Monday, 23 May 2011

Melanzane e Pomodori al Forno

Literally baked aubergines (eggplant) and tomatoes, I prefer to think of this as eggplant and tomato casserole. I’m not sure anyone would be that excited about it with that title though, so I’ve decided to stick to its Italian name. For, while it may not sound like anything special, it really is a wonderful dish, and perfect for National Vegetarian Week.

It is another one of the dishes my son and I learned to make at the Italian Cooking Class we attended a few weeks ago. I enjoyed the dish that was made there, but I knew there were a few things I would change if I were making it myself. So a few days after we got home, I rolled up my sleeves and made the dish easier to make, and I think, a lot tastier. I also changed it from a side dish into a hearty vegetarian main course. It may not be authentic anymore, but it got rave reviews.
The original recipe instructs you to degorge (salt and rinse) the eggplant before using. This is done to remove any bitterness, but I honestly have never found eggplant to be particularly bitter. Degorging eggplant is fiddly and time consuming, and I believe that no matter how well you rinse it, I find it still tastes too salty. If you do want to do it, simply lay the eggplant slices in a colander in layers, sprinkling each layer with salt. Stand the colander in a clean sink and leave to drain for 30 minutes. Rinse the slices thoroughly with cold water and pat dry with kitchen paper. Then proceed with the recipe.

3 eggplant, sliced about a half inch thick
about ½ cup olive oil
1½ to 2 cups vegetarian style mozzarella cheese, grated
¼ cup vegetarian parmesan style cheese, grated (optional)
4 shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 - 14 ounce cans passata (sieved tomatoes) or chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
2 generous tablespoons basil pesto (optional)
8 basil leaves, shredded or 1 teaspoon dried basil
(you may not want to add the basil if you use the pesto)
salt and pepper to taste
8 ounces dried penne pasta (or any other pasta shape you like)

Brush two baking sheets with olive oil and lay the eggplant slices on it. Brush them with more olive oil. Bake at 375 (190) for about fifteen minutes, turning once. Brush with more olive oil if necessary.

Meanwhile, heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the shallots for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two.

Add the passata or tomatoes and the pesto. Add the basil leaves, if using. Bring to the boil, and then lower the heat and simmer for about five minutes. Taste the sauce, being careful not to burn yourself. If the sauce tastes a bit sharp, stir in the sugar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for a further five to ten minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta according to package directions. When it is cooked, drain it well and return to the pan. Add the tomato sauce to the pasta and stir through. Put the lid on, but keep it off the heat.

Brush a large ovenproof casserole dish with oil and arrange half the eggplant slices on the bottom. Cover with half the sauced pasta. Sprinkle with half the mozzarella. Arrange the remaining eggplant slices on top, and cover with the remaining pasta.

If you are using the parmesan style cheese, mix it with the remaining mozzarella. Sprinkle the cheese over top of the casserole.

Bake at 350 (175) for about twenty minutes. Serve with a green salad and/or crusty bread.

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  1. Wow, you are such an amazing cook!

  2. Thank you, Val! What a lovely thing to say :)


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