Every January I, and most of the rest of the self-flagellating crowd I know, lament too loud and too much that we ate too much over the holidays so we must cut back and deprive ourselves of all goodnesses in January to restart our diets and, therefore, our lives.
As I’ve gotten older this desire has not gone away, but it has gotten more reasonable. Where in the past I’d attempt a DIY cleanse or, my best friend’s specialty, the Canned Green Bean Diet (one day we’ll trademark this), I’ve decided this year, in 2020, I’ll treat myself better. Extremes have not been great for me or our country lately. Why apply them to diet resets?
Enter, the semi-healthy comfort food. January is a foolhearty month to deprive yourself of warm, baked and bubbly items. Your body might need greens, but your soul needs comfort as you enter a cold, dark, post-holiday endorphin withdrawal month. You can care for them both. Tell yourself this, I’ll tell you this, I’ll tell myself this, and altogether, maybe by the end of the month, we’ll believe it.
Enter: Veggie-heavy baked and bubbly items. Enter: This stuffed eggplant Parmesan boat. This is a weeknight dish, I swear, because I recently made it in 47 minutes from grocery store departure to wrapping in foil for a potluck. No better way to time a “weeknight recipe” than after your husband informs you at 2:00 p.m., when you’re ankle deep in saw dust 10 miles away from a working stove, that we’re supposed to take a “vegetable-y dish” to the party we’re going to at 5:00 p.m.
This recipe was inspired by one from The Kitchn.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Wash and halve 2-3 eggplants. Carve out the inside with a paring knife or a spoon (I think it’s easiest to do a hack job with a paring knife and then fine-tune with a spoon, being careful not to overly aggressively scoop out the seeded part and scrape right through the skin).
Oil, salt, and pepper the eggplant boats you’ve unceremoniously carved and pop in the oven, face up, for 20-30 minutes. If you’re married to eggplant doubters, cook them the full 30 minutes so they’re soft and a bit browny-green around the inside.
While they’re roasting, saute the filling. The filling should be some combination of the scooped-out eggplant parts, diced to 1-2 inch chunks, about one pound of ground meat (I prefer pork and turkey), or a comparable amount of veggies and lentils. When the eggplant chunks have started to stick to the pan and are soft, add a scoop of marinara sauce and some fresh basil and remove from the heat but let it keep cooking for a bit.
After a few minutes off the heat, toss in a cup of finely grated Parmesan and a cup of shredded mozzarella cheese and any additional spices you’d like (fresh basil, fresh oregano, what smells good to you or what’s in the fridge).
Take the roasted eggplant halves out of the oven and, using gloves lest you burn your hands to bits, put them aside for a minute. Pour marinara sauce in the bottom of the dish you roasted the boats in. For eggplant doubters, go heavy on the sauce.
Replace the boats, face-side up, in the casserole dish atop the sauce. Then, fill generously with your eggplant-and-meat or eggplant-and-veggie filling. Top each boat with more Parmesan and mozzarella cheese, covering the filling fully. On top of that, add a thin layer of panko bread crumbs, if you have them. The panko will add a nice little crunch.
Return the filled, topped boats to the oven to heat it all up together for 10-14 minutes. After cooking a bit, increase the oven temperature to broil to brown the cheese/bread crumb topping. When it’s golden brown, remove from oven and serve.
A light Caesar salad on the side would make this a full, indulgent yet healthful meal.
I made two large eggplants which served hearty dinners for two and two excellent lunches.
It isn’t a cleanse, but it’s a start. And, hopefully, the start of a long year of reasonable, comforting, satisfying, healthy meals. The start of a successful commitment to health, not an unreasonable start to a short term boost for Del Monte’s green bean sales.
Recovering journalist who discovered a life outside of news leaves you time for things like getting angry, cooking and traveling. Plus, hopefully, writing. I’m a wife, dog mom and Washingtonian.