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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pepper Party

Bell peppers are one of Michaels favorite vegetables, so I try to cook with them as much as I can.  I even slip them into recipes that don't call for them.  Last night, a gorgeous purple eggplant begged to be fried into  eggplant parmesan. I had lasagna on my mind, but the eggplant beckoned.  Why not combine the two, I thought?  Although a casserole dish of eggplant parmesan lasagna  would  have been a bit easier to prepare, the idea of cold soggy  leftovers didn't work for me. At All. Traditional lasagna reheats beautifully.  Fried eggplant lasgana, not so much.

I've prepared stacked eggplant parmesan before, so I used the same principle for individual stacked eggplant lasagna.  As ridiculous as it might sound, it was a lot of fun.  Trouble?  Maybe, but I had a great time in the kitchen playing with it.  Ultimately, after all the components were individually prepared, it came together quite easily.

I started by setting up a breading station for the eggplant slices. Flour.  Egg wash.  Seasoned parmigiano-reggiano and fresh parsley panko bread crumbs.  I positioned the breading station next to a hot oiled skillet, dipped the slices in flour, egg wash, and bread crumbs before carefully placing them into the hot shimmering oil.  After frying the eggplant slices on both sides until golden brown, I placed them on a cooling rack to drain and stay crisp.

We prefer meat sauces with our lasagna. Instead of a long simmering bolognese sauce, I simply sauteed ground italian sausage with diced red, yellow, and green bell peppers. Before the peppers softened, I added 2 minced cloves of garlic.  When the sausage was cooked through and the vegetables were tender, I stirred 2 tablespoons of tomato paste into the meat mixture and let it brown to deepen the flavor.  After the tomato paste caramelized around the meat and  vegetables, I deglazed the pan with chicken stock to pick up the fond and loosen the sauce.

As a nod to bechamel sauce, I made a quick alfredo sauce by reducing 1 cup of heavy cream with 1/2 cup of parmigiano-reggiano until it thickened and coated the back of a spoon.  When the alfredo sauce cooled down, I stirred in a beaten egg yolk as a binder and additional thickener.

MIse en place, done.

Michael and I  popped open a bottle of  The Little Penguin South Eastern Australia Chardonnay, 2008  (a gift from Jason and Greg) and retired to the parlor.

After a few glasses of wine, I assembled the  eggplant parmesan lasgana stacks by layering the fried eggplant slices with meat sauce, fresh mozzarella cheese, and alfredo sauce.  I slid them into the oven at 350 to bake, warm through, and melt the cheese.

While the lasagna stacks baked, I prepared a mixed bell pepper sauce topping by slicing red, yellow, and green bell peppers into thin strips.  After flavoring hot oil in a skillet with a smashed garlic clove, I dropped the peppers into the skillet to soften and caramelize.

I plated the fried eggplant parmesan lasagna stacks next to multi-colored Israeli pearl couscous and topped them with the caramelized sauteed pepper medley.

What a fun experiment!  They were fantastic! When sliced, the cheesy crunchy panko breading revealed soft steamed eggplant flesh.  The thickened alfredo sauce loosened its hold when baked and streamed down the eggplant stacks, creating  creamy, cheesy, and tomatoey  bites of cooked italian sausage. Talk about a flavor marriage! Wow! The caramelized peppers draped the eggplant stacks with glistening candied ribbons, dripping and falling at whim, bathing the earthy crisp eggplant with peppery sweetness. 

Unlike traditional lasagna, the crisp parmigiano panko breading on the eggplant slices provided crackling texture to the melted mozzarella cheese, oozing sauce, and mellow peppers. Every bite was reminiscent of the beloved burned cheesy corners of traditional pasta-based lasagna.

Pepper party.

I had fun making it.

We had a blast eating it.

I'll have to play with my food more often.

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