In preparation for my mom's 55th birthday bash on December 4th, I've been sifting through recipes from Maria Elia's cookbook, The Modern VEGETARIAN, gathering ingredients, and experimenting in the kitchen. While the birthday bash is not exclusively a vegetarian event, my step dad asked me to prepare a vegetarian main to offset the heartiness of the omnivorous dish he will be preparing and provide party goers with the option to choose. My step dad, whom I refer to as "pops," and my mom are the two people to which I owe all of my thankfulness. These two double-handedly taught me how to cook, demonstrated time-and-time again that cooking only yields delicious results if it is done with love, and explained that the purpose of cooking is not simply to eat, but to experience. Oh yes, and they also fed me like a princess for years and years.... and years. So thank you, mom and pops, for all that you have done and continue to do; you are both amazing. Okay, now back to the food.
During my first time flipping through the pages of The Modern Vegetarian, the recipe for Chile and Rosemary Mozzarella-Eggplant Parcels with Smokey Mash immediately stood out to me; rosemary, mozzarella, eggplant, and mashed potatoes with a kick of sassy spice? You're a mind-reader, new cook book. Many other recipes stood out, as well, but I decided this would be the first I would test as a possibility for the birthday party. The ingredients are simple and the dish is very straightforward to make; however, it is a bit more time-consuming than many of the recipes I have posted, so you may want to reserve this one for a special event. I made a few modifications to the original recipe and the result was fantastic. This dish has an amazing presentation and a rich flavor palate that will satisfy meat-lover and vegetarian alike. My favorite part was the smokey mash, which is a delectable combination of charred eggplant pureé, mashed potatoes, butter, and cream. The parcels are equally delicious, as they are coated with a garlic, rosemary, and red chile marinade and ooze warm mozzarella. This dish screams winter-wonderful and is definitely a keeper. I'm so excited to make this dish for my mom's party and even hoping to sway some of the "non-believers" into wholeheartedly believing that vegetarian food can be equally as satisfying as meat. This main paired fantastically with Quintay Pinot Noir from Chile, which can be purchased from your local Wine Discount Center.
Chile and Rosemary Mozzarella-Eggplant Parcels with Smokey Mash (Serves 4)
Modified from The Modern Vegetarian by Maria Elia
For the Eggplant and Mozzarella Parcels
2 large eggplants
6 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt and fresh black pepper
2 large garlic cloves, crushed with 1 tsp salt
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 red chiles, seeded and finely chopped
1 lb buffalo mozzarella
To make the parcels, slice the eggplant lengthwise into ¼-inch slices (8 slices in all), lightly brush each side with olive oil (about 2 tbsp total) and season with salt and pepper. Heat a griddle pan or skillet over medium heat and cook the eggplant slices in batches until they are golden and tender (about 2 minutes on each side). Transfer to a shallow dish.
Strip the leaves from the rosemary by running your fingers down the stem and chop very finely. Combine the chopped rosemary, crushed garlic, and red chile in a mortar and pestle and crush (if you don't have a mortar and pestle, lay the ingredients on a cutting board and smear together with the back side of a knife). Add the remaining 4 tbsp olive oil and mix well.
Pour the marinade over the cooked eggplant strips and spread evenly. Let marinate for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator. Remove the eggplants from the marinade and lay them flat on a work surface (reserve the marinade for serving).
Preheat broiler to high. Tear the mozzarella into 8 pieces and place one on the end of each eggplant slice. Roll-up to enclose (if you have rosemary sprigs leftover, you can secure the parcels with a sprig). Place the parcels on a baking sheet and broil until the cheese begins to melt (2-4 minutes). Pay close attention as the broiler can burn things quite quickly!
For the Smokey Eggplant Mash
2 medium eggplants
2 lbs russet potatoes
6 tablespoons butter, diced
½ cup heavy cream or milk
sea salt and fresh black pepper
To make the mash, prick the eggplants all over with a fork and char on a griddle pan or in a skillet over high heat, turning frequently (this is easier than it sounds, promise!), until blackened. Place the eggplants in a colander and let cool. Cut in half lengthwise and, using a spoon, scoop out and finely chop the flesh. Place in a bowl and set aside.
Peel the potatoes and cut into 1-inch pieces. Place the potatoes in a large pan, cover with water, add a pinch of sea salt, place over high heat, bring to a boil and cook until tender (if an inserted fork easily breaks a potato piece apart, you are good to go). Remove from heat and thoroughly drain the water from the potatoes; return to large pot. Add the butter and mash the potatoes (with a potato masher or hand-mixer) until lump-free. Pour in the cream and beat with a wooden spoon until soft and fluffy. Fold in the eggplant pulp, season with sea salt and fresh pepper.
Serve the eggplant parcels over the smokey mash (you can also add arugula leaves, as pictured) and drizzle with the reserved marinade. Savor and enjoy!