Caught: cooking eggplant in winter. After winters of eating mostly local ingredients, which turned out to be not just possible but also reasonable, it seems out of place to indulge in vegetables that are grown here at other times. However, like the zucchini of a couple of weeks ago, I happened to rescue slightly bruised organic eggplant and peppers from the market’s near-giveaway section and I couldn’t pass this up.
This lasagna was light due to the use of fresh pasta sheets, and flavorful due to the separately prepared vegetables, all of which can be made in advance and refrigerated. The amounts can vary by the size of your pans and the volume of ingredients. I made two small pans of lasagna (6 cups each, or 8 x 5 x 2 inches) and froze one. Unless I have the time to make my own, I buy fresh pasta sheets in one-pound rolls. This lasagna used a little over half the pasta. I dunk the pasta in boiling water for under a minute, cool it slightly by dunking in cold water, and laying them on dampened towels to cool You can also make this with no-boil noodles softened every so slightly in a little hot water or with slightly undercooked dried pasta. In all three cases, the pasta should be undercooked since it will absorb the vegetable juices and you don’t want a watery mix.
Eggplant and Red Pepper Lasagna
1 large eggplant
2 red peppers
2-3 cloves garlic, minced (divided in half)
1 c homemade tomato sauce (canned last summer)
1 c ricotta cheese
½ chopped parsley
½ tsp grated fresh nutmeg
Optional: grated Parmesan cheese
½-¾ lb fresh pasta sheets
1 c grated mozzarella cheese
Slice the stem end from the eggplant and cut it vertically into thin slabs. Salt the slices and let them drain for 10-15 minutes in a colander. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Thoroughly dry the eggplant on towels and place the slices on a baking sheet in one layer. Brush with olive oil and roast in the oven until lightly browned, turning once, a total of about 10-15 minutes. Remove to a plate and set aside to cool. The eggplant can be made in advance and refrigerated.
Meanwhile, skewer the peppers and roast them over a gas flame until blackened. Place them in a paper bag to cool. Remove the blackened skin with a paper towel (do not wet the peppers or they will lose flavor). Chop the peppers into small, regular pieces. Heat olive oil in a sauté pan and cook half the garlic until aromatic. Add the chopped peppers, a little salt and a tablespoon or two of water. Cook, stirring, until the peppers are tender, about 3-4 minutes. Remove to a bowl and set aside to cool. The peppers can be made in advance and refrigerated.
Heat olive oil in a sauté pan (you can use the one you sautéed the peppers in) and cook the other half of the garlic until aromatic. Add the tomato sauce and cook for 4-5 minutes. Set aside.
Lightly beat the egg and add the ricotta, stirring until well combined. Add the parsley and flavor with salt and grated fresh nutmeg. Add the optional Parmesan if you’re using it.
To cook the fresh pasta, bring a large pan of salted water to boil and place a large pan or bowl of cold water in the sink. When the water is boiling, slide one pasta sheet into it and let it cook for about 3 seconds. Remove it carefully (I use two spatulas, one on top and one on the bottom) to the cold water bath, swish it around and place it flat on lightly damp towels spread on the counter. (The dampness keeps the pasta from sticking to the towel as it cools.) Repeat until all of the pasta is cooked.
To assemble the lasagna, spread a very thin layer of tomato sauce in the bottom of the pan, top with a layer of pasta noodles, allowing the edges to curl up the sides of the pan by ¼ inch. Top with eggplant slices in one layer, squeezing them to make one continuous layer. Spread with half the ricotta cheese mixture and sprinkle with one-third of the pepper mixture. Trim pasta sheets to fit the pan exactly (only the bottom layer is curled up the sides a little). Top with eggplant slices, ricotta and peppers. Add the final pasta sheets on top. Combine the remaining third of the pepper mixture with the tomato sauce and spoon on top in a thin layer. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.
Baked in a preheated 350-degree oven until bubbling, about 35 minutes. Remove and let cool for 10-15 minutes before serving.
Makes one large pan (10×13 inch) or two small pans (5×8 inch), serving 6-8.