Eggplant Lasagna Stacks Up!
"Eggplant lasagna is a great fall dish," says Marc Marrone, the TAO Group corporate executive sous chef who oversees LAVO Italian Restaurant in Las Vegas, Nevada. "My nana used to make it in the early fall after collecting all the eggplants grown in her and our Italian neighbor's driveway. It's warm, hearty and the smell permeates the house."
In keeping with his grandmother's way, Marrone uses Italian eggplant in place of pasta because "it has the best moisture content to hold up to frying and won't become mush."
Fresh garlic and basil flavor the plum tomatoes, adding to the earthy, rustic feel of this noodle-free dish.
Courtesy of Marc Marrone, TAO Group corporate executive chef, LAVO Italian Restaurant in Las Vegas, Nevada
- 2 ½ pounds eggplant, about 2 medium-sized, cut into 1/3-inch rounds
- 3 ¼ teaspoons salt
- 5 pounds plum tomatoes
- 1 ½ cups + 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 20 fresh basil leaves, torn in half
- ¾ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 5 large eggs
- 1 pound chilled, fresh mozzarella (not unsalted), thinly sliced
- 2/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Toss eggplant with 2 teaspoons salt in a colander set over a bowl, then let drain 30 minutes. While eggplant drains, cut an X in the bottom of each tomato with a sharp paring knife and blanch tomatoes together in a 5-quart pot of boiling water for 1 minute.
Transfer tomatoes with a slotted spoon to a cutting board and, when cool enough to handle, peel off skin, beginning from scored end, with paring knife. Coarsely chop tomatoes, then coarsely puree in batches in a blender.
Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a heavy 5-quart pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then add garlic and sauté, stirring, until golden, about 30 seconds. Add tomato puree, basil, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, red pepper flakes and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally until slightly thickened, 25-30 minutes.
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Stir together flour, remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and remaining ¼ teaspoon pepper in a shallow bowl. Lightly beat eggs in a second shallow bowl, then stir 1/3 cup Parmigiano Reggiano into the egg. Working with 1 slice at a time, dredge eggplant in flour, shaking off excess, then dip in egg mixture, letting excess drip off. Transfer eggplant to sheets of wax paper, arranging slices in 1 layer.
Heat remaining 1 ½ cups oil in a deep 12-inch non-stick skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then fry eggplant 4 slices at a time, turning over once, until golden brown, 5-6 minutes per bath. Transfer with tongs to paper towels to drain.
Spread 1 cup tomato sauce in bottom of a rectangular 3 ½ quart (13-x11-x-2-inch) baking dish. Arrange about 1/3 of eggplant slice in 1 layer over sauce, overlapping slightly if necessary. Cover eggplant with about 1/3 of remaining sauce (about 1 ¼ cups) and 1/3 of the mozzarella. Continue layering with remaining eggplant, sauce and mozzarella. Sprinkle top with remaining 1/3 cup Parmigiano Reggiano. Bake, uncovered, until cheese is melted and golden and sauce is bubbling, 35-40 minutes.