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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Think Like A Chef - Gluten Free Eggplant, Zucchini, & Roasted Tomato Lasagna

The first dish to make with our newly roasted tomatoes was an eggplant, zucchini, and roasted tomato lasagna.

Now, I was given a lot of advice on this dish.  Using noodles, not using noodles, grate the vegetables, don’t grate the vegetables, and so on.  In the end, I decided to make this the way Colicchio intended.  Why?  Well, for one, I have never made lasagna before.

No, really.  In 24 years of cooking various recipes, I have always avoided pasta and left that to Cathy.  So, I thought “Why not master the ‘normal’ way of making lasagna, and then play next time.”

Now, to make this gluten free, I couldn’t use regular lasagna noodles, but I still had a couple of choices.  In my local supermarkets, I found two choices: De Boles which is no boil lasagna, and another brand that was brown rice pasta.  I chose De Boles, as I am not a huge fan of brown rice pasta.

The ricotta I chose was made with part skim in order to conserve calories.  The hard part of lowering the fat content, however, came from the Parmesan Reggiano.  (The King of Cheeses, as Mario would say…)  I needed a cup.  A cup of Parmesan Reggiano is over 1,000 calories.  I mean, even if I got 10 servings, it would add 100 calories, almost all from fat.  I ended up cutting it with a lower fat Parmesan.

The first step was to slice the eggplant, salt the slices, and let them drain.  For those of you who haven’t worked with eggplant, this seems to be done for two reasons.  First, apparently eggplant can soak up a lot of liquid, so salting helps prevent that.  Also, as it leaches its liquid, it cuts down on the bitterness that eggplant can have.

Now, while that was…leaching…I was draining ½ cup ricotta, cutting the zucchini into 1 ½ inch pieces, doing the same to a small onion and a red bell pepper, slicing a clove of garlic, chopping the roasted tomato, getting the leached eggplant cut that into the same 1 ½ strips, and getting about ½ cup of the reserved tomato juice…

Oooops.  I got rid of the juice, remember?  (If not, read here.)  So, unfortunately, I had to go out and buy tomato juice.   

Time to cook.

In a pan over medium heat, I added the onion and garlic.  I let that cook, stirring occasionally, for five minutes, and then added the bell pepper, and cooked that for a couple of minutes.  Then I added the eggplant and zucchini along with a bay leaf, salt and pepper, and cooked that for five minutes.  Then I added the leaves from two sprigs of basil, along with the roasted tomatoes, and three tablespoons of the (store bought) tomato juice, and cooked for another 2 minutes.  Then I took it off the heat.  I must say, it smelled and tasted delicious. So far, so good.

Now I had to layer the dish.  Remember, this is essentially a sauceless lasagna.  Into the bottom of the lasagna pan went some olive oil and the first layer of pasta.  On top of the pasta went some Parmesan.  Then half of the eggplant mixture, next, half of the ricotta was dotted on top of that, then more parmesan, then another layer of pasta, and repeat.  Then the whole thing went into a 350 degree oven that had been preheated.

Twenty minutes later, I poured the rest of the tomato juice on top of the noodles and cooked for 25 more minutes.

At the end of the cooking time, I took the lasagna out and I thought, “Wow, this smells great…but…the noodles seem to be…uncooked?  And, the ricotta doesn’t look like it melted at all.  Hmmm.”  I cut a small piece and bit into it.  From across the room, I heard Cathy say, “Honey…lasagna isn’t supposed to be crunchy.”

I can honestly say that I have been cooking in one form or another for 24 years.  Sometimes just dabbling, sometimes serious, or now where I am actually trying to learn how to cook than using a recipe.  This is the first time I ever had to throw away a dish.

Ok, I need to try this again.  Time to get some advice and think like a chef…

1 comment:

  1. Ahh, you win some and you lose some....and based on your blog posts, you've been winning many more than losing--so you're absolutely entitled! I will say that you were doing some very good thinking along the way as far as to how to cut calories (and make this a gluten-free experience)...and I will cut you a major break in that you typically don't cook pasta. With that said, the only real "mistake" in all of this is the statement you made about this being a "sauceless lasagna". Knowing that you're trying to keep calories down, the one thing that you DON'T have to skimp on is the sauce! In fact, it's the sauce that would have saved this dish.

    It's definitely acceptable to make lasagna without pre-boiling the noodles...however, you absolutely need to make sure that all of the noodles are covered (top and bottom of each noodle in each layer) with sauce. It's the liquid that softens the noodles--and in this case, the sauce would infuse flavor into the noodles.

    Anyway...I'm the one who keeps pushing you to forget the noodles and use thinly sliced (cut it the long way) eggplant slices as the "noodles". You'll save calories, save yourself from gluten free noodles (which frankly are no substitute for "real" noodles), and you'll have a delicious dish that won't cause your wife a trip to the dentist! :)

    I'm very happy that you wrote of this "non success"...because this can happen, even when thinking like a chef. Keep on cooking and let's hear about that bounce-back risotto dish!