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THE CONFIDENT COOK

Recipe: No pasta, or red sauce in this roasted eggplant ‘lasagna’

Roasted Eggplant 'Lasagna.'
Roasted Eggplant 'Lasagna.'Sheryl Julian

Serves 4

Years ago I ate a lasagna in a home in Tuscany that had 10 layers of the thinnest homemade pasta I'd ever seen, each covered with tiny dots of rabbit and a little sauce and Parmesan. It was baked in a wood oven tucked into the chimney of the ancient house. The unadorned top was a layer of pasta brushed with olive oil that turned golden and crisp in the oven; the wild meat was gamey and smoky. I had never eaten a lasagna as dreamy before then and haven't since. My idea of what makes a great lasagna changed that day. This "lasagna" doesn't even have pasta. Or red sauce. Planks of roasted eggplant go into the dish in place of pasta sheets, with ricotta, Parmesan, and mozzarella forming the other layers. A little egg mixed into the ricotta gives it enough body to set, so you can cut the finished dish into squares. Very little about it resembles a real lasagna except for the layering, but it has complex tastes. The eggplant planks are slightly caramelized, the melted cheeses and milky ricotta make divine companions, and there are plenty of good, rich flavors.

Olive oil (for sprinkling)
2medium eggplants (about 2 pounds total)
Salt and pepper, to taste
2cups whole-milk ricotta
2 eggs
3tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1cup shredded Parmesan
¾cup shredded mozarella

1. Set the oven at 450 degrees. Lightly oil a 9-inch baking dish (or another dish with a 1 1/2 quart capacity) and oil a large rimmed baking sheet.

2. Slice the eggplant lengthwise into 1/4-inch planks. You need 10 planks (you may have extra eggplant, which you can roast later for another dish). Set the slices on the baking sheet in one layer and sprinkle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Transfer to the oven and roast for 25 minutes, or until they are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife and starting to brown. Remove from the oven.

3. Turn the oven temperature down to 350 degrees.

4. In a bowl, stir together the ricotta, eggs, parsley, and a generous pinch each of salt and pepper.

5. In the baking dish, line the bottom with 1/3 of the eggplant slices. (It doesn't matter if the eggplant doesn't come off the baking sheet in perfect planks. Save the best 4 for the top.) Add half the ricotta mixture, one-third of the Parmesan and one-third of the mozzarella. Make another layer exactly like the first -- one-third of the eggplant, the remaining ricotta, one-third Parmesan, and one-third mozzarella. Top with the remaining eggplant (enough to cover the dish) and sprinkle with the remaining one-third Parmesan and one-third mozzarella.

6. Bake the dish for 30 minutes, or until the top is starting to brown and bubble at the edges. If you want the top to be more golden, slide the dish under the broiler for 1 to 2 minutes, watching it closely. Let the dish stand for 10 minutes. Cut into squares.

Sheryl Julian

Serves 4

Years ago I ate a lasagna in a home in Tuscany that had 10 layers of the thinnest homemade pasta I'd ever seen, each covered with tiny dots of rabbit and a little sauce and Parmesan. It was baked in a wood oven tucked into the chimney of the ancient house. The unadorned top was a layer of pasta brushed with olive oil that turned golden and crisp in the oven; the wild meat was gamey and smoky. I had never eaten a lasagna as dreamy before then and haven't since. My idea of what makes a great lasagna changed that day. This "lasagna" doesn't even have pasta. Or red sauce. Planks of roasted eggplant go into the dish in place of pasta sheets, with ricotta, Parmesan, and mozzarella forming the other layers. A little egg mixed into the ricotta gives it enough body to set, so you can cut the finished dish into squares. Very little about it resembles a real lasagna except for the layering, but it has complex tastes. The eggplant planks are slightly caramelized, the melted cheeses and milky ricotta make divine companions, and there are plenty of good, rich flavors.

Olive oil (for sprinkling)
2medium eggplants (about 2 pounds total)
Salt and pepper, to taste
2cups whole-milk ricotta
2 eggs
3tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1cup shredded Parmesan
¾cup shredded mozarella

1. Set the oven at 450 degrees. Lightly oil a 9-inch baking dish (or another dish with a 1 1/2 quart capacity) and oil a large rimmed baking sheet.

2. Slice the eggplant lengthwise into 1/4-inch planks. You need 10 planks (you may have extra eggplant, which you can roast later for another dish). Set the slices on the baking sheet in one layer and sprinkle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Transfer to the oven and roast for 25 minutes, or until they are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife and starting to brown. Remove from the oven.

3. Turn the oven temperature down to 350 degrees.

4. In a bowl, stir together the ricotta, eggs, parsley, and a generous pinch each of salt and pepper.

5. In the baking dish, line the bottom with 1/3 of the eggplant slices. (It doesn't matter if the eggplant doesn't come off the baking sheet in perfect planks. Save the best 4 for the top.) Add half the ricotta mixture, one-third of the Parmesan and one-third of the mozzarella. Make another layer exactly like the first -- one-third of the eggplant, the remaining ricotta, one-third Parmesan, and one-third mozzarella. Top with the remaining eggplant (enough to cover the dish) and sprinkle with the remaining one-third Parmesan and one-third mozzarella.

6. Bake the dish for 30 minutes, or until the top is starting to brown and bubble at the edges. If you want the top to be more golden, slide the dish under the broiler for 1 to 2 minutes, watching it closely. Let the dish stand for 10 minutes. Cut into squares.Sheryl Julian


Sheryl Julian can be reached at sheryl.julian@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.