Here is another installment from my Italian Dinner (type Italian dinner in search box to read the entire post).
This eggplant dish was a giant hit and I was super impressed with myself (I know, self praise is no praise…moving on). I am not overly fond of eggplant. I have had too many “spongy” experiences in restaurants (as well as some bombs I have made myself!), but this dish converted my fond feeling to more of a “love” feeling.
The star of the dish was however not the eggplant, but the smoked mozzarella that accompanied it. This porous purple vegetable sucked up the smokey flavor and turned it into something unctuous.
The other cheese I used was a hard ricotta called ricotta Salata. If you have never tried this, now is the time. It is a crumbly ricotta with heavenly salty overtones. It was the other ingredient in this dish that won me over.
This is certainly a dish that will be featured in my Crappy Kitchen Cookbook!
Tomato sauce; You will need; (*This makes enough to use in another dish, or freeze a batch. I like to make more than I need just in case, and because it’s not twice the work*): 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 1 medium onion, small dice, 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped, 4 sprigs thyme, 1 celery rib, small dice, 2 28 oz cans whole peeled plum tomatoes with sauce, roughly chopped, 1 tsp sea-salt, freshly cracked black pepper.
Eggplant dish; You will need: 2 large eggplants, sliced into 3/4 ” pieces (approx), 4 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, 1/2 lb smoked mozzarella cheese, sliced into rounds, 1 1/2 cups grated ricotta salata (hard ricotta, found in good supermarkets and specialty shops), 1 cup bread crumbs, or panko crumbs.
1 – First, make the sauce. Put medium pot on medium, low heat and add the oil. Saute the onions, celery, garlic, and thyme for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2 – Add the tomatoes and their juice, salt, and several grinds of black pepper. Bring to a boil. Turn down, and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside until ready to assemble dish. *This sauce can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge in an airtight container*
3 – While sauce is cooking Preheat oven to 450*
Place eggplant in large bowl and add about 4 tbs of extra-virgin olive oil. Toss well. Place in single layer on large baking sheet and place in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Transfer onto a plate to cool off.
Preheat (or turn oven down) to 350*
4 – Assemble dish. Spoon a thin layer of tomato sauce into bottom of casserole dish and top with a layer of eggplant.
Spoon a little sauce on top of each eggplant slice.
Place a slice of mozzarella on each eggplant, followed by a sprinkle of grated ricotta salata.
Add another layer of eggplant, sauce, and cheeses
Top last layer of cheese with breadcrumbs, (there will be about 2 eggplant layers total).
Place in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Take out and let dish come to room temperature.
Serve this dish at room temperature with other dishes, or with a fresh mixed green salad.