eggplant as lasagna? yes.
No sugar. No flours. No problem! Okay, the no wine is a major problem because I crave it but that just tells me that it was time for a break for us. Detox and all that. Vegetables and I have a love affair that will always endure. I personally think that eggplant gets a bad rap...mostly because a lot of people are not familiar cooking with it. As you stroll through the produce department at your grocery store, it's not a go-to for a lot of people. Trust me, that should change. It is super versatile and it's size really makes it ideal to cook a lot of dishes that you may not normally be able to have due to restricting carbs, pastas or in my case, flours. They are made up of lots of water so even though they may look huge, they really cook down. You can find them in all sizes too based on what you are looking to cook. The Japanese eggplants are the perfect size for stuffing -- my mom makes this amazing eggplant stuffed curry that I will definitely have to make one day!
For today's experiment, I wanted to use up a large eggplant that I had along with some beefsteak tomatoes that were a day or two away from being past their prime. I found a recipe in the official Bright Line Cooking Book that I wanted to adapt to this recipe. In that recipe, they used regular marinara sauce which if you do, I totally recommend Rao's sauce - it's my absolute favorite. Simple ingredient and no additives...I always have some in my pantry and I can feel good about using it if I can't or don't want to make my own. In this case, I had all the ingredients to make my own so that's what I did. With the Instapot, it takes no time at all and you get all the leftovers to use in other recipes.
So for the sauce, I added meat to it - a combo of ground pork and ground turkey to add some protein to this dish. Then I used all the veggies! Fresh tomatoes (you can use canned/boxed tomatoes as well), onions, garlic, I used a chili pepper because I'm spicy like that but that's optional. Lastly, a bunch of dried herbs along with my secret weapon - dried fennel seeds. It really adds that hint of flavor that screams Italian to me. If you haven't used them before, you should definitely give it a try!
Pork & Turkey Bolognese (InstaPot)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 bay leaves
1 medium onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 lb ground turkey
1/2 lb ground pork
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
3 1/2 cups of fresh tomatoes, diced small (or you can use 28oz can crushed tomatoes)
1/2 cup stock (any stock would work here, I used chicken because I had some)
2 Tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
Grab your 6 quart InstaPot and put it on sauté (high) setting. Once hot, add the olive oil until warm. Add the fennel seeds and let them sizzle for a bit. Add the onion, carrot and celery. Cook, stirring often, until onions have become translucent, about 3-4 minutes.
Add the ground turkey and pork with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Break up the meat as it cooks. Cook until the meat is browned, approximately 5 to 10 minutes.
Stir in tomato paste, garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Stir in fresh (or crushed) tomatoes and stock, scrapping the bottom of the pan to get all the brown bits. Turn off the sauté mode and select the manual setting. On high pressure, set the time for 20 minutes. When finished cooking, quick-release pressure.
To thicken the sauce, select the sauté (low) setting; simmer, uncovered, stirring often, until thickened to desired consistency, about 5-10 minutes. Stir in parsley and season with salt and pepper to adjust to your taste.
Set aside to use for the lasagna. I only used half of the sauce that this made so I stored the rest in one of my prep containers and let cool completely before storing in the fridge.
You can make this a day or two ahead - I think the sauce just gets better the more all the flavors get to hang out. Plus this sauce is amazing in so many things - stuffed bell peppers, meatloaf, mushroom parmesan, etc... I definitely have plans for the rest of it in different recipes this weekend!
Now onto the grand finale! If you have already made the sauce ahead of time or if you choose to use Rao's marinara sauce (or any other one that you can buy - just read the sugar content!), this recipe is super simple! For the pre-made sauce, just cook the meat separately in a skillet and add the sauce in. It would literally only take you the time it takes to roast the eggplant and compile the dish. I love that about it!
Meaty Eggplant Lasagna
4 oz ricotta cheese, use a good one if you can get it
2 oz gruyere cheese, freshly grated (you could use mozzarella but I LOVE gruyere)
2 oz parmesan cheese, freshly grated (1oz separated)
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 large eggplant, peeled & cut lengthwise (1/2 inch thickness)
avocado oil spray (olive oil would work)
salt, as needed
freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 375F.
Line a large baking tray with parchment paper or foil. Spray generously with avocado spray.
Lay out all the sliced eggplant on the tray so that they are not touching. Liberally sprinkle the tops of the eggplant with salt. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes so that the salt draws all the excess moisture to the surface. Use a paper towel to pat the eggplant slices dry.
Spray the tops of the eggplants with some oil and grind some pepper on them.
Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until the eggplant slices are tender. Let cool for a bit.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix all the filling ingredients together (keep 1 Tbsp of parmesan cheese aside for the top) to form a thick filling.
In a medium baking dish (I used my 8" All Clad baking dish which I absolutely LOVE), put a layer of the sauce we made earlier (or pre-made with the browned meat added in). Then add a single layer of the roasted eggplant. Top that with half of the filling mixture. Repeat with more sauce, another single layer of eggplant slices and filling. Finish with the remaining parmesan cheese and the fresh parsley.
Bake in the oven at 375F uncovered for another 10 minutes until the cheese has browned on top.
Let sit for at least 10 minutes so that everything has a chance to firm up before slicing into 4 portions.
So cooked down, the meat weighed in at approximately 6 ounces for the whole pan (since I kept half of the sauce for later). With 4 portions, that equals about 1.5 oz per serving. Add in 2 oz per serving for the cheese and we are at 3.5 oz. I put more grated Parmesan on top of my slice because it's amazing. There are plenty of veggies in the sauce so wasn't sure exactly how to calculate that so I based it on the recipe in the official Bright Line cookbook which has 4oz of marinara sauce per serving. I used avocado spray and oil in the sauce so I calculated 1 fat per portion. Whew! Lastly, I topped mine with more crushed red pepper but you do you. Serve alone or with a side salad. DELISH!