I’m not sure what to call this…it is based on moussaka, but is also similar to lasagna sans the noodles. Instead of topping the casserole with a cheesy cream sauce, to avoid the use of flour I decided to include a Parmesan-ricotta layer between the eggplant layers. Also in my version, the eggplant slices are roasted in the oven instead of breaded and fried. This recipe has lots of steps, but at the end it comes together easily and it can be prepared ahead of time…leaving you free to enjoy a nice adult beverage while it cooks!
- 3 medium eggplants
- Extra-virgin olive oil (EVO)
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 1 pound ground beef (grass-fed)
- bunch of fresh basil
- 1/2 t dried oregano
- 1/2 t dried marjoram
- 1/2 t ground cinnamon
- 1 t kosher salt
- 2 cups tomato sauce
- Dried red chile pepper flakes, optional, to taste
- 16 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
- 2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 egg
- Salt and pepper
First, preheat the oven to 400F and prepare the eggplant. I like to peel them in stripes, lengthwise. The peel is ok to eat, but personally I think hunks of it can get chewy…so I’ll leave this to your personal preference. Slice the eggplants crosswise in approximately 3/4 inches rounds. Prepare 2 baking sheets with oiled parchment paper or light non-stick coating. Place the eggplant rounds on the baking sheets; brush with EVO. (Eggplant really soaks up the oil, so don’t get too heavy-handed!) Lightly season with salt and pepper and place in the oven. Cook for 6-7 minutes, then remove from the oven, turn over the slices, brush oil on the top side, and return to the oven. Continue to do this until the eggplant is tender and browned on each side (20-25 minutes or so). Remove from oven and set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 350F.
Now for the sauce! In a Dutch oven, saute the onions in EVO over medium high heat until tender (about 5 minutes), then add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds. Add the ground lamb and ground beef and cook until done, stirring to break up the clumps of meat. While that is cooking, roll up several leaves of basil (like rolling a cigar), then thinly slice. Or chiffonade…if you want the fancy instructions. You’ll want a nice handful of basil, so keep going until you have it. Drain off the excess fat from the meat. Add oregano, cinnamon, majoram, salt, and tomato sauce. If you want a little bite to it, add some red chili flakes too. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in a good handful of basil chiffonade.
Ok…we’ll get the cheese together and then we can assemble the casserole. In a medium bowl, lightly mix up the egg. Add all of the ricotta cheese and one cup of Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper and mix it up well. If you want you can throw some basil in this too. Can’t have too much basil…
Take a breath here, because most of the hard work is done! I took a little break to check my email, look at facebook updates, and make sure no one faxed me any real work… whew, they didn’t.
Lightly coat a lasagna pan or large casserole dish with oil. On the bottom of the dish, make a layer using half the eggplant slices. Cover this with about half the meat sauce. Add all the Parmesan-ricotta mixture, spreading each layer evenly over the dish. Then add a second layer of eggplant followed by the rest of the meat sauce. Sprinkle the remaining cup of Parmesan cheese over the top. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove the cover, then bake an additional 10 minutes or so until the top is bubbly and lightly browned.
Remove from oven, but be sure to let it cool down for at least 10 minutes or you’ll burn the bejesus out of your mouth. Trust me on that.
A bit of acoustic music for the eggplant prep…time well spent, I can assure you!
First, if you like guitar music and haven’t heard Michael Hedges, you’re in for a treat. His Breakfast in the Field is a funky, acrobatic masterpiece that earned him the honor of “the Eddie Van Halen of acoustic guitar”. Gorgeous creations with one man, one guitar.
Are you down with the Dawg, David Grisman?
Legendary mandolin player, he’s worked with Jerry Garcia, Old and in the Way, and runs the most successful acoustic label around. The aptly named Hot Dawg is a great introduction to the skills of the Dawg.
Now, time for some eggplant leftovers!