Lasagne is a perfect party dish because it can be prepared in advance and heated up when guests arrive. Plus, who doesn’t like lasagne? As much as I love a well-prepared, traditional lasagne Bolognese, if I’m going to serve it at home, I want it to be vegetarian, should the rare vegetarian friend happen to arrive. This eggplant lasagne is not the typical vegetarian version with a mishmash of vegetetables, but a hybrid of eggplant Parmesan and classic lasagna. Because eggplant has a satisfying, meaty quality to it that broccoli and zucchini do not possess, even a meat lover such as myself doesn’t miss the meat. This takes some time and effort to make, but it has a good payoff. When you serve this rich dish, you don’t have to serve a lot of other items. For a casual Sunday dinner with friends, all you need is a salad.
The eggplant is seasoned with za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend made of dried herbs, sumac, and sesame seeds. Za’atar is not something I normally use, but it turns out to be the perfect complement to both the eggplant and the tomato sauce in this recipe. Look for za’atar that doesn’t contain salt; if the za’atar you use does contain salt, hold back slightly on the salt called for in this recipe and add more to taste. And if you can’t find za’atar, substitute dried oregano.
We cut the lasagne before it goes into the oven, a trick we learned from the great Italian chef Gino Angelini, who is famous in Los Angeles for his lasagne Bolognese. Gino taught us that cutting the lasagne before it goes into the oven ensures clean, even portions; it also prevents the entire top layer of cheese from sliding off with the first piece served.
You will need a 13 x 9-inch or other similarly sized baking dish to make this—ideally, something pretty enough so that you feel comfortable taking it to the table. If you have a mandoline, use it to make easy work of slicing the garlic for this recipe.
Excerpted from MOZZA AT HOME by Nancy Silverton with Carolyn Carreño. Copyright © 2016 by Random House. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
- 2 large eggplants (2–2 1/2 lbs)
- 1 C extra-virgin olive oil + extra, if needed
- 6 T + 3 1/2 t kosher salt
- 1/2 C large garlic cloves (about 20 cloves), peeled and sliced 1/16 inch thick lengthwise, preferably on a mandoline
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
- 1 1/2 t sugar
- 1/2 C pitted small black olives (such as Taggiasche, Niçoise, or Kalamata; about 3 oz)
- 3 T za’atar (or dried oregano)
- 1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 t red chile flakes
- + cheese sauce
- 1/2 large yellow Spanish onion (halved root to tip), peeled
- 4 T (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 árbol chile pod
- 2 bay leaves (preferably fresh)
- 1/4 C unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 q whole milk
- 2 t kosher salt
- 12 oz shredded low-moisture mozzarella (about 3 C)
- 8 oz fresh ricotta (about 1 C)
- 1/2 C finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 2 oz)
- 2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 (16-ounce) package dried lasagna noodles
- 1 C finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 4 oz)
To prepare the eggplants, adjust the oven racks so none are near the oven floor; you’ll be putting the baking sheet directly on the oven floor. If you are using an electric oven or another oven where you can’t put anything on the floor, adjust the oven racks so that one is closest to the floor and put a pizza stone on it, if you have one. Heat the oven to 500°F.
Trim and discard the tip and stem ends of the eggplants and cut the eggplants into 1-inch cubes. Divide the eggplants between two large baking sheets. Drizzle each portion with 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Toss and gently massage the cubes to coat the eggplants. Spread the eggplant cubes out in a single layer on the baking sheets. Cooking one batch at a time, put one baking sheet on the oven floor or the lowest rack and cook for 15–20 minutes, until the cubes are dark brown all over and beginning to lose their shape, rotating the baking sheet from front to back and moving the cubes with a metal spatula halfway through the cooking time so they don’t stick to the baking sheet. (When cooking vegetables on the oven floor as you do in this recipe, a lot of steam is produced from the water released as a result of the vegetables cooking so quickly, so just be careful of the steam that will arise when you open the oven door.) Remove the baking sheet from the oven, season with 1 teaspoon of the salt, and set aside. Cook the second batch of eggplant in the same way. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, season the cubes with 1 teaspoon of the salt, and set aside.
Combine the garlic and the remaining 1/4 cup oil in a large Dutch oven or another large high-sided pot over medium heat. Cook until the garlic is soft and very light golden brown, stirring constantly so it doesn’t burn, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, sugar, and the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, stir to combine, and cook the tomatoes for 5 to 6 minutes, until they thicken slightly. Spoon out and reserve 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce. Add the roasted eggplants, olives, za’atar, pepper, and red chile flakes. Stir to combine and cook until the eggplants have taken on the color of the sauce, about 5 minutes, adding 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup if the sauce is dry and sticky. Turn off the heat and set aside while you cheese sauce.
To make the cheese sauce, trim and discard the root end of the onion half. Cut the onion half in half again root to tip so the onion is quartered. Separate the layers of the onion, stack 2 or 3 layers at a time on top of one another, and slice 1/4 inch thick lengthwise.
Combine the butter, onion, chile pod, and bay leaves in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring often, until the butter is melted and the onion is soft but not brown, about 10 minutes, stirring often to prevent the onion from browning. Add the flour, whisking constantly to remove any lumps, and cook for 2 minutes to cook off the flour flavor. Gradually add 1 cup of the milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Increase the heat to high and cook the sauce, whisking constantly, until it begins to thicken, about 1 minute. Add another cup of the remaining milk, whisking constantly. Return the sauce to a boil and add the remaining 2 cups milk, whisking constantly. Return the sauce to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, whisking or stirring constantly, until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 3–4 minutes.
Turn off the heat and stir in the salt. Pour the sauce through a fine-mesh strainer into a medium bowl and discard the contents of the strainer. Ladle out 1 cup of the white sauce (this is a béchamel) and set it aside. Add the mozzarella, ricotta, Parmigiano, and eggs to the bowl with the remaining béchamel and gently whisk to integrate the additions into the sauce.
Meanwhile, to cook the pasta and assemble the lasagne, adjust the oven racks so one is in the middle position. Unless the broiler is in a different section of the oven, put another rack closest to the broiler. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Combine 6 quarts water and 6 tablespoons salt in a a large soup or pasta pot and bring to a boil over high heat. If you are not using a pasta pot, place a colander in the sink. Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl and create a large bed with paper towels or clean dish towels to lay the pasta on after it’s cooked.
Drop the lasagna into the boiling water and stir to prevent the sheets of pasta from sticking together. Boil the pasta using the time indicated on the package instructions as a guide, until it’s al dente. Quickly drain the pasta in the colander or lift out the pasta pot insert. Immediately transfer the pasta to the ice water to cool completely; this is especially important when making baked pasta such as this because the pasta will cook more when you bake the lasagne. Lift the noodles out of the ice bath with your hands and lay the sheets of pasta in a single layer on the towels to dry. Lightly oil the noodles before placing a second layer on top if you need to stack them. Pat the top sides dry with paper towels.
Spread the 1/2 cup reserved tomato sauce over the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Lay 3 sheets of lasagna on the bottom of the pan to cover it. Add half of the tomato and eggplant sauce (about 2 1/2 cups) and use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to spread it evenly over the pasta. Spoon half of the cheese sauce over the sauce and use another clean spoon or spatula to spread it in an even layer to the edges and into the corners of the pan. Lay 3 sheets of lasagna on top of the cheese sauce. Press gently down on the pasta sheets with the palms of your hands to ensure that the layers are flat and even, and that there aren’t any air bubbles in the lasagna. Spoon the remaining tomato and eggplant sauce on top of the pasta and spread it out as you did the first layer. Spoon the remaining cheese sauce over the tomato and eggplant sauce and spread it out to cover as you did the first layer. Lay a final layer of pasta on top of the cheese sauce. You can make the lasagne to this point up to 1 day in advance. Cover the pan and refrigerate the lasagne until you’re ready to bake it, but note that it will take a bit longer to cook.
Using a rubber spatula, gently spread the reserved béchamel evenly over the top of the lasagne and sprinkle the Parmigiano over the béchamel. Using a long sharp knife, cut the lasagne into 9 or 12 equal-size servings.
Put the lasagne on a baking sheet and put it in the oven to bake for 35–45 minutes, until the edges are golden brown and puffed up a bit, rotating the pan from front to back halfway through the baking time so the lasagne browns evenly.
Turn the oven to the broiler setting.
Remove the lasagne from the oven and set it aside for 5–10 minutes to pre- heat the broiler.
Put the lasagne on the rack closest to the broiler or to the broiler section of the oven and cook until the top is golden brown around the edges, 5–10 minutes; check the lasagne often while it is under the broiler because broilers vary greatly and the lasagne could quickly go from brown to burned. Remove the lasagne from the oven and let it cool for at least 1 hour before serving.
Serve the lasagne in the dish it was cooked in, with a spatula for guests to dig out a portion for themselves.