Do you ever get the urge, at 6:30 pm on a weeknight when everyone is already starving, to whip up something markedly not weeknight appropriate? Say, lasagna for instance? I did. Last night. I simply turned a blind eye while my hungry counterpart stole nibbles of shredded cheese from the counter for himself and our furry companion, and everyone was happy when dinner finally made it's appearance two hours later.
On a rainy Fall night, when you aren't quite sure how you feel about November showing up unexpectedly and without permission, there is nothing like a piping hot lasagna to cheer you up, with a thick layer of chewy cheese on top and crunchy edges. And let me tell you - roasted eggplant and portobello mushrooms make a killer lasagna. I surpassed my own self-expectations with this one.
Roasting the veggies under high heat for a short period of time allows them to caramelize and concentrates their earthy, sweet flavours. When the softened, slightly charred vegetables are baked with garlicky marinara sauce and lots of gooey cheese between layers of noodles, the result is rich and satisfying without being heavy in the way that meat lasagna can be.
The secret to good eggplant is salting it and letting it stand for about 15 minutes before using it. This draws out the bitter juices, and also improves the cooking by leaps and bounds - if you skip this step, the eggplant acts like a sponge - rather than browning nicely, it just soaks up the oil and gets soggy and greasy.
I saved some time and an additional dirty pot by using the oven-ready lasagna noodles, and was really happy with the result. The trick is to make an extra-saucy lasagna so the noodles can soften adequately without drying out the dish. I could have saved more time by using jarred pasta sauce (which you are free to do!) but really, you must try my marinara sauce at some point because it is so simple to make, and it is to die for. The afore-mentioned hungry counterpart (and not the furry one) licked the sauce-pot clean while the lasagna was in the oven.
Oliver really wanted some lasagna too. This is the fur-faced gourmet who turns his nose up at Milk Bones and spits out any treat that he deems inferior. But seriously, who could say no to those eyes and that hairdo? So cute, I just wanna paint his picture.
Roasted Eggplant and Portobello Mushroom Lasagna
1 box oven-ready lasagna noodles
2 cups ricotta or cottage cheese
6 oz spinach (about 6 cups)
1 lb mozzarella cheese, shredded (makes 4 cups)
1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano (optional, do not substitute the powdery parmesan cheese)
1 recipe Marinara Sauce (below)
1 recipe Roasted Eggplant and Portobello Mushrooms (below)
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mince spinach in a food processor, then stir in ricotta or cottage cheese. Set aside. Spread about 1 cup of marinara sauce in the bottom of a 13" by 9" baking dish, and arrange 3 lasagna noodles over top. Spread another 1 cup of sauce over noodles, and add half of the roasted vegetables and 1/3 of the cheese. Top with 3 more noodles, then the spinach/cottage cheese mixture. Repeat with another layer of sauce, vegetables and cheese. Top with noodles, the remaining sauce, the remainder of the mozzarella, plus the parmagiano reggiano, if using. Bake uncovered for 35-45 minutes, and let rest 10 minutes before cutting.
Basic Marinara Sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, diced
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste
4 cups diced, canned tomatoes
1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute onion until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute 2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and canned tomatoes. Simmer 20 minutes, uncovered. Puree sauce with an immersion blender, or in batches if using a regular blender. Season well with salt, tasting as you go.
Roasted Eggplant and Portobello Mushrooms
1 large eggplant or 2 small ones
2-3 portobello mushrooms
1/4 cup olive oil
1. Preheat broiler, and arrange a rack at top of the oven. Slice eggplant into 1/4 inch rounds. Sprinkle generously with salt on both sides, and layer in a colander. Let eggplant sit for at least 15 minutes, then rinse with cool water and dry well with paper towels.
2. Slice portobello mushroom caps into 1/3 inch strips. Coarsely chop stems. Toss mushrooms and eggplant with 1/4 cup oil and arrange in a single later on a baking sheet. Broil until soft and charred, flipping after about 6 minutes and cooking about another 3 minutes on the other side.