Difficulty: Labor Intensive
This preparation inspired by the cooking of the Abruzzi looks wonderful cooked in a large earthenware dish, very colorful with the white of the ricotta and mascarpone cheese and the green spinach. This is a preparation that is very flavorful, a favorite with kids, and you are unlikely to have leftovers.
Yield: Makes 6 servings
Preparation Time: 3 hours
1 large eggplant (about 1 1/4 pounds), peeled and sliced 3/ 8 inch thick
Salt to taste
6 to 8 cups olive oil for frying
2 pounds spinach, heavy stems removed, washed well
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 pound ground lamb
1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cut in half, seeds squeezed out, and grated against the largest holes of a box grater down to the peel
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup pitted imported black olives
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
1 1/4 pounds no-boil (instant) lasagne
1/2 pound mascarpone cheese
1 pound ricotta cheese
Freshly grated pecorino cheese for serving
1. Lay the eggplant on some paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Leave them to release their bitter juices for 30 minutes, then pat dry with paper towels.
2. In a deep-fryer or an eight-inch saucepan with a wire fry basket, preheat the frying oil to 360ºF.
3. Fry the eggplant slices in batches until golden brown, about 4 minutes a side. Drain and remove to a paper towel-lined platter to drain further.
4. In a large saucepan or stock pot, place the spinach with only the water adhering to it from its last rinsing, cover, and wilt over high heat, turning once or twice, about 4 minutes. Remove to a strainer and drain well by pressing out gently with the back of a wooden spoon.
5. In a large flame-proof casserole, heat the olive oil over medium heat, then cook the onion and garlic until translucent, stirring so the garlic doesn’t burn, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the meat and brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, red wine, eggplant, olives, and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the sauce is thick, stirring gently and occasionally, about 1 hour. Add the basil and cook another 5 minutes.
6. Layer the bottom of a large earthenware casserole (preferably) or a lasagne pan with a few tablespoons of sauce. Cover with sheets of lasagne, then the spinach, a few randomly placed dollops of both mascarpone and ricotta, the sauce, and then another layer of lasagne. Continue in this order finishing a top layer with spinach, dollops of cheese, and sauce. Drizzle the top very lightly with olive oil.
7. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
8. Cover the casserole with a tented piece of aluminum foil and bake until the sauce and cheese are bubbling, about 45 minutes. Serve hot with pecorino cheese for sprinkling or cool and freeze.
Note: For frozen lasagne, preheat the oven to 400ºF and place the frozen lasagne in the oven for 1 1/4 hours.