My mom makes a mean eggplant. Her signature are slices of grilled eggplant, charred on the outside and creamy–almost gooey–on the inside. Though she doesn’t pre-salt, rinse, and pat dry the eggplant, she does salt it pretty well, which is often part of something tasting great. Her technique is to put eggplant slices in a big plastic bag with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and to smush it all around until each slice is well covered. Once it’s on the grill, I’m not privy to what magic she works. All I know is that when she begins to pile them on a platter by the grill and I sneak slices every few minutes, they are unbeatably good. Like magic, the platter tends to be substantially lightened by the time it makes its way to the table.
But the eggplant my mom makes in the oven for grilled vegetable sandwiches or just as a side dish is pretty damn good too.
One Friday night this summer when I was already out at our beach house and Mom was on her way, I decided I should pay her back for all the eggplant I’d stolen from the serving platters over the years. Not wanting to light up the grill for a single eggplant, I opted for the oven. And I wasn’t stopping at eggplant; no, I was going to turn this into a full-fledged vegetarian dinner: lasagna. I added zucchini into the mix, as well as ricotta, fresh tomatoes, and fontina. By the time I got the call that errands and traffic would mean Mom wouldn’t make it out by dinner the lasagna was way too far along to abandon. I rushed to cook it, since it was getting dark and starting to rain, and I knew I wanted to photograph it for the site. After venturing out to the coffee table to catch the last of the grayish light, I ate a slice for dinner all by my lonesome, and it was fabulous: summery in flavor, yet hearty for a cool night’s appetite. All weekend, we lunched, dined, and snacked on the lasagna and I was reminded of what a prize it is to have in the fridge. (I took a photograph of an actual slice the next day, reheated in the microwave, when daylight, and sunshine, were finally back.)
I guess maybe there should be a saying: when life deprives you of dinner with mom, make intentional leftovers. Or not.
From my kitchen, using up the last of the summer produce, to yours,
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Eggplant-Zucchini Lasagna with Fontina
I was inspired to use this 10-inch round skillet, which of course meant some breaking up of noodles and then fitting them together into the pan’s curves. You can also use a square or rectangular baking dish–you’ll want an 8 or 9-inch square pan. When the tomatoes aren’t fresh, you can simply use plum tomatoes from a can.
About 1/2 cup olive oil
1 large eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch-thick slices
2 large zucchini, cut on the diagonal into 1/2-inch thick slices
7 plum tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound no-boil lasagna noodles
12 ounces whole-milk ricotta
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
6 ounces fontina, grated
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
In a medium bowl, toss the zucchini with 1 tablespoon olive oil and about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet in the oven and roast for 15-20 minutes, until very brown. Remove and let cool. As soon as the zucchini is in the oven, use the same bowl to toss the eggplant with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 3/4 teaspoon salt, making sure all slices are coated (you may need a little bit more). Place the eggplant in a single layer on another baking sheet and roast for 20-25 minutes until cooked through and browned. Set both vegetables aside.
Bring a small pot of water to the boil. Stick the tomatoes in for 1 minute, then remove with tongs and let cool on the countertop for about 5 minutes, until you can handle them. Trim them and pull off the skin (it should slide off easily; discard it), then use your fingers to break up the flesh. Place in a small bowl and combine with the minced garlic, 2 teaspoons olive oil, and about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Taste the tomatoes: you want them to be very well seasoned, so add a bit more salt if necessary.
In a small bowl, combine the ricotta with oregano and 3/4 teaspoon salt and stir to mix.
In a 10-inch round skillet, pour about 1/2 cup of the tomato mixture. Layer with noodles, breaking them to fit the pan. Top with the eggplant in one layer, then spread on half of the ricotta. Sprinkle with a quarter of the fontina and another 1/2 cup of sauce. Repeat this pattern once, using the zucchini instead of eggplant. (That is, noodles, zucchini, the rest of the ricotta, a quarter of the fontina, 1/2 cup of sauce.) Place another layer of noodles, then dice any leftover eggplant or zucchini and sprinkle on top. Spread with the remaining sauce, then top with the remaining half of the fontina.
Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes, then uncover, sprinkle with the Parmesan, and bake another 25 minutes, until the cheese is browned and bubbly. Let the lasagna rest 10-15 minutes before cutting into squares and serving.