This is one of those rare weeks when we just can’t make it to the farmer’s market. We actually go to the grocery store and buy whatever we want. Well, within reason, of course… we still have the same budget. And Florida produce, if it’s there, gets first dibs. And we try to buy everything at locally-owned independent grocers. Still, it’s like a decadent holiday. My daughter begged, not for candy, but for apples from Washington State. And peaches from South Carolina. We bought bags of fresh cherries, in the discount bin because of a few bruised fruit, and a dozen spotty sweet peppers for roasting. We bought exotic vegetables like celery root and parsnips. At the Asian grocer we bought tender gai lan with flowers and baby bella mushrooms. Then we had to figure out meals to use up all this bounty plus what we had left over from last week. My older son is now cooking dinner once a week for the family, too.
Roasted Eggplant, Red Pepper, and Sausage Lasagna
Wild Roots Beef Stew
Rice Cake Stir-fry with Beef, Gai Lan, and Mushrooms
Red Beans & Rice
Roasted Eggplant, Pepper and Sausage Lasagna
This is not a “quick & easy” dish but lasagna might be the ultimate comfort food. It takes about 3 hours from start to finish. Split up the labor by salting and roasting the eggplant and peppers the night before while preparing another meal. This recipe can’t really be called “healthy” but it sure is delicious and could be grain-free and gluten-free if you use home-made marinara sauce.
3 large Italian Eggplants
3 tbl salt
4 large sweet peppers, red, orange or yellow
1 lb sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
2 jars marinara sauce
2 lb ricotta
1 tbl dried Italian herbs + 1 tbl dried oregano, or a handful fresh herbs, minced
5 cloves of garlic
8 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
Turn on your broiler to “high”. Slice the eggplants lengthwise into 1/2″ slices. Lay slices out on a counter and sprinkle salt over all of the slices. Then lay the salted eggplant in a colander and place the colander in the sink. The salt will draw the bitter juices out of the eggplant. While the eggplant is in the colander draining, roast the peppers and garlic. First take all of the whole garlic cloves and make a packet out of aluminum foil, crimping the edges tightly to enclose the garlic. Put it in the oven in a corner. Then place all 4 whole peppers on a broiling pan and place the pan in the oven 4″ from the heating element. Check in 5 minutes. The side facing the heat should be black and blistered, but not charred. Turn the peppers using long tongs and broil the next side for another 5 minutes. Repeat until all sides of the peppers are black and blistered.
While the peppers and garlic are roasting, started cooking the sausage. Heat a large saute or frying pan over medium heat. Break the sausage apart into small pieces into the frying pan. Cook until the sausage is no longer pink in the middle, stirring occasionally and chopping the sausage into smaller pieces with the edge of the spatula or spoon. When the sausage is cooked, pour in the marinara sauce and reduce the heat to low.
When the peppers are blackened on all sides, remove the broiling pan. Put the peppers in a deep bowl using long tongs and set aside. Lightly brush the hot broiling pan with olive oil. Wipe each slice of eggplant with a paper towel to remove the salt and brown juices. Lay as many eggplant slices as will fit in a single layer on the broiling pan and brush lightly with olive oil. Put the pan in the broiler.
While the eggplants are roasting, make up the ricotta filling. In a bowl, mix the ricotta cheese, egg, and herbs. Set aside.
Check every few minutes. The eggplant slices should reduce in size quite severely and then start browning. They only need to be lightly browned and soft but not crispy. Remove those slices and repeat until all of the eggplant slices are roasted. Remove the skin from the slices if you prefer. Also remove the roasted garlic from the oven. Open the packet carefully. The garlic cloves should be soft, translucent, and browned in spots. Mince the roasted garlic and add to the ricotta mixture.
Turn off the broiler and turn the oven to 350 and bake.
The peppers should be cool enough to touch, and soft and collapsed. Carefully tear the peppers in half. Tear out the core and wipe out the seeds with your fingers or a towel if necessary. Then carefully pull off the skin and discard. Do not rinse the peppers! It’s okay if some skin remains, just get as much as you can. When all the peppers are done, chop them and add to the marinara sauce. Turn the heat off the marinara sauce and set aside.
Get out a large baking pan, at least 9×13, or a lasagna pan. Brush the pan lightly with olive oil. Spoon 2 cups of sauce into the bottom of the pan, shake around until evenly coated. Add a single layer of eggplant slices. Top with half of the ricotta mixture and smooth out with a spoon almost to the edges. Then half of the remaining sauce. Then a handful of shredded cheese. Repeat layer 1 more time, then spread the remaining cheese over the top. Place the baking pan in a baking sheet with a small lip so that if the lasagna overflows you won’t have a huge mess on the bottom of the oven. Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes or until cheese on top is lightly browned and sauce is bubbling. Let the lasagna rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.
We probably should have eaten this with a salad but instead we just ate it in bowls. Excellent comfort food for a rainy day.