Dinner in a Jewelry Box

By Christiana Langenberg

Winter brings out the desire for comfort food in most of us. We wake up for work or school in the dark and get home in the dark, spending our day time hours looking for or looking forward to large bowls of warm, preferably creamy and filling main dishes like mac n cheese, spaghetti, mashed potatoes, chili. While it’s true that those staples are hard to improve upon stand-bys, it’s also true that if we’re not burning calories shoveling snow or cross-country skiing every day, we could all probably stand to step back from the caloric content of most of our go-to comfort foods while we’re cozied up on the couch with Neflix and/or hours with a good book…or online shopping.

So how to shift things up to satisfy our inner hibernation desires and at the same time include healthier take-offs? Why play with your food, of course. I’m a huge fan of intriguing children and adults alike with entrees such as Mollie Katzen’s classic and timeless Enchanted Broccoli Forest, which is naturally gluten-free. It’s easy to make and really does look like a dollhouse-sized broccoli forest.

You can also order some Fred & Friends face plates at this link and practice portion control at the same time that you’re letting your inner artist have a hay day with, say, a sauted chard hairdo?

Let me just say, the Ms. Food Face plate is coveted by all at our house.

Since we eat with our eyes as much as our appetites (as in this post on the Luke’s Organic Facebook page) why not use the housebound days of winter to see your meals as blank canvases and your ingredients as color palettes? :^)

At the end of the summer, I try to use weekends to “put up” foods for easier meal preparations during fall and winter at the same time that I’m also looking to keep all the produce in the garden from spoiling. While it’s not difficult to thinly slice and roast a pile of eggplants, it does take a little time. When you need those prepared eggplant slices a few months later, though, you’ll have forgotten all about the time spent in that previous step. If you don’t have ziplocks full of sliced, roasted eggplant in your freezer, here’s what you do instead: slice 3-6 eggplants lengthwise at about ¼” thick.

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Brush a cookie sheet with olive oil and place the slices on it side by side, taking up the whole sheet. Roast at 425 degrees until golden brown. Depending on your oven, you may need to switch upper and lower trays or flip the slices over.

Now you’re ready to put together this delicious and gorgeous entrée to wow friends, family, or maybe just yourself.

Jewelry Box Eggplant Pasta
(gluten free and vegan-friendly)

  • roasted cooled eggplant slices from 3-4 eggplants
  • 2 15-oz cans organic crushed tomatoes (like Muir Glen fire-roasted)
  • 3-6 cloves fresh garlic, crushed
  • 3-4 tsp. dried oregano
  • 3-5 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 oz provolone or mozzarella shredded cheese or vegan substitute (Daiya or Go Veggie!)
  • 8 oz brown rice spaghetti
  • ½ lb. fresh or frozen peas (defrosted), optional
  • ½ lb. cooked, cooled sausage or vegan meat crumbles
  • an 8-10” spring form pan

Have your eggplant slices ready or defrosted if you’ve made them previously. Cook the pasta according to directions. Meanwhile, in a bowl, pour in 1 and a half cans of the crushed tomatoes, 3-5 T of the olive oil (to your personal preference), the crushed garlic and oregano and stir. When the pasta is cooked, drain it (do not rinse) and toss it with the tomato mixture. Stir in the peas and/or meat crumbles (if desired).

For assembly: lay the eggplant slices to along the bottom and up the sides of the spring form pan, overlapping as needed. Carefully spoon the pasta mixture into the eggplant “casing,” layering the cheese in as you go.

When all the pasta is in, sprinkle with more cheese and top with remaining eggplant slices, pressing down slightly. When it’s all encased in the eggplant slices, brush the top with olive oil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes until heated through. Let rest 10 minutes before slicing into wedges. This is one of those dishes that’s even better the next day…when you open up your lunch box to reveal this gem. :^)