Creamy Creole Eggplant Pasta Bake*
* Or, It’s Worth Staying Up Until 1:00 AM for Susan V’s Recipe
[Smooth, Creamy Creole bliss in a casserole. With pasta. ]
When’s the last time you stayed up past midnight? (Oh. Right–forgot. Discounting New Year’s Eve, that is).
Back when I was a freshman at university, I worked at “The Round Table,” the after-hours pub and grill on campus (ironically, serving hamburgers!). I’d sling hash deal with drunken patrons waitress until 1:30 AM when the joint closed for the night, scrub the grill and counters, and count up the night’s earnings until about 3:00 AM, then head back to the dorm and wake up in time for an 8:30 AM class (to which I arrived, despite all odds, washed and neatly dressed–with matching socks, even!–and awake).
Later on, after the HH and I met during my late 30s (also known as the Decade of the Dinner Party), seems it was de rigeur to party till the wee hours of the morning. I’d primp and preen for a Saturday night date, donning my favorite black sequined tank top, mini skirt and leather boots, before the HH and I spent a romantic evening shifting from dinner at Squirrely’s (the HH’s idea of romantic in those days) to drinks and jazz at the Orbit Room, to a nightcap at Fran’s before finally calling it a night somewhere around 3:30 AM (luckily, I didn’t have a class to get to the next morning).
Well, almost thirteen years later, those party days have long since vanished (as has that mini skirt–though I think the tank top is still kicking around in the back of my closet somewhere).
Nowadays, a typical Saturday night at the DDD household tends to go more like this: Feed Dogs. Walk Dogs. Prepare dinner (the HH acts as sous-chef to Ricki’s chef; Ricki barks orders while the HH chops celery, carrots, onion, and so on). Eat dinner. Remind dogs to go lie down while humans eat. Retire to TV room. Humans flop on chairs and watch DVD du jour, while The Girls stretch out on carpet, enthusiastically chomping on Nylabones. Wash up and go to sleep. Time check: 10:47 PM.
(“Mum, any night when our pack is all together sounds like a good night to me, wherever we are. But, um, shouldn’t we be the ones barking orders?”)
This past Saturday, however, we revisited those long-ago evenings of our wayward youth (or, at least, our wayward youth’s bedtime). No, it wasn’t an erstwhile “date night.” For some reason, scheduled events kept getting deferred until we found ourselves cooking dinner at 8:30 PM, chopping celery side by side at the counter (the HH’s current idea of romantic). We didn’t even begin eating until 9:00-ish and hadn’t cleaned up until around 10:30. Consequently, we ended up in front of the TV until after midnight, finally getting to sleep after 1:00 AM.
Let me tell you, staying up late isn’t what it used to be (as those of you with kids undoubtedly know, the little ones–in our case, The Girls–don’t recognize changes in schedule and are right there, wet nose on earlobe, at the usual time–ie, 6:55 AM). And while I really enjoyed the movie (500 Days of Summer, which amused even the HH), it was really the dinner that made those extra bags under my eyes Sunday morning seem worth it.
[Smooth, Creamy Creole bliss ladled over cooked rice pasta.]
I’d been seeking a use for a lone eggplant hiding out at the back of the fridge, and assumed I’d make my usual baba ganoush or perhaps eggplant “parmesan” with it. In the decade before the Decade of the Dinner Party (more like the Decade of the Dorm party), eggplant parm had been one of my staple dishes, the breaded rounds of eggplant afloat with grease and excessively oozing, melted cheeses. And while I loved it back then, I have to agree with Andrea’s assessment of her recent takeout pizza: all that cheese would sort of make me feel a bit ill today.
(“Mum, it’s understandable that you’d prefer more veggies on your ACD. But we’d be happy to take any extra cheese off your paws hands.”)
Well, sometimes life offers you the perfect confluence of ingredients, peckishness and a winning recipe. As it turned out, I’d just read Susan V’s blog post about Creamy Creole Eggplant Casserole, and was intrigued. And, as sometimes happens in the life of a food blogger, I chose to ignore the other 483 recipes already in my “Recipes to Try” folder and leapt at the most recent one in my Google Reader. Susan’s was the very first food blog from which I made a recipe (I believe it was this one), and I’ve had success with every recipe of hers I’ve ever tried. And even though I’d never eaten a Creole dish before, I just knew I’d love this.
With modifications, of course. Because of the infernal ACD, I knew I’d have to adapt the recipe somewhat–no mushrooms and no nutritional yeast, for a start. And I only had one eggplant, not two. And I can’t eat breadcrumbs. Oh, and we’d agreed on pasta for dinner. I decided to use the base as a pasta sauce, and halve the recipe, but retain the spice measurements and sauce mixture as they were (we like highly spiced food, and pasta needs a saucy sauce). Was I even still making the same recipe? No matter–those Creole seasonings were calling to me.
Well, I miscalculated how long it would take to bake an eggplant, which is why we ended up eating so late. But let me tell you, it was worth it! And if you think ahead just a wee bit more than I did and pre-bake your eggplant before starting the dish, you can have dinner on the table in 30 minutes or about an hour, depending on which version you use.
[The 30-Minute Version: Creamy Sauce atop just-cooked pasta.]
The pasta was delectable (“This one is a winner,” the HH enthused, meaning “You should make this again”). Yesterday evening, however, the dish made the leap from ”yummy” to “spectacular” on the hierarchy of food descriptors. I had decided to blend the remaining pasta with the remaining sauce and bake the whole thing in a casserole, much as Susan baked hers. The pasta absorbed a bit of the moisture in the sauce and the mixture was rendered even more thick and creamy, highlighting the hunks of eggplant and pepper along with the beans in the mix (I used navy beans, as we were out of chickpeas).
The casserole is creamy, it’s velvety, it’s meaty, and just a bit spicy. The blend of herbs and cayenne work beautifully together to create an aromatic yet assertive sauce perfectly balanced by the mild, chewy pasta, somewhat like a slightly wealthier, slightly more sophisticated cousin of traditional Mac and Cheese. The perfect accompaniment for a Saturday night at home with the family.
Creamy Creole Eggplant Pasta Bake
liberally adapted from Fat Free Vegan’s recipe
[The one-hour version, fresh from the oven.]
For a quick, delicious meal, whip up the sauce base and ladle it over some cooked pasta. If you’ve got more time, go for the baked casserole version–a fantastic, warming dinner for any night of the week.
1 medium eggplant
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil, preferably organic
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small green or red pepper, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and then cut into chunks
2 Tbsp (30 ml) chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) dried thyme
1/4 tsp (1 ml) cayenne pepper, or more to taste
1 tsp (5 ml) smoked paprika
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) onion or garlic powder
3/4 tsp (7.5 ml) fine sea salt
1 tsp (5 ml) dried basil
1 tsp (5 ml) dried oregano
1 cup (120 ml) cooked chickpeas (about 1/2 cup dry)
6 ounces (190 g) firm silken tofu (I used Mori-Nu–this is 1/2 package)
heaping 1/4 cup (40 g) raw cashews
1 Tbsp (15 ml) light miso
1/2 cup (120 ml) unsweetened soymilk
1/4 cup (about 35g) pine nuts or almonds, raw or lightly toasted, ground to coarse crumbs
Enough dry pasta for 6 servings (I used 3 cups/720 ml of dry rice elbow macaroni)
Preheat oven to 425F ( C). Line a baking sheet with parchment. Prick the eggplant with a fork or tip of a knife several times and place on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Bake until the eggplant is very soft, 30-40 minutes. Allow to cool, cut open, and then scoop out the flesh. Cut the flesh into bite-sized chunks and set aside.
Once the eggplant is cooked and is cooling, put the water up to boil for the pasta. Cook until just al dente (time will vary, depending on the type of pasta you use; I used rice pasta and cooked it for 8 minutes). Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside. (This step will likely occur while you are still mixing the rest of the sauce; just leave the cooked pasta aside until you need it).
Make the sauce while the pasta boils: In a large frypan, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion, pepper and celery. Cook until the onion is translucent, 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and zucchini and continue to cook another 5 minutes or so, until the zucchini begins to emit its juice. Add the eggplant (remember to cut it up before adding), parsley, thyme, cayenne, paprika, black pepper, onion powder, salt, basil and oregano and cook for another minute or so before gently adding the chickpeas. Turn heat to low, cover, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the rest of the sauce is ready.
In a high speed blender, combine the tofu, cashews, miso and soymilk. Blend until perfectly smooth. Pour the mixture into the pot with the rest of the sauce, and stir to coat all the veggies and incorporate the eggplant.
For quick pasta: Ladle the warm sauce over the pasta on a plate and sprinkle with ground nuts.
For the Casserole: Turn the pasta into the pot as well, and stir to coat everything. Pour the pasta mixture into the greased casserole dish and sprinkle with the nuts. Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, until the top begins to brown. Scoop out onto serving plates, garnished with more chopped fresh parsley, if desired. Makes 6 servings. May be frozen.
Last Year at this Time: Flash in the Pan: Sautéed Greens with Onions and Apples
Two Years Ago: Smooth Operator (Mystery Smoothie)
© 2010 Diet, Dessert and Dogs