I mean. Just look at it.
Are you an eggplant lover or an eggplant hater? I used to be a staunch eggplant hater. I think there are too many ways to do eggplant wrong, and probably most eggplant haters just haven’t been able to experience its full potential.
It wasn’t until I met my husband, who was dismayed that I pretty much hated all of his favorite foods (tomatoes, olives, feta cheese…) that I decided to give eggplant another try. And surprise! I found out that I actually don’t hate eggplant. A few extra steps in eggplant preparation take it from mushy and bitter to creamy and flavorful.
The most important thing I learned in my eggplant education is to “sweat” the eggplant. Sounds gross, but in my opinion it makes a big difference in the final dish (apparently this is up for debate, but I still think it makes a difference). After slicing your eggplant, sprinkle coarse salt on both sides and then allow to sit for about 30 minutes. The salt will draw out some of the liquid that makes the eggplant bitter. After 30 minutes, blot with a paper towel to remove the excess liquid and salt.
Lately I have been trying to work more vegetables into our diet, as well as cut some calories and simple carbs. I find that often the best way to do this is to use a vegetable where bread or pasta would traditionally be used. You get a double benefit of eating more veggies AND reducing the overall calories in a dish. Pasta is just a vehicle for sauce, anyway.
When I replace bread or pasta in a dish with a vegetable, I like to make sure it is still satisfying, which is why I decided to use meat in this dish. I’m sure this could be made vegetarian, and I might try making a vegetarian version down the road. I used chicken sausage to reduce fat and calories a bit, as well as part skim cheeses rather than whole milk. All of these changes lead to a lower calorie option than a classic lasagna – although I wouldn’t call this diet food! It is still hearty and satisfying while having a reasonable amount of calories.
This is a little more time and labor intensive than I would normally do on a busy weeknight, it might be better to reserve this for a day off, or at least a day that you have a few hours to spare. It also makes 6-8 servings, so its great to feed a crowd of if you want to have some leftovers.
Hearty Eggplant Lasagna
For The Lasagna:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large eggplants
- 16 ounces part skim low moisture mozzarella grated
- 1/2 ounce Parmesan cheese finely grated
- Meat Sauce see below
- Ricotta Mixture see below
- kosher salt
- black pepper
- extra chopped basil for garnish optional
For The Ricotta Mixture:
- 15 ounces part skim ricotta
- 1 ounce Parmesan cheese finely grated
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup fresh basil chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For The Meat Sauce:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion chopped (about 1 cup)
- 6 cloves garlic finely minced (I used a garlic press)
- ½ teaspoon red pepper optional, adjust to taste
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon oregano
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound sweet Italian chicken sausage casings removed
- 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
- Preheat Oven to 425°F
- Slice eggplant into ½ inch slices. Lay on a baking sheet (you will probably need to use 2 sheets) and salt liberally on both sides, allow to sit for about 30 minutes (use kosher salt here if you can. The coarser size will help keep the dish from getting to salty. If you don't have kosher salt, be more careful with the amount you use to avoid making the eggplant to salty)
- After eggplant has been sitting for 30 minutes, blot with paper towel to remove moisture and excess salt, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with pepper (no need to salt since you already did)
- Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and adjust temperature to 375°F.
- While eggplant is sweating and roasting, start the sauce.
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a dutch oven or heavy pot over medium heat. When heated, add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes until soft. Add the garlic and cook a few more minutes, until fragrant. Increase heat to medium high and add the chicken sausage, salt, pepper, oregano and red pepper flakes. Cook, breaking up the meat into smaller pieces, until meat is no longer pink. If you have excess moisture in the pot, continue cooking for a few more minutes to evaporate the extra liquid, stirring occasionally.
- Add the crushed tomatoes and bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low and simmer for about 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
- For the ricotta mixture, combine the ricotta, Parmesan, egg, basil, salt and pepper.
- To assemble, spread about 1/2 cup of sauce on the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish. Follow with a layer of eggplant slices. Spread 1/3 of the ricotta mixture on top of the eggplant. Sprinkle 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese on top of the ricotta mixture. Top with about 1 1/2 cups of the sauce. Repeat 1 layer of eggplant, ricotta, mozzarella and the remaining sauce. Top with last slices of eggplant, remaining ricotta, remaining mozzarella and sprinkle about 1/2 an ounce of finely grated Parmesan.
- Tightly cover with foil that has been sprayed with cooking spray to avoid sticking. Bake in oven for about 15 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking for 25-30 more minutes, until top is bubbling and golden. If the top isn't browning the way you want it to, finish under the broiler for 1-2 minutes to get it nicely golden.
- Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes.
- Sprinkle with extra chopped basil if you wish.
- Cut and Serve.
Heavily adapted from America’s Test Kitchen
How do you feel about eggplant? Do you like replacing bread and pasta with veggies?