I don’t like eggplant. I love this dish.
These require a little assembly so unless you have some help you won’t want to make them for a large party. I made them last night for a small dinner party and while there were two professional photographers in the house (and me) not one of us took a picture. That said, they are a crowd pleaser par excellence. They are too rich to make as a meal, but they make the perfect, surprisingly wonderful mouthful or two as an appetizer.
I must give credit for this dish to Chef Michael Chiarello, founder of Napa’s Tre Vigne, whose current restaurant, Bottega, is one of my favorite restaurants anywhere in the world. (Yountville, Napa Valley). He served this dish at a cooking school that I attended (a wonderful Christmas gift from my wife) in Yosemite. The recipe was available through the school but I never picked it up. I just made it up again when I got home.
By the way, if you ever visit Bottega order Chiarello’s smoked polenta appetizer with aged balsamic… I don’t like polenta and I’m not a big fan of smoked. This dish completely floored me. He should have won top chef with it, but when snippy little James Oseland realized the dish was served on charred pages of Saveur Magazine, a tongue in cheek response to a mediocre review one of Chiarello’s earlier dishes, he marked Chiarello down for taste and Rick Bayless won. I’ve never touched a Saveur since and I’ve always wanted to see a Iron Chef competition between Chiarello and Bayless, without Oseland. (BTW – FWIW I like Bayless as well).
- One or Two Chinese Eggplants. (long thin – cucumber shaped – lighter purple eggplants available at almost any grocery store).
- One package very good (soft) plain goat cheese.
- Either one bottle store bought marinara or one batch home made marinara sauce. (I’ll put up a recipe for this soon. It’s quick and easy and it tastes better than anything you can get in the store).
- Grated parmesan for garnish
- Balsamic vinegar for garnish
- That’s it
Using a vegetable peeler remove outer skin from Eggplant. (it will be white in color). Slice into very thin slices at an angle (so the slices are slightly oval shaped). Think about how many guests you have and make sure you make one per guest plus just a couple of extras. To do so you need three pieces of eggplant for each little lasagna.
Take out a Pyrex baking dish and put a paper towel in the bottom of it. Put some table salt on the paper towel. (Trust me). Lay a single layer of the eggplant on the salted paper towel. Salt the top of the eggplant and cover with another paper towel. Start over with salt and eggplant. The salt isn’t to season the eggplant. It is to start the process of getting the squash to give up its liquid. Make sure you cover the top layer with another paper towel and then weight the top paper towel down with anything that will lightly press it against the eggplant. (the bag of shredded parmesan cheese for instance). Set aside and do something else for 20 minutes or so…
When you come back you will be surprised at the amount of moisture that the paper towels have soaked up. It isn’t magic. The salt basically leaches the liquid out of the eggplant. This is an important step because the bitter – off taste that a lot of people associate with eggplant is actually in its liquids. Discard the paper towels and heat up your grill. (If necessary, you can use the indoor grill pan that came with your pots and pans that if you are like most people you almost never use).
Working in batches coat the eggplant pieces with olive oil and place on the grill. You want good grill marks on each side. It will take about 3-5 minutes per batch to grill the eggplant. Put is back in the pyrex. You’re ready to assemble the lasagnas.
Place a sheet of foil on a large baking sheet. (Big metal thing that you might think of as a rimmed cookie sheet). Spray with non-stick cooking spray. Lay out the bottom layer of the eggplant and top with a small piece of the goat cheese (if you freeze it a little it is easier to cut) and one teaspoon of the marinara. Top with another layer of the eggplant and then another piece of cheese and more marinara. Top with the third piece of eggplant and then another piece of the goat cheese and marinara. Dust the top of each stack with a little of the parmesan.
I recommend that you do this a few hours before your party. These will cook in about 15 minutes once your guests arrive so they are very quick to finish.
Preheat an oven to 400 degrees. Place the baking sheet in the oven and let the lasagnas cook for about 15 minutes. (until the cheese is nice and gooey). Place each lasagna carefully on a small plate, garnish with more of the parmesan and put a small drizzle of your best balsamic on the plate. Serve. Stand back and receive accolades.