Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valentine's Day Dinner- Italian, Vegetarian, & Gluten-Free

When thinking of what to make for Valentine's Day dinner I thought of one of my favorite Italian recipes, Vegetable Parmesan. It's almost like a vegetarian lasagna, without noodles. It consists of layers of vegetables, mozzarella cheese, and pasta sauce. I've made this recipe several times before; each time it has varied slightly. Sometimes I've had fresh mozzarella on the top with shredded mozzarella sprinkled throughout the layers, and another time I added mushrooms to a layer. Although I've played around with a few ingredients, the important ones have stayed the same. Eggplant is the heart of this dish. It adds a meaty, earthy, richness. Zucchini adds a light, tender texture. Of course a good marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, and Parmesan are necessary to complete this dish. This meal is never a let-down, no matter what vegetables I use. It's a great way to get kids to eat their vegetables, and to have a vegetarian night. Play around with this dish. I've thought about replacing the crunchy, sweet fennel with vibrant, crisp bell peppers, or adding ground beef or sausage to the sauce to make it even more filling. No matter which ingredients you choose, it is a heartwarming, romantic meal that is perfect for Valentine's Day!

Even though this dinner is meatless I used my Marinade Express to help me prep the ingredients. The Marinade Express does a fantastic job of removing pesticides and chemicals from vegetables so you can feel good about what you're putting into your body. I placed the eggplant on one side of the dividers, and the zucchini on the other side of the dividers so I got the vegetables washed at the same time, in one cycle. I used the vegetable MX seasoning and let them rotate for 5 minutes. When they're done simply remove the vegetables and pat dry. Talk about a time saver!

I recommend this dish with a glass of good red wine, especially if you're celebrating Valentine's Day! Enjoy!

Vegetable Parmesan:
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis, Food Network

Prep time: 20 Minutes
Cook time: 30-35 Minutes

1 large eggplant, sliced into rounds
1 large fennel bulb, top cut off, root cut into slices
1 large zucchini, sliced into rounds
2-3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese or 1 ball fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into slices
Fresh grated Parmesan cheese
2   8 oz jars of good marina sauce, flavored to your taste (I like Classico brand. Its fresh ingredients make the difference in taste).
A handful of breadcrumbs (optional). Use brown rice crumbs for gluten-free eating.
3-4 Tablespoon of grape seed oil
Salt and Pepper

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees and also heat an electric grill or a saute pan.
2) Begin by slicing the eggplant, brush it with grape seed oil and salt and pepper. Grill or saute the eggplant on both sides until it has cooked thoroughly.
3) Cut off the green part of the fennel and discard. Peel off the first layer of the fennel root. Slice the fennel root lengthwise. Brush on oil and salt and pepper, grill or saute until tender. Repeat the same process for the zucchini.
4) As each vegetable has finished grilling layer it in a deep casserole dish: start with a layer of marinara sauce directly in the pan. Next, layer the grilled eggplant slices, top with a layer of marinara, mozzarella cheese, and Parmesan cheese. The fennel is the next layer, followed by sauce and cheeses. The final layer is the zucchini, followed by sauce and cheeses.
5) Top the Vegetable Parmesan with a handful of breadcrumbs and drizzle with oil. This helps to create a brown, crunchy crust.
6) Place in oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the top layer is a golden brown. Let rest for 10 minutes, slice and serve.