Thursday, April 15, 2010

Italian Eggplant Bake

I call it eggplant parmesan, but after viewing more than a few eggplant parmesan recipes online for comparison, I realize that this dish is not eggplant parmesan.  Even calling it "Italian" is a bit of a stretch, but it's the most apt title without getting overly descriptive.  "Eggplants, Cheese, and Sauce Baked in a Casserole" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but that's as accurate as I'll get.

To start, I must address the fact that some people do not like eggplant.  In fact, I'm realizing more and more that some of my favorite foods lie on the fringe of what most people call "good eats".  The simple fact of the matter, though, is that eggplant is good for you.  It's loaded with fiber, has very few calories, and is hearty enough to substitute meat in many dishes, if that's your thing.  So if you'd like to give eggplant a try, this is definitely a good starter dish.  It's easy, and the flavors of the cheese and sauce pretty much cover up whatever flavors you might find disagreeable.

We'll start with the ingredients:

An eggplant (duh!), a jar of your favorite tomato-based pasta sauce (you won't use the whole thing), ricotta cheese (about 1/4 cup, but be warned I didn't measure a single thing for this entire recipe), 1 egg, and about 13/4 cup shredded Italian blend cheese.

Now for those of you who have never dealt with this strange purple fruit (vegetable?), here's how you go about tackling it:

Slice off the very top and the very bottom, then cut the rest of it into 1/2-inch thick slices.  See all those little brown seeds?  They stay.  You won't mind them.  Lay the slices out on a sheet or two of paper towels (or a clean dishcloth, if you're more environmentally friendly than me) and sprinkle liberally with salt.  Go to town with the salt!  The salt draws out a lot of the moisture from the eggplant and with it, the bitter flavor.  Salting it makes it much more mild.  Don't worry, you'll rinse it all off later.

Salt both sides of each slice, then top with another paper towel (or dishcloth) and another plate, or anything to add weight.  You'll want to lightly press the eggplant for about 30 minutes, then rinse the salt from the slices.  Arrange the eggplant on a cookie sheet or roasting pan and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 10-15 minutes, or until tender.

For those of you interested in my infamous eyebrow-exploding oven, here's how I preheat the thing:

While your eggplant is roasting, you can prepare the rest of the ingredients.  Spoon a thin layer of sauce into a casserole dish.  I used a 9x11, but just use whatever size you have.  I only have one casserole dish, poor me! Then, beat your egg (I scooped out half of the yolk, because I'm idiotically trying to save calories in a dish that will shortly be covered and dripping with cheese) and add the 1/4 cup ricotta and 3/4 cup Italian blend cheese.  I also added some crushed red pepper flakes because I'm spicy.


Oh, look, your eggplant is done!  Time to form the assembly line.  Okay, you've already got sauce in your casserole, you've got your eggplant nice and roasty, you have extra sauce nearby, and you have your cheesy cheeses at the ready.  Now let's just let the pictures do the talking!

Done and done!  That last layer is just Italian blend cheese.  That guy is your egg timer... when he turns nice and golden brown and bubbly, your Eggplant Bake is ready!  So pop that guy right back in the 350 degree oven, and give it roughly 10-15 minutes.

Whoa!  That just gets me drooling all over again.  I actually would have liked for this to get a little more brown on top, but that would have been easily remedied by sprinkling some straight-up parmesan cheese over the whole thing, which I did not have on hand.  Still tastes wonderful!

Okay, it might look like slop, but in my opinion, most good foods do.  The eggplant was so tender, I ate this with a spoon.  This would go marvelously with some steamed broccoli or a big green salad, but I was in a hurry so I shoved half of this into a mini pita and went to town.  Leftovers make great sandwiches, by the way!

Okay folks, I hope if you're an eggplant lover this has inspired you to revisit an old friend, and if you're eggplant-suspicious, maybe this recipe will open new doors of purple fruit-veg heaven!

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