October 3, 2019
I’m not quite sure how it happened, but I blinked and summer is over. The past 3 months seemingly flashed before my eyes, and next thing I knew, it had been quite some time since I had made it out to the Dallas Farmer’s Market. With traveling, getting into the rhythm of a new job (read a little about that here if you’re curious), taking master’s classes, getting more involved with worship at church, and *attempting* to maintain some sort of social life…. well, let’s just say I cooked less than I ever have this summer. And boy, am I ready to get back in the kitchen.
Even though summertime is peak produce season, there is something about fall that makes it my favorite season to frequent the market. The crisp, early Saturday morning air allures me to put on my favorite sweater and go in search of the perfect butternut squash with a cup of artisan roasted coffee to warm my hands. The cool breeze carries the changing leaves from their branches as a sort of confetti on the sidewalks as I pass the familiar faces of the regular market purveyors. There is a feeling of refreshment in the air; the drop in temperatures invigorates the bodies that spent the past 3 months in a constant state of sticky sweating, and the change of seasons relieves the souls of the summer burdens, promising the hope of a new start.
While I can only hope that the weather catches up with the calendar sometime soon, I am easing back into oven season with my latest market finds. Thinking ahead for what recipes I wanted to create for fall, I couldn’t resist the thought of some cheesy, baked, and tomato-y. It’s all I crave after a summer of raw or grilled foods. So when I saw these beautifully colored eggplant and noticed there was still an abundance of late summer tomatoes, I came up with the idea of a cross between lasagna and eggplant parmesan.
Not only is it the best of both worlds, but stuffing the eggplant gives it a hearty lasagna texture without the heaviness (or the gluten) of the pasta, and baking instead of frying makes for a dinner that’s light enough to eat on the reg. The grass-fed beef gives the sauce an incredibly rich flavor, and the fresh mozzarella melts into pillowy clouds to perfectly top it off- though it can easily be made vegan and/or dairy-free by leaving out either of these ingredients. It’s easy enough for a weeknight but impressive enough for a weekend dinner party, and easily suits any diet preference. If there’s ever been a reason to get back in the kitchen, this is it!
Preheat oven to 400. Spray each eggplant half with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast cut-side down for 20 minutes and then flip and roast for another 20 minutes.
While the eggplant roasts, brown the ground beef In a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Season with salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder and let cook for about 9 minutes, stirring occasionally for even browning. Remove the meat from the pan and set aside.
Drain off excess meat drippings, reserving a little to coat the skillet. Add chopped onion and cook until it begins to caramelize. Add garlic and cherry tomatoes and stir, being sure to scrape the bits off the bottom of the pan (where alllll the flavor lives). Add tomato sauce and a generous pinch of italian seasons and cover, continuing to simmer on medium heat for about 10-15 to help break down the whole tomatoes. Lower the heat, uncover and gently crush the tomatoes into the sauce. Add meat and chopped fresh basil and simmer on low for about 10 more minutes as you remove the eggplant and let cool enough to handle.
Once the eggplant cools slightly, scoop out the seeds and let excess moisture drain, being careful to leave a little lining of flesh to keep its shape. Scoop the meat sauce into each eggplant “boat”, top with mozzarella, and put back in the oven about 5-7 minutes to allow the cheese to melt. Remove, garnish with plenty of fresh basil, and serve while warm.