Saturday, 9 January 2016

Three Cheese Baked Eggplant with Pesto and Smoked Tomatoes

I am the first to admit that I am not the biggest eggplant fan; I can handle small amounts, in pasta sauces, dips or moussaka, but I've never even dared to try Eggplant Parmesan! So when the eggplant in the fridge started to call my name I decided to try out a version of Eggplant Parmesan. In case I couldn't handle that much eggplant, I also made turkey meatballs...

I was very pleasantly surprised at how good the eggplant was and could quite easily have done without the meatballs. I'm looking forward to heating the leftover eggplant up for lunch today.

While getting things like Parmesan and eggs out of the fridge, I decided to use the Basil Pesto and ricotta cheese that were in there, and at the assembly stage added in the goat cheese. I had a freshly made batch of Basic Tomato Sauce , and set some aside for dinner. The rest was put into the freezer, and that's when I discovered some smoked tomatoes...a pleasant surprise as I thought they had all been eaten.

Needless to say, the Eggplant Parmesan evolved over the course of the day, but I was incredibly happy with the end result. Crisp outside, soft inside, full of flavour!

Start off by slicing one eggplant into 3/8" thick rounds. Lay the slices out on the counter and salt both sides; the excess salt will be rinsed off before baking.

Place the slices into a colander and leave for at least an hour.

This process will remove any excess moisture, but it will also help to remove some of the bitter taste that eggplant can have.

The eggplant is ready to proceed with once you see droplets of moisture beading on the flesh.

Rinse each slice off under cold running water.

Cover a baking sheet with a layer of paper towel and place the eggplant slices onto this. Cover with a second layer of paper towel and gently pat the eggplant dry.

Turn the oven on to 400F. Lightly grease a baking sheet, using olive oil.

Bread the eggplant as follows:

First coat each piece in flour seasoned with salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Dust off any excess flour.

Then place the flour coated eggplant into a mixture made of:

 1 egg, beaten with 1/4 cup milk.

Lastly, place the eggplant into breadcrumbs that have been seasoned with salt and black pepper, and have a good handful of grated Parmesan mixed in.

Lightly press the breadcrumbs and cheese to make sure they adhere to the egg wash.

Place the breaded eggplant slices onto the prepared baking sheet, keeping them in one layer with a bit of space in between so that all surfaces of the eggplant can crisp up.

Drizzle the top of the eggplant lightly with olive oil.

Bake until golden and crisp on the outside, and tender on the inside. This took 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool before assembling the dish.

While the eggplant is baking and cooling, prepare the rest of the ingredients. Turn the oven temperature down to 350F.

You will need:

2 cups  Basic Tomato Sauce
Crumbled goat cheese
Extra grated Parmesan
6 peeled, seeded and chopped smoked tomatoes

 For the filling, combine:

1 cup ricotta cheese
1 heaped tablespoon Basil Pesto
Salt and black pepper
1 egg

Spread the Basic Tomato Sauce over the bottom of an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle the chopped smoked tomatoes evenly over the top.

Place half of the baked eggplant rounds on top of the tomato sauce.

Spread a layer of ricotta cheese over each one, using about half of the mixture in total.

Crumble some goat cheese over the ricotta.

Place another baked eggplant round on top of the first and divide the remaining ricotta mixture between the stacks.

Add some more crumbled goat cheese and a pinch of grated Parmesan.

Bake until heated through. The  Basic Tomato Sauce will be bubbling, and the cheese on the top will be golden.

Serve the baked eggplant stacks with extra, warmed Basic Tomato Sauce if you wish (we tend to like more sauce). I also served turkey meatballs on the side.

  • For a non-eggplant fan, this is the perfect way to introduce it into your diet. My head is now spinning with ways to expand on this recipe...
  • I used an Italian globe eggplant, which is probably the most commonly known type. there are so many different varieties out there, if you can get hold of some of them, give them a try. I did use some mutli-coloured baby varieties in the post  Moussaka with Chicken and Grilled Baby Eggplant, and I was surprised at how different they all tasted. 
  • Smaller varieties of eggplant do not always need to be salted before cooking, but if you are not sure, it won't hurt anything to do so. The excess salt gets rinsed off. I also go lightly on salt in other parts of the recipe just to be sure...nothing worse than something that is too salty. More salt can always be added at the table if you feel it is needed.
  • This method of cooking the breaded eggplant avoids pan frying the eggplant, but still achieves a golden, crispy crust. Eggplant acts like a sponge, and tends to absorb a lot of the oil if you are pan frying it. 
  • The breadcrumbs can be seasoned with chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, oregano, rosemary or chives; spices such as cayenne pepper, crushed fennel seeds or garlic powder; minced fresh garlic or green onions; finely ground nuts such as pine nuts or almonds.
  • I added cayenne pepper to the flour as I wanted to add a bit of heat, and it worked really well. The heat was there in the background, not overpowering everything else. Hot sauce can be used in the milk and egg instead.
  • Dijon mustard can be whisked into the milk and egg, lemon zest is another option.
  • I would like to try mixing chopped fresh spinach and basil into the ricotta cheese next time. Other suggestions include roasted red peppers, grilled and chopped eggplant (a great way to use the smaller end slices).
  • I made one stack with no goat cheese, for my daughter who doesn't like it; I used grated mozzarella instead. Sliced fresh mozzarella could be used too.
  • Smoked tomatoes are optional. Peeled, seeded and chopped fresh tomatoes can be used instead. Chopped canned tomatoes or roasted cherry tomatoes can also be substituted.
  • The eggplant stacks can be assembled ahead of time and baked when you are ready. I prepared everything a few hours ahead and then assembled the eggplant stacks while I waited for the oven to heat up.
  • Next time you are having burgers, consider using some of these breaded and baked eggplant rounds as a substitute for a meat patty.

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