Don’t the quotes in the title look silly? Or, excuse me, “silly”? But they’re actually accurate; this is indeed pretty much like lasagna, in that it has layers of meat and cheese and tomato sauce, only it has eggplant instead of those pesky noodles. Like lasagna, the tastes meld together beautifully. And also like lasagna, it’s pretty labor-intensive, but it can conveniently be made ahead of time and baked later, so it’s good for company. I of course didn’t take advantage of this when I made it on Monday night; I just plodded along through the whole recipe while engaged in a long phone conversation—always a risky undertaking, but I didn’t get distracted enough to ruin anything.
I think this may be from Bruce Aidells’ Sausage Cookbook; anyway, I’d only made it once before. The results of the first trial had obviously been good enough to keep the recipe around, but I do recall it turning out too oily and heavy. So my challenge during Round 2 was to see if it could be made less greasy—and, therefore, worthy of keeping in the long term. I am happy to announce that I succeeded. The problem had simply been eggplant’s amazing ability to soak up oil like a sponge; the first time, I’d followed the recipe’s instructions to “drizzle with several tablespoons of oil.” This time, I used the oil very sparingly and cut down on the quantity of cheese (1 pound is a lot of mozzarella—you just don’t need that much). And the result was a nice, savory dish, rich but not overwhelming.
Both times, I’ve made a half-recipe, by the way. We just don’t need that much leftover “lasagna” cluttering up the refrigerator.
Postscript, December 2009: Ultimately, this proved to be too labor-intensive and rich to earn a regular place in my rotation, so I'm banishing it to the "Not Favorites" category. I'm still not a huge eggplant lover, try as I might.
2 medium-large eggplants
2 pounds hot or sweet Italian sausage
2 medium onions, chopped
4 tablespoons chopped garlic
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
½ pound sliced mushrooms
16 ounces canned tomato sauce
1 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound thinly sliced mozzarella cheese, or to taste (I use less)
½ pound freshly grated Parmesan, or to taste (I use less)
1. Heat a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Slice sausage into 1/2-inch pieces. When the skillet is hot, add the sausage slices and brown for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. When the sausage is brown, remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon and put it on a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. Turn down the heat to medium, add the onion and garlic to the sausage drippings, and cook them for about 5 minutes. When the onions are soft, add the fennel, basil, and mushrooms and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and the wine, bring the sauce to a boil, and decrease the heat to a simmer. Simmer the sauce for about 30 minutes.
3. While the sauce is cooking, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with tinfoil and then very lightly oil the surface. Trim the ends off the eggplant, peel it, and slice it lengthwise (be careful not to make the slices too thin, by the way, or they’ll overcook and get limp and useless). Place the slices on the baking sheet and brush them with the barest possible amount of olive oil. Put the baking sheet in the oven to cook for 20-30 minutes, or until the eggplant is soft. About midway through, flip the slices over, just to see how they're cooking (and to keep them from sticking to the sheet too much). When eggplant is tender, remove from oven and reduce heat to 350 degrees.
4. When the tomato sauce has simmered for 30 minutes, add the sausage and cook about 10 minutes longer, then add some pepper and a little salt and remove from heat.
5. Get out your 9x13 baking dish (since I was doing a half recipe, I used a 9x9). Place a layer of eggplant on the bottom of the dish, cover it with a layer of the tomato-sausage sauce, and then add a layer of sliced mozzarella and grated Parmesan. Continue layering ingredients, ending with a layer of cheese on top. (The recipe notes that the “lasagna” can be made ahead to this point and refrigerated overnight.)
6. Bake 20-30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese is melted and beginning to brown on top. Remove from oven, let it rest for 10 minutes, and then slice and serve.
Time: 1½ hours