We hadn’t had lasagna in quite some time and with dear friends Professore and La Moglia coming to chat about an upcoming trip to Bologna, I though why not? Professore has often spoken of his Eggplant Parmigiano making days some years ago when he tended a garden in Massachusetts. I had my inspiration for our lasagna; something using layers of eggplant, marinara sauce, Parmigiano and to give it a little twist – smoked mozzarella.
I was determined to use fewer pasta sheets to cut down the carb factor, so I decided to increase the eggplant layers of the lasagna. When selecting eggplants choose those that are small to medium in size, unblemished and have a concave bottom. I always degorge the eggplant which involves placing the salted slices in a strainer, weighing them down and allowing them to sit for an hour in the sink. This removes any excess water and seems to rid the eggplant of the slight bitter taste it often has. The final recipe for the lasagna uses more than 3 pounds of eggplant, peeled & sliced. Roasting the eggplant, rather than frying, reduces the amount of oil needed and brings tremendous complexity to the dish.
Let’s talk about premade no-boil lasagna, shall we….. Honestly when first introduced to this I was actually offended; after all Giuliano Bugialli personally guided me in the art of pasta fatta a mano or made by hand and his tips still prove to be invaluable. Mio Marito and I have experimented with the no-boil sheets in the past, finding the results rather disappointing. Despite using an imported Italian brand and following the instructions, once baked the pasta sheets seemed too hard and tasteless. In the real world, most of us do not have the time to prepare home made pasta so I was determined to make no-boil lasagna work and work well; after all no-boil sheets are commonly used throughout Italy. So, with some experimenting and a few simple tweaks – a longer soaking time for the pasta sheets, increasing the marinara sauce, and putting the lasagna together the evening before to rest – absolute perfection. The finished lasagna has an earthy smokey quality and is a wonderful do ahead dish.
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- 3 to 4 eggplant, small to medium in size, about 31/2 pounds
- ½ to 1 cup of kosher salt, you may not need the entire amount, to degorge the eggplant
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 2 recipes of Marinara Sauce, the first recipe will be used in preparing the lasagna, the second for serving the lasagna
- 1 lb. of smoked mozzarella, sliced and the slices cut into halves or thirds
- 2½ cups freshly grated Parmigiano
- 5 to 6 sheets of no boil lasagna, preferably imported Italian
- Fresh basil for garnish
- Have a strainer large enough to accommodate the sliced eggplant sitting over a large work bowl or in the kitchen sink. Peel the eggplant and slice into ¼" rounds. Place one layer of the peeled eggplant slices in the bottom of the strainer and sprinkle with some of the kosher salt, continue to layer the eggplant and salt until you have used all of the eggplant. Place a clean cotton kitchen towel on top of the salted eggplant, then place a heavy weight on the kitchen towel. Allow the eggplant to rest for one hour.
- Remove the weight and towel from the strainer. Lay the towel on the counter near the sink and begin to rinse the eggplant slices of any residual salt. Place the slices on the kitchen towel. Once you are finished, place a second clean kitchen towel on top of the slices to absorb any water.
- Preheat the oven to 450º and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Oil the parchment paper with as much of the ⅓ cup of olive oil as you deem necessary using a paper towel. Lay the dry eggplant slices over the oiled parchment. Once you have finished, turn the slices over to be certain that both sides have been lightly oiled.
- Place the trays into the preheated oven and after 10 minutes quickly turn over the slices using kitchen tongs. Roast the eggplant for another 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and cover the trays with foil; this will allow the eggplant to steam and insure that the slices are fully cooked. After 10 minutes remove the foil.
- Prepare an assembly station to put the lasagna together. Have the lasagna sheets, a pyrex baking pan half filled with warm water, a clean cotton towel, an oiled pyrex for the lasagna, the Parmigiano, the smoked mozzarella, the eggplant slices, and 1 recipe of the marinara set out.
- Take two sheets of the no-boil noodles and place them into the warm water for 2 minutes. In the meantime spoon and spread ¼ of a cup of the marinara sauce over the bottom of the oiled pyrex. Remove one of the lasagna sheets from the warm water, add another sheet as you remove the first one. Dab the sheet on the kitchen towel so that it is not dripping and place in the oiled baking dish over the marinara sauce. Layer the pasta sheet with slices of the eggplant, being sure that you slightly overlap the eggplant so that the pasta sheet is fully covered by the eggplant. Top the eggplant with some of the smoked mozzerella followed by some grated parmigiano and another ¼ cup of the marinara sauce. Top the layering with the second sheet of pasta in the same manner. Repeat until you have used all of the ingredients.
- The top layer of the lasagna should have both cheeses and marinara sauce only. Cover with a piece of parchment the same size as the baking dish and tightly wrap with foil, refrigerate overnight.
- The next day, remove the lasagna from the refrigerator 2 to 3 hours before baking. Preheat the oven to 350º, place the foil and parchment wrapped lasagna into the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and parchment and continue to bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until the lasagna is bubbling and the cheese on the top has melted.
- Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 20 to 30 minutes or until set. In the meantime, gently heat the remaining marinara sauce.
- Use a sharp knife to cut the rested lasagna into 6 to 9 pieces, depending upon whether you are using this as a primi or secondi. Have individual serving plates, the marinara sauce and basil garnish ready. Place a piece of lasagna in the center of the serving plate and spoon a few tablespoons of the marinara sauce around the lasagna. Garnish with a basil leaf and serve imediately.