Eggplant and Goat Cheese Casserole
From How to Read a French Fry: and Other Stories of Intriguing Kitchen Science (Canada, UK), by Russ Parsons.
Some cooks swear that eggplant has to be salted before cooking. They say it removes bitter juices. In fact, whether to salt or not depends on how the eggplant is to be cooked. Adding salt to eggplant that is going to be fried results in a softer, plusher texture, but it has little or no effect on eggplant that will be grilled.
3 (1- to-1-1/4-pound) eggplants
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
About 1/2 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 11-ounce log fresh goat cheese
1 8-ounce ball mozzarella, grated
Peel the eggplants and cut lengthwise into slices 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Salt liberally on both sides and arrange in overlapping layers on a jellyroll pan. Prop upright over the sink and let drain for at least 1-1/2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (205°C).
Sauté the onion in 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large saucepan or skillet over medium-high heat until it begins to soften and turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until highly fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and crushed red pepper and cook until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, add the basil and keep warm.
Rinse the eggplant slices under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 4 slices of the eggplant and cook until lightly browned on one side, about 10 minutes. Flip and cook, without adding oil, until the second side is lightly browned, about 10 more minutes. (This can be done in two skillets to speed the process.) Repeat until all the eggplant is fried, using more oil as needed.
Spread about 1-1/2 cups tomato sauce over the bottom of a large gratin or baking dish. Arrange half of the eggplant in 1 layer, overlapping the slices on top of the sauce. Dot each slice with a walnut-sized knob of goat cheese and ladle over enough tomato sauce to barely cover.
Repeat, using the remaining eggplant slices. Dot the slices with the remaining goat cheese, and ladle on the remaining tomato sauce. Distribute the mozzarella evenly across the top.
Bake until the mozzarella melts and browns, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings