Meatless Mains in the New Year

By CINDY COOPWOOD    Photography by RORY DOYLE

When it comes to wintertime meals, comfort foods top the list. But sometimes the old standbys leave you feeling somewhat overstuffed. Keep things a little lighter this year, by rotating meatless main dishes into your meal plan. Try these easy, homemade, main dishes that deliver all the flavor and presentation but without any meat, which is also more cost effective. Plus, most of these recipes come together in about half an hour and are made with pantry staples and produce that is readily available. And we promise—these are sure to please the pickiest of carnivores.

Spaghetti with Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Sauce

     This dish comes together quickly and is so hearty your family will not miss the ground beef! If you want to add more veggies, it’s equally delicious over zucchini noodles.

1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds canned stewed tomatoes in juice
2 pounds eggplant, diced into ½-inch cubes
1 pound spaghetti

     Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan.  Add the onion and the garlic and saute over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened. Add the tomatoes with the juice, and simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, or until it is thickened.

     While the sauce is simmering, divide the diced eggplant evenly between 2 sheet pans and drizzle it with the remaining 4 tablespoons oil. Bake the eggplant on the upper and lower racks of a preheated 400 degree oven for 10 minutes, stir it and switch the pan positions in the oven. Bake the eggplant for about 10 minutes more, or until it is very tender and golden. Stir it into the sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste.

     Boil the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water until it is al dente; drain well. To serve divide the spaghetti among dinner plates, spoon the sauce over the pasta, and top with freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese.

Serves 4 to 6

Gnocchi with Crispy Brussels Sprouts and Browned Butter

     Browned butter makes every dish more special and this one is no exception. We love the unexpected combination of gnocchi and brussels sprouts!

1 onion, chopped
¼ cup olive oil
1 lb brussels sprouts
salt and pepper, to taste
½ teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
18-ounce package of gnocchi
4 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon honey
shaved parmesan cheese, for serving

     Clean and trim the brussels sprouts, slicing into halves, or quarters if they’re large.

     Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add brussels sprouts in an even layer, season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle over lemon zest and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until sprouts are crispy and golden brown. If desired, add the red pepper flakes and stir in,  cook a couple more minutes until sprouts are crisp and tender.

     Transfer to a plate or bowl while you cook the gnocchi.

     Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to a skillet over medium-high heat. Break up any gnocchi that are stuck together, add them to the pan and cook in an even layer without stirring, 3 to 4 minutes or golden brown underneath.

     Add butter and season with salt and pepper. Cook until butter has melted and starts to turn golden brown and nutty smelling, this can take several minutes. Watch close so as not to burn the butter!

     Stir the brussels sprouts back in and cook just until warmed through. Remove from heat and serve with Parmesan cheese.

Creamy Polenta with Sauteed Herbed Mushrooms

     Cozy, filling, and oh so delicious…the meaty mushrooms make this such a satisfying main dish.

½ cup basil pesto 
3 tablespoons olive oil 
2 sprigs fresh rosemary 
1 tablespoon chopped shallots 
1 cup baby Bella mushrooms, stemmed and sliced

1 cup white mushrooms, sliced
½ cup white wine 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper 
cup chopped parsley leaves, for garnish 

Polenta

4 tablespoons olive oil 
½ cup chopped onion 
1 tablespoon minced garlic 
32 ounces chicken stock 
¼ cup chopped fresh oregano 
¼ cup chopped fresh basil 
16 ounces instant polenta 
½ pint heavy cream 
1 cup grated mozzarella

Salt and freshly ground black pepper 
½ cup grated Parmesan 

     Mushrooms: Heat the olive oil in a skillet to medium-high. When the olive oil is hot add the 2 sprigs of rosemary and cook for 2 minutes. Remove the rosemary and add the shallots.  

     Cook the shallots until softened, about 4 minutes, then add the mushrooms and saute until they release their liquid, about 8 minutes. Stir in the white wine bring to a simmer about 3 minutes.  

     Add ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of black pepper and simmer for 3 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to a serving bowl and garnish with chopped parsley.  

     Polenta: Heat the olive oil in saucepan to medium-high. When the oil is hot add the onions and saute for 5 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and cook for about 3 minutes, being careful not to burn. Stir in the chicken stock and bring to boil, then add the oregano and basil. Slowly pour in the polenta stirring constantly until the polenta thickens. Stir in the heavy cream mozzarella and parmesan and mix until you have a smooth and creamy texture. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Transfer the polenta to a serving dish, topping with warm mushrooms, and garnish with more Parmesan and chives, if desired, or may be served individually.

Easy Spinach and Ravioli Lasagna

     This one has been around a while, but with simple ingredients to keep on hand, it’ll soon become a family favorite for quick weeknight meals.

16-ounce bag fresh baby spinach leaves, chopped 
½ cup basil pesto 
1 15-ounce jar Alfredo pasta sauce 
¼ cup vegetable or chicken broth 
1 25-ounce package frozen cheese-filled ravioli (keep frozen) 
1½ cup shredded Mozzarella cheese

     Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 11×7-inch glass baking dish with cooking spray. 

     In medium bowl, toss spinach and pesto, reserving a tablespoon of pesto. In another bowl, mix Alfredo sauce remaining pesto and broth. Spread about ½ a cup of the sauce mixture into baking dish. Top with half of spinach mixture, then arrange half of ravioli in single layer over spinach mixture. Repeat layers, ending with with spreading the remaining sauce mixture on top. Bake uncovered 30 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake 5 to 7 minutes longer or until bubbly and beginning to brown. 

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