Weekends are the days I look forward to cooking the most. There is that one element that is often missing during the hustle-bustle of the other days: Time. Sundays are, by far, my favorite days for cooking and baking. Saturdays are often filled with adventures – whether it’s shopping, time with friends, skiing or traveling, you can do almost anything you want to on a Saturday and not have to worry about staying up late or not getting it all done because you will always have Sunday, just around the corner. Sunday is usually the day to clean the house (well, maybe every other Sunday, or sometimes every other other Sunday, but who’s counting?), relax, simmer a homemade chicken stock, bake a batch of English Muffin Batter Bread, cook something that takes lots of attention, hours of marinating or has multiple, time-consuming steps (remember, this = fun!).
Lasagna is one of those multiple-step time-consuming dishes. While simple to assemble, and comforting enough to warm even the most cold-stricken of bodies (and hearts!), all of the cooking and layering added to the long baking time make it a dish that doesn’t grace our table very often. But I love that kind of hearty, homey type of dish with all of my heart. For me, it evokes visions of a rustic hearth (oh how I wish I had a rustic hearth...), well-used pots and pans, and a crackling fire. Besides, this type of food is preferably enjoyed while surrounded by good company and with an earthy glass of wine in hand - and what could be better than that?
This recipe was inspired by an email advertisement that came in my inbox last week, but I didn’t use the recipe – this dish came together on its own. I’m finding that I’m becoming much more at ease without a recipe these days. That's not to say that I'm a better cook necessarily, just that I don't feel the need to follow someone else's directions anymore. Even if it doesn't come out quite right, then I can decide what to change next time...a little more of this, a little less of that, maybe some other ingredient added... I still use recipes for ideas and inspiration, and in baking I’ll often stick to precise measurements of flour or butter while taking more liberty to lighten things up, add more spices or change some of the flavoring ingredients, but savory dishes are now totally open to interpretation.
There is also no ricotta mixture in this lasagna recipe – I wanted it simple and easy and I actually liked it without the added heaviness (or richness) of the ricotta...there was something about the cinnamon in the sauce and the eggplant that went so well together that I didn’t think it wasn’t needed, but it could certainly be added if you wanted a thicker, richer lasagna. You could also do more layers if you wanted a thicker lasagna - just follow your intuition and what makes you happy. The tomato sauce, should have find yourself with leftovers for any reason (maybe you made a double batch, perhaps?) would be a great dipping marinara for breadsticks, or even good on pasta with some added vegetables, or even surrounding and nestling meatballs (maybe cut down the cinnamon just a touch - it goes best with veggies in my opinion). Everything can be assembled ahead of time and kept in the fridge until you're ready to bake it. I even did the first bake, let it sit out on the counter under foil while I went to an early movie, then baked it the rest of the way when we got home. It also develops even more flavor the second day, so it makes great leftovers.
Roasted Eggplant Lasagna with Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce,
1 large, firm eggplant, slice thinly into ¼ inch slices
salt and pepper, to taste
lasagna noodles – I used 6 sheets of Barilla homemade-style no boil lasagna noodles
1 ½ cups of part-skim mozzarella cheese
½ cup dried breadcrumbs
fire-roasted tomato sauce (see recipe below)
Fire-Roasted Tomato Sauce (makes just enough for this recipe):
1 ½ tsp. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 cans fire-roasted crushed or diced tomatoes
½ tsp. oregano
½ tsp. basil
¼ tsp. cinnamon
dash of red pepper flakes
Salt the eggplant in a colander, and leave it for 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry between two tea towels or paper towels. Preheat your oven to 400F. Cover two cookie sheets with foil and spray down with olive oil or cooking spray (we have a Misto). Lay slices of eggplant on the cookie sheets in a single layer and spray the tops with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until they begin to turn light brown and become soft – about 30 - 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce: Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan, until hot but not smoking. Sauté the onion until it is translucent, then add the garlic and cook for another minute. Feel free to add a splash of wine here if you’ve got an open bottle). Add the two cans of fire-roasted tomatoes and the herbs and cinnamon if you are using dried herbs (wait until the end to add the herbs if you want to use fresh). Bring to a simmer and simmer for 10 minutes or until slightly thickened. Using an immersion blender or regular blender (just let it cool!), puree the sauce until it is smooth and thick. Now would also be the time to cook your lasagna noodles to al dente if you are not using the “no boil” variety.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350F. In an 8x8 ceramic or glass baking dish, add a few spoonfuls of sauce to the bottom of the dish. Layer on two pasta sheets (or enough noodles to cover), a layer of over-lapped eggplant slices, a good sprinkling of breadcrumbs, and a layer of mozzarella cheese. Add another layer of sauce (a little thicker now), noodles, eggplant, breadcrumbs and cheese. Add one more layer of sauce, a layer of noodles, the rest of the sauce and top off the dish with a good sprinkling of cheese. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 40 minutes or until cheese is hot and bubbly. Remove the foil, then bake for another 25-30 minutes until the cheese begins to brown on top.