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Monday, March 26, 2012

(Slow Cooker) Penne with Eggplant-Tomato Sauce

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Two weeks ago, I ran a trail half marathon. This was the first race I'd done since the Chicago Marathon in 2010 (not counting my favorite RAGNAR relays). Much as I love to run, I don't race very often. My reluctance to race stems from a few different reasons. I don't like to pay to run when I can do it for free as much as I want (though I do like the "free" tshirt!). I don't like anyone to tell me how fast or how far to run on any given day. It's why I never ran cross country in high school despite being asked to year after year. Honestly though, another reason I don't race is my own dang fear. I'm a bit of an overachiever and races intimidate me because I put so much pressure on myself to perform well....which leads to running not being fun...and my number one reason for running is because I find it fun.

Sometimes you have to challenge yourself, or so I decided, and then signed up for the Quivering Quads Half Marathon. I'd never before run trails and I hadn't run a half marathon in over five years, but suddenly I found myself an hour and a half outside of St. Louis, listening to the runners (all super hardcore looking, might I add!) around me reminiscing about their tumbles in previous years and fording waist-deep streams. Within minutes, I'd completely psyched myself out. I pictured myself with scraped and bloody knees, floating down some river. Thankfully my number one cheerleader (Ryan) was there to pump me up and promise me I wouldn't come in last.
Turns out he was right. I didn't come in last, nor did I fall (my biggest accomplishment of the day)! The 13.1 miles were intensely challenging--rocky terrain and hill after hill after hill, but nothing I couldn't handle. Once I got out there, I took all pressure off of myself and decided to just enjoy the challenge. In the end, I finished 4th in my age group, 14th woman overall, and left the race feeling pretty hardcore (mind you, this was a small race...about 400 people). Sometimes it's good to do things that scare you.
What does all of that have to do with this pasta dish? This was my carbo-loading the night before. Although pasta has long been touted as a pre-run meal, vegetables aren't always recommended because of their high fiber content. Marathon training taught me my stomach could handle vegetables the night before so I knew I'd be alright. Runner or not, this is a pasta dish worth trying! The sauce can be made in the crockpot; I spent a few minutes chopping ingredients that morning and had dinner pretty much ready hours before we ate....nice for a busy Saturday. Eggplant haters need not worry, I felt like all of the vegetable flavors meshed together well and the eggplant wasn't all that noticeable. I will say that the sauce itself is pretty basic. I recommend adding some Italian seasoning or red pepper flakes to jazz it up a bit

When's the last time you faced a fear?

One Year Ago: No Bake Banana Split Pie
Two Years Ago: Moroccan Carrot Sandwiches

Slow Cooker Penne with Eggplant-Tomato Sauce
from All You Magazine, October 2011

-2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
-1 small onion, finely chopped
-1 rib celery, finely chopped
-1 carrot, finely chopped (I subbed a yellow bell pepper)
-1 clove garlic, minced
-1 medium eggplant, peeled, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
-10 oz mushrooms, chopped
-1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
-1 pound whole-wheat penne
-1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
-grated Parmesan, for serving

1. Add butter, onion, celery, carrot, and garlic to a slow cooker. Add eggplant, mushrooms, and 1 tsp salt. Stir in tomatoes. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6 hours. Stir once or twice while cooking.
2. Just before serving, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook penne just until tender (about 10 minutes). Drain pasta, toss with sauce, and sprinkle with basil and grated Parmesan before serving.