eggplant ragu... on soft polenta.
I teach cooking classes at a nearby cooking school. It isn't uncommon to have class participants who are vegetarian, gluten-free and/or have food allergies or restrictions. Offering substitutes or alternative dishes---aka accommodating those needs---is part and parcel to being a chef.
Sometimes during an iron chef event, we have a whole team dubbed 'vegetarian.' For example: a group of 60 might be participating in an iron chef event---each team of 10 is led by a chef. Teams are given a protein to work with (chicken, shrimp, steak etc.), and we help them craft and deliver a menu, complete with entree, two sides and a dessert. It is a scream: whisks fly, saute pans sizzle, hot trays are ushered from the oven through crowds of people, and knives chop chop chop on multiple butcher blocks. I love corralling a team to success, teaching them cooking tricks and short-cuts---racing against other teams and the clock---and helping them present a gorgeous plate of food to the judges.
Eggplant ragu on polenta is one great option for a 'vegetarian' team (it also makes a brilliant side to a chicken entree if I am manning the 'chicken' team!). It is quintessential comfort food.
Here is the recipe for polenta.
Eggplant Ragu serves 4-6.
2 large eggplant 3 shallots (enough for 1/3 cup minced) olive oil 6 Roma tomatoes (or equivalent) head of garlic (peeled and minced, enough for 3 T garlic) S&P balsamic vinegar (or balsamic glaze---a thickened version of balsamic you can buy to squirt on your sandwiches and/or make your own by simmering balsamic vinegar until reduced by 2/3). large handful fresh basil
Dice eggplant into 1/4 inch dice. Do the same with the tomatoes, and mince your garlic and shallots. Heat pan to just below medium, add 1/4 cup olive oil, shallots and eggplant. Stir occasionally, and add more olive oil if you need to. After 5 minutes, add garlic (lower heat or add oil if need be, you want to caramelize not brown the garlic). Give good grinds of salt and pepper. Stir occasionally. After 5 minutes add tomatoes. Move heat to just above low and let simmer for 20-30 minutes. Add balsamic for the last 5 minutes. In the last 2-3 minutes add chopped basil to taste. Serve on top of soft, warm polenta.