The Half-Crunchy Mama

Trying to live a natural life with balance


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Eggplant Ragout

Get excited!! It’s a true original from The Half-Crunchy Mama. I apologize to my readers (especially my Facebook fans that knew about this for a few weeks) for taking so long with this post. Back-to-back weddings, a few weeks with Sugar Bee out of summer camp, and my job workload has left me with about a dozen drafted posts that aren’t close to publication time. But hey, I’m finally getting this one out to you! Better late than never and I think you will find it was worth the wait.

I have varied my eggplant ragout so many times through the years. For this particular batch, I worked with what I had in the house. You can switch up the spices, add some red wine, use sauce from a jar, improvise! That’s what I’m always doing in the kitchen. About 95% of the time that I make this dish, it gets served over oven-roasted spaghetti squash. I couldn’t find one in Kroger and was in no mood to go to another store that evening, so I went with a gluten-free pasta. I kind of prefer it on the squash, but it will be just as delicious served over any pasta you choose (but I would go for the squash). There are a lot of things that you can do to make this your own. Hopefully, it will still look similar to this in the pan when it’s finished and ready to fill your belly.

Eggplant Ragout - The Half-Crunchy Mama

The most exciting part of making my ragout this time around was that it was made with two freshly grown eggplants picked right from my very own container garden.  #humblebrag One large one would probably be enough. Feel free to adjust the quantity of both the beef and the eggplant based on the ratio that you want to have in your sauce.

Peel, slice, and dice the eggplant.

Eggplant Ragout - The Half-Crunchy Mama

Dice it even smaller than this. I left them a little too big this time (about 1/2 inch dice), but it worked good for the photos ūüôā Put the diced eggplant in a bowl lined with paper towels, tossing with salt as you add to the bowl. It’s time to get the eggplant to sweat.

Eggplant Ragout - The Half-Crunchy Mama

 Let the salted eggplant sweat it out in the bowl while you prep the other ingredients. It should be nice and glistening with visible water droplets before it gets thrown into the pan.

Eggplant Ragout - The Half-Crunchy Mama

Chop and dice an onion. If you somehow missed this tutorial on the interwebs, it will forever change the way you cut onions. Next, mince up about 5 cloves of garlic….more or less depending on your taste. As I’ve said before, we love garlic in this house.

Heat your oil in a deep saute pan over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic to the pan, and saute until the onions are just getting soft, but not browned. I LOVE the smell that fills that house from just this part alone.

Eggplant Ragout - The Half-Crunchy Mama

¬†Throw a pound to a pound and a half of ground beef into the pan and combine, breaking it up. Add some Worcestershire sauce and/or red wine. Yes, I use the “unclean” Worstey sauce on just about anything beefy or pretending to be beef (like ground turkey). ¬†I love the flavor. And I love wine which is why it’s often included in any meaty saucy concoction, but I actually didn’t have any red wine in the house. WHAT?! ¬†Hard to believe, I know, and a shame that I didn’t have any to go along with cooking my ragout. I knew something was missing.

Eggplant Ragout - The Half-Crunchy Mama

 While the meat is still a little pink, add your (hopefully) very sweaty eggplant to the pan.

Eggplant Ragout - The Half-Crunchy Mama

¬†Drizzle a generous amount of EVOO over the eggplant, as well as some freshly ground pepper, before combining with the meat mixture. Eggplant absorbs a LOT of oil, so don’t worry about going a little overboard with oiling it up in the pan. Turn the heat up to medium-high and cook 5-8 minutes, stirring often, until the eggplant starts to get softer. (They will be releasing liquid as they cook.)

Eggplant Ragout - The Half-Crunchy Mama

Add the¬†fire-roasted, diced tomatoes, tomato puree, tomato paste, and all the spices. Taste a little of the liquid and add salt and pepper according to your taste buds. I can’t tell you how much to add because I don’t use much salt. Start with maybe 1 teaspoon of salt and several turns around the pan with the pepper grinder and taste it again. Continue until you like the flavor.

You will know it’s ready to simmer when it’s ridiculously thick and you can stand a utensil up in it.

Eggplant Ragout - The Half-Crunchy Mama

¬†Cover and simmer the sauce until the eggplant basically turns to mush. When you think that it’s getting close to being finished, get going on the pasta. If you are roasting spaghetti squash like I usually do, you should be about ready to take it out of the oven if it’s not already cooling off to get spaghettied.

Eggplant Ragout - The Half-Crunchy Mama

As I mentioned above, Kroger didn’t have any squash and I was pressed for time, so I headed over to the natural food section to scope out what GF pastas they had. They had a few brands that I don’t really care for because they do NOT reheat well and taste horrible as leftovers, so I was starting to get nervous about what I was going to do. Then I spotted this box:
Eggplant Ragout - The Half-Crunchy Mama

¬†Gluten-free spaghetti made in Italy? Well surely this must be tasty. After all, Italians know their pasta! I cooked it up and I must give it a RAVE review. I have tried almost every brand of GF pasta on the market and can tell you what tastes “real” and what to avoid unless you are going to eat it all right away (no leftovers). Not only did this taste amazing, but it reheats beautifully. Six thumbs up from this household!

After finishing the pasta (or making spaghetti out of the squash), it’s time to eat! This was the plate I made up for Sugar Bee.

Eggplant Ragout - The Half-Crunchy Mama

¬†Of course mine needed cheese. Fresh shredded Parmesan-Reggiano….yum.

Eggplant Ragout - The Half-Crunchy Mama

As usual, Sugar Bee approves!

Eggplant Ragout - The Half-Crunchy Mama

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Eggplant Ragout

Be sure to dice the eggplant very small or it will take a long time for them to soften. You could also leave the meat out and double the eggplant for a vegetarian meal. If you prefer to make a casserole or want an idea for what to do with the leftovers, scroll down past the recipe details for a cheesy transformation! 

INGREDIENTS
  • 1 large or two small eggplants, peeled and diced small (1/4 inch)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (several tablespoons, divided)
  • 1-1.5 lbs ground beef
  • 1-2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce and/or red wine
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 28-ounce can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • 28-ounce can of tomato puree
  • 2 Tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 3 ounces tomato paste (about 3 ounces)
  • Pasta of choice or roasted spaghetti squash
  • Cheese for garnish, if desired
DIRECTIONS
  1. Sprinkle peeled and diced eggplant with salt while adding it to a bowl lined with paper towels. Set aside to sweat.
  2. Heat oil (a few turns around the pan) in a deep saute pan over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions start to get soft, but not brown.
  3. Add ground beef and Worcestershire/wine, and mix well to combine.
  4. When the beef is still slightly pink, add the eggplant, fresh ground pepper, and drizzle a few tablespoons of EVOO all over the eggplant. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring often, for 5-8 minutes until eggplant begins to soften.
  5. Add tomatoes, puree, paste, and spices, and add salt and pepper to taste. (Taste a few times.) Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until eggplant starts to get mushy.
  6. When the sauce is almost finished, cook pasta according to package directions or spaghetti the cooled roasted squash.
  7. Serve ragout over pasta and top with cheese, if desired. Enjoy!
*Note: If using spaghetti squash, begin roasting it before making the sauce as it takes time to cook and will need to cool before handling. Here is a link to basic cooking methods. I cut in half, coat flesh with EVOO, and roast cut-side down in the oven at 375¬ļF for about 30 minutes, depending on size. When cool enough to handle, shred with a fork to make spaghetti-like strands.

 

Leftovers? Or maybe you want it to be a casserole instead?

Here’s a second meal you can make out of what is leftover or you can just continue here from where I ended the Ragout recipe.

Combine pasta and ragout in the pasta pot or a large bowl. Add to glass baking dish (I used an 8×8-inch one for the leftovers) coated with cooking spray. Pat down with spatula or back of spoon to flatten.

Eggplant Ragout - The Half-Crunchy Mama

¬†Add a layer of grated Parmesan cheese. I use a grated Parmesan and Romano blend that I get from Trader Joe’s.

Eggplant Ragout - The Half-Crunchy Mama

 Cover with about one cup of shredded cheese. I like the Italian blend one from Publix, but regular shredded mozzarella would be just fine.

Eggplant Ragout - The Half-Crunchy Mama

¬†Place in preheated oven and bake at 325¬ļF for 15 minutes. Switch on the broiler for the last minute or two to brown the top. Now you have another meal!

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5 Comments

Creamy Zucchini Noodles

This recipe is a huge favorite with the Russian and I. After I made it once to try it out, I added it into my regular rotation of dishes. It’s fast, cheap, and easy, all very important characteristics with everything I’m juggling these days, and his eyes light up whenever I mention making it again. There is little doubt that once Sugar Bee* gets over her “it has skins” phase about everything put in front of her that she will be chowing down on this one, too. She still loves avocado (her first food) and is a total veggie-head. Don’t be fooled by the word “creamy” in the title. This dish is non-dairy, gluten-free, vegetarian, paleo-friendly, you name it and it probably fits, like nearly every recipe I will ever post.

The recipe originates from the blog of Empowered Sustenance. Her original recipe can be found here. She is an amazing resource and I have really enjoyed her posts. You should follow her blog, too!

First, I have to mention (brag) that the zucchini used for this blog was successfully grown in my own container garden. This is only my second year taking a crack at growing my own food and I’m quite impressed with myself. If I actually had time, I would research a lot about how to successfully grow each individual crop and spend a lot more time tending to the plants. I’m sure I would probably have actual garden beds, a greenhouse, and compost everything, but containers are about all I can handle at this point in my life. Just take a look at this beauty!!

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Now let me focus your attention on one of the best things ever invented, next to the¬†Kitchen Aid ¬†stand mixer. I LOVE this thing! You can spiral fruits and vegetables into noodles or chips in minutes. It’s so easy to use and clean. If you don’t have one, go buy it. Now. Amazon usually has the best price. Look, I’ve even given you a place to click and get one here. If you are a clean eater, paleo, or GFer and you still don’t have one, I’m not sure we can talk anymore. You should have had this yesterday. But if you don’t have one, you can use a julienne peeler like this one¬†to make the noodles.

Creamy zucchini noodles

Another nifty item to have is an avocado saver. There are those rare occasions where we actually have half an avocado left in our house and this thing actually works. You do have to pull it real tight to make sure air can’t get to the flesh, and there might still be a little discoloration when you get to it, but it’s a very thin layer that scrapes off very easily.

Creamy zucchini noodles

This was after two days in the saver in the fridge. I think that’s pretty darn good! The lighting ¬†in this picture stinks, but as you will see in the picture down below in this post after it’s been scraped into the bowl, it was still nice and green. The only thing was that those little stripes appeared. TWO DAYS. Here¬†it is on Amazon, but I bought mine in Publix. My mom found one for herself up in NY at Stop N Shop, so I’m sure you can get one anywhere. Do it.

Creamy zucchini noodles

To make the zucchini noodles, trim the ends off the zucchini, position it in the slicer, and turn the handle. Yep, this is really hard stuff here.

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I like to make my noodles on the short side. When I first started making this, I would make them too long, making cooking, mixing, and even eating them a little difficult. I break them off after a few turns and drop them in the bowl. Then I turn and make some more. One of the easiest things going on in my world of cooking prep.

Creamy zucchini noodles

When you are done making the zucchini noodles, it’s time to cook them. Heat the EVOO in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the zucchini noodles, some Italian seasoning and garlic powder, and turn the noodles around in the pan to coat them in the oil and spices.

Creamy zucchini noodles

While the zucchini is cooking, get the sauce ready. Scoop the avocado into a medium-sized bowl with juice from half a lemon, a giant tablespoon of mayo (you could use yogurt, if tolerable), salt, and fresh ground pepper to taste.

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Mash the ingredients together with a fork until it looks like a creamy guacamole.

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When the zucchini has finished cooking, it should still have a nice green color and be soft, but not mushy. Remove it from the heat and let it stand a minute or two. Don’t let it cool too long as the warmth from the zucchini helps the creamy avocado sauce to coat the noodles.

Creamy zucchini noodles

 After it has cooled for a few minutes, add it to the bowl of creamy sauce and stir to combine. I try to drain some of the oil off of the noodles before placing them in the bowl or the sauce can get too runny. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Creamy zucchini noodles

* Sugar Bee is what I call my three-year-old daughter. I actually call her My Sweet Sugar Bee, but this shortened version will work fine for my blog.


Creamy Zucchini Noodles

These quantities make two servings if made as a side dish, one if you eat it all by yourself as a meal…which you might want to do after the first time you make it. This is easily doubled and since I have found that it does last until the next day, I usually make a double batch. I have also sauteed fresh garlic in the oil before adding the zucchini for extra flavor (then omitting the garlic powder). We love garlic! Happy cooking!

INGREDIENTS
  • 1-2 tsp extra virgin olive oil (or the oil/fat of your choice)
  • 1 medium zucchini, made into noodles with a spiral slicer or ¬†julienne peeler
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/2-1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 ripe avocado
  • Juice of half a lemon, freshly squeezed
  • 1 heaping Tbsp of mayonnaise (or yogurt)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
DIRECTIONS
  1. Heat oil in saute pan over medium heat. Add the zucchini, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder, tossing to coat. Saute for 3-5 minutes until noodles have softened, but not mushy and are still bright green.
  2. While noodles are cooking, mash avocado with the remaining ingredients in a bowl with a fork until it has the consistency of a creamy guacamole.
  3. When zucchini is finished cooking, remove from heat and let cool for 1-3 minutes. Add to the bowl with the avocado mixture, allowing some of the oil to drain off. Stir to coat noodles and serve. Enjoy!


5 Comments

The Half-Crunchy Mama’s Baba Ghanoush

Yay! A recipe post! I’m glad you’re back. Food always brings people¬†back.

The Russian* and I are obsessed with eggplant. Seriously obsessed. My daughter, now almost three, has eaten eggplant since she could eat food that only needed to be mashed a little before swallowing. Her favorite recipe is what I call “Eggplant Ragu” and I will surely post that one as soon as I make it again so ¬†I can write it down. When they are 10 for $10 at Kroger, we are eating eggplant in a variety of ways. I like to slice and grill it, marinate with other veggies for a variety of dishes (one of several ratatouille recipes, eggplant parm, eggplant lasagna, eggplant salads…all future postings), and of course, baba ghanoush. If I could figure out how to freeze eggplants, we would be set! Hmmm….might have to start researching and experimenting.

They way I like to cook is kind of like how I get my news. I read a few different sources and make my own decisions on how to move forward. My recipes are usually a little from this recipe, a little from another, and some other piece or two from yet a different one, all mixed together with my own knowledge of cooking and what tastes good and works together. After reading several different recipes, I decided that I had enough information to make my own. I must say the first batch was pretty damn fantastic. After half a dozen or so batches, they seem to only get better.

One “mistake” I apparently made was cutting the eggplant before roasting it. Sometimes I read a little too fast and miss an important item. Kind of like when I’m supposed to read directions or instructions for putting something together. Well, after my maiden batch, I was pretty sure that this is the best way to do it and that everyone else made the mistake by keeping the eggplant whole.

First, slice the eggplant in half lengthwise.

The Half-Crunchy Mama's Baba Ghanoush

Then oil up the cut side with some EVOO.

The Half-Crunchy Mama's Baba Ghanoush

Place it cut side down on a nonstick baking sheet.

The Half-Crunchy Mama's Baba Ghanoush

Bake it for about 25 minutes or so, depending upon how big it is (or they are if you are making a double batch). You want the eggplants to have some give when you push on the skins…usually anywhere between 20-30 minutes. They should look nice and golden and be pretty smushy. Perfect for going into the food processor.

The Half-Crunchy Mama's Baba Ghanoush

¬†Now you will want to let them cool off before scooping out the insides, unless you’re impatient (I don’t know anyone like that). In that case, you will need a towel or something to protect your hand. However, I suggest giving them at least a few minutes. That will give you time to set everything else up.

Get out your food processor. I have a small one and large one, but it’s almost easier to make it in two batches than drag the huge one out. And clean it.

You will also need EVOO, that’s extra-virgin olive oil for those of you that have never watched any of Rachael Ray‘s shows. Sadly, much to the disappointment of all of my chef friends, she’s the one that actually got me cooking and helped me to realize how much I love to cook. In addition to the olive oil, grab a lemon, a few cloves of garlic, tahini (I like this one¬†and you can get it in most stores), pepper (preferably fresh ground), and Kosher or sea salt. Yep, that’s all that’s in it. Gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, paleo, whatever your eating preferences or restrictions are, you can eat this! Unless you’re just picky and are afraid to try delicious things to put in your belly.

The Half-Crunchy Mama's Baba Ghanoush

 Now for the fun part.

Hopefully the eggplant(s) are cooled off now. Scoop out the insides into the food processor with a spoon. Now, I’m not really one for measuring anything. I go with how I feel, so sometimes my measurements are estimates. Taste as you go, stick your finger in and taste, and then adjust accordingly. Salt is the biggest thing I have a hard time with and I often under salt my food. It’s better than putting too much in.

For a single eggplant batch, I usually add two cloves of garlic run through the press (even though it’s going to get blended, it helps to distribute better), a heaping tablespoon of tahini, 1/2 of a fresh squeezed lemon, 1-2 tablespoons of EVOO, 1/2-1 teaspoon of sea salt, and a few circles of the pepper grinder around the heap of ingredients waiting to be blended.

The Half-Crunchy Mama's Baba Ghanoush

¬†You don’t want to process it too much or it will get really runny. I like it to be thick enough to pick up a bunch on the end of a baby carrot, not having to scoop it up with a spoon because it slides off.

The Half-Crunchy Mama's Baba Ghanoush

¬†Hopefully you will get something that looks as beautiful as this when you are finished and have plated it…or put it in a plastic or glass container that can be sealed up. Store it in the refrigerator and enjoy for several days to come!

The Half-Crunchy Mama's Baba Ghanoush

 Remember, there are no preservatives, so enjoy it sooner rather than later. Clean and fresh food is best!

* This is the endearing term for my Moscow-born husband that will be regularly used when discussing anything to do with him in my posts.

The Half-Crunchy Mama’s Baba Ghanoush

These quantities are for a single batch. I usually double everything, so multiplying ingredients does not affect the taste as happens sometimes with recipes. For two or twenty, Baba away!

 INGREDIENTS:

1 Eggplant (FYI, to pick a proper eggplant, it should feel heavy for its size and give a little when you squeeze it)
2 Cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
1 Tbsp tahini
1/2 Fresh-squeezed lemon
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus some for oiling the eggplant before roasting
1/2-1 tsp kosher or sea salt, to taste (I have used both at different times, so this one is your choice)
Several turns of fresh ground pepper, to taste

 DIRECTIONS:

1. Preheat oven to 400¬įF.
2. Slice the eggplant in half lengthwise. Coat cut side with olive oil. Place cut-side down onto baking sheet and bake in oven for about 25 minutes. Total time could be anywhere between 20 and 30 minutes, depending upon size. The  eggplant is ready to be removed when there is lots of give when pressing on the skin with your finger. Allow to cool.
3. Once cooled, scoop insides of eggplant into food processor bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until combined and the preferred consistency has been reached. (Be careful not to over-process or it will be like soup.)
4. Store in airtight container for up to a week in the refrigerator. Enjoy!