Like you, sometimes we just have to use up a number of things we have sitting in the refrigerator. We try to think of something that’s pretty easy, yet good. This week, we looked around and saw an eggplant, some canned tomatoes (we had a Margherita pizza earlier in the week, which used San Marzano tomatoes), and a few squash. Oh, and, of course, a bit of mozzarella cheese, too. Sounds like enough to make an eggplant casserole.
This recipe comes direct from the Scratchin’ It test kitchens. It’s really a baked version of a ratatouille, but we still call it Eggplant Casserole.
Eggplant is one of those funny vegetables; we like it all right, but it’s not high up there on the excite-o-meter, is it? We guess that’s why restaurants like to coat it in breadcrumbs and give it a good frying. After all, almost anything that’s been fried tastes great. We thought about frying this eggplant, too, but we really wanted something lighter, and, presumably, better for us, but we decided to add some breadcrumbs on top, to give the casserole a hint of that fried goodness.
All right, we guess you could use store-bought breadcrumbs. We wouldn’t, but that’s because we often have bits of bread left over. We just place it in the freezer until we need breadcrumbs or croutons. Feel free to use any summer squash available; just slice it thin, like the eggplant, so they bake up well.
Procedure in detail:
Soak eggplant. Fill a bowl about halfway with cold water. Peel the eggplant — we find a vegetable peeler works okay, but not great — and cut into slices about 1/8-inch thick. Place slices in the water and let soak for about an hour. This will keep the eggplant from getting brown and remove some of the bitterness that eggplant is known for. Often, recipes call for sprinkling with salt for the same reason, but we find the cold water method to be just as effective.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
Make croutons. Cut the bread slices into cubes. Anything between a 1/2-inch and an inch in size will be fine. Now, you have two choices. You can toss the bread cubes in a bowl with the oil, salt, and pepper, then transfer them to the baking sheet. Or, you can place the bread cubes on the prepared sheet, drizzle with oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. We use the amount of bread to determine the method. If we have a lot of bread cubes, we use the bowl method to ensure that all the bread is well-coated; otherwise, it’s the drizzle method. Once oiled and seasoned, bake until crisp, about 20 minutes, then cool completely.
Grind croutons. Place the croutons in a bowl of a food processor and grind away. Or, you can put them in a heavy freezer bag and pound them with a rolling pin. Either method will work to get you a batch of fresh breadcrumbs. Obviously, only grind or crush until you have crumbs, not dust.
Crush tomatoes. Pour the tomatoes into a medium bowl, and, using your (clean) hands, crush them into small pieces. We like to use our hands for this so we can feel and remove the tough cores from our sauce. Also, watch for those bits of peel that sometimes remain, and remove them, too. When you finish, you should have a moderately chunky sauce.
Season. Season the tomatoes with salt and pepper. The amount of salt will depend on the tomatoes, so, yes, taste them and add salt and pepper accordingly. Once the salt and pepper are just right, add the garlic, basil, and oregano, and stir to combine. Of course, you can taste and adjust a bit more, if you so desire.
Layer. Drain off the now brownish water from the eggplant slices. In a casserole dish, layer eggplant, squash, and tomatoes. Continue layering until all the ingredients are used, making something like a lasagna. Well, we guess it’s an eggplant lasagna of sorts. Top with the pieces of mozzarella, followed by breadcrumbs.
Bake. Cover and bake for about 60 minutes, until bubbling throughout. Remove the cover and bake an additional 15 minutes so the breadcrumbs get nice and crispy.
Stand. Remove from the oven and let stand about 10 minutes before serving.
This made enough for two meals for us, so we had some one night for dinner, then finished up the leftovers the next day at lunch. At dinner, we weren’t too impressed. The casserole tasted pretty good, but it was a bit strong, garlic wise, plus it was a little liquid-y. The next day, just like lasagna, it was a lot better. The flavors had melded together, the eggplant absorbed more of the liquid, and we really liked it. It was like having a lighter version of eggplant Parmesan, without all the oil from frying. We’ll say this is worth three stars.