Eggplant and Country Bread Lasagna
Recipes courtesy of Lidia Bastianich
For the Eggplant:
3-1/2 pounds medium eggplant
About 2 cups flour, for dredging
1/2 cup canola oil for frying, or more if necessary
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more if necessary
For Assembling the Lasagna: Same ingredients as Main Recipe
A 12-inch or larger skillet, non-stick preferred
Trim the stem and bottom end of the eggplants. Peel off all the skin, if it is tough or, with tender eggplant, remove ribbons of peel, in a striped pattern (see Box on Eggplant, page 000).
With a sharp chef’s knife, cut all the eggplant lengthwise into slices, about 1/3-inch thick. Toss a few slices at a time in the flour (in a large bowl or on a tray) to coat completely on both sides; shake off the excess and pile in another bowl or tray.
Pour 2 or 3 tablespoons of the canola oil into the skillet and tilt it so the entire bottom is coated with a thin film of oil. Set the pan over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes.
Lay a batch of eggplant slices into the pan with plenty of space between them. You want to brown the pieces quickly, with minimal oil, so keep the heat up but don’t let the oil smoke or the vegetables burn. Fry the slices for about 2 minutes until lightly colored on the underside, then flip them over and fry 2 minutes on the second side. Drain the slices on sheets of paper towel and sprinkle with a couple pinches of salt while hot.
Brown the remaining floured eggplant in batches, adding oil to the pan as needed. Remove to paper towels and salt them right away, using about 1/2 teaspoon for all the slices.
Proceed to assemble and bake the lasagna, following the instructions below.
Assembling the Lasagna
Arrange a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400°. Cut the crusts off the bread slices. If they are soft and fresh, you can dry them briefly in the oven but don’t let them get crisp or brown.
Butter the bottom and sides of the baking pan generously. Spread a cup of the tomato sauce in a thin layer in the bottom of the pan. Cover the bottom with a single layer of bread slices. Trim the slices and cut them in pieces so they fit close together and lie flat (but you don’t have to fill every small crack or hole). Spoon about 2 cups of sauce onto the bread and spread it evenly.
Make a layer of zucchini (or sautéed eggplant), using half the slices. You can lay them crosswise or lengthwise in the pan, whichever way fits best. Overlap the slices as necessary to make an even layer that completely covers the sauce. Press down gently to condense the lasagna and make more room in the pan, then sprinkle 1 cup of grated cheese evenly over the top.
Now repeat the layering: Arrange another layer of bread slices and trimmed pieces. Cover the bread with 2 more cups of sauce, spread evenly. Lay out the rest of the zucchini (or eggplant) slices in an overlapping layer. Spread the remaining tomato sauce, about a cup, in a thin layer. Sprinkle another cup of cheese (or more!) in a generous layer over the top of the lasagna.
Baking the Lasagna
Cut a sheet of aluminum foil about 2 feet long—preferably from a wide roll of heavy duty foil. Press the foil so it hugs the sides of the pan and bend it to make a “tent” over the lasagna that doesn’t touch the surface anywhere.
Bake the lasagna covered for about 45 minutes, giving the zucchini plenty of time to cook. Remove the pan from the oven and carefully unfold the foil from the sides of the pan and lift it off completely. Don’t get burned by the pan or the steam that is released—keep your face and hands out of the way. And don’t let the foil mess up the cheesy topping! (In a glass casserole, you should be able to see the sauce bubbling up around the sides of the pan.)
Return the lasagna to the oven and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the top is deep golden-brown. Let the casserole settle for a few minutes before serving (it will stay hot for some time). Cut in squares or rectangles of whatever size you like and lift out individual pieces with an angled spatula.
Lidia’s Rigatoni al Forno with Sausage-Tomato Sauce
Kosher salt for the pasta pot
1 pound Lidia’s Rigatoni
4 cups Sausage and Tomato Sauce (see recipe below)
8 leaves of basil shredded
1 ½ cups freshly grated Grana Padano
2 tablespoons soft butter
2 cups ricotta
1 pound shredded provola
¼ cup fine dry bread crumbs
For the sauce:
1½ pounds sweet Italian sausage
1 cup white wine
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for finishing the pasta
2 cups chopped onions
1 plump garlic clove, peeled and sliced
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the pasta pot
½ teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste
6 cups (two 28-ounce cans) Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand
1 branch fresh basil with lots of leaves for cooking and finishing the pasta (a single batch)
You will need a large pot for cooking the pasta; a 4-quart rectangular baking dish or oval gratin dish.
Note: Sauce should be made in advance and can be refrigerated for a few days or even frozen for a few weeks
To make the sauce: Remove the sausage casings, and crumble the meat into a large bowl. Pour over it ½ cup of the wine, and mix this in with your fingers, breaking up any big meat clumps, so the sausage is evenly moistened.
Pour the olive oil into the big skillet, and set it over medium heat. Stir in the onions, and cook until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes; scatter the sliced garlic in the pan, and season with the salt and peperoncino. When everything is sizzling, crumble in the sausage, and stir with the onions. Pour in the remaining ½ cup wine, raise the heat a bit, and cook, stirring, as the wine cooks away and the sausage becomes all browned, about 10 minutes. Pour in the tomatoes and a cup of water (which you’ve used to slosh and rinse the tomato cans and bowl). Submerge the basil branch in the liquid, cover the skillet, and bring to a boil. Set the cover ajar, adjust the heat to keep the sauce bubbling steadily, and cook for an hour or more, until the sauce has developed good flavor and reduced to the consistency you like for dressing pasta. Remove and discard basil branch. You can use some of the sauce right away—you’ll need half of it to dress the rigatoni—or let it cool, then refrigerate or freeze for later use.
To bake the pasta: Fill the pasta pot with salted water (at least 1 tablespoon salt), and heat to a rolling boil. Stir in the rigatoni, and cook at the boil until al dente (about 4 minutes less than the package directions).
Drain the pasta well in a colander, and put it in a big bowl. Pour in 2 cups of the sausage-tomato sauce, sprinkle atop ½ cup of the grated Grana and basil. Toss well to dress all the rigatoni evenly.
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 400 degrees and brush the baking dish with the butter. Spill in half of the dressed pasta, spreading it out to fill the pan bottom in an even layer. Drop spoonfuls of the ricotta evenly atop the pasta. Scatter half of the shredded provola evenly over the pasta and ricotta, then finish the layer by spreading a cup of the sausage-tomato sauce on top of the cheeses.
Next, arrange all the remaining pasta in a flat, even layer, then spoon ¾ cup tomato sauce on top. Sprinkle the remaining grated Grana and the rest of the provola over the pasta; scatter the bread crumbs over all, and drizzle the last bit of tomato sauce on the top.
Tent the baking dish with a sheet of aluminum foil, arching it so it doesn’t touch the crumb topping and pressing it against the sides. Set the dish in the oven, and bake for 35 minutes, then remove the foil, and bake another 15 minute or so, until the top is nicely browned and crusty. Serve hot!