When I’m not busy at work I tend to daydream. Sometimes the subject matter includes beaches and frozen drinks decorated with umbrellas, sometimes it involves frolicking in a winter wonderland type of scenario, and other times it’s as simple as picturing myself a few hours later, listening to music, and making whatever the heck I want for dinner. Such was the case this past week, when around 3:00 I finished a task and found myself free to be with my thoughts. I was feeling adventurous, and the boy was at deer camp again, so I knew I could go with the random vegetarian flow and try something new without disappointing anyone other than little old me.
The Minnesotan tundra had started freezing over, so I wanted something warm and cheesy, but after a weekend of eating my weight in cookies and hydrating myself with wine, I thought I should try to fit in some wholesomeness too. At the grocery store that evening I decided to venture outside of my usual vegetable choices and wandered over to the pile of eggplants. So pretty, so exotic, and so confusing to me. I had a rough go of eggplant failure a couple years ago when, blinded by size and price, I grabbed two extra large ones at $.99 each thinking, “These will feed me for DAYS!” Unfortunately, despite several recipe attempts, I only got a couple bites in each time before deciding the spongy, chewy texture was more than I could handle. Two years older and wiser, I figured I wouldn’t let the eggplant win again, so I grabbed one and headed out to make…something.
After looking at the available assets in my fridge, I decided to do my own take on lasagna, but with layers of vegetables in lieu of noodles (stay with me here). I thought back to my days studying abroad in Greece, when my classmates indulged in creamy, mysterious Moussaka while I, the sole vegetarian, was given a slab of flaky Spanakopita. Although Spanakopita is one of my favorite foods because of this routine, I was always curious about the lasagna-esque Greek creation. I couldn’t see any reason why lasagna couldn’t be one with moussaka, and vice versa, for just one evening, so I decided to bring the two cultures together in an 8 x 8-inch pan.
- 1 medium eggplant
- 1 medium zucchini
- Sea Salt
- 16 ounces ricotta cheese
- 4 ounces herb goat cheese
- 1/4 cup olives, coarsely chopped
- 8-ounces sliced mushrooms
- 1 jar (24oz) of your favorite marinara sauce
- 3 pieces sliced wheat bread
- 2 tablespoons EVOO
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- Sea salt to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Wash the mushrooms and set aside. Then, slice up the eggplant and the zucchini, lay on a paper towel and sprinkle each piece with salt. This helps draw out the bitterness and the moisture from both vegetables. Let them relax and do their thing while you proceed.
Mash together the ricotta, goat cheese, and olives. Taste it and add some salt and pepper if you’d like.
Spray an 8 x 8-inch pan with cooking spray, and begin layering the ingredients: eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, cheese and olive mix, then sauce. Use about a third of each ingredient with every layer, and repeat this process two more times. Put in the oven and set a timer for 45 minutes.
As your Moussagna is cooking, get the breadcrumbs ready. Take 3 pieces of bread (I chose wheat, I won’t judge if you don’t), break them into pieces, and place in a food processer. Pulse until crumbly.
Heat up 2 tbsp of olive oil in a non-stick pan. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Pour in the breadcrumbs, along with a sprinkle of sea salt. Cook until toasty, crispy and alluring.
After the Moussagna has been cooking for 45 minutes, take out the pan, sprinkle with the breadcrumbs, and put it in the oven for another 15 minutes. When the time is up, take it out and be patient for 10 minutes. Letting it sit will make your life easier when you try to remove the first piece. After those 10 minutes, cut it into four pieces (yup, they’re big), and enjoy!
I ate the whole thing and enjoyed every bite, so needless to say I’m quite pleased with myself for overcoming the eggplant issue. Beyond conquering the purple mystery vegetable, I’m excited about the simplicity of this recipe…just cut veggies, layer with cheese, smother with smooth tomato sauce, and badabing-badaboom you have a hearty, cheesy dish that’s fairly healthy but doesn’t taste like it. Next time I will probably slice the eggplant a little thinner so it’s easier to cut through while devouring, let the eggplant and zucchini sit for a full 15-minutes before assembling the Moussagna, and sprinkle some parmesan on top of the breadcrumbs. Look for variations of this in the future, along with the boy’s verdict and ever-so-wise (and perhaps sarcastic) input.