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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Skillet Chicken with Tomatoes, Pancetta, & Mozzarella

Wow. This dish was AMAZING. I would describe it as a lighter take on chicken parmesan, but it even brings that classic dish to another level with its more complex flavors.

The first time I made this dish, I served it with roasted red potatoes and roasted broccoli on the side. Realizing that it would have been more perfect with pasta, we “had” to have it again. Absolute perfection served over rigatoni!

This recipe was adapted from the New York Times, contributed by Melissa Clark. She referred to the dish as “Pizza Chicken.” 🙂 I used boneless skinless chicken thighs instead of bone-in, increased the garlic, decreased the pancetta, and used ciliegine instead of bocconcini. Fabulous!!

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 3 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 15)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 ounces pancetta, diced
  • 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes
  • 1 large basil sprig, plus more chopped basil for serving
  • 8 ounces bocconcini or ciliegine, halved (or use mozzarella cut into 3/4-inch pieces)
  • cooked pasta, such as rigatoni, for serving (tossed with pasta water, olive oil, or butter, as desired)

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees, preferably on convection. Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. In a large oven-proof skillet, warm oil over medium-high heat. Add pancetta and cook, stirring frequently, until browned. Use a slotted spoon to transfer pancetta to a paper-towel-lined plate.
  3. Working in two batches, add chicken to skillet. Sear, turning only occasionally, until well browned on all sides, about 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer to a large plate. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon oil.
  4. Add garlic, anchovy and red pepper flakes to skillet; fry 1 minute.
  5. Stir in tomatoes and basil. Cook, breaking up tomatoes with a spatula, until sauce thickens somewhat, about 10 minutes.
  6. Return chicken to skillet. Transfer skillet to oven and cook, uncovered, until chicken is no longer pink, about 30 minutes.
  7. Scatter bocconcini, ciliegine, or mozzarella pieces over skillet. Adjust oven temperature to broil. Return skillet to oven and broil until cheese is melted and bubbling, 2 to 3 minutes (watch carefully to see that it does not burn).
  8. Garnish with pancetta and chopped basil before serving. Serve over pasta, as desired.

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Four Years Ago:

Spaghetti Pizza

I loved that this recipe equated the choice between making spaghetti or pizza for dinner to choosing a favorite child! 😉 Such a paralyzing decision! 🙂 A spaghetti pizza “crust” was too genius of an idea for me to pass up. I made it for my kids one night when my husband couldn’t join us for dinner- it seemed like the ultimate KID-friendly dinner. They gobbled it up!

This recipe was adapted from Tasting Table.com. I used whole wheat spaghetti, Trader Joe’s Tuscano Marinara Sauce, and Grana Padano instead of Parmesan. (I would have also added tons of garlic if it was for my husband and me! 🙂 ) Easy, tasty, and FUN!

Yield: Serves 4

  • 1/2 pound whole wheat spaghetti
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan or Grana Padano, separated
  • 1-2 cups tomato or marinara sauce, to taste (I used Trader Joe’s Tuscano Marinara Sauce)
  • 1 cup coarsely grated part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • fresh basil, for garnish
  • additional pizza toppings, to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. Precook the spaghetti in salted boiling water for 6 minutes; cool slightly.
  3. Toss the noodles with the eggs and 1/4 cup Parmesan.
  4. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Form a crust with the noodles on the pan. (I made a rectangle.)
  5. Bake it for 5 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven and spread the tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and the last 1/4 cup of Parmesan over the top. Add any additional toppings as desired.
  7. Bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until the cheese begins to brown.
  8. Garnish with fresh basil, slice into wedges, and serve.

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Quick Zucchini Lasagna

More zucchini and cheese!! This quick lasagna showcases summer zucchini. The zucchini is so thinly sliced using a food processor, it doesn’t have to be pre-cooked before baking. Layering the zucchini with cheese and no-boil lasagna noodles completes the simple preparation.

This recipe was adapted from Everyday Food. I increased the garlic, used whole milk ricotta, and added onions as well as shallots to the zucchini mixture. I was a little apprehensive to use cream cheese, but I think that it helped hold the finished dish together. Easy and tasty. 🙂

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 T olive oil, for the onions
  • cooking oil spray, for the baking dish
  • 8 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 container (15 ounces) part-skim or whole milk ricotta cheese
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 medium zucchini (about 8 ounces each), halved lengthwise, then sliced thinly crosswise (I used a food processor 2 mm blade)
  • 2-3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots, about 2 large
  • 1/2 of a medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 6 no-boil lasagna noodles
  • 2 ounces shredded (1/2 cup) part-skim mozzarella cheese

IMG_5010

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees on convection. Lightly oil an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking oil spray; set aside.
  2. Sauté the shallots and onion in olive oil until softened and lightly browned. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. In a medium bowl, stir together cream cheese and ricotta; season with salt and pepper.
  4. In another medium bowl, combine zucchini, garlic, sautéed onions, and oregano; season with salt and pepper, and toss to combine.
  5. Spread 1/3 zucchini mixture in prepared baking dish; top with two lasagna noodles, then 1/3 ricotta mixture. Repeat twice with remaining zucchini mixture, noodles, and ricotta mixture, finishing with the ricotta mixture.
  6. Sprinkle with mozzarella.
  7. Cover baking dish with aluminum foil; bake until bubbly and noodles are tender, 25 minutes on convection or up to 35 minutes in a standard oven.
  8. Remove foil; bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes more. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

One Year Ago:

Two Years Ago:

Baked Spaghetti & Mozzarella

IMG_3095

As much as I am absolutely yearning for warmer weather, I do enjoy making (and eating!) comfort food! I don’t know what my body is going to do when I start making lighter meals again…

This is a kid-friendly and pot luck-friendly main dish casserole which would be a great alternative to a Baked Ziti or macaroni and cheese. It could easily be doctored up for a more adventurous palate by adding onions, mushrooms, greens… you get the idea. We did all enjoy it as is with a green salad. It’s simple, cheesy, crispy, and tasty. This recipe was adapted from Everyday Food; I altered the seasonings and used whole wheat spaghetti.

Yield: 6 servings

  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 cans (28 ounces each) whole peeled tomatoes (I used Cento San Marzano tomatoes)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 large garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1 pound spaghetti (I used whole wheat)
  • 2 cups packed basil leaves (from 1 bunch), torn if large
  • 3/4 pound (12 oz) fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (2 1/2 cups)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees (on convection).
  2. Set a large pot of salted water to boil.
  3. In a food processor, pulse tomatoes until coarsely chopped.
  4. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add red pepper flakes and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Cook at a rapid simmer until sauce thickens, about 12 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Meanwhile, cook pasta 5 minutes (it will still be crunchy). Drain pasta and return to pot.
  6. Add tomato sauce, basil, and half the mozzarella to the pasta and toss to combine.
  7. Transfer mixture to a 3-quart baking dish and top with remaining cheese. Bake until cheese is golden and edges are bubbling, about 25 minutes.

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Chicken Parmesan with Chicken Thighs

Growing up in the DC metro area, I didn’t eat a lot of chicken parmesan. I am surrounded by it in New York! You can eat this classic Italian-American dish pretty much anywhere and everywhere. It is served at every casual function. (not to mention eggplant parmesan!)

BUT… Wow! None of it is this good!! This is the perfect indulgent recipe for absolutely fabulous chicken parmesan. Simple and fresh-tasting sauce. Made with boneless skinless chicken thighs too- I think that is the secret to this incredible version. Comfort food at its best. 😉 We ate it with pasta and roasted asparagus. This recipe was adapted from the New York Times, contributed by Melissa Clark. As Melissa Clark says, “hearty, gooey, and satisfying.”

For the Simple Tomato Sauce:

Yield: about 5 cups

  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • ¼ teaspoon red chile flakes (optional)
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans whole plum tomatoes (I used San Marzano)
  • 2 sprigs basil or 1 bay leaf
  • ½ teaspoon coarse salt, or to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  1. In a large, straight-sided skillet over medium heat, warm the oil. Add garlic and cook until just lightly golden. Add chile flakes if desired and cook 30 seconds.
  2. Stir in tomatoes and juices, basil or bay leaf, and salt and pepper.
  3. Bring sauce to a simmer and cook until sauce is thick and tomatoes have mostly fallen apart, about 30 to 40 minutes. Adjust heat as needed to keep at a steady simmer. Mash the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon or a potato masher to help them break down. Remove sauce from heat and discard basil or bay leaf.

For the Casserole:

Yield: Serves 6

  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (I used 10)
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 to 3 cups panko bread crumbs, as needed
  • coarse salt, as needed
  • freshly ground black pepper, as needed
  • extra-virgin olive oil, for frying
  • 5 cups Simple Tomato Sauce (recipe above)
  • 1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • ½ pound fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • noodles for serving, if desired
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place chicken thighs between two pieces of parchment or plastic wrap. Using a kitchen mallet or rolling pin, pound meat to even 1/4-inch-thick slices.
  2. Place flour, eggs and panko into three wide, shallow bowls.
  3. Season meat generously with salt and pepper.
  4. Dip a piece in flour, then eggs, then coat with panko. Repeat until all the meat is coated.
  5. Fill a large skillet with 1/4-inch oil. Place over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, fry cutlets in batches, turning halfway through, until golden brown. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
  6. Spoon a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
  7. Sprinkle one-third of the Parmesan over sauce.
  8. Place half of the cutlets over the Parmesan and top with half the mozzarella pieces.
  9. Top with half the remaining sauce, sprinkle with another third of the Parmesan, and repeat layering, ending with a final layer of sauce and Parmesan.
  10. Transfer pan to oven and bake until cheese is golden and casserole is bubbling, about 25 minutes (on convection) but up to 40 minutes (in a standard oven). Let cool a few minutes before serving.

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