Rain has a very calming effect on me. Since it rains almost every day in Seattle, I’m pretty subdued here. The coolest coastal days also leave me searching for comfort foods. Soup, rice dishes, and Italian are my coveted choices in fare. They’re my own little hot pockets of coziness. I’ve been on this wheat-free kick, and even went thirty days without recently. I have tried a few coconut flours, a few almond flours, you name it. I’ve been on a nutty craze lately, and I’ve fallen for blanched almond flour – but that’s for another day. Many gluten-free experiments were tried, and a few have been identified as doted on repeats. Heidi’s soup was one of them – a perfect fix for a cool, cloudy evening. This cannelloni has been another hit multiple times already. My version uses ground walnuts and not a drop of wheat. I know, I know, eggplant is a summer entree. This can be your *save the date*.
I bought some out-of-season eggplant. Yes, it’s a shameful confession. You know what? I buy stuff out of season more than I should. I am a definite proponent of locally grown food. It helps everyone and it tastes better. I buy a lot of local food, but I also take advantage of conveniences 2011 lends us, right or wrong. It’s fun to live vicariously through off-the-grid families, but I like my Saigon cinnamon and my coconut oil. Perfect is nowhere near my day-to-day happenings. I just really wanted some spring eggplant. I love well-prepared eggplant and it solved my wheat-free Italian quandary.
These two were organically grown in Mexico, and well, I found them at Whole Foods. And, they were delicious. I coated them in ground walnuts, fried them and stuffed them with a spinach ricotta mixture. Topped with a dollop of easy tomato sauce, the dish is a delicious, nutty, crispy and gluten-free alternative to eggplant parmesan (where I coat with breadcrumbs). It’s warm, melty, filling and an ultimate in edible solace.
Eggplant will likely be in season between July and October in the states. If you find it sooner, I recommend this pronto. I plan to make it again this week, pending I can find good eggplant again. It’s one of my husband’s favorites and in celebration of his second-to-none fathering skills, I’d like to bake up a batch this week. This recipe takes some decent prep time, so I like to get the rolls ready ahead of time, pop them in the refrigerator for the day (or night) then bake them up. Allow at least an hour of prep time prior to baking time. Happy Day of Fathers to all of you lovely Daddies, in whichever capacity(ies) you are “Dad”.
*Preparation shortcuts: Keep prep time to an hour max by skipping the toasting of the walnuts. I did last week with splendid results. I also skipped the cremini mushrooms, and instead increased the parmesan cheese to a heaping 1/4 cup. I will always keep the parmesan kicked up – it made this even better. I didn’t have any basil for the most recent batch… didn’t miss it. The parmesan, spinach, cheesy and nutty goodness visits me in my dreams, even without basil.
Walnut Crusted Eggplant “Cannelloni” Recipe
2 eggplants (or 1 1/2 pounds), sliced lengthwise, think pickle slice thickness (~ 1/4 inch thick) AND pre-baked* at 325 degrees F for 15 minutes
2 cups crushed lightly toasted walnut meal (recipe* below)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2-3 egg whites or 1 egg, beaten (in medium bowl)
Olive oil for frying
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
3/4 cup mozzerella cheese, freshly shredded with grater
3 tablespoons parmesan cheese, grated
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup fresh spinach leaves, chopped
1 pound cremini mushrooms, sauteed** (optional)
4-5 basil leaves, chopped (optional)
Easy tomato sauce:
1 large can of whole, peeled tomatoes (I prefer salted with basil), drained then thickly pureed
Dash of sea salt
Generous splash of extra virgin olive oil (I like about 3 tablespoons per 15 ounce can of tomatoes)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a 13 x 9 inch baking dish with olive oil. Combine the filling ingredients in a bowl and set aside. Dredge the pre-baked eggplant slices through the beaten egg, then in the salted walnut/almond meal to evenly coat both sides. In a medium-heated skillet generously glazed with olive oil, cook the sliced and coated eggplant. Cook each side for 6-8 minutes, cooking the eggplant and browning the walnut meal. Do this in batches and set eggplant slices aside on parchment paper or large plate. Scoop a dollop of the filling mixture onto one end of each eggplant slice, then roll up. Arrange the rolls seam side down in the (lightly oiled) baking dish. Cover the dish and bake at 400 degrees F for 25-30 minutes. Serve each roll with a heaping spoon of tomato sauce on top.
*Easy Walnut Meal Recipe:
In a blender (or magic bullet type processor), pulse 3 cups cooled, lightly toasted*** walnuts until ground, but be careful not to make walnut butter! Check constantly and pulse for 2-3 seconds at a time. You could also do a blend of half walnuts and half almonds for the nutty meal. The nutty meal needs to be dry, so if pulsed too long, it will not work. Mix 1/4 teaspoon sea salt into ground walnut meal.
***Lightly Toasted Walnut Recipe:
Bake 3 cups walnuts at 350 degrees for 5-10 minutes, checking every minute beyond 5 minutes. (You could also toast in a skillet over medium heat for about 5 minutes.) You want them slightly fragrant and golden, and they burn easily. Allow to cool before pulsing into walnut meal.
**Sauteed Cremini Mushrooms Recipe:
In skillet with a tablespoon of butter over low-medium heat, sautee 1 pound mushrooms until color deepens and mushrooms shrink up a bit, about 5-7 minutes for nutty flavor.
*Pre-Baking the Eggplant Slices:
Yes, you could skip this step. I have. But, your eggplant will have a more palatable and tender texture if you pre-bake it before coating and frying it. It is an important step, on my watch. Just spread your slices on a parchment paper-covered baking sheet and bake at 325 degrees F for 15-16 minutes. Then dig into the rest of the fun.