I have taken on two challenges with the invention of this recipe: the first is making a pasta-less lasagna that is hands-down delicious (you’re welcome, gluten-phobes and carb-free dieters!); the second is creating a dish that even the most critical loather of eggplant simply could not resist. Eggplant is a touchy vegetable for some people. How many times have I heard the claim that eggplant is “bitter”? My response – slander! How could such a succulent, beautiful gift from the Earth be given such a bad reputation? The answer is the same as with most vegetables we grow to dislike. It’s like a bad dog: the problem is not the offender, it is the handler. The bitter eggplant was poorly cooked. But don’t worry, I am here to show you how to be the pack leader of eggplant.
When cooked properly and patiently, eggplant metamorphosizes, becoming tender and sweet. In this recipe, it makes a great substitute for pasta because it is easy to cut thin and it holds its shape, but the sweet flavor it adds brings the dish to a new place. It already created one convert when I made this dish for my good friend’s mother, unaware that she didn’t like eggplant. She enjoyed the dish so much, she called me right after dinner to rave about how pleased she was to finally like eggplant. Her daughter later verified that she had to ask her to stop saying, “Yum, this is so delicious,” after every bite. Quite a compliment!
This lasagna has three different components, and then a nice cheesy top. I find it easiest to prepare the three components separately, and then assemble and cook the lasagna. I chose to make a tomato sauce that was loaded with veggies like fennel and kale for additional flavor and nutritional merit. It would also be tasty with a more simple tomato sauce. It is a little involved, so plan ahead and complete all of the steps except for baking it. It can wait to be baked for a couple of days in your fridge. Remember – it is a labor of love. It is not supposed to be easy. The messier your kitchen is when you are done and the more love you put into giving each layer just the right amount of sauce, the more delicious it will taste.
To prepare the eggplant:
Peel the eggplant. Using a mandolin, slice the eggplant lengthwise into 1/4 inch pieces. Lay them out on paper towels and season them liberally with salt. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat in a large, nonstick skillet and put a layer of eggplant in the skillet at a time. Cover the skillet with a lid, as this will help the eggplant steam and become soft and sweet without having to use too much oil. Cook for about three minutes and then flip. Cook the second side for another three minutes and remove. Place cooked eggplant on the paper towels and reserve for assembly. Repeat this process until all the eggplant is cooked, adding more olive oil to the pan as necessary.
To prepare the sauce:
You may use the same skillet you used to cook the eggplant if it is plenty big. Heat another two tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onions, fennel, red bell pepper, and garlic. Season with salt and crushed red pepper to taste. Let the vegetables soften until they become translucent, about six or seven minutes. Add the kale and toss or stir until it is coated with the olive oil. Add the wine and let the alcohol cook off for about 4 or 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste. Allow the sauce to simmer over low heat while you prepare the ricotta mixture so that all of the flavors may blend.
To prepare the ricotta mixture:
Combine the ricotta, eggs, scallions, and basil in a large bowl. Mix well. Set aside for assembly.
Assemble the lasagna in a large Pyrex cassarole dish. I love using glass because you can see the beautiful layers of the lasagna.
Start with a layer of half of the eggplant on the bottom of your dish. I alternate the pieces, fat side up, fat side down, for a more even layer.
Next, evenly spread a layer of half of the ricotta mixture over the eggplant. Make sure you reach all the way to the edge so you can see each layer.
Next, ladle half of the tomato sauce over the ricotta layer and spread it out evenly, all the way to the edge.
Make one more layer each of the eggplant, ricotta mixture and sauce. Top the dish with the Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. If you are preparing the dish ahead of time, stop here and put it in the fridge. Otherwise, it is ready to bake.
Baking the dish:
Bake the dish at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Turn the oven to broil and bake for another 5 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Let the lasagna cool for about 15 minutes, and serve! Serves 6-8 people.
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