My first visit to Italy was in 2005. Our first stop was Bologna, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region. It is the home of University of Bologna, the oldest university in the world. As I walked around the city during lunch time, I noticed a long line of university students waiting their turn to go inside a tiny bistro. I decided to come back when the lunch rush was over and eat there. This is when I had the most incredible roasted eggplant dish.
It has been one of my favorites ever since. I recreated it when I got back home, and I make it a lot. Fortunately for me, it is gluten free and keto friendly. As I stated in a previous post, I started a ketogenic lifestyle on 25 February 2019 to control my blood sugar without any medications. Since I have decided to lead a ketogenic lifestyle forever, I am glad that this favorite dish of mine can still be part of my life.
INGREDIENTS FOR EGGPLANT SLICES:
- 4 small eggplants (these came from my neighbor’s garden.)
- 1/4 cup of my Italian Spice Mix
- enough kosher salt to lightly sprinkle over eggplant slices
- olive oil to saute the eggplant
PREPARING THE EGGPLANT:
- Using a serrated knife, cut the eggplant into 1/2 inch discs
- Lightly sprinkle them with kosher salt on both sides
- Place in a glass container and cover with plastic wrap
- Refrigerate overnight to allow excess water to be extracted from the eggplant. This process makes the eggplant absorb less oil.
- Remove the eggplant slices from the glass container and place onto paper towel sheets to dry off excess liquid. Discard the liquid at the bottom of the glass container.
- Place the salted and dried eggplant slices , in a single layer, into a clean glass baking dish
- drizzle on some olive oil and sprinkle with my Italian Spice Mix. Flip the slices over and repeat on the other side.
- Add another layer of eggplant slices and coat with oil and spice mix. Repeat until all the eggplant slices are used up.
- Cover with plastic wrap and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least an hour or overnight.
COOKING THE EGGPLANT:
- Coat a large non-stick skillet with olive oil
- Turn the flame to medium heat and get the oil hot, but not smoking
- Once the oil is hot add a layer of spiced eggplant slices. Do not crowd the pan. Cook the slices till they are golden brown on the first side. Flip and repeat until the slices are brown and crispy on both sides.
- The cooking time is longer than you think. It is 10 minutes per side. Once the eggplant is brown on both sides, test it with a fork. Once it is fork tender remove it to a glass baking dish.
- Continue the process until all the eggplant slices are cooked.
When I am cooking a lot of eggplant, I use two pans on the stove. This saves time.
INGREDIENTS FOR ASSEMBLING THE CASSEROLE:
- Cooked eggplant slices
- 24 ounces of marinara sauce (you can buy it or make it. Click on Marinara Sauce – An Italian Essential, for my recipe.)
- 10 ounces of fresh mozzarella cut into thin slices
- 1 large bunch of basil leaves, removed from their stems
- 24 ounces of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
By the way, those beautiful dishes in the photo above are by Ceramiche d’Arte Carmela in Ravello, Italy. One of my favorite places.
ASSEMBLY: the casserole is assembled in two layers
- Coat the bottom of a 9 X 11 glass baking dish with a thin layer of marinara sauce. This will prevent the bottom from burning.
- Next place a single layer of eggplant slices
- Place a piece of mozzarella on each eggplant slice
- Top each slice of mozzarella with a basil leaf
- Spread a layer of marinara sauce
- Sprinkle on a layer of grated Parmesan cheese
- Repeat, starting with another layer of eggplant slices
Cover with foil and bake in a 350 F oven until the casserole starts bubbling. Should take about 20 to 30 minutes. Take the casserole out of the oven. Raise the oven temperature to 400 F. Remove the foil and top with a final layer of Parmesan cheese. Place back in the oven, on the top rack, and bake until the top layer of cheese turns brown. Should take about 10 minutes. Keep an eye on it so the cheese does not burn.
Remove the casserole from the oven and let it rest for about 20 minutes before serving.
The hardest part is waiting to let it rest. It smells so good and looks so tempting that it is hard to wait. I like making this for pot luck suppers, because I can make it in advance, and it tastes even better the next day.
I have also made this dish with other vegetables like spaghetti squash and patty pan squash. I will post those versions next time I make them.
Here is a photo of my “Spaghetti Squash Faux Lasagna” version, served for dinner with a large salad. Easy breezy, gluten free, vegetarian, keto friendly and oh so delicious!!!
Hope you enjoy this. Please let me know in the comment section.