Italian food is so dear to my heart. I love the taste and flavours but mostly I love the stories, memories and family comforts it brings. I grew up with my Nonnas cooking the Italian favourites whenever we would go to visit and as I get older the nostalgia becomes so much more important. It resonates with more than just eating, if you have ever had the pleasure of eating at an Italian family feast you will know exactly what I mean.
I love the fact that food brings life around the table and Italian food is the epitome of this. The love and time that is put into cooking and serving the most satisfying plate of pure home cooked food is evident with the smiles and loud chatter that evolves just by enjoying this type of food.
One of my all time meals I enjoy besides spaghetti and home-made sauce is Stuffed Eggplants aka Melanzane Ripiene. Tradionally this Calabrese dish is stuffed with the eggplant flesh mixed with breadcrumbs, egg and cheese. You can also make it stuffed with meat but this peasant dish originated as a cheap meal using up household stables such as stale bread and minimal cheap ingredients. Over time meat was more affordable so it quickly became a favourite filling alternative.
I don’t eat a lot of red meat these days due to the way in which beef is breed and what hormones are added to them. Also for sustainability the demand is impacting the way the industry is being forced to breed their animals which is becoming a harmful way for not just the animals but also for us as consumers. In saying this when I do eat it on occasion I buy organic grass-fed meat. Bred on only organic grass not refined corn grain with added hormones and antibiotics. It is a little more costly but I figure if you eat less and buy better quality you are paying the same with a better health benefit.
I made this traditional eggplant recipe with organic beef mince with a few quirks. I added some baby spinach for extra veggie goodness and also used the eggplant filling with a few other ingredients and made this gluten-free using no breadcrumbs. You can always replace the beef with lentils for a vegetarian option.
Italian Stuffed Eggplants
2 large eggplants
500g organic grass-fed beef mince or 1 can lentils, drained
1 tbsp EV olive oil
2 garlic cloves crushed
1 700ml jar tomato passata sauce
3 cups baby spinach leaves
handful basil leaves, finely chopped
handful Italian parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper
1 cup pecorino cheese or parmesan, finely grated
1 cup almond meal (GF) or breadcrumbs
- Preheat oven to 200’C
- Reserving 1/2 cup of passata sauce pour the remaining in the base of a large baking dish
- Slice eggplants in half lengthways, scoop out the flesh of the eggplants leaving a 1cm boarder around each half. Roughly dice eggplant flesh and set a side
- Heat oil in a large frypan add garlic saute for 1-2 mins. Add mince and eggplant flesh to the pan and cook for 3-4 mins until meat is browned and eggplant has softened
- Add reserved passata sauce, baby spinach, basil, parsley and season with salt and pepper and sliced chilli (optional) stir to combine. Turn heat to med/low and simmer for 5 mins
- Once sauce has thickened take of the heat leaving it to cool slightly
- In a large bowl add grated cheese, egg and almond meal. Add the mince mixture and combine all ingredients together
- Lightly salt the eggplant cases then fill with the filling
- Place each filled eggplant into the baking dish, cover with foil and cook in the oven for 45mins
- Remove foil and cook for a further 10-15mins until eggplant is cooked through and filling has browned
- Serve with tomato sauce and a side salad