope you enjoy!

Ps. Another error I made while making this bolognese is cutting the carrots in medallions instead of finely chopping it. By the time I got them in the pot and looked at how odd they looked in there, it was too late. But, they did taste delicious anyway.
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Ingredients:

• 1 spaghetti squash
• 1 lb organic, grass fed lean ground beef
• 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
• 2 carrots (chopped fine)
• 2 yellow onions (chopped)
• 3 cloves garlic (minced)
• 1 tsp dried oregano
• 1 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
• 1/2 tsp himalayan salt
• 1 tsp ground pepper
• 1 can San Marzano tomatoes
• 3 tbsp tomato paste
• 1 cup dry red wine (don’t cheap out here, make sure you would drink it with a meal)
• 3-5 drops stevia (optional)
• fresh basil (for serving)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350. Slice spaghetti squash in half, remove seeds and place on sheet pan and bake for one hour. I also bake the seeds on the pan and eat them later on! Pull strings out using a fork and set aside.
2. Heat olive oil in a large pot on medium heat. Cook onions, garlic and carrots until the onions are translucent and no longer firm.
3.Add oregano, chilli flakes, salt, pepper and beef. Cook beef until it is no longer pink.
4. Add tomatoes and tomato paste. Break down the tomatoes using the back of a wooden spoon. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for at least 35-40 minutes.
5. Add red wine and simmer for another 10 minutes. Add stevia (or other sweetener) if you would like the sauce to be more sweet.
6. Simmer on low for another 10-20 minutes or until the sauce has thickened and the moisture has mostly cooked out.
7. Pour sauce over spaghetti squash and top with fresh basil.
Photo 2014-07-28, 7 23 24 AMPhoto 2014-07-28, 7 24 21 AM

Spicy Black Bean Primavera

Photo 4-22-2014, 5 46 56 AMThere truly is nothing like fresh Italian pasta. Something about the combination of comforting starchy noodles and tasty fresh sauces makes all my troubles go away.  After traveling throughout Italy, I was so inspired by their use of simple ingredients. A little garlic, tomato and wine and you had one of the most delicious pastas you ever tasted.

So any home cook probably did the same thing as me.  The second I got home I went to my local grocery store and picked up what I thought was the same garlic, tomato, wine etc… Cooked everything the same way I had learned from nonna and voila! I had a meal that tasted like true… Italian…leather. Why didn’t it taste the same?  I added the same amounts, the same ingredients… was it me? Was it my stove? No… in fact it was those “same ingredients” that really weren’t the same at all.  A tomato grown in nonna’s backyard is not the same tomato you get at Publix, Provigo or even Whole Foods. I think that most North Americans are making pretty average tasting dishes in general because of one simple mistake. Sh*t ingredients.
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I really came to truly believe this after The Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten, bullied me enough through the TV to buy those good quality eggs, good quality olive oil, good quality vanilla etc…She always said “make sure its good quality.” I thought, oh olive oil is olive oil. Take it from me, it is not the case. Test it yourself and I promise you will end up coming to the same conclusion as I did. Listen, I know its hard…. you don’t want to go to the market, or spend so much extra on that expensive maple syrup when you can just get some Aunt Jemima.   But knowing where to stretch your dollar and where to spend a little more is the difference between a bland boring dinner, to one that tastes like you are eating at a winery in Tuscany. That is truly how Italians make their food taste unbelievably delicious. They aren’t putting red wine from the 7/11 or depanneur into their marinara. It isn’t 55 crazy expensive ingredients that you can’t pronounce or understand. They use simple, good quality ingredients and cook them right. They showcase the taste and quality of the ingredients themselves. I know its tempting to buy that 99 cent can of whole tomatoes but those San Marzano ones in the can for $4.99 is the epitome of the Olive Garden vs. Tuscany debate.  Heres my must-do list when making a fresh pasta at home.

CEG’s Must-do Italian

1. If making a tomato sauce, always buy San Marzano tomatoes from the can… not San Marzano type… just San Marzano.

2. Always add wines into your sauces that you would drink from a glass.

3. Fresh pasta (bought or homemade) can take your pasta to the next level. But boxed pastas are just fine!

4. Don’t use jarred or dried garlic/onion. Buy fresh. Cut fresh.

5. Invest in a good quality olive oil that tastes great to you. Most markets or speciality food stores will let you taste the olive oils. Bring your own Gfree crackers or bread and test it out! Plus they’ll give you the best information on which ones to cook with and which to only use on salads or as garnish.

6. Don’t forget the fresh herbs. Fresh basil can make the world of difference in any pasta dish. If you are making a heavier pasta, any fresh herb or green will lighten (and brighten) up the dish. (If you don’t have basil on hand, add a little fresh kale or arugula).

7. Boil your noodles in heavily salted water. The noodles absorb the water they are cooking in, so you want those noodles seasoned!Don’t use the expensive stuff here. Kosher salt is perfect!
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Now for the pasta recipe! This pasta is full of protein and healthy fats from the black beans and pine nuts. Feel free to add shrimp, chicken or ground turkey for a little meaty touch. But on its own it is truly satisfying and perfect for Meatless Mondays. If spice isn’t your thing, simply leave out the chilli flakes and hot sauce. Buon Appetito!

Ingredients:

• 1 package black bean noodles
• 1 can San Marzano tomatoes
• 1 heaping tbsp tomato paste
• 2 tbsp olive oil (divided)
• 2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
• 1 small shallot (chopped)
• 2 zucchini (diced)
• 10 ounces of mushrooms (your favourite kind)
• 2 red peppers (julienned)
• 1/2 tsp red chilli flakes
• a few dashes of hot sauce
• 1/4 cup red wine (I used a Cabernet Sauvignon)
• 2 sprigs fresh basil (chopped) or a bunch of fresh organic arugula
• 3 tbsp toasted pine nuts
• salt and pepper

Directions:

1. Chop all ingredients so they are ready to go! (separate them in bowls or on your cutting board).
2. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a deep skillet on medium heat.
3. Once the oil is hot, add the shallot and sautee until soft. Then add garlic and chilli flakes, salt and pepper and sautee for another 30 seconds.
4. Add canned tomatoes and crush with a wooden spoon or cut with kitchen scissors. Bring to a boil, then put heat to low. Add tomato paste and stir until combined. Let simmer until most of the water has evaporated (about 30 minutes).
5. While the sauce is simmering, heat the other tablespoon of olive oil in another skillet on medium heat. Add olive oil and sautee for 30 seconds. Then add zucchini, peppers and mushrooms, salt and pepper. Cook until tender and slightly brown.
6. Now its time to boil your pasta according to the directions on package or box. If you bought fresh pasta, then cook it in heavily salted water for 2-3 minutes.
7. Back to the sauce…after the sauce has thickened add the red wine. Stir and taste. Add hot sauce if you want more heat, and adjust salt and pepper seasoning if necessary.
8. Toast your pine nuts on medium heat in a dry pan until golden. Watch carefully or they will burn (5 minutes).
9. Add the vegetables to the pasta sauce, stir. Then add the noodles. Toss until well combined. Top with fresh basil or arugula and toasted pine nuts.
Photo 4-22-2014, 5 43 55 AM