So you’ve just had a weekend of out-of-town visitors, birthday parties, food festivals and brunch dates. Or you haven’t been on a run since you ran a half marathon two weeks ago. Or you have an irrational anxiety about your pine nuts going bad on you before you can eat them all up. Maybe it’s all of the above (cough). Or maybe you’re just craving healthy food because that’s how you roll. To you I say: consider this casserole.
Pros: SO HEALTHY. It’s filling, hearty & super satisfying. It will use up your pine nuts & take advantage of that eggplant sale at the grocery store. While I equate casseroles with wintertime, summer’s the time for eggplant & tomatoes, and the parsley-bell pepper topping keeps it tasting fresh & crisp. And, on the off-chance that you have a boyfriend who doesn’t eat dairy and a mother that doesn’t eat wheat, you could serve this to them both – just omit the breadcrumbs and substitute ground almonds, more pine nuts, or whatever you have. The recipe tells me that the eggs are omittable too if you’d like to go vegan – just be aware that it’ll be a looser variant & serve it in a bowl as opposed to a plate.
Cons: I can tell this recipe came out of a restaurant’s cookbook. The stages of prep work, and the number of pots and pans on my counter/on the stove/in the oven, made my kitchen feel suddenly small. (To be fair: it IS small, but usually the windows keep the illusion of space alive). I wanted co-workers. I wanted two sinks. I wanted everything to happen faster than it actually did. Next time I make this, I will either make the brown rice & tomato-mushroom layer a day or two ahead of time, or I will hire staff.
The recipe you’ll find below is actually a halved version of the recipe in Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant. The original recipe wanted each layer to be doubled in the casserole dish (rice, eggplant, tomato-mushrooms, rice, eggplant, tomato-mushrooms, topping), but my casserole dishes are apparently too shallow for that and I ended up with two casseroles instead – kind of a daunting amount of food for a household of two. I like the smaller recipe for that more manageable size, and it also reduces the groceries & prep-space required. That said, if you’re feeding a crowd – double it. It was made for that.
Transylvanian Eggplant Casserole
halved, from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant
1 medium eggplant, sliced into 1/2-inch discs
1 cup chopped onion
1.5 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cups sliced mushrooms
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp paprika
salt & pepper to taste
2 1/4 cups cooked brown rice
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp parsley, chopped
1 tbsp pine nuts
2 eggs, well beaten
1/4 cup bread crumbs (or the equivalent in chopped/ground nuts)
1/3 cup pine nuts, ground or finely chopped
1-2 tbsp vegetable oil or melted butter
to garnish: chopped fresh parsley & red bell pepper
1. On an oiled baking sheet, arrange eggplant slices side by side and salt them lightly. Use aluminum foil to cover the tray and bake it until tender at 400 degrees (20-25 minutes). Remove from oven & set aside.
2. While the eggplant is baking, heat the 1.5 tbsp of oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent. Add mushrooms and cover the pan; allow to cook until the mushrooms are cooked through. Add tomatoes, thyme, paprika, and salt & pepper to taste. Cover the pan again and allow it to simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and carefully drain and discard the bulk of the liquid. Set the vegetables aside.
3. While the vegetables are cooking, in a medium bowl, toss rice with lemon juice, parsley & pine nuts. Set aside.
4. Heat 1-2 tbsp vegetable oil or butter in a small frying pan over low heat. Add the bread crumbs & chopped pine nuts, stirring constantly for 4 minutes. Remove from heat & set aside.
5. Oil or butter an 8×12 baking dish (or what you have). Spoon the rice mixture into the pan and press it flat. Next, take the eggplant slices and arrange them on top of the rice. Top with the drained, sauteed vegetables. Carefully, drizzle the egg mixture over the casserole as evenly as possible. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture overtop. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove, uncover, and return to the oven for another 10 minutes. When serving, garnish with parsley & peppers.