I know this looks like Lasagna but it is actually Eggplant Pasticcio. The recipe is in my Cookbook on page 108 and is listed as a side dish but at my brother-in-law’s restaurant (Ristorante Pastore) on Thursday’s it was the lunch special. It was served with a house salad and some warm Italian bread …..that’s it!!! Poor Uncle Paolo (The Chef) had to make this recipe and double and finally triple the amount because it sold out every week. It got to the point that people would call to pre-order this dish Thursday mornings to make sure they got their portion!!
The recipe is quite laborious but not for someone who loves to cook. The components can be made ahead of time to make it a little easier. For instance the Tomato sauce can be made weeks ahead and frozen. Also you can grate the Pecorino Romano cheese and the Mozzarella cheese a couple of days ahead, too. The eggplant can be peeled, sliced, salted and placed in a colander sitting in a bowl in the fridge overnight. All that’s left to do is batter and fry the eggplant and make a quick Bechamel sauce, and assemble the casserole!
The recipe for the basic sauce or what most people call a Marinara sauce is on page 86. The recipe makes a lot of sauce and can easily be cut in half, but why would you???? It freezes beautifully and you will have it for so many other dishes!!
Paolo’s Basic (Marinara) Tomato Sauce
6 large cans (28 oz.) whole Italian Plum tomatoes, crushed with your hands or in a blender
15-20 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
2 large onions, chopped
6 tabsp. olive oil
1 teasp. salt
1/2 teasp. black pepper ( I use lemon-pepper)
2 bay leaves
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 teasp. dried oregano (optional)
2 cups water (use this to rinse out the tomato cans and add to the sauce)
In a large 6 qt. Dutch Oven…Saute the chopped onions and garlic in the olive oil (over medium low heat) until softened and onions are transparent. Add all remaining ingredients. Simmer over a low heat for at least 2 hours.
Thin Bechamel Sauce…and I stress thin. The recipe in my book is for a standard, thick Bechamel but for this dish, this is the one you will need:
Thin Basic Bechamel Sauce
2 cups Whole milk
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 heaping Tablespoons all purpose flour
salt & pepper to taste (yes, I use black pepper but you can use white if you prefer)
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (must be fresh)
Place milk in a saucepan and heat just to the boiling point; remove from heat. In another saucepan, melt butter and stir in flour; cook 3 minutes over low heat. Using a wire whisk, stir in strained milk; add nutmeg and salt. Cook over medium low heat about 5-8 minutes until slightly thickened. Add pepper to taste. If sauce becomes too thick, stir in a little extra milk.
Yields approx 2 1/2 cups sauce for this recipe.
Now for the eggplant:
2 large Eggplants, firm, no bruises, please. Peel, thinly slice lengthwise, salt both sides of slices and place in a colander to drain for at least an hour. Rinse and pat dry.
In a small bowl, place 2 cups A.P. flour and in a second larger bowl beat 4 eggs with 1/2 cup cold water. Set aside. Take a large non-stick skillet and fill 1/4 inch deep with Crisco oil and add 4 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive oil. Heat over medium high setting.
Dip the eggplant slices in the flour FIRST, shake off excess and then dip in the beaten eggs, allow to drip a bit before carefully placing it in the med, hot oil. Fry until light golden on each side and drain well. The flour acts as a seal between the egg wash and the eggplant to keep it from absorbing too much oil. You will notice that the amount of oil left in the pan after frying ALL the slices is almost as much as you put in the pan to begin with!
Now lets set up your assembly station…..
#1. Drained Fried Eggplant slices #2. 6 cups Paolo’s Basic Tomato Sauce #3. Thin Bechamel Sauce #4. 2 cups Hand grated Mozzarella Cheese (please do not use pre-shredded, it makes a big difference) #5. 2 cups FRESHLY grated Pecorino Romano Cheese.
This recipe makes a deep dish 8″ casserole that will give you 6 large or 9 small portions.
First spray your Pyrex or baking dish with Pam. Place 1/2 cup tomato sauce over the bottom of the dish. Fit a layer of cooked eggplant to cover the bottom of the dish. (I like to use the smallest pieces for this because they are not that pretty). Now drizzle a very sparse amount of the tomato sauce and then a slight scattering of the Bechamel. DO NOT WORRY about spreading it all around! It must be LIGHTLY scattered! Sprinkle with a small amount of each cheese. Repeat by changing the direction that you lay down the eggplant slices.
Repeat the same procedure as the first layer and continue until you reach the last layer of eggplant. Notice in the last picture….Only spread the balance of the Bechamel over the last layer! Now just place small dots of the tomato sauce scattered over the top. Finish off with the Mozzarella Cheese then the Romano.
Place the casserole on a cookie Sheet and bake in a preheated 375* oven for about 40 minutes, if baking right away or for 50 – 60 minutes at 350* if baking it cold from the refrigerator. Allow the casserole to rest for about 15-20 minutes after removing from the oven before you try to cut the portions. Just the perfect amount of time to cook your pasta.
I like to serve this with Penne Pasta or Spaghetti tossed with more of the Tomato Sauce and by all means, pass the Cheese at the table! Garlic bread is a must, a big tossed salad and wine if you so desire! Or maybe you are like me and prefer some wine of the South, Iced Tea!
until next time…………Buon Appetito, Bella