Sunday, May 20, 2012

Eggplant Lasagna

I always have a hard time knowing how to start a post about food because I always have about a million thoughts surrounding one recipe but I promise to try to make them coherent.  Oh, and my new goal is to post one recipe a week.  I think this is a doable, not-too-stressful approach to the food blog scene so we'll see.  Stay tuned to see if I can keep my word.

ANYWAY, to coherent thoughts!

Ok, so a few weeks ago a friend told me that she was thinking about joining a CSA (rant on CSA to come) and that part of the shares would include eggplant.  She then said that she didn't have a whole lot of experience cooking with eggplant and was wondering what she might make with it.

This comment stuck with me and reminded me that I hadn't cooked with eggplant in a while.  Challenge formed.  I know that eggplant is not uncommon in Italian cooking and one thought led to another, long story short, I bring you Eggplant Lasagna.  In this version we use the eggplant instead of pasta sheets.  It's pretty cool.

This was actually a great clean-out-your-fridge dish.  I think I might start a series of recipes called "Clean Out Your Fridge" since I seem to go to them quite often.  Anyway, I didn't have any meat in the house so I decided this was going to be a hearty vegetarian dish.  I love it when dishes are so deliciously hearty and vegetarian that they make you forget that there isn't any meat in there.  That being said, if you rather do a traditional meat sauce for this, then by all means.

A few words on eggplant.

Eggplant can be a bit bitter so it's best to salt it and let it sit for about half an hour to get rid of some of the bitterness.   I used a common  large purple eggplant for this dish but I'm sure others would be just fine.  Just remember that size matters so you're not layering your lasagna for years.

Also, interestingly enough, eggplant is a source of potassium and folic acid as well as nicotine.  It's a close cousin of the tobacco plant and has the highest nicotine concentration of any of the edible plants.  Don't worry, it's takes A LOT of eggplants to equal the nicotine content of a cigarette.  

Lastly, because there are only two and a half of us around, I decided that this recipe would make two small lasagnas and that I would freeze one.  Freezing is easy, I just layered my lasagna, let it cool completely, then covered it very very well with plastic wrap and then covered it with aluminum paper and stuck it in the freezer.  If you want, you can just make a normal 13x9 size lasagna but you might have left over ingredients.

Ok, let's get started.
This picture really doesn't do it justice.  Anyone want to be my photographer?  I'll pay in food.

Eggplant Lasagna
Makes 2 small lasagnas

2 large purple eggplants
olive oil
1 small onion, diced
4 carrots, diced
2 colorful bell peppers, diced
4 cremini mushrooms, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1 24oz jar of plain tomato pasta sauce
2 15oz jars or whole milk ricotta
3 large eggs
shredded mozzarella, optional
basil leaves, optional
salt and pepper to taste

Special Equipment:
2 -2.2 quart baking dishes (about 8x12) or
2- 8x8 baking dishes or combination of both

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
1. Begin my slicing your eggplant into thin slices lengthwise, about 1/4 of an inch.  I found this to be easiest by cutting off both ends of the eggplant, standing it up, then slicing downward (I'm sorry, I also wish I had taken a picture).  Dice up the bottom end of the eggplant and put it to the side with the rest of the veggies.
2.  Place your eggplants in a single layer on a cookie sheet or cutting board and moderately salt.  Then leave them there while you prepare the rest of the dish.  Don't worry, they'll turn a little brown but still taste fine.
3. In a large pan (I used a 12 inch) place enough olive oil to lightly cover the pan, about 4 Tablespoons.  Heat for a few minutes over medium-high heat and add the onions.
4. Once the onions a bit soft, about 3-5 minutes, add the carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes and extra eggplant and sprinkle with salt.  Cook until veggies start to soften about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 min.
5.  Add the pasta sauce and turn the heat down to medium-low.  Cook for about 10min giving the veggies a stir every so often.
6.  Meanwhile, put the ricotta in a medium bowl, add the eggs and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.  Beat the ricotta mixture until smooth.
7. You are now ready to assemble! Before you start piling on delicious layer after layer, make sure that the saltiness of the sauce is satisfactory to you.  This is also a good time to add the basil leaves to the sauce - just tear them with your hands and throw them in, then give it a stir.
8. Spray your baking dish with a bit of cooking oil spray then place enough eggplant slices to cover the bottom of the dish.  Don't be stingy but also remember that those eggplant slices have to last a whole lasagna.  Layer one fourth of the sauce on the eggplant, then layer one fourth of the ricotta mixture.  Repeat process one more time.  End by layering some eggplant on top then sprinkling mozzarella to your heart's desire. Then repeat with the other lasagna.
9. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and make a one inch slit in the middle of the foil.  Bake for about 25 minutes, just until the eggplant is soft then remove foil and cook for another 5-10 minutes until the cheese is nice and gold.

Yay!! You're done!! Now be careful cutting it because it can get a bit tricky.  I hope you guys enjoy this as much as we did.