Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pasta alla Norma Casserole (Eggplant and Pasta)

 Yesterday I took a gamble when it came to creating this recipe.  I took the gamble that I could get my family to eat eggplant and really enjoy it.  The flip side of the gamble was they could have hated it and I would have had to eat this entire casserole all by myself.  Well, I am happy to say I won the gamble.  My family (including my picky son) ate a whole eggplant inside this casserole and loved it.  My son had two helpings and said it was delicious.  I got a resounding "This is great!" from my eggplant hating husband.  Of course I never told them there was any eggplant in the casserole.  I actually don't plan on telling them until all the leftovers are gone.  Then I will break the news... they ate EGGPLANT and loved it!  Okay, so I'm sneaky.  It was more of a cooking challenge for me as it was for them to try it.  I knew if I cooked it just right they would be able to enjoy eggplant as much as I do.  I must say, I am still patting myself on my back for creating this one.

Note:  I added chicken because my boys don't eat meatless pasta.  You can always omit the chicken if you want to keep this vegetarian. 

PS.. once you read the recipe, you may say you don't like anchovies.  Please take the anchovy challenge too... they melt into the sauce and give it such a beautiful salty depth of flavor.

Update:  The dish is all gone-- in less than one day.  My husband loved it so much he had it for lunch, dinner and took the final helping to work for lunch.  My picky son had it for lunch and requested it again for dinner. Hey, not only did I win them over with the eggplant, I didn't have to cook dinner either since they were willing to eat the leftovers from lunch.  Hooray!

1 box (about 15oz) cooked  - I used penne.   Remember to cook the pasta in well salted water to season the pasta before adding it to the dish. Do not over cook the pasta because it will cook more in the oven. Drain it shy 1-2 minutes of it being fully cooked so it can finish off in the sauce and oven.

1 (2lb) American variety eggplant diced very fine
1 (2oz) can of anchovy fillets in olive oil
2 Tbs olive oil
1 medium onion diced
3-5 cloves of garlic grated
1lb of lean ground meat (I used ground chicken)
1 (28oz) can of crushed tomatoes
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
red chili flakes to taste
salt and black pepper to taste
2-3 tsp brown sugar (if your tomato sauce is tart) This is to taste.
2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Ricotta layer:
2 cups ricotta (or cottage cheese)
1 egg
1 tsp granulated garlic
1 Tbs dried or fresh parsley
salt and black pepper (to taste)
Heat 2 Tbs of olive oil on medium-high heat in large pan and add the anchovy fillets plus the oil from the can.  Put a lid on it so the anchovies don't splatter everywhere.  Once the anchovies melt (this happens pretty quickly) add the chopped eggplant.

Cook eggplant for 7-8 minutes until it becomes tender and almost half it's volume.  Turn stove off and tilt the pan so the oil drains away from the eggplant.  Remove eggplant from pan until later. Heat stove again and use the drained oil to fry the onion and grated garlic for 1 minute.

 Then add the lean ground meat and brown.  Add the dried oregano, basil, red chili flakes, black pepper some salt (remember the anchovies will add salt to the dish as well).  Once the meat is browned and seasoned well, add the cooked eggplant back to the pan.

Next add the can of crushed tomatoes and some sugar to taste.  Turn stove to medium and allow sauce to cook for 15-20 minutes.  Taste for seasoning and turn stove off.  Add cooked pasta to the pan and toss together.

Ricotta layer:  Add 2 cups of ricotta cheese (I also substitute low fat cottage cheese) with salt, pepper, egg, granulated garlic and parsley.  Mix well.  Now layer some pasta evenly into an oven safe casserole dish.

Then layer all of the ricotta mixture over the pasta evenly. Then top it off with another layer of pasta and finally with some mozzarella cheese.  Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes. Note:  Cover the dish for the first 20 minutes in oven with tin foil.  Spray tin foil with some cooking spray or oil so it won't stick to cheese. Do not press tin foil down heavily over the cheese, sort of tent it around so the casserole will steam.  Then take off the tin foil and cook for another 10-15 minutes for cheese to brown. Serve hot.  Enjoy. 


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