Who said Italian dinners leave you feeling heavy and bloated? This vegetarian dish still embraces the iconic Italian flavors of garlic, tomato, basil and balsamic vinegar, but skips the pasta. Instead, roasted eggplant steals the show, showcasing its ability to replace meat without sacrificing a savory umami flavor and meaty texture.
Preheat the the oven to 425 F. Score the eggplant, making diagonal slices in one direction, and repeating in a perpendicular direction, forming intact cubes (be careful not to run the knife all the way through the back of the eggplant). Season the flesh of the eggplant with salt and turn flesh side down on a paper towel. Allow to sit for about 5 minutes to draw out the water. Meanwhile, toast the nuts for 2-3 minutes over low heat. Set aside and allow to cool.
Gently squeeze the water out of the eggplant. Then, lightly coat the eggplant and cherry tomatoes with olive oil. Place the eggplant flesh-side down on a baking sheet, surrounded by the tomatoes. Roast for 10 minutes, or until the eggplant's flesh is tender.
Toss the quinoa or beans with 1 Tbsp olive oil, lemon juice + zest, salt, pepper and garlic. After the eggplant has baked for 10 minutes, remove and flip flesh-side up on the baking sheet. Give the tomatoes a toss. Spoon the quinoa (or bean) mixture on top of the eggplant, and return to the oven, for another 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the balsamic vinegar in a small sauce pan, allowing to simmer on low until it reduces to a thick, syrupy consistency (about 5-10 minutes).
Remove the eggplant and tomatoes from the oven. Using a spatula, scoop the blistered cherry tomatoes and arrange on top of the eggplant. Drop small dollops of ricotta on top of the eggplant, along with the toasted nuts, and fresh basil. Drizzle the balsamic reduction on top, and lightly sprinkle with a flakes of crushed red chile pepper. Enjoy!
Lindsey Kane is a Registered Dietitian in Philadelphia. For more nutrition tips and recipes, visit her blog at biteforchange.com.