I always find it interesting how people define comfort food in such different ways. The list of entrees and desserts that make feel happy is quite long, although it's safe to say anything with cheese and tomato sauce will jump to the top pretty quickly. Eggplant lasagna is one of those dishes that takes time to make but is worth the work the second you bite into your first flavorful fork-full. In a (somewhat) futile attempt to lighten what can feel like an indulgent meal, I bake the eggplant slices rather than fry them and use part-skim cheese wherever I can. Don't worry, you can't taste the difference–but you may feel a little less guilty about reaching for that second slice.
For the sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 head minced garlic
2 28-ounce cans of peeled tomatoes with puree
1 can of puree
1 can of tomato paste
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
For the filling,
2 15-ounce containers part-skim ricotta cheese, drained
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces)
4 3/4 cups grated mozzarella cheese (about 1 1/4 pounds)
1/2 head minced garlic
3 tablespoons dried parsley
2 large eggs
pepper, to taste
6 large eggplants, sliced lengthwise 3/4-inch thick, salted and drained in a colander for about 1 hour
1. For the sauce: Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté until softened. Add remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Cool.
2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Arrange sliced eggplant in a single layer on sheet pans. Brush with oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast the eggplant until soft and golden, about 25 minutes.
2. Lower oven to 350°F. Combine ricotta, garlic, and cheese in medium bowl. Season to taste with pepper. Mix in eggs and parsley.
3. Spread half of the sauce on the bottom of a baking dish. Lay slices of eggplant to cover followed by the ricotta mixture and additional sauce. Repeat, finishing with marinara sauce. Top with remaining Parmesan.
4. Cover baking dish with aluminum foil. Bake lasagna 40 minutes; uncover and continue to bake until hot and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Let lasagna stand 15 minutes before slicing to serve.
Gnocchi are one of my favorite pasta shapes–I just love how they puff up like tiny pillows after a short stay in boiling water. Surprisingly light thanks to airy ricotta cheese in the dough, they're also wonderfully filling. Usually I toss the dumplings with a smooth basil-tomato sauce, but they'd also taste decadently good in a simple browned butter.
2 cups ricotta (whole-milk or part skim, 1 pound)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (3 ounces), divided
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (more as needed)
2-3 cups of preferred tomato sauce (store-bought or homemade)
salt and pepper
1. Stir together ricotta, eggs, 1 cup cheese, nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.
2. Add flour, stirring to form a soft, wet dough.
3. Shape dough on a well-floured surface with floured hands into two 1-inch-thick ropes. Cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces with a floured knife and let rest on a floured board, counter top, or baking sheet.
4. Cook gnocchi in 2 batches in a pot of boiling water, adding slowly to pot and stirring occasionally until cooked through (about 4 minutes per batch). Lift out with a slotted spoon and drain in colander.
5. Meanwhile, heat sauce until warm. Toss cooked gnocchi with sauce. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese and fresh basil to serve.