Monday, November 9, 2009

Indian Summer Eggplant Lasagnette with Cherry Tomato Sauce

Autumn this year sucked.  It was cold, dreary. Prematurely grey.
But, I was being a good sport. I turned the heat on in the house. I wore my winter jacket outside (sometimes with a scarf).  And I had myself all geared up for cold weather comfort food.

And then, something strange happened. The frosty 36ºF days suddenly became balmy 69ºF days. The sun came out. Woodland creatures crept out of their premature hibernation and began to frolick once again. And a day lily in my garden burst into spontaneous autumn bloom (seriously, folks -- I wish I had taken a picture).

For some reason, it seemed wrong to blog about risotto when I could pull out the stops and hearken back to one of those luscious late summer dishes that makes your head swim with lusciousness.  And so, I changed my mind.

Instead of hauling out the photos of that risotto, I took a mental journey back to those warm September days when the garden was ripe with cherry tomatoes. I thought back to the delicious end-of-summer lasagnette that's become a tradition at our house. Layers of delicious fried eggplant, roasted cherry tomato sauce, tangy goat cheese, salty parmesan, and plenty of Italian parsley. 

Yeah, this was the sort of food I was in the mood for.
Just look at those gorgeous fruits. Succulent. Sweet. Bursting with pure tomato flavor.

On this particular occasion, I took about 4-6 cups of the tomatoes and placed them on a roasting pan in a 425ºF oven with a few nice long sprigs of fresh rosemary.

They sweltered, and burst.  Their sugars caramelized and their juices mingled with the flavors of the rosemary branches.

I sauteed about 2 cups of red bell pepper and about the same amount of onion in olive oil. I added 2 cups of uber flavorful homemade chicken stock, a bay leaf, and all those luscious tomatoes.  And I let the sauce simmer away for about 30-35 minutes. 

Meanwhile, I turned my attention to the eggplant I'd picked up at the farmer's market. And took a sip of the glass of wine Peef poured me while I was making the sauce.


I sliced it thinly, salted it liberally, and then left it to drain for about a 1/2 hour or so; then, I rinsed them briefly and dried them thoroughly.  Now, I know that there are skeptics among you -- skeptics who scoff at salting eggplant. Who claim that eggplants don't NEED to be salted.  And maybe that's true.  But, I'm not into doing extra work if there's no pay off.

In this case, I didn't salt the eggplants because I feared they were bitter; rather, I wanted to draw out some of the moisture from the fruits.  This accomplishes three things:  1) It firms the flesh of the eggplant, which renders them texturally more pleasing for the lasagnette; 2) It adds a bit of flavor to the dense eggplant flesh; and 3) A salted (and dried) eggplant will absorb less oil when fried.

I seasoned some flour with salt, pepper, and garlic, and dredged the eggplant. When every slice was nicely powedered, I shallow fried every last piece of it in olive oil.

A few pieces got snarfed up straight out of the hot pan. But, most of them made it to the paper towels to drain. After all, both Peef and I knew what was coming.

While the eggplant was frying, the sauce was busily transforming itself into something positively fabulous. Peef took our stick blender and gave the sauce a whir to smooth things out a bit. He let it simmer for a little while longer, until everything had reduced and thickened. And then, he pulled everything off of the heat. He added a few tablespoons of chopped fresh oregano, Italian parsley, and fresh basil.  Finally, he stirred in a pat of butter to give everything a bit of extra richness.

Then, the assembly of the lasagnette began.  First a layer of sauce on the bottom of the pan.

Then, layers of eggplant, crumbled fresh goat cheese, chopped parsley, and parmesan cheese.  And repeat. Keep layering until you've used up every last bit of eggplant.  Then, top with bread crumbs and additional parmesan cheese. Bake at 375ºF for about 30 minutes, or until the lasagnette is browned and bubbles slightly along the edges.



Serve up the lasagnette in generous slices with a bit of extra cheese. Maybe a nice salad alongside.

A pan feeds 6-8 easily. Leftovers are amazing. And it freezes beautifully.  In fact, we just ate the last of this batch a couple of weeks ago in the midst of a cold snap. And it was perfect.

Thick Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce

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20 comments:

  1. This is such a great way to use eggplants. I've never eaten fried eggplant before. That dish surely looks delicious.

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  2. Oh my, this looks delicious! I don't cook eggplant that often, but I am definitely going to try this. I like your cherry tomato sauce, too. I bet that would be great in many dishes. Thanks

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  3. that looks really great. It's funny to hear you refer to Autumn as past tense...I had to read that a couple of times. Ours has just arrived this week. For the first time our highs are in the 60's, not 70's or 80's. Autumn here bleeds from Summer to winter pretty uneventfully. I would love to experience "the seasons" some day. Enjoy the good weather!

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  4. i'm not a huge fan of eggplant, but this might just make me change my mind!

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  5. I can almost taste those roast tomatoes they look so good!

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  6. You know why this week has suddenly been so balmy? It's the Summer of St. Martin! Thanks to the legend of St. Martin, it is always spring-like sometime around the date of St. Martin's Day (the 11th). It's 69 degrees in NY too.

    Roasting tomatoes is definitely the best way to deal with off-season tomatoes. I love doing that.

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  7. I KNOW about our crazy weather... I didn't even need a jacket on Saturday!

    My picky Husband may even love this lasagnette, as I can get him to eat eggplant parmesan (but not too much of it in a lamb/eggplant tagine - so go figure!) I'm thinking that roasting will bring out the best in some out of season supermarket cherry tomatoes, and I'll put this on my docket for next week!

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  8. How positively delicious! Fresh and hearty! And comforting.

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  9. Who knew eggplant could look that good both fried up and baked up in your lasagna.

    I'm gonna try that pat of butter trick to my homemade sauce.
    ~ingrid

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  10. The eggplant lasagnette looks fabulous!!!

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  11. Eggplant lasadnette! Love eggplants and the roasted tomatoes must taste great together :-)

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  12. A divine & tasty looking end of summer dish!!

    MMMMMMMMM,...Lo!

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  13. This looks so fabulous I can taste it!! Nobody in my house likes eggplant but me [boo hiss] Thanks to them I rarely prepare it. Think you could send me a plate?

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  14. I sometimes make baked eggplant towers with layers of sauteed eggplant, tomato sauce and mozarella, but this looks better! I like the idea of adding goat cheese...

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  15. Oh, I bet this tasted wonderful! I always get lazy with frying eggplant but it does give it the best flavor. Sweet and tender.

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  16. i could smell that roasted tomatoes!

    visiting from Passionate Blogs, have a great day! I think I'm "bloggyblocked", can't put my thoughts into words so I'm going to show some bloglove and go comment-crazy instead!

    have a great day!

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  17. That looks positively delicious! The roasted cherry tomatoes and fried eggplant look incredible, and the goat cheese sounds fantastic.

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  18. Oh my! That sauce looks so good I could cry. I stopped at a local orchard (very rare on my sand spit) to buy apples last week and almost swooned when I also found some end of the season tomatoes. I bought them all.

    I love your poem/ode to the failed chocolate raspberry ice cream. Too cool. Even with a flat taste that wouldn't have lasted long in our house. Our 14 year old son would have finished it off in two days.

    Did I ever tell you that your buffalo chicken dip (which is the first time I visited your site) inspired my husband to add a similar item to the menu at the restaurant he works for?

    Our son ordered it tonight and I though of you guys.

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  19. You totally had me at the cherry tomatoes! This dish looks amazing!

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  20. Oh Lo, that looks absolutely mouthwatering. You are killing me here! I am so not going to be satisfied with the baked potato and salad I am having tonight :(

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