1 sweet onion, chopped
1 T olive oil
1 large or 2 small/medium Asian eggplant (or 6 large Fairy Tale eggplants)
10 oz spinach
1 (15 oz) container ricotta
1 lb fresh mozzarella, cut into small pieces
1 T garlic powder (more if your sauce is not garlicky enough)
1 t oregano
1/4 t ground black pepper
5 cups marinara or garlicky pasta sauce
15 fresh basil leaves, rinsed, torn, and added to the sauce
12 sheets no-boil lasagne noodles, less than one 9 oz package
2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided use
Spoon Mage™ Note:
This is the full out cheesy version. If you need to make it low fat, purchase low fat ricotta, reduce to 1 or 2 eggs, double the veggies and decrease the cheese by about half. You will need to dot the cheese over the surface. Fresh mozzarella will spread anyway, so you are good. If you need to go even lower in fat and calories, make something else.
Do not slice eggplant until shortly before searing. Once cut, cover the slices with an only slightly damp paper towel until it is time to tip them into the pan.
There is no need to peel the thin mild tasting skin from fairy tale or Chinese eggplants.
The skin of globe eggplants is a little thicker and slightly bitter tasting to some people. Let your taste buds determine whether you peel it or not.
Make this a weeknight recipe by using 2 (24 oz) jars of your favorite pasta sauce. My favorite brand is Paul Newman’s. Water does not separate from the tomato and the brand has far and away the best flavor, needing only a lot more garlic and a touch of brown sugar to counter the acidic background. Mix and match flavors (ie: Sockarooni and Roasted Garlic). Stir it up in a bowl and add more garlic, basil, and a bit of brown sugar before layering it in the lasagne.
If using regular lasagna noodles, pre-boil them per package directions. You will need to reduce the sauce by 1-2 cups. No-boil noodles require more sauce in order to plump up and 5 cups will simply drown boiled noodles. Lasagne soup would be tasty, but that is not the goal here.
Chop onions and slice the eggplant into 1/4 inch thick rounds. Cover the rounds with a very slightly damp paper towel.
In a large skillet set over medium-high heat, add the olive oil. Let the oil heat for 30 seconds. Then tilt the pan to coat the entire surface with oil.
Add the onion. Stir infrequently, allowing the onion to brown a little. Total cooking time is only about 4 minutes at this heat. If it takes longer, you likely did not wait for the pan to get hot. No worries, but remember that the goal is to brown, not caramelize. When the onions start to brown, remove them to a small bowl, and proceed to the next step.
Add the eggplant slices to the pan, adding 1 teaspoon more oil if necessary, searing each piece well with infrequent stirring. Let the pieces develop lovely browned areas. You will notice a change in aroma when this happens. This will take about 4 minutes.
After browning, the eggplant will soften a little, this is time to remove them to a small bowl. There is no need to fully cook the eggplant as it will finish in the oven. Browning is the key to a tasty dinner.
Reduce heat to medium and add the spinach with a teaspoon more oil to the pan. Stir well and frequently – you do not want the spinach to brown. It should only just wilt and begin to exude its waters.
Remove the spinach from the pan and place in a small bowl or small mesh strainer. The veggies needs to be prepped a little early so things cool a bit, making it easier for you to handle later. It makes it a lot easier to squish out the remaining water from the spinach if it is well cooled. Once the spinach has cooled, squish the spinach well so your lasagne is not soggy! After you squish it up good, divide it into 3 portions so it’s easier to layer into the lasagne.
In a small bowl, combine the mozzarella, ricotta, eggs, black pepper, garlic powder, and oregano. Inhale the aroma… does it need more garlic? What recipe doesn’t?!
All of this too can be done earlier in the day and then kept covered in the refrigerator until it is time to assemble.
In another bowl, stir the pasta sauce with all the torn basil. Taste and if your sauce is acidic, add brown sugar. Is there really ever enough garlic?
Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with non-stick spray.
Spread 1 cup of the basil infused pasta sauce over the bottom of the dish.
Place 3 sheets of no-boil lasagne noodles on top of the sauce – horizontally for the short noodles or lengthwise for the longer noodles – or use the package directions for how many to place in each layer. Press slightly. No-boil pasta expands when it cooks, so don’t worry if it doesn’t cover the bottom.
Spread 1 cup of sauce on top of the lasagne noodles.
Ladle on about 1/3 of the ricotta cheese mixture. Spread around a bit with the back of a spoon. It’s okay if it mixes with the sauce and there is no need to cover the entire thing.
Dot the cheesy surface with 1/3 of the onions, spread out 1/3 of the eggplant and 1/3 of the spinach. You will not have enough veggies to cover the surface, so just spread them out evenly.
Sprinkle with 1/3 cup Parmesan.
Repeat the layer: 3 noodles, 1 cup sauce, 1/3 of the ricotta cheese, 1/3 of the vegetables, 1/3 cup Parmesan.
Repeat the layers one more time: 3 noodles, 1 cup sauce, the last of the ricotta cheese, the last of the vegetables, 1/3 cup Parmesan.
Top the whole with 3 final noodles, pressing in slightly, dot with any remaining sauce, and sprinkle with 1 cup Parmesan.
Cover tightly with foil – I do recommend Reynold’s Non-Stick foil so you don’t lose any cheese – and bake at 375 for 1 hour, or until bubbly.
In case you managed to squish in a little more sauce or veggies than called for, or perhaps you didn’t remember to squish the water out of the spinach, make sure you have something beneath the pan to catch the overflow!
Remove the foil and bake for 15 more minutes, or until the top browns up nicely. The more brown the better. Trust me here or there will be fights at the table for who gets the browned goodness.
Let it rest out of the oven, uncovered, for 15 minutes before serving with a nice Chianti and a beautiful crunchy green salad. Don’t skip the rest time. That casserole is hot! The time gives everything a chance to settle and for the final liquids to be absorbed by the pasta.