Eggplant puzzles us. When we pick up one (or two) as part of our CSA share, we just place it in the crisper bin, and spend several days trying to figure out what to make. We always think of something; depending on the season, it might be Ratatouille, or perhaps, Eggplant Gnocchi, or even Crispy Eggplant Strips. It seems to grow well enough that there’s always more eggplant to use, someway, somehow.
This week, we decide to go with Eggplant Lasagna, using the eggplant in place of pasta. It seems to be the perfect vegetable to slice into thin disks and use for layering, and, anyway, who wants to boil up pasta sheets (in reality, we make our own pasta sheets; fresh pasta doesn’t need to be boiled before layering in lasagna)? We also decided that we’d go with goat cheese, instead of the more traditional ricotta, mainly because we had it in the house.
This is another 100% Scratchin’ It recipes, and you read it here first.
We used fresh goat cheese, but use ricotta, if you wish. Regardless of the cheese, if you can, make sure to use real eggs from hens that peck and scratch — real pastured hens — they’re just the best. Also, we wanted some green vegetable in our sauce and only had peas; we think a bunch of spinach or Swiss chard would be fine, too. We use the carrots to sweeten and thicken the sauce, but you’ll never be able to tell they’re in the sauce once it’s all baked. Of course, if you don’t like mushrooms, just omit them.
Procedure in detail:
For the eggplant:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking pan with parchment. We simply placed a piece of parchment in the 9×13 inch pan we’d be using for the assembled lasagna, so we wouldn’t be dirtying multiple pans. You can reuse this parchment to cover the lasagna later. Just a tip.
Mash garlic and rosemary. Place rosemary, garlic, and salt in a small bowl, and use the back of a spoon to mash and smash the garlic into a paste. We don’t really enjoy biting into a piece of garlic, raw, or cooked, so we mash. It also makes sure that our mixture will have garlic flavor throughout.
Add oil. Stir in the oil and season to taste with freshly ground black pepper. As an aside, we never used a lot of pepper until we picked up a grinder (in fact, we had a 4-oz. container of black pepper for years). We’re glad we found the grinder, because the flavor of freshly ground black pepper is so much better. We probably go through an ounce of pepper a month.
Layer eggplant. Place a layer of eggplant on the prepared pan and brush with the oil mixture. Follow with another, and another, until the eggplant is all in the pan, brushed with oil and ready for the oven. Don’t worry if you have to skimp on the oil mixture from time to time; the flavors will still get in there.
Roast. Into the oven for 35-40 minutes, or possibly a bit longer, depending on the number of layers of eggplant. This roasting will dry out the eggplant, plus char it in spots, so watch it near the end so it isn’t too charred.
Set aside. Remove from the oven and set aside to let cool so you can handle it when layering the lasagna. We just lifted out the parchment, eggplant and all.
Lower oven to 350°F. The lasagna bakes at a lower temperature, so decrease the oven setting to 350°F.
For the sauce:
Fry onions. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot and shimmery, add the onions and fry, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 7 minutes. We like to sprinkle the onions with salt and pepper as they start frying. It’s just a habit we’ve adopted.
Add garlic and carrots. Once the onions are tender, add the garlic and grated carrots and stir to mix. Continue to fry, stirring from time to time, until the carrots are starting to stick to the bottom of the pan.
Add mushrooms and wine. Stir in mushrooms and wine, scraping up bits of carrot from the pan, and let simmer and boil until the mushrooms are tender and the wine is reduced by about half.
Add tomatoes and herbs. Mix in the tomatoes, oregano, bay leaf, and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the sauce is thick and most of the liquid has evaporated. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Add peas. Stir in the frozen peas and continue to simmer until the peas are heated through. Set aside until assembly. Also, remove the bay leaf.
For the cheese:
Mix ingredients. In a medium bowl, stir together cheese, eggs, basil, and nutmeg until smooth and creamy. If needed, add just a touch of milk or cream to smooth out the mixture. Set aside.
Oil pan. Lightly oil a 9×13 inch baking pan.
Layer. We layered our lasagna this way: light sauce, eggplant, sauce, cheese, eggplant, sauce, cheese, and Parmesan cheese, using enough in each layer so all the ingredients would be gone at the end. You can layer yours in a different order, but we’d suggest you keep a light layer of sauce on the bottom to help prevent sticking, and the Parmesan on the top for a nice browning. We’d also suggest that you smooth the layers as you work.
Bake covered. Cover the lasagna with a layer of parchment (we used the same piece that we’d placed under the eggplant slices), which will keep the top from browning too much, while allowing moisture to escape. You could use foil, but we don’t like to do that because the tomato sauce tends to eat holes in the foil. We really don’t want aluminum in our lasagna. Bake until the lasagna is nice and bubbly throughout, about 45 minutes.
Brown cheese. Remove the parchment and bake an additional 15 minutes, or until the cheese on top is nice and browned.
Stand. Let the lasagna stand for about 15 minutes before serving to give it a chance to set up a bit making it easier to slice and plate
We weren’t sure we’d really like this all that much, but it turned out to be delicious. So tasty that we figured we’d write it up so you could try it yourself. It’s a great way to use eggplant, and we were really surprised by how much we liked the red wine in the sauce. We don’t drink red wine, but we had some in the house from a previous cooking experiment, so we figured we’d use some to add flavor, and it’s a great addition. Five stars.