I make no claims of being able to make a proper lasagna. How could I, when you can order the dish in five different restaurants and get five very different lasagnas? Ricotta, no ricotta, béchamel, no béchamel, beef only, beef and pork ragù, marinara…Every family with a real stake in the debate (my own is ambivalent, not being anywhere close to having any Italian relatives) has a gold standard against which all other lasagnas are held. At minimum there is some kind of tomato sauce, some kind of dairy, and long, wide noodles. I am not interested in settling the Great Lasagna Debate or offending anyone’s grandmother. What I am interested in is meals that are hot, filling, make good leftovers, and are meatless.
That last requirement gave me a bit of trouble. My favorite meal–nay, my favorite taste–is my mom’s spaghetti sauce. I would eat it every day and smell like garlic forever if I knew it wouldn’t negatively affect my social life. It’s the sauce she uses for lasagna, too, and thus would have been my first choice for any lasagna I would make. But I went and banned meat from my kitchen, so…
One feature of my mom’s sauce is sliced mushrooms. Mushrooms have a rich, earthy depth to them, as well as a texture that lends itself well to lasagna. But without the benefit of the real meaty-ness of…meat…to tie everything together, I was worried that I’d end up with tomato sauce with mushrooms, not the singular, cohesive flavor of my mom’s sauce. She cooks her sauce for a long time, at least three or four hours, so what if I cooked mine for a really long time? I decided that a slow cooker was the way to go, and I allotted a minimum of six hours to my sauce.
My husband is pretty lukewarm on pasta. He likes the occasional bowl of pasta or slice of lasagna, but he doesn’t dream of fresh pappardelle like I do. Credit for the inclusion of eggplant slices and spinach goes to him, which he rightly identified as both a means to cut down on the pasta and give it a nutritional kick.
You’ll also notice that my lasagna is ricotta free. My cheese threshold is pretty low, and most lasagnas simply have too much for my taste. There’s plenty of mozzarella and parmesan though, and I really don’t think final product loses anything for it.
Eggplant Lasagna with Slow-Cooked Mushroom Sauce
for the sauce:
- 2 pounds button mushrooms, sliced 1/4″ thick
- olive oil
- 2 cans diced tomatoes (no salt added variety if you can find it)
- 2 cans tomato sauce
- 1 can tomato paste
- 2 cups water
- 5 cloves garlic, crushed*
- 2 tablespoons dried** oregano
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- kosher salt
- fresh ground black pepper
Place the mushrooms in the slow cooker and drizzle with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Toss to coat. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, water, and crushed garlic.
If you’ve got a mortar and pestle, combine the herbs and crush them a bit. If not, put them in the palm of your hand and rub your hands together over the slow cooker. Salt and pepper to taste; the amount of salt will depend on whether you used low-salt canned goods, and I usually use five or six grinds of pepper. You’ll want to taste the sauce as it cooks and adjust as you see fit.
I put the slow cooker on high for at least two hours and then turn it to low for another three or four. If you’re going to be away from the kitchen, I’d put it at low for the duration.
- 1 large or 2 small eggplants, sliced into 1/4″ thick half-moons, and salted and drained***
- 4 cups baby spinach
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into little cubes (Of course you can grate it, but have you ever tried grating fresh mozzarella? It’s a disaster.)
- 3/4 cup grated parmesan
- 8 ounces lasagna noodles (no-boil has worked fine for me)
Here’s the order I work in:
I usually end up doing three rounds, with the final layer always sauce topped with cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes. Let stand for 15 minute before serving.
Wait, where’s the photo of this deliciousness?
There is no photo, for several reasons. My phone makes a better phone than a camera, and the lighting sucked that day, and I was really hungry and I didn’t want to bother. But I promise you that there was a bubbly, golden lasagna in my kitchen last week.
So I will leave you with some photos of the progress my porch garden is making. I have three huge, lovely tomato plants with tons of beautiful blossoms, and this is the only tomato I have to show for it. It seems my plants are experiencing something called “blossom drop,” which is a pollination problem caused by excessive heat. And excessive heat we have had. I won’t be making salsa anytime soon, but I can console myself with fussing over this little guy.
* Since garlic’s flavor does depend somewhat on the way it’s prepped, crushed gives you the strongest flavor. I, however, use a garlic press, since that’s the official way. But I know that garlic presses are verboten by many serious cooks.
** I feel fresh herbs would be a waste here since they would get cooked to death. A bit of fresh oregano and thyme just before you turn off the cooker would not be a bad idea though.
*** I place the slices in a large colander over a big bowl, salt the slices, cover them with plastic wrap, and then put a heavy-ish saucepan on top. Allow about an hour for draining.