Roasted Eggplant Lasagna

After making a fabulous dish from this book, Flattened Chicken Thighs With Roasted Lemon Slices, I knew I had to try another. The preparation involved to make this dish was a sharp contrast to the quick-cooking chicken thighs, but I knew it would be worth every minute. Twenty cloves of garlic too! 🙂

This might be the most labor-intensive lasagna I’ve ever made, but it was certainly one of the best. The recipe was adapted from Mozza at Home: More than 150 Crowd-Pleasing Recipes for Relaxed, Family-Style Entertaining by Nancy Silverton with Carolyn Carreno. I used large eggs and substituted some reduced-fat dairy. I also omitted the olives, straining the béchamel, pre-cooking the pasta, as well as broiling the baked lasagna.

Because I used un-cooked pasta when layering my dish, I was not able to use the genius tip of cutting the lasagna prior to baking. Thankfully, I didn’t have any difficultly cutting it after it was fully cooked. Absolutely amazing!!

For the Eggplants:

  • 2 large eggplants (2 to 2 1/2 pounds)
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup large garlic cloves (about 20 large cloves), peeled and sliced 1/16 inch thick lengthwise (preferably on a mandoline)
  • 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup (about 3 oz) pitted small black olives, such as Taggiasche, Nicoise, or Kalamata, optional
  • 3 T za’atar or dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp red chile flakes

For the Cheese Sauce:

  • 1/2 large yellow Spanish onion, halved root to tip, peeled
  • 4 T (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 arbol chile pod
  • 2 fresh or dried bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 quart whole milk (I used 2 cups whole milk & 2 cups 1 percent milk)
  • 2 tsp coarse salt
  • 12 ounces (3 cups) shredded low-moisture mozzarella (part-skim okay)
  • 8 ounces (1 cup) fresh ricotta
  • 1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten

For the Pasta & Assembly:

  • 16-ounce package dried lasagna noodles (I used DeCecco)
  • 1 cup (about 4 ounces) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  1. Prepare the Eggplant: The eggplant is roasted on the oven floor. If using an electric oven, adjust the oven racks so that one is closest to the oven floor and put a pizza stone on it. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
  2. Trim and discard the tip and stem ends of the eggplants and cut the eggplants into 1-inch cubes.
  3. Divide the eggplant pieces between two large baking sheets. Drizzle each portion with 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Toss and gently massage the cubes to coat the eggplant. Spread the eggplant cubes out in a single layer on the baking sheets.
  4. Cooking one batch at a time, put one baking sheet on the oven floor or on a pizza stone on the lowest rack and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the cubes are dark brown all over and beginning to lose their shape, rotating the baking sheet from front to back and moving the cubes with a metal spatula halfway through the cooking time so that they don’t stick.
  5. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, season with 1 teaspoon of salt; set aside.
  6. Repeat with the second batch of eggplant.
  7. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, season the second baking sheet or roasted eggplant cubes with 1 teaspoon of salt; set aside.
  8. Combine the garlic and the remaining 1/4 cup oil in a large Dutch oven or another large high-sided pot over medium heat. Cook until the garlic is soft and very light golden brown, stirring constantly so it doesn’t burn, about 5 minutes.
  9. Add the tomatoes, sugar, and the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, stir to combine, and cook the tomatoes for 5 to 6 minutes, until they thicken slightly.
  10. Spoon out and reserve 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce.
  11. Add the roasted eggplant, olives (if using), za’atar or oregano, pepper, and red chile flakes. Stir to combine and cook until the eggplants have taken on the color of the sauce, about 5 minutes. (Add 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup water if the sauce becomes dry or sticky.)
  12. Turn off the heat and set aside while you make the cheese sauce.
  13. Make the Cheese Sauce (& Béchamel): Trim and discard the root end of the onion half. Cut the onion half in half again root to tip so the onion is quartered. Slice 1/4-inch lengthwise.
  14. Combine the butter, onion, chile pod, and bay leaves in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat.
  15. Cook, stirring often, until the butter is melted and the onion is soft but not brown, about 10 minutes.
  16. Add the flour, whisking constantly to remove any lumps, and cook for 2 minutes to cook off the flour flavor.
  17. Gradually add 1 cup of the milk, whisking constantly.
  18. Increase the heat to high and cook the sauce, whisking constantly, until it begins to thicken, about 1 minute.
  19. Add another cup of the remaining milk, whisking constantly.
  20. Return the sauce to a boil and add the remaining 2 cups milk, whisking constantly.
  21. Return the sauce to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, whisking or stirring constantly, until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 3 to 4 minutes.
  22. Turn off the heat and stir in the salt.
  23. Remove and discard the chile pod and bay leaves.
  24. With a ladle, remove 1 cup of the béchamel; set aside.
  25. Add the mozzarella, ricotta, Parmigiano, and the eggs to the pot with the remaining béchamel and gently whisk to combine.
  26. Adjust the oven rack so that one is in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, preferably on convection.
  27. Assemble & Finish the Dish: Spread 1/2 cup reserved tomato sauce over the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish.
  28. Lay 6 half-sheets (or 3 full sheets) of lasagna on the bottom of the pan to cover it.
  29. Add half of the tomato-eggplant sauce (about 2 1/2 cups) and spread it evenly over the pasta.
  30. Spoon half of the cheese sauce over the sauce and spread it in an even layer to the edge and into the corners of the pan.
  31. Lay an additional 6 half-sheets (or 3 full sheets) of pasta over the cheese sauce. Press down on the pasta sheets with the palms of your hands to remove air bubbles and to ensure that the layers are flat and even.
  32. Spoon remaining tomato-eggplant sauce over the top; spread evenly.
  33. Spoon remaining cheese sauce over the top; spread evenly and to the edges and corners of the pan.
  34. Lay a final layer of pasta on top.
  35. Using a rubber spatula, gently spread the reserved béchamel evenly over the top of the lasagna.
  36. Sprinkle with Parmigiano.
  37. Put the lasagna on a baking sheet and put it in the oven to bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the edges are golden brown and puffed up a bit. Rotate the pan halfway through the baking time.
  38. Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 1 hour before serving.

Note: The pasta can be prepared through step #34 a day in advance. Cover the pan and refrigerate until ready to bake.

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Birthday Lasagna

I am partial to lasagna laden with mushrooms and spinach… with plenty of cheese, of course. 🙂

When requesting his birthday menu, my son wanted “regular” lasagna, “you know, with just meat and cheese!” His wish was my command. 🙂 It was delicious!

This recipe was adapted from Martha Stewart. I used ground turkey and chicken sausage, added red pepper flakes, and increased the amount of garlic. We ate it with garlic bread and Caesar salad. He absolutely loved it. It was even more celebratory for him to eat it with our special “Happy Birthday” fork. 🙂

  • 1/2 sprig basil, (3 tablespoons coarsely chopped)
  • 4 ounces Parmesan, (1 cup finely grated)
  • 14 oz (about 1 1/4 cups) whole milk ricotta
  • 1 1/2 pounds mozzarella (5 cups grated)
  • 1 pound no-boil lasagna noodles (I needed 2 additional sheets.)
  • 28 ounces canned, diced tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1-2 dashes red pepper flakes, optional, or to taste
  • 1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage (casings removed) or sun-dried tomato-basil chicken sausage (casings removed)
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 T olive oil
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Make the sauce: Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium heat; cook onion, garlic, salt, and pepper 1 minute.
  3. Add turkey and sausage; cook, breaking up with a spoon, until browned, about 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and oregano. Reduce heat; simmer 1 minute.
  5. Remove from heat. Stir in basil. Taste and adjust seasonings, as necessary.
  6. Coat baking dish with cooking spray or oil; spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of the dish.
  7. Top with a layer of noodles. (I used 6 noodles per layer.)
  8. Next, spread a third of the ricotta, then 1 1/2 cups sauce, on top. Sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella and 3 tablespoons Parmesan. Repeat these steps 2 more times.
  9. Top with a layer of noodles, the remaining sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan.
  10. Cover with parchment paper topped with foil; bake 20 minutes.
  11. Remove foil and parchment; bake 20 minutes more. Let rest 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

Vegetarian Variation: Clean and trim 8 ounces button mushrooms; finely chop in a food processor. Follow the recipe, but in step 2, cook onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons olive oil. In step 3, add mushrooms, 1 cup diced zucchini, and 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper instead of turkey and sausage; cook, stirring, until just tender, about 6 minutes. After simmering with the tomatoes and oregano in step 4, stir in 4 cups chopped spinach along with basil.

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Fresh Ricotta

My husband and I have a favorite local restaurant where we like to go and have a special lunch together. Even though it is quite indulgent, we cannot go without ordering the fresh ricotta cheese appetizer. It is seasoned with lemon and served with warm bread. Irresistible.

I knew that making homemade ricotta was an easy task but had never tried to make it. I’m a little bit worried that now that I’ve finally done it because I’ll be making it all of the time! 🙂 I brought it to serve as an appetizer at a party to spread on slices of sourdough baguette… but- wow- it would also be amazing over pasta with a little drizzle of olive oil.

This recipe was adapted from Bon Appetit, contributed by J.J. Goode. I added lemon zest (like at my restaurant!) and coarse salt, to taste. I found the consistency was perfect after straining for just twenty minutes. It was beyond creamy, rich, and fabulous.

Yield: about 1 cup

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ½ teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for seasoning, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or distilled white vinegar
  • zest of 1/2 a lemon, or more, to taste
  1. Bring milk, cream, and 1/2 tsp salt to a boil in a medium saucepan.
  2. Remove from heat. Add lemon juice; stir gently until mixture starts to curdle. Let stand 5 minutes.
  3. Pour mixture into a fine-mesh sieve lined with 2 layers of cheesecloth set over a medium bowl.
  4. Chill until cheese is spreadable, at least 20 minutes and up to 12 hours (the longer it strains, the thicker it will be). (I recommend the consistency after about 20 minutes.)
  5. Cover and chill cheese up to 3 days. (If it lasts that long!)

Note/Update: This ricotta was absolutely delicious in Spinach & Ricotta Pappardelle. Wonderful!!

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Roman Egg Drop Soup (Stracciatella alla Romana)

My husband prefers creamy or stew-like soups to brothy versions. This classic Italian soup had caught my eye in the past, but he “rejected” it as a dinner option. :/ When it was featured in the New York Times as the recipe of the week, I had to have it. I made it when my husband had a work dinner! My son and I gobbled it up. What’s not to like? Eggs and cheese with loads of pepper. I used homemade stock as the base as well. Delicious.

This recipe was adapted from the New York Times, contributed by Samin Nosrat. We ate it with warm naan on the side (not very Italian, I know). Perfect warm and cozy comfort food on a cold night.

Yield: 6 servings

  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, diced
  • coarse salt
  • 6 large eggs
  • ½ cup finely grated fresh Parmesan, rind reserved, plus more for serving
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade (I incorporated 4 cups of homemade Turkey Stock.)
  • 2 T finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  1. Set a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat. Add oil. When it shimmers, add the onions and a generous pinch of salt.
  2. Reduce heat to medium. Stirring occasionally, cook onions for 10 to 15 minutes until tender. It’s fine if they start to take on a little color.
  3. In a large measuring cup or medium bowl with a spout, thoroughly whisk together the eggs, ½ cup grated Parmesan, nutmeg, black pepper, and a generous pinch of salt.
  4. When onions are tender, add Parmesan rind and stock to pot.
  5. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce to a strong simmer.
  6. While gently whisking soup with one hand, pour egg mixture into pot in a thin stream with the other.
  7. Once all of the egg mixture has been added, turn off the heat.
  8. Remove Parmesan rind. Taste and adjust for salt.
  9. Ladle soup into bowls and serve immediately, garnished with Parmesan, black pepper, and parsley.

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Broken Pasta with Shredded Pork & Arugula

Arugula is my absolute favorite item in my CSA share. It is so peppery and fabulous. I loved that this cozy comfort food dish used it as a glorious and bright topping along with lemon juice and cheese.

This dish was adapted from chef Nick Anderer of restaurant Maialino in New York, via Smitten Kitchen. I used boneless pork shoulder ribs instead of a whole pork shoulder, increased the lemon juice and cheese, added a carrot and omitted the fennel. I also cooked the meat in a slow cooker instead of the oven.

I reserved half of the cooked meat, after step 9, to freeze to enjoy at a later date. Nice.

Yield: Serves 8 to 10

  • 4 pounds boneless pork shoulder rib pieces (or 1 bone-in pork shoulder, about 4 pounds)
  • coarse salt
  • 4 T olive oil, divided
  • 1 large white or yellow onion, peeled and cut into large pieces
  • 2 large ribs celery, cut into large pieces
  • 1 carrot or 1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into large pieces
  • 1 quart chicken stock, plus a splash or two more, if needed
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 20-ounces dry lasagna, broken into 3-inch shards
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
  • 4 tablespoons (or more) grated or shaved parmesan or grand padano cheese
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, if desired
  • Large handful or two of arugula leaves, cleaned
  1. Prepare pork: Use a sharp knife to remove the thick skin from the pork, but not trimming off all the fat — leave a thin sheen. Season generously with salt and place in fridge until ready to use — overnight is ideal but a few hours will cut it as well.
  2. Sear the pork: Heat a deep saucepan over medium-high and add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. When it shimmers, gently cook the onion, celery and carrot (or fennel) until they begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
  3. Dry pork with a paper towel to remove some excess salt. Season with pepper. Add an additional 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan, then add the pork and cook until browned on all sides.
  4. Add pork to a slow cooker. Add broth, vegetables, and thyme sprigs. Cover.
  5. Cook on high for 3 hours. Remove pork from braising liquid. Allow to cool enough to be able to handle.
  6. Using two forks, tear the meat into bite-size shreds. Place in a large bowl.
  7. Strain the braising liquid, pouring enough of it over the pork to barely cover it and keep it from drying out. Place back in the slow cooker insert and set to warm.
  8. Pour the rest of the braising liquid into the original saucepan and simmer it until it is reduced by half.
  9. Add pork and cooking liquid that has covered it, and warm it back to a simmer. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if needed. (**At this point, I reserved half of the meat and braising liquid to freeze for use at another time.**)
  10. Add the butter and stir to emulsify. (Because I removed half of the pork, I used 1/2 of the amount of ingredients listed above for the remainder of this dish, including the butter.)
  11. Bring large pot of well-salted water to boil. Cook pasta until al dente, or usually a minute shy of package directions. (I used no-cook lasagna noodles and cooked them for about 8 minutes.)
  12. Drain and add to the pork mixture, simmering for 1 minute.
  13. Add the lemon juice, half the cheese and parsley, if using.
  14. Ladle into wide pasta bowls with and top with arugula and remaining cheese.

Note: If saving some of the pork to use later, rewarm the defrosted pork and braising liquid to a simmer, add a splash or two of pasta cooking water if needed to loosen it, and then the butter. Add freshly cooked pasta, lemon juice and parmesan from here.

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Fancy Chicken Tetrazzini

This was unlike any tetrazzini I’ve ever eaten. It was fancy! (for a rotisserie chicken casserole, anyway 😉 ) It’s probably not technically “tetrazzini,” but it was a smoky, full-flavored, and delicious comfort food dish. An upgrade.

The New York Times explained that this dish takes its name from the Italian opera star Luisa Tetrazzini. It was once commonly found on menus in upscale restaurants during the early 20th century. (Who knew?) It has since become less fancy (until now!) and less Italian. 🙂 I loved the title of their article, “Chicken Tetrazzini, The Casserole Even Snobs Love.” I love all sorts of casseroles, so I suppose this fact confirms that I’m not a snob. 🙂

This recipe is from The New York Times, adapted from Mississippi chef Brad McDonald, contributed by Sam Sifton. I adapted the recipe further by increasing the garlic and by using mixed dried wild mushrooms as well as whole wheat pasta.

I’m bringing my fancy and snobby casserole to share at Angie’s Fiesta Friday #144, co-hosted by Suzanne @A Pug in the Kitchen and Margy @La Petite Casserole. Enjoy!

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms (I used a mixed wild dried mushroom medley including porcini, shiitake, black, & oyster mushrooms)
  • 4 medium-size poblano peppers
  • 5 dried guajillo chiles, ends snipped and seeds discarded
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade or low-sodium
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 medium-size shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 8 ounces Cheddar cheese, grated (I used 3-year aged white Cheddar)
  • 1 pound spaghetti, preferably whole wheat
  • 1 store-bought rotisserie chicken, the meat removed and shredded, approximately 1 pound
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup parsley, roughly chopped, for garnish, optional
  1. Turn broiler to high, and set a large pot filled with salted water over high heat to come to a boil.
  2. As oven heats, place the mushrooms in a small bowl, and pour boiling water over them, then leave them to soak for approximately 20 to 25 minutes, then strain and set aside.
  3. Place the poblanos on a small sheet pan, and set on the highest rack under the broiler so that the skin blackens, turning a few times so that the roasting is even, approximately 15 to 20 minutes. When the skin is blackened and blistered all over, place the peppers in a medium bowl, cover it with a plate and allow to rest.
  4. Make the sauce. Put the dried chiles in a medium pot set over medium-high heat, and allow them to cook until they become fragrant, approximately 5 to 7 minutes, then turn heat to low, and add the chicken stock, milk, garlic and shallots.
  5. Allow the mixture to cook at just below a simmer for approximately 10 minutes, or until the chiles have softened.
  6. Remove from heat, and pour into a blender or Vitamix, then add 6 ounces of the grated Cheddar, and process to a smooth consistency. Set aside.
  7. Meanwhile, remove the skin and seeds from the roasted poblanos, and cut them into thin strips. Set aside.
  8. Heat oven to 400, preferably on convection.
  9. Cook the spaghetti in the boiling salted water in the large pot until just al dente, approximately 9 to 10 minutes. Drain, and rinse under cold water until cool, then drain again. (This step prevents the pasta from over cooking in the oven.)
  10. Return the spaghetti to the cooking pot, and toss it with the roasted pepper strips, the mushrooms, the shredded chicken meat and the lemon juice, then season with salt and pepper.
  11. Transfer to a casserole dish, approximately 9 inches by 13 inches, and pour the reserved cheese sauce over it.
  12. Cover with the remaining shredded cheese, place in oven and bake until the cheese has melted and started to turn golden brown, approximately 20 minutes.
  13. Garnish with chopped parsley, if you like, and serve.

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Fresh Tomato Sauce

My husband waters a co-workers’ tomato plants for a week every summer with the benefit of bringing home all of the ripe specimens. This year, he was fortunate enough to bring home a TON.

I had been saving some fabulous “meter” pasta for a special sauce- this was IT. This slow-cooked sauce had wonderful concentrated flavor. The recipe was adapted from Food and Wine, contributed by Grace Parisi. Absolutely delicious!

Yield: enough sauce to coat 1 pound of pasta

  • 5 lbs tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cups water
  • 4 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 large garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1-2 large basil sprigs
  • 1/2 T granulated sugar
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. In a large pot, combine the tomatoes with the water, cover and cook over moderate heat until the tomatoes are softened and soupy, about 15 minutes.
  2. Set a food mill over a very large bowl. Add the tomatoes and puree them into the bowl. You should have about 8 to 9 cups.
  3. Wipe out the pot and heat the olive oil in it. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook over very low heat until softened, about 1 minute.
  4. Add the tomato puree, basil and sugar and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Simmer over low heat until the sauce is thickened and reduced to 5 to 6 cups, about 2 hours.
  6. Discard the basil, if desired.
  7. Serve over your choice of pasta, cooked according to package directions. Alternatively, let the sauce cool, then pour into 1-pint plastic containers and freeze for up to 4 months.

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