Layered eggplant and spinach Parmesan is a veggie-filled, make-ahead meal. Photo by: Melissa d'Arabian via AP
November 8, 2017 10:49:20 AM
Make-ahead meals and cooking for the freezer, once relegated to suburban supermoms who had it more together than the rest of us, are now trendy with the healthy-eating crowd.
Sure, we call it "meal prep" but it's pretty much the same thing: Make good food in advance, so that we can eat it sometime in the future. In the past, this was primarily to save meal-planning stress, dishwashing time and money. Now, we are recognizing another implicit benefit: We are more likely to make healthy food choices if something tasty and nutritious is already prepared.
Cook once but eat twice has long been the battle cry of the make-ahead meal, with Italian comfort foods such as lasagna and eggplant parmesan perhaps being the poster-children of this eat-one-freeze-one movement. So I overhauled these Italian casseroles into my eggplant and spinach Parmesan, a healthier veggie-filled version that are actually quite easy to pull together, and freeze beautifully.
To make my healthy tweaks, I focused on an eggplant Parmesan dish, simply because I felt the pasta would be missed less. The eggplant, usually breaded and fried, was simply seasoned and roasted, and no one in my family missed the extra breadcrumbs or oil. I added in baby spinach, which contributed nutrients but also a nice layered lasagna-like element to the dish.
Without actual pasta, though, I knew I needed to keep some serious cheese. Using part-skim ricotta as the main component worked well, and I boosted the flavor with just a little bit of nutty Parmesan, and a reasonable quantity of mozzarella for melty-stretchy goodness. Luckily, marinara needs no makeover, as long as you buy or make one without extra sugar or preservatives. My version is vegetarian, but feel free to add a pound of lean browned ground turkey or beef if you want.
The recipe makes enough for eight, so a small family can freeze half for a second meal, or divide up leftovers into individual servings for DIY single-serving frozen meals. You can also double the recipe and really load up that freezer. I buy a bunch of foil baking pans at a warehouse store, because just seeing a stack of those pans in my cupboard inspires me to cook double and stock up the freezer.
EGGPLANT AND SPINACH PARMESAN
Start to finish: 1 1/2 hours
2 medium eggplants, about 1 1/2-2 pounds total
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
olive oil mister (or nonstick spray)
1 15-ounce container part-skim ricotta cheese
1 egg white
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons dried Italian herb seasoning
5 cups baby spinach
1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese plus 1/4 cup additional for topping
4 cups prepared marinara sauce (no sugar added)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Chef's tip: The dish will firm up as it cools, if you are trying to cut neater squares.
Nutrition information per serving: 236 calories; 99 calories from fat; 11 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 28 mg cholesterol; 855 mg sodium; 19 g carbohydrate; 6 g fiber; 9 g sugar; 16 g protein.