Yesterday I posted about the noodless lasagna I made over the weekend. In this post I'll take you through the procedure. That way, you can try my recipe, vary it, or use your own. This is a variation on my grandmother's old recipe.
– Meat Sauce
- 1 pound ground beef, veal, or venison (I used venison this time)
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 large stalks celery, chopped
- 1 cup (more is fine) finely chopped mushrooms
- 3 cloves of garlic, crushed & chopped
- 1 large can (28oz) crushed tomatoes
- 2 small cans tomato sauce
- 1 small can tomato paste
- 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
- 2 tsp marjoram
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh oregano, chopped
- 1 tbsp sea salt (or as desired)
- 1 tsp finely ground black pepper (or as desired)
- 1/2 cup water, or as needed — less is better, but enough so you can simmer without scorching
– Meat & Cheese Filling
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage
- 1/2 small to medium onion, chopped
- 1-2 clove of garlic, crushed & chopped
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
- 1-2 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 2 packages (salad size) of baby spinach or loose equivalent (it's a lot, but cooks down to nothing)
- 3/4 cup pine nuts
- 2 eggs, beat
- 1 16oz container of ricotta cheese
– Layer Materials
- 3 small eggplants (more consistent coverage)
- 3/4 pound mozzarella
- 1 cup grated parmesian
This recipe is neither simple, nor quick. You can probably do it in about 3 hours if you coordinate things very well. I didn't, making it most of an enjoyable Sunday from 10am to about 3pm for the prep, then another hour later, after pool time for the cooking.
One option would be to do the sauce a day or so before. Also, here's a prior post on the sauce itself. The only significant difference is that I used chunkier tomatoes, had green bell pepper in it, and used beef, which is fine. I still have some ground venison left, so I used that and it makes an amazing spaghetti sauce. Basically just fry up your ground meat at a low setting and then combine all the ingredients in a pot, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer very low for a couple of hours minimum.
Click on all images for the full size version.
Next I make the cheesy filling. In some recipes, all the meat goes into the "pasta" sauce, but I like to split the meat, half & half. So, first fry up the sausage on low heat and put in the fennel seeds, basil & onion. I had a small bit of mushroom left over that didn't go in the sauce, so I tossed that in too. Keep it flexible.
Once it's cooked, fold in your spinach, one package at a time. It's going to make a big pile, but just be gentle and keep folding it under the meat and it will reduce down. Here it is after both salad-pack sized portions have been added.
Next add in the pine nuts and set aside to cool. Once cool, add in the eggs and ricotta cheese and mix it all up.
Now you're ready for the noodless part, i.e., the eggplant. You can also use zucchini squash. First, cut off the ends and then slice lengthwise into 1/2 inch wide slices. Make sure to get them wide enough. Don't peel the eggplant; the skin will become soft but will help hold things together. Once sliced, salt them down liberally on both sides and set them in you baking dish for 30 minutes. Unbelievable amounts of moisture will be released and this is very important, or, you'll end up with a big casserole of mush. This was only a few minutes in. After 30 minutes there was a good 1/2 cup of liquid.
Rinse them off, dry them, and then fry them both sides until brown. You'll notice that they are now about 1/4" thick.
Now for the assembly. First goes two cups of your sauce on the bottom, maybe a bit more — whatever you need to cover. Place your eggplant on top. I believe that next time I will try to overlap them, as they do cook down to about 1/8" in thickness.
On top of that goes 1/2 of our sausage & cheese mixture.
I don't have a photo for it, but at this point you use 1/3 of your mozzarella cheese and the same for your parmesan. Then, repeat the whole process — 2 cups + of the sauce (I have a couple of cups left over), another layer of eggplant (I ended up with about 2 slices left over), the remainder of the filling, the remaining 2/3 of both your mozzarella and parmesan.
And here it is after the bake, which was at 350 for one hour. Make sure to let it rest for at least 30 minutes before cutting into it. You need to be very mindful of water content. This had about 1/2 cup excess moisture, I'd estimate. I think next time I'll do a very thick tomato & meat sauce and just bake in the oven so I can do it with minimal moisture.
And once again. You can click on the image to see the full size version.