Hearty Eggplant Casserole

Submitted by snowgray

I usually make this for my family's Thanksgiving dinner. It is very rich, and a lovely substitute for turkey if you are a vegetarian. Otherwise, it makes a nice side dish!

Ingredients

  • 2 large eggplants, peeled and sliced 1/2 an inch thick
  • 4 to 6 zucchini, peeled and sliced 1/2 an inch thick
  • 2/3 cup olive oil (more or less)
  • 3 to 4 large potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4 an inch thick (or thinner)
  • 2 onions, cut into small cubes
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2/3 cup white wine
  • 2 14 ounce cans chopped tomatoes, drained
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 14 ounce can corn, drained
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup pine nuts (to taste; I like more)
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)
  • 1 8 ounce package of feta cheese, crumbled (more or less to taste)
  • salt and pepper
  • For the béchamel sauce:
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
  • nutmeg, grated

Method

  1. Salt the eggplants and zucchini. Layer them on a cutting board/in a colander, between layers of paper towels, and place a heavy book/cutting board/brick/bag of flour/whatever on top to press the liquid out.
  2. Rinse the eggplants and zucchini, then pat dry.
  3. Heat the oil in a skillet, then lightly brown the eggplant (Start with only a smidgen of oil, because the eggplant will suck it all up! Add more oil before flipping the eggplant over, if it has already absorbed up all of the oil in the pan). Set it aside on more paper towels.
  4. Lightly brown the zucchini, and similarly set it aside on paper towels.
  5. Lightly brown the potatoes, and also set aside on paper towels. Probably you should budget a good half-roll of paper towels to this recipe.
  6. Add more oil if needed. Add the onions, garlic and a pinch of salt, and cook until lightly brown.
  7. Add the white wine, and cook until reduced (this may take longer than you expect, but bear with it: the wine-soaked onions are very delicious in the final dish).
  8. Add the tomato paste and stir vigorously to aid in dissolution.
  9. Add the tomatoes, pine nuts and corn.
  10. Stir in the herbs and any additional salt and pepper.
  11. Cover and simmer 10 to 15 minutes. If the mixture seems thick at the ten-minute mark, add a bit of the liquid from the tomatoes or corn, or a bit of water, or some more wine.
  12. In an ovenproof dish (9x9 or 13x9, glass/ceramic rather than metal), layer the potatoes to cover the bottom of the dish. Next, add a thin layer of the tomato sauce mixture from the skillet. Then, a thin layer of the feta. Then, all of the zucchini. Then, another thin layer of tomato sauce. Then, another thin layer of the feta. Then, half of the eggplant, the last of the tomato sauce, and the last of the feta. Finally, the rest of the eggplant on top. (You may have more tomato sauce than you need; hang on to it and eat it over pasta/crusty toast... probably you will do this during the baking step...)
  13. Cover with foil and bake at 375˚ for 25 minutes.
  14. Meanwhile, to make the béchamel sauce, put the butter, flour and milk into a pan and stir. Bring slowly to a boil, stirring/whisking frequently. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste (I don't like pepper so I don't add it here). Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese and the egg. If you are using a 13x9 or larger pan you may wish to double the béchamel recipe, but probably not.
  15. Remove the casserole from the oven. Pour the béchamel sauce over it (you may need to pour some, give it a minute to settle in, and pour some more; if you are using a 9x9 pan you may have more sauce than you need). Use a spatula to smooth the béchamel sauce into the corners of the dish if necessary.
  16. Return to the oven uncovered for 25 to 30 minutes.

Cook's Notes

Because the eggplant, zucchini and potatoes all need to be browned separately, this recipe takes a bit of time to prepare. Do not be embarrassed to employ two skillets simultaneously! If you want to prepare it ahead of time, do the first full bake, then add the béchamel sauce. Bake for another ten minutes, then remove from the heat, allow to cool, cover and put in the fridge. Bake for another 15 to 20 minutes before serving (a day or two later), uncovered. Actually, in the Thanksgiving rush, this casserole has occasionally been left in the oven on a low rack for a half hour or more, with no major harm done.

I suspect that a more healthy version of this dish might be prepared by grilling the eggplant, zucchini and potatoes on a George Foreman grill, or by using nonstick cooking spray instead of oil. However, I've never done that. If you try it, let me know how it goes!

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