Rainy day, lazy mood and some rogue veggies scattered in the fridge can only mean one thing. Order takeout! Kidding. I hardly ever order takeout, instead I’d rather channel my inner top chef and get creative.
If you’ve ever listened to the Splendid Table, then you’re probably familiar with Stump the Cook, the refrigerator/pantry game in which a call-in contestant challenges Lynne Rossetto Kasper to create a dish with five ingredients from their kitchen. This was the situation I was in. I found a few slender purple Italian eggplants, a bulb of fennel and some black oyster mushrooms hanging out in the crisper. I put everything on the counter, rummaged in the pantry and pulled out a can of pomodorini (cherry tomatoes,) flour, butter, milk and fresh mozzarella cheese.
If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, have fun with it and take on the challenge of cooking with what you have. Sometimes you get a real winner and other times you end up ordering in a pizza. My no fail way to use up rogue veggies is to slice them and bake as a casserole. This time I layered my veggies with a bright tomato sauce, creamy bèchamel and gooey cheese, a veggie lasagna of sorts.
Eggplant and Fennel Lasagna
4 small Italian eggplants (thinly, sliced lengthwise)
1 bulb fennel, thinly sliced
2 tomatoes, sliced
1 cup mushrooms, roughly chopped (I used black oyster)
fresh mozzarella about 8-10 thin slices
1/2 red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 – 12oz can pomodorini (cherry tomatoes)
salt to taste
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons milk
1 bay leaf
freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
fresh parsley, chopped
For the Sauce: Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a medium pan. Add the chopped onions and garlic and saute until translucent. Add the can of pomodorini tomatoes crushing them with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil. (Without rinsing the can that the tomatoes were in, add a bit of water– about 1/4 of the can using up the leftover tomato pulp from the sides and bottom of the can, and add to the sauce) Set to simmer and cook at least 30 minutes. Set aside.
For the bèchamel: In a small saucepan, add the milk, bay leaf and grated nutmeg. Keep warm, but do not boil. In a large saucepan, melt the butter, add the flour and whisk until a thick paste is formed and turns sandy brown in color. Begin adding a ladle of milk at a time while continuously whisking. Keep adding milk and whisking until all the milk has been added. Season with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat and get ready to layer your veggie lasagna.
For the lasagna: Thinly slice eggplant lengthwise. Thinly slice the fennel. Slice the mushrooms and the tomatoes and set aside until ready to layer the lasagna. In a casserole dish, begin layering lasagna as follows: Tomato sauce, eggplant, mushrooms, tomatoes, fennel, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese and bèchamel. Keep layering (I made two layers) until all the veggies are used up and remember to end with the bèchamel on top. Bake covered with tin foil in a 350F oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, uncover and bake an additional 10 minutes or until browned and bubbly. Garnish with toasted breadcrumbs and parsley and serve.