Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Eggplant Lasagna

I feel quite nostalgic towards food I had during my university days. The eggplant lasagna, moussaka, curry on rice, hot chocolate, kebabs, muffins, orange poppy seed cakes, curry laksa (Australian style), creamy pasta, delicious chips, and so on.

In an attempt to experience a bit of nostalgia, I chose this lasagna recipe by John Ash. I made a beef lasagna with my sisters when I was younger and I do believe the pasta was not thoroughly cooked and the beef might not have been either (although everyone who tried it said it was fine).

Having learned and experimented with cooking a lot more since, this lasagna turned out great. There wasn't any one flavour which jumped out, as you would get with beef lasagna. It was just a terrific melding of pasta, eggplant, cheese, tomato, herbs and spices.

This recipe makes for 6 servings.

2 large Eggplants - ; 1 1/2 lbs ea
~~ -- Tomato Sauce -- ~~
1 tablespoon Olive oil
1 cup Finely-chopped onions
340 grams Sliced Crimini or Shiitake mushrooms ; abt 4 cups
1 tablespoon Slivered garlic
1/2 teaspoon Fennel seed ; crushed
1 cup White wine
794 grams Italian tomatoes - ; 1 can chopped (use the sauce as well)
3 tablespoons Chopped sun-dried tomatoes ; optional
1/4 cup Chopped fresh basil ; OR
2 teaspoon dried basil
~~ -- White Sauce -- ~~
2 tablespoons Olive oil
1/4 cup Minced shallots or green onions ; white part only
1/3 cup Flour
2 1/2 cups Milk
1/4 teaspoon Freshly-grated nutmeg
1/3 cup Freshly-grated fontina cheese ; or smoked or regular mozzarella cheese
Salt ; to taste
Freshly-ground black pepper ; to taste
~~ -- To Assemble -- ~~
454 grams Fresh lasagna noodles ; cooked
8 cups Loosely-packed spinach leaves ; washed well, stems removed, dried
3/4 cup Freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
Seasoned Bread Crumbs ; (recipe below)

Remove stems from eggplants and slice lengthwise in 1/4-inch thick slices. Arrange in a single layer on a lightly oiled baking sheet or two and roast in a preheated 220°C/425°F oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until eggplant is lightly browned and cooked through but not mushy. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan over moderately-high heat and add onions, mushrooms, garlic and fennel seed. Continue to cook until mushrooms release their liquid. Add 1/2 cup white wine and continue to cook until liquid has mostly evaporated and mushrooms are beginning to brown. Stir in tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes and basil and simmer uncovered until sauce has thickened, 20 to 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

While tomato sauce is cooking make the white sauce. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a sauce pan and add shallots and cook until shallots are soft but not brown. Add flour and cook over moderate heat stirring regularly for 3 to 4 minutes. Add milk and remaining 1/2 cup wine whisking constantly until sauce thickens. Continue to cook for 4 to 5 minutes to cook out starchiness. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Stir in fontina and set aside. Sauce should be fairly thick but pourable-- thin if necessary with additional milk or wine.

To assemble lasagna: Lightly oil an 8- by 12-inch baking dish. Spread 1/2 cup or so of tomato sauce on bottom. Add layers of noodles, eggplant, spinach, white sauce and a sprinkling of 2 tablespoons or so of Parmesan cheese over top. Continue layering in this manner. Cover loosely with foil and bake in a preheated 190°C/375°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle with Seasoned Bread Crumbs and bake for 10 to 15 minutes longer or until crumbs are golden brown. Let lasagna rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Seasoned Bread Crumbs

170 grams Good Italian or French bread ; (crust removed)
1 1/2 tablespoons Olive oil
3 tablespoons Grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons Minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon Dried thyme
Salt ; to taste
Freshly-ground black pepper ; to taste

In a food processor or by hand, coarsely chop fresh white bread crumbs (be careful not to get them too fine -- should be about the same size as oatmeal).

Toss crumbs with oil, cheese, herbs, salt and pepper and spread out on baking sheet. Place in a preheated 190°C/375°F oven and bake for 5 to 8 minutes or until crisp, dry and very slightly colored. Store air tight.

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