Lately I have been lessening my carbohydrate consumption and this recipe has emerged from this change. Lasagna is one of my favourite comfort foods and it is just so easy to replace the noodles with eggplant, and to be honest, I think I actually prefer it with the eggplant. Not only is it healthier, it has this, gentle sweetness and a light, moist, smooth texture that works so incredibly well with the other ingredients. Do not misunderstand, this recipe is not a “diet recipe”. This is a very rich, indulgent, completely wonderful meal, that happens to be pretty, not bad, for you.
This recipe will yield one lasagna that can be sliced into around 12 servings.
2 to 4 Eggplants
Depending on the size. You will want enough slices to cover 3 layers in a 9×13 pan. Most average eggplants will be of a girth that will require around 12 slices per layer, therefor you will want about 36 slices total. Some larger eggplants will be thick enough to allow you to cover a layer with about 8 slices. So in this case you will only need about 24 slices, easy to get off of two very large eggplants. So judge the size of your eggplants and get what you need.
I actually ended up only using 3 of these.
3 cups reduced Tomato Sauce
What I mean by reduced is, if you have 4 cups of tomato sauce, like what you would use for pasta, simmer it on the stove until that same sauce is now 3 cups. It is best to use a less watery sauce when cooking eggplant because eggplant lends moisture to the dish, and too much moisture will cause a soggy lasagna. So reduce whatever sauce you are using, whether homemade or store bought, about 25% and this will help to avoid it.
I am a little short of 3 cups, but it is ok. This is only an approximation and you can adjust the amount of sauce to taste.
Also, it should be cold or room temperature.
Or around there. I am using 6 links of sausage that each weigh somewhere between a quarter and a half pound.
This ingredient is completely optional. I think it adds an important touch but if you are going for vegetarian or simply do not like sausage then leave it out! There are no dictators of lasagna.
Ok, I have a confession to make. This is a really cheesy recipe. Ricotta cheese is some seriously good stuff so I see nothing wrong with letting it shine. That said, you do not have to use this much. 1 pound will be just fine, whether or not you use the next ingredient.
1 pound Goat Cheese
Soft goat cheese is like ricotta cheese’s long lost sibling. They both stand well on their own, but combine them and you realize that they were always meant to be together. Now, this ingredient is totally optional. You may omit it completely or lessen it to any degree you like, whether you use all of or only half of the ricotta cheese I called for. On the flip side, you might also decide to go with more of, or only goat cheese. There is no reason not to just let the goat cheese stand out on its own without ricotta getting in the way. That would be totally delicious! So do whatever combination of these cheeses you like, and use 1 to 3 pounds (but 1 pound will be very minimal cheese) depending on your preference. Nothing else about the recipe will need to be adjusted.
You may use plain goat cheese, as I am, or you can use one of those herbed logs. The herbs will only add flavour.
You can totally use regular store bought shredable mozzarella cheese! No judgement from me! I use it too at times. But when I can afford it, I like to go for the really good stuff, and when it comes to Italian cheeses, I just love authentic. What I have here is true, Italian imported buffalo mozzarella cheese. You may see similar looking mozzarella in the grocery store, but it is probably not authentic. It is likely made from cow’s milk. Real mozzarella is made from the milk of water buffalo. It may not seem important but the flavour truly is noticeably different. Both are good, but the buffalo mozzarella is a little sweeter, and a little more subtle at the same time. The texture, also, is so moist and delicate. Absolutely mouth watering! Little touches like this really make the meal special.
What I have here is 6 egg sized balls of buffalo mozzarella. You cannot shred real mozzarella, so I will explain how to use it in the recipe. If you are using hard mozzarella, you can just shred it all up right away.
I am, of course, using another authentic cheese. Pecorino Romano cheese is the true Romano cheese. If you want to use Parmesan instead that is fine, and if you want to use real Parmesan, look for Parmigiano Reggiano. Romano and Parmesan cheese are pretty much interchangeable, but I usually prefer the Romano cheese. It is a bit stronger and saltier.
If you are using 1 pound of soft cheese you may use one egg, but it won’t really hurt if you still use two.
Dried or fresh. You may also add some other Italian herbs if you like. Basil would be a great addition. But just parsley is enough.
Cut off both ends of the eggplant.
Decide if you want to peel the eggplants or not. The peel contains fantastic nutrients that you certainly want in your body, but it is just a little tough. Nothing your teeth can’t easily manage, but it can be difficult sometimes not to take a whole slice of eggplant with each bite because your fork will not cut it easily (of course you could just eat with a knife, British style.). Also, just like some people hate apple skins, the same people would probably not like eggplant skins. So keep them intact, peel them, or compromise, like I do, and peel it in strips.
Slice the eggplant into quarter inch slices. I was a little sloppy and some turned out way thicker. That is ok. There is a fix for that later if needed.
Eggplants contain a brownish bitter juice. The most important thing to do when cooking with eggplant is to remove this juice. Once it is gone you are left with a mild sweet fruit that is far tastier. It also makes the eggplant less moist, and it will, therefor be less likely to end up soggy.
To remove the juice you must first sprinkle a thin layer of salt over each side of each slice of eggplant. You can then lay them out on a wire rack or in a colander and let the juices leach out over the next couple of hours, or you can lay them out on towels and press them. I prefer the latter method, but either works.
Lay a kitchen towel or a thick stack (4 or 5 deep) of paper towels out on the counter and arrange the salted eggplant slices evenly over the paper towels.
Top the first layer with another thick towel, and repeat the previous steps, making layers until all pieces of eggplant are covered with towels. Lay something heavy on top of them ( I am using a roasting pan) to help press out the juices.
You can see how much liquid the paper towels drank up. If desired give them each a final press in the towels with your hands to coax out any extra juice. Just keep in mind, the drier, the better.
Bake them at 350 for about 40 minutes or until they are lightly browned. A few thin slices may start becoming a little crispy around the edges. This is when they are perfect!
The slice to the right is just the right size, but the slice to the left is a bit too thick.
If you need to thin out any pieces you can gently pound them to flatten them. Do it gently or the little seeds will fly everywhere. This will not affect the flavour or texture in any way so don’t feel bad about doing it!
So now you know how to prepare the eggplant. You may do this ahead of time if you wish. You can let them cool and put them into baggies in the refrigerator if you did them the day before or many hours ahead.
Another thing that you may want to do ahead of time is prepare the sausage. Now, if you made your sauce from scratch, you may have stewed sausages in it. So you should be all set in that case. But if you do not have any prepared sausages, you will have to start with raw sausage. You can definitely just throw them into your sauce, even if it is store bought, while you are reducing it, but I also really like to bake them, so that is what I am doing today.
So, if you would like to bake them just arrange them on a baking sheet, or like me, a wire rack, and bake them at 350 for about 40 minutes.
Now let’s talk about the cheese.
If you are using hard mozzarella cheese (the kind people usually put on pizza) then just grate it until you have about two cups worth. If you are using soft mozzarella, whether it is buffalo or dairy cattle in origin, you will want to slice most of it into thin rounds, and dice about a half cup worth into small pieces.
Now when I realized that these particular balls were the exact size of eggs my brain sparked and I remembered the egg slicer my mom gave me.
Could it work?
The round slices of mozzarella are for the top of the lasagna. You will also be adding some of it to a cheese mixture, and for this, you want to chop it up into very small pieces. Again, you can just use a knife, but we who have egg slicers get to have even more OCD style fun!
So, if you have an egg slicer, slice a ball of mozzarella, then turn it half way and slice it again, creating square shaped, long strips. Then turn it on the third axis and slice again, so that the long strips are cut into perfect little tiny squares. Oh YAY!
So since I started with 6 balls of cheese, I sliced 4 of them and diced 2. The 2 diced balls equal one half cup. Therefor all together I have about a cup and a half of mozzarella. A little short of the 2 cups I called for. It does not matter much, but I could have had a little more mozzarella. That is why I call for 2 full cups in this recipe.
In a large mixing bowl, add 2 pounds ricotta cheese, 1 pound goat cheese, half cup mozzarella cheese, and half cup of Romano cheese. It is best if you let the goat cheese come to room temperature before you begin, since it is a bit tough and crumbly right out of the refrigerator. When at room temperature it is much more creamy and will mix with the ricotta better.
In a 9×13 pan (at least 2 but preferably 3 inches deep [mine is 2 inches]), spread a little sauce along the bottom.
Lay down your first layer of eggplant slices, using the ugliest pieces. It will probably take about 12 slices all together. It is ok if they overlap a little bit. I forgot to take a picture of the first eggplant layer.
Then top the eggplant with half of the cheese mixture. The way I did it here, in order to easily spread it evenly, was using an ice cream scoop that had 1/4 cup capacity, leveling off each scoop, and laying one scoop over each piece of eggplant (so 12 scoops all together).
Then pressed more rounds of sausage in between each of the first pieces. This flattened the cheese very nicely without any fuss. Once I had a nice flat layer of sausage over the, now flattened cheese, I threw on the rest of the sausage (half of all the sausage you have goes onto this layer.).
Bake, uncovered at 350 for 45 to 60 minutes. When it is done the cheese should be lightly browned and the whole thing will be bubbling. If, for some reason, it is browning too fast, simply place a piece of foil loosely over it during cooking.
If the ingredients come up higher than the pan, then place the lasagna pan onto a larger pan or on top of a couple sheets of foil in order to catch any dripping.
It is not necessary to take the temperature but just for your information, it is best to let the lasagna cook to at least 180 degrees. 192 is just fine as well. I let it cook for an hour, so it would not have hurt to take it out a little sooner, but I like it cooked very well so this is perfect for me.
Now the greatest challenge of all is trying to stop yourself from picking at all the melty cheese while the lasagna cools. It should be allowed to cool for a minimum of 20 minutes before you slice into it.
If there are leftovers, slice it up into serving sized pieces, wrap them up and freeze them. They keep really well in the freezer and when you cook them from frozen they will taste just as fresh as when you first made the lasagna.
2 to 4 Eggplants
3 cups reduced Tomato Sauce
2 pounds Hot Italian Sausage (about 6 links)
2 pounds Ricotta Cheese
1 pound Goat Cheese (room temperature if possible)
2 cups shredded Mozzarella Cheese (or 6 to 8 balls of egg sized mozzarella) or equivalent
1/2 cup Romano Cheese
1/4 cup Parsley
1. Cut off both ends of the eggplant. Peel the eggplant or not depending on preference. To compromise you can peel it in strips.
2. Slice the eggplant into quarter inch slices.
3. Sprinkle a thin layer of salt over each side of each slice of eggplant. Lay out the slices on a thick towl and cover with another towel, layer the slices this way until all slices are completely covered. Lay something a little heavy over it to help press out the juices. Let the eggplant slices drain for 30 to 60 minutes.
4. Lay out the eggplant slices onto flat baking sheets. Overlap them as little as possible, but it is likely that a little overlapping with be necessary.
5. Bake them at 350 for about 40 minutes or until they are lightly browned.
6. Arrange your sausages on a baking sheet or wire rack and bake at 350 for about 40 minutes.
7. When the sausages are cool, slice them into thin rounds.
8. Grate, or slice and dice your mozzarella cheese as needed.
9. In a large mixing bowl, add 2 pounds ricotta cheese, 1 pound goat cheese, 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, 1/2 cup Romano cheese, 2 eggs, 1/4 cup parsley, and plenty of black pepper (I cracked the grinder 23 times). Mix well.
10. In a 9×13 pan (at least 2 but preferably 3 inches deep), spread a little sauce along the bottom.
11. Make a layer of eggplant on the bottom of the pan. It will usually take about 12 pieces. Use the most misshapen and irregular pieces for this layer so that the top layer can have the best looking eggplant slices.
12. Cover the eggplant with half of the cheese mixture.
13. Spread half of the sausage over the cheese.
14. Cover the sausage with a little less than half of your sauce.
15. Place another layer of eggplant over the sauce.
16. Spread the rest of the cheese over the eggplant.
17. Cover the cheese with the rest of the sausage.
18. Cover the sausage with the same amount of sauce as last time.
19. Lay the last layer of eggplant.
20. Spread the remaining sauce in a thin layer over the eggplant.
21. Top the lasagna with the remaining mozzarella cheese.
22. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour. If the cheese is browning too quickly cover it with foil.
23. Let the lasagna rest for at least 20 minutes before slicing and serving.