Those were the exact words that flew from my lips when my landlady's daughter told me she was looking forward to my latest culinary experiment. I mean, I realize we're in the southwest, but seriously. This is still America! You've got the Olive Garden!
Turns out, her mother had never tried eggplant either. Well, that sealed the deal. By golly, there would be eggplant lasagna in their collective future. Even if they hated it, I would ensure they would at least have the opportunity to try eggplant in the near future. After all, it was in season; it was on sale (crazy cheap, which means, as usual, I bought way too much); and I was craving it.
Now, for those of you in the know, eggplant lasagna is basically just a variation of eggplant parmigiana. And, if you've been following along, you'll recognize that the components of the recipe are pretty much the same as those for my spaghetti (squash) pie from a few weeks back. So here's a tip: make both the same week (or day even) and freeze one to have later. Better yet, double both recipes and freeze one of each.
A lot of good Italian cooking is simply variations on a few good themes. In this case, a sauce bolognese and a cheese mixture with eggs used as a binder. The major difference between this recipe and most other lasagnas of any type is that the eggplant is not just part of the show; it's the star. I'm leaving the noodles out because I really shouldn't be having the wheat.
Knowing that, make sure when shopping for your ingredients, you invest in the best you can afford. This is especially true, always, when purchasing things like olive oil. So here we go . . .
Before you begin
Slice your eggplant lengthwise into 1/4" thick slices and lay it out on oiled and/or lined cookie sheets. Bake it for about 4-5 minutes on each side at 425 (f) and hold it aside.
There's really no need to season it because it's got such good flavor on its own and it's a substitution for noodles which tend to suck the flavor out of a dish.
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
24 oz. tomato sauce*
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 c. ricotta
1 c. grated or shredded parmesan, divided
10 oz. (about 2 1/2 c.) shredded mozzarella, divided
1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
salt and pepper to taste
enough eggplant prepared as above to make 3 layers in your baking pan
Saute beef and onion until meat is just cooked through and onion becomes translucent.
Add garlic and Italian seasoning and cook about two minutes more.
Drain and return to pan.
Add sauce and bring to boil.
Lower heat and allow to simmer for about five minutes.
Remove from heat and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine egg, ricotta, 1/2 c. parmesan, 8 oz. mozzarella, and seasonings.
Lightly oil a 9x12x2" or 9x13x2" baking dish with olive oil.
Pour a thin layer of sauce at the bottom of the pan.
Layer in eggplant**, then 1/2 of cheese mixture, then 1/3 of sauce.
Add a last layer of eggplant** and top with the last 1/3 of sauce.
Sprinkle top with reserved cheeses.
Bake in a 400 degree oven until heated through and top is golden brown, about 20-30 minutes (sauce will bubble, but test center).
Let stand about 10-15 minutes before serving.
*You can use your favorite canned/jarred spaghetti sauce, plain tomato sauce, or your own secret family recipe. It's up to you. Remember, it's your kitchen.
**When you lay out your layers of eggplant, alternate the direction of the layers so it doesn't completely come apart when you slice into it.
Use sliced or crumbled Italian sausage instead of ground meat.
Go vegetarian (but not vegan) by substituting mushrooms instead of meat.
If you prefer meatballs, saute them in the pan, then in the sauce, just as you would with the ground beef, but reserve them and serve them on the side.
Use zucchini or yellow squash, prepared the same way as the eggplant for a light, summer dish instead of a hearty, winter meal.
When I double a recipe like this, I like to put it in those disposable plastic baking pans so I can just put one in the freezer. You can assemble it and freeze it, then take it out another time and throw it in the oven. It will take a full day (sometimes longer) in the fridge to defrost.