Roasted Eggplant and Za’atar Lasagna

I already have two perfect lasagnas in my life. Ina’s turkey lasagna, which I wooed Bryan with, and Julia’s Nice Lasagna, which I could eat forever and never get tired of. But I was flipping through Nancy Silverton’s Mozza At Home cookbook, a book that, like all of Silverton’s books, I genuinely enjoy and return to often, and came across a recipe for a roasted eggplant lasagna that sounded great. The eggplant is combined with tomatoes and a healthy seasoning of Za’atar to form a hearty vegetarian sauce. The resulting lasagna is delicious, if a little annoying to make. For Bryan and I the results are worth the labor investment because we can be eating it all week. It would also be good for a party since the lasagna can be made in advance.

This is also the sort of recipe that is begging to be adapted and simplified, lasagnas are pretty resilient recipes. So I encourage you to run with it. Boiling lasagna noodles is always an annoying process, maybe try the ones you can bake without boiling. Or make your own which is definitely less annoying to me than boiling lasagna noodles (have I mentioned how much I hate cooking pasta?). The bechamel is super fussy and I am not entirely sure it needs to be strained (which is the version I included below). I think you could roast the eggplant all at the same time, with less oil, and get equally satisfying results. You know, cut some corners here. But do give the recipe a try, because it is a really delicious and perfect for cold, rainy, spring days.

Roasted Eggplant and Za’atar Lasagna (adapted slightly from a Nancy Silverton recipe)

For the Eggplants:

  • 2 large eggplants (2 – 2 1/2 pounds total), cut into 1-inch cubes
    3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    3 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    1/2 cup large garlic cloves (about 20 large cloves), peeled and sliced 1/16 inch thick lengthwise (preferably on a mandoline)
    28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
    1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
    1/2 cup (about 3 oz) pitted small black olives, such as Taggiasche, Nicoise, or Kalamata, cut in half
    3 tablespoon za’atar or dried oregano
    1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes

For the Cheese Sauce:

  • 1/2 large yellow Spanish onion, diced
    4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
    1 arbol chile pod
    2 bay leaves
    1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
    1 quart whole milk
    2 teaspoon kosher salt
    12 ounces (3 cups) shredded low-moisture mozzarella
    8 ounces (1 cup) fresh ricotta
    1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
    2 large eggs, lightly beaten

For the Pasta & Assembly:

  • 16-ounce package dried lasagna noodles, cooked according to package instructions
    1 cup (about 4 ounces) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Prepare the Eggplant:

Preheat the oven to 475°F with a rack in the lowest position. Divide the eggplant pieces between two large baking sheets. Drizzle each portion with 1/4 cup of the olive oil (using 1/2 cup total). Toss and gently massage the cubes to coat the eggplant. Spread the eggplant cubes out in a single layer on the baking sheets. Cooking one batch at a time, put one baking sheet on the lowest rack and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the cubes are dark brown all over and beginning to lose their shape, rotating the baking sheet from front to back and moving the cubes with a metal spatula halfway through the cooking time so that they don’t stick. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, season with 1 teaspoon of salt; set aside. Repeat with the second batch of eggplant. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, season the second baking sheet or roasted eggplant cubes with 1 teaspoon of salt; set aside. Combine the garlic and the remaining 1/4 cup oil in a large Dutch oven or another large high-sided pot over medium heat. Cook until the garlic is soft and very light golden brown, stirring constantly so it doesn’t burn, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, sugar, and the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, stir to combine, and cook the tomatoes for 5 to 6 minutes, until they thicken slightly. Spoon out and reserve 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce. Add the roasted eggplant, olives, za’atar, pepper, and red chile flakes. Stir to combine and cook until the eggplants have taken on the color of the sauce, about 5 minutes. (Add 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup water if the sauce becomes dry or sticky.) Turn off the heat and set aside while you make the cheese sauce.

Make the Cheese Sauce (& Béchamel):

Combine the butter, onion, chile pod, and bay leaves in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring often, until the butter is melted and the onion is soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Add the flour, whisking constantly to remove any lumps, and cook for 2 minutes to cook off the flour flavor. Gradually add 1 cup of the milk, whisking constantly. Increase the heat to high and cook the sauce, whisking constantly, until it begins to thicken, about 1 minute. Add another cup of the remaining milk, whisking constantly. Return the sauce to a boil and add the remaining 2 cups milk, whisking constantly. Return the sauce to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, whisking or stirring constantly, until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the salt. Remove and discard the chile pod and bay leaves. With a ladle, remove 1 cup of the béchamel; set aside. Add the mozzarella, ricotta, Parmigiano, and the eggs to the pot with the remaining béchamel and gently whisk to combine.

Adjust the oven rack so that one is in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Assemble & Finish the Dish:

Spread 1/2 cup reserved tomato sauce over the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Lay 6 half-sheets (or 3 full sheets) of lasagna on the bottom of the pan to cover it. Add half of the tomato-eggplant sauce and spread it evenly over the pasta. Spoon half of the cheese sauce over the sauce and spread it in an even layer to the edge and into the corners of the pan. Lay an additional 6 half-sheets (or 3 full sheets) of pasta over the cheese sauce. Press down on the pasta sheets with the palms of your hands to remove air bubbles and to ensure that the layers are flat and even. Spoon remaining tomato-eggplant sauce over the top; spread evenly. Spoon remaining cheese sauce over the top; spread evenly and to the edges and corners of the pan. Lay a final layer of pasta on top. Using a rubber spatula, gently spread the reserved béchamel evenly over the top of the lasagna. Sprinkle with Parmigiano.

Put the lasagna on a baking sheet and put it in the oven to bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the edges are golden brown and puffed up a bit. Rotate the pan halfway through the baking time.

Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.

11 comments to “Roasted Eggplant and Za’atar Lasagna”

  1. Aimee Elise says:

    March 26th, 2018 at 10:52 am

    This looks divine! I just picked up some fresh Za’tar, and was wondering what to do with it.

  2. Yumyum Lady says:

    March 26th, 2018 at 12:04 pm

    If you don’t like cooking lasagna noodles, how about roasting long full slices of eggplant instead of cubes, and use those in lieu of the pasta. And then it could also be made GF if you use a different starch in the béchamel sauce.

  3. Hi Yumyum, unfortunately I love pasta and gluten, so that won’t cut it for me. But potential solution for someone else!

  4. Jan Canyon says:

    March 26th, 2018 at 12:20 pm

    Tried this, used the ready to bake pasta and it worked fine. Cut my eggplant in to long slabs and that was fine too. I didn’t have an arbol chile pod so I used a couple tsp. of good chile powder and that seemed fine too. The resulting lasagna was excellent!

  5. This looks so good and all I really want right now. Plus I bought a HUGE container of za’atar recently and need an excuse to make a dent in it. I don’t know what I was thinking. Also having black olives in lasagna seems like a revelation. I don’t know why I haven’t thought of it before.

  6. This looks delicious, especially with the za’atar, but, more important, it’s great to have a post from you, Tim. I’ve been missing them. I know you don’t know me from Adam, but I hope all is well. Happy Spring!

    “For the present let the moon shine brightly and the breezes of spring blow gently, dying away from the gale of the day, and let the earth, who brings increase, bring peace.” – Forster

  7. Jere! Thanks for this very kind comment. And for that great Forster quote.

  8. Julia’s Nice Lasagna is now my go to (she’s coming to Indianapolis for a book signing in two weeks!!!! Can I name drop you?), but, I love eggplant so I’m going to give this a try!

  9. Definitely name drop me, Susan! She’s the best, you’ll love her. xo

  10. I make homemade pasta all the time but have never done lasagna with fresh noodles. Would you just cut the rolled out dough into strips and layer? No pre-boiling? I suppose it would soak up the yummy flavors of the sauce.

  11. Hi Lori: Yep! I don’t even cut into strips, just layer the lasagna with the full sheet of pasta.

What do you think?