Difficulty: Labor Intensive
This recipe is inspired by a lasagna I had once in Catania in Sicily as a primo piatto that I loved so much. The breaded eggplant has the taste and texture of meat and it’s an earthy taste and very satisfying.
[photo: Clifford A. Wright]
Yield: Makes 8 servings
Preparation Time: 2 hours
1 pound fresh ricotta cheese
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt and more as needed
3 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino cheese
1 small eggplant (about 3/4 pound), stem removed and cut in 3/8-inch slices
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
Bouquet garni, consisting of 6 sprigs each of fresh thyme and fresh basil, tied in cheesecloth
1 tablespoon dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
10 ounces spinach, heavy stems removed, washed well
6 to 8 cups olive oil for frying
1 large egg, beaten
Dry bread crumbs for dredging
1 pound no-boil (instant) lasagna
1 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
1. In a bowl, stir the ricotta, water, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pecorino together.
2. Lay the eggplant pieces on some paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Leave them to drain of their bitter juices for 30 minutes, then pat dry with paper towels.
3. In a medium-size skillet or flame-proof casserole, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat, then cook the onion and garlic until translucent, stirring frequently so the garlic doesn’t burn, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes, bouquet garni, oregano, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook 12 minutes on medium-high heat, stirring. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a saucepan and add the spinach with a pinch of salt and wilt the spinach over medium heat, tossing frequently, about 5 minutes.
5. In a deep-fryer or an 8-inch saucepan with a wire fry basket, preheat the frying oil to 375ºF.
6. Dip the eggplant slices in the egg then dredge in the bread crumbs, shaking off any excess. Deep-fry the eggplant slices until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and set aside.
7. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
8. Layer the lasagna in two 9 x 9 x 2 1/2- inch aluminum cake pans. Ladle a few tablespoons of tomato sauce on the bottom of the pans, then a sheet of lasagna, ricotta, eggplant, tomato sauce, lasagna, spinach, mozzarella, in that order until all the ingredients have used up both pans. Cover the pans with a piece of tented aluminum foil and bake until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling on the sides of the pan, 40 to 45 minutes. Serve hot or cool and freeze.
Note: For frozen lasagna, preheat the oven to 400ºF and place the frozen lasagna in the oven for 1 1/4 hours.