I was young, I was inexperienced, and needed a job. They were young, they were inexperienced, and the job was cash in hand. The restaurant had only just opened down the road, and they needed a kitchenhand right away. So, on Friday and Saturday afternoons, I would cycle down there and assist the chef with prepping salads and plating desserts.
Sadly, business was slow, and they had to let me go, but I would have stayed for the vegetarian lasagne. Made by an old Italian nonna (my boss’s mother-in-law), with fresh pasta and marinated eggplant, the flavours and textures were like nothing I’d ever tasted. The pasta literally melted in my mouth and the eggplant was a revelation!
Now, two decades later, this is my attempt at re-creating something of that memory for my tastebuds. It’s one of my husband’s favourites (he requests it regularly) and when eggplants are in season, a very economical meal. Make it when you’ve got a few hours at home to roast the eggplants, preferably on a coolish day.
Once the vegetables are cooked, the assembly takes no time at all, and because the pasta is fresh, the baking isn’t overly long either. A lighter version of lasagne, because it’s made without meat or béchamel sauce, and therefore much less fat. Try not to eat it all on the day it’s cooked, because like all good lasagne, it’s ever so much better the next day!
3 medium eggplants
olive oil cooking spray
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 x 400g can diced tomatoes
1 dried chilli, crumbled
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
good pinch sugar
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
150g fresh lasagne sheets
150g grated tasty cheese
2 handfuls grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease two oven trays. Slice eggplant into 1cm-thick rounds. Spray both sides lightly with oil and arrange in a single layer on oven trays. Roast for 30 minutes, turning after 15 minutes, or until tender and golden. Set aside to cool.
Heat oil in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add tinned tomatoes, dried chilli, thyme, vinegar and basil, and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low. Simmer for 10 minutes or until sauce thickens slightly. Add sugar to taste.
Grate cheeses into a bowl and set aside.
Grease a deep, 16 x 24cm (7 x 9 inch) ovenproof dish. Arrange a layer of eggplant over base, overlapping to cover. Spread a third of the tomato sauce over eggplant. Sprinkle a handful (or two) of the cheese over tomato sauce. Top with a sheet of fresh lasagne. Repeat two or three times, or until your dish is full. Finish with a layer of sauce. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake at 200deg C for 25 – 30 minutes, until golden and bubbling. Allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.
Enjoy with an accompanying green salad. Even better the next day.