Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Eggplant Lasagna and a "I Just Might Bathe in This Pasta Sauce"

A couple of months ago, the fiancé and I had a few people over, and I made Eggplant Lasagna. 15 of our friends made it the most people I had ever cooked for, and I worked all. day. long. I mean it - I woke up and started chopping, sautéing, pureeing, preparing, and cleaning, and I didn't stop until it was time to eat.

Then, at the moment of truth, the most amazing sound pierced the air...


Everyone was eating. Not only eating, but going for seconds! It really was so good. When I was making the "I Just Might Bathe in This Pasta Sauce," I saved a cup and savored it while I finished cooking. Wish I was joking. The mix of flavors in the lasagna are perfect together. The ricotta cheese filling - thyme, oregano, ricotta cheese - are complemented perfectly by the natural ingredients of the pasta sauce - carrots, onion, tomatoes, basil, garlic. You can taste the individual flavors in each bite - and the textures! The distinct layers of the homemade marinara sauce, soft eggplant, and creamy ricotta mushroom mixture are divine.

Not to mention that my nerves, which had been leading to profuse sweating and self-hatred (maybe I would just tell everyone the oven broke and order pizza?), were more than relieved. I have a food blog for pete's sake! My food couldn't taste mediocre when most everyone I know here was at my house, gathered together, with the intention of eating something delicious.

I know it sounds ridiculous, but it was such a  rush. I loved every part of it. The planning, grocery shopping, hours of chopping and dicing, welcoming everyone into our home, and in the end, eating every last bite of that massively sized lasagna, plus the entire moro de gandules, and of course - the compliments! Cooking and sharing and then writing about it has not been a lifelong passion, but it's fun right now.

On that note, I'm throwing this idea out into the universe: November is National Novel Writing Month. NaNoMo promotes a "competition" in which you write an entire novel in 30 days, starting yesterday! It seems like such a romantic notion from the outset - having a novel written by December. But let's be real - I'm overwhelmed with the idea of it. Of course, with fear also comes doubt. Could I even do this? Should writing be something I consider pursuing?  Que sé yo. I'm not concerned with having something concretely finished in 1 month, because boundaries really aren't my thing - but this could be what gives me a little push in the right direction. My ideas are bound to my experiences living abroad, particularly the clash and/or assimilation of expats and their communities. What to do, what to do?

Until then - enjoy the recipe (taken from the Food Network). Try it, enjoy it, invite some friends over and pair it with a bottle of Chianti - a red wine made in the Chianti region in Tuscany from the Sangiovese grape. To match this dish, choose a Chianti Rufina or Chianti Clasico, which should be between $12-25. For a more economic option, you can find a more simple Chianti (look for bottles only labeled "Chianti") for $6-10.


Eggplant Lasagna

2 large eggplants, sliced lengthwise 3/4-inch thick (8 slices)
5+ tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
1 cup sliced mushrooms (1 8 oz. can)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon thyme leaves, chopped
1 15. oz container ricotta cheese
3 large eggs
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 tablespoons oregano leaves, chopped
2 cups Nona's Marinara Sauce (Or the "I Just Might Bathe in this Pasta Sauce" - Recipe below!)

1. Prepare the eggplant: 
Arrange the sliced eggplant on 2 sheet pans. Brush both sides of the eggplant using 3 tablespoons of oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast the eggplant for around 50 minutes at 400 degrees until the slices are soft and golden, but not burnt! After 25 minutes, turn the eggplant slices over, and roast for another 25 minutes. After roasting the eggplant, lower the heat to 350 degrees.

2. Prepare ricotta spread:
In a medium-sized skillet, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the sliced mushrooms. Sauté until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme, and cook for another 2 minutes. Set the seasoned mushrooms aside to cool.

In a large bowl, mix the ricotta, eggs, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, oregano, freshly cooked mushrooms, 2 teaspoons of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Mix well!

3. Arrange the lasagna: 
Lightly oil an 8-inch baking dish with oil. Spread half of the marinara sauce (chunky, not puréed) on the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Place 4 roasted eggplant slices on top of the chunky sauce, and then layer with all of the ricotta cheese spread. Add the next 4 slices of eggplant, and then evenly pour second half of the marinara sauce (puréed!) on top.

Finish by topping the lasagna with the remaining 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown - about 30 minutes.


Nona's Marinara Sauce:
Or as I like to call it: It's so good that..."I Just Might Bathe in This Pasta Sauce"

5 cloves of garlic
salt and pepper
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
1 (28 oz.) can crushed (or diced) tomatoes

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Sprinkle the cloves of garlic with salt and pepper and drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Wrap up each clove in foil and place it on the oven rack. Roast the garlic until it is brown and tender, around 20-25 minutes. Once cool, squeeze the garlic from their skins and set aside.

In a large saucepan, sauté the onions and carrots over medium heat. Add the tomato paste and stir well. This will give it a nice orange color. Cook for about 10 minutes. When vegetables are softened, add the roasted garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, basil, and stir until they are all mixed together. Pour in the tomatoes. Fill the empty can with water and add it to the pan. Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 1 hour, uncovered. Stir occasionally. Once the sauce is ready, carefully pour 1/2 the sauce into a food processor or blender and purée until smooth! Keep both sauces - chunky and puréed, separate.

Serves 4-6.

a buen tiempo!

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