Stuffed Shells and Eggplant Parmigiana

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Eating vegetarian doesn’t always have to suck, especially now that innumerable restaurants offer delectable options that showcase a broader range of vegetables, spices, and grains that weren’t always popular. When it came to eating on-campus in college or at certain restaurants, I was once limited to bland cheese pizza, baked ziti that clumped like cheap mascara, and the ever-popular spaghetti with marinara sauce, sans meatballs. I always wondered why the fettuccine alfredo served with chicken or shrimp would be tastefully seasoned, but the same dish, ordered meatless, would be limp and suffocated in its own sauce. Leaving the meat out doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice taste!

Here are two simple, no-sweat recipes for delicious Italian dishes to enjoy at home. The best part? Like many classic Italian dishes, this will make enough for you to share with family and friends – or, prepare to be ahead of the game when you realize you made lunch for the rest of the week in one go. The ingredients for both dishes are conveniently similar, so you can even change your mind at the last moment, or make a little of each to sample.

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Stuff-Your-Face-With Shells

Ingredients
1 box of large pasta shells (ready-to-boil) (contains approximately 30 shells)
1 24 ounce container of part-skim ricotta cheese
1 16 ounce bag of shredded mozzarella cheese
1 canister of parmesan cheese
2-3 tablespoons of oregano
2-3 tablespoons of basil
2 eggs
1 can of tomato sauce

Instructions
In a large pot, bring water to a rolling boil and add the pasta shells, which take approximately 15-20 minutes to cook.

While the shells are cooking, prepare the… wait for it… LEG-EN-DAIRY filling, comprised of three classic Italian cheeses. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ricotta with about 1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese, and about 4-5 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese. Shake in the oregano or basil, or if you prefer, cut the fresh herbs very thinly and add them to the mixture. Beat the two eggs into the filling, and stir until the filling becomes the consistency of marscapone (sadly, this cheese is not in this recipe, but think cannoli fillings).

After the shells are tenderly cooked – but not soggy and limp – remove them from the heat and drain the water from the pot. Now begins the process of individually stuffing the shells. Using a tablespoon, insert the filling into each shell, and place in an oven-safe large casserole dish or baking pan, making sure to coat the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of tomato sauce.

Continue until all of the filling has been used. Spread the remaining tomato sauce evenly over the shells, and top with mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Bake the shells at 350 degrees for approximately 25 minutes, ensuring that they are fully cooked, but not too crispy.

Egg-cellent Eggplant Parmigiana

Ingredients
1 large purple eggplant
1 canister of Progresso Italian-Style breadcrumbs
1 12 ounce container of part-skim ricotta cheese (if desired)
1 16 ounce bag of shredded mozzarella cheese
1 canister of parmesan cheese
1-2 tablespoons of oregano
1-2 tablespoons of basil
2 eggs
1 can of tomato sauce
1 box of whole-wheat penne, or other pasta
1 bottle of olive oil

Instructions
Prepare the eggplant for this meal by rinsing and slicing it completely into stacking, circular pieces. In a separate bowl, beat two eggs. Combine 2-3 cups of Progresso Italian-Style breadcrumbs (add more as needed) and 5-6 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese on a separate plate.

Dip the eggplant slices in the egg to completely coat them and ensure that the breadcrumbs will stick. After the eggplant has been coated in breadcrumbs, place in a large saucepan with a thin layer of olive oil and bring up to a steady level of heat. The eggplant will be ready to remove from the pan once the coating is a crisp golden brown, and the vegetable itself has a softer texture.

Place the eggplant slices in a large oven-safe casserole dish or baking pan coated with a thin layer of tomato sauce, and spread the remaining tomato sauce evenly over the slices. Top with mozzarella cheese and bake at 350 degrees for approximately ten minutes, to melt the cheese and heat the sauce.

While the eggplant is baking, boil water in a small pot and cook 2-3 cups of penne pasta until tender. Strain and serve the pasta with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese, with the eggplant slices on the top or on the side.

 Post, Recipe, and Photos by Stephanie Cohen. 

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