If you want to demystify any complicated sounding dish, call it a “casserole” and everyone will just settle down.
I love Marcella Hazan. I think of her as the Paula Deen of Italy. Her recipes are always scrumptious and fairly easy to make. I actually stumbled on this recipe from a cookbook I have of hers and started making it about 2 years ago. Heath doesn’t cook often, but in my perfect future land in my mind he loves making this dish. And I happily exit the kitchen, with a glass of wine, and let him have at it.
I will digress slightly here. Does anyone else drink wine in Solo cups? It might be the redneck in me, but I do. Box wine in a Solo cup. There’s nothing refined about that, but it sort of lets you loosely define what a “glass” is. The doctors now say you should enjoy a glass of wine a day. And I do! Maybe that’s why this casserole tastes so dang good.
Marcella Hazan’s eggplant risotto (risotto al forno)
2 – 2 1/2 pounds eggplants
Vegetable oil for frying
4 tablespoons finely chopped onions
1 32-ounce can of plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
4 cups chicken, beef, or vegetable stock, or a mix of half water and half stock
1 1/2 cups Italian Arborio rice
2/3 cup dry white wine
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
2/3 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
Cut off the eggplants stems, peel them and cut lengthwise into 3/8-inch-thick slices.
Stand the slices along the sides of a deep colander, sprinkle with salt, and place the colander over a bowl or basin. Allow the eggplant to drain for at least 30 minutes until most of the liquid runs off.
Pour 1/4-inch vegetable oil in a frying pan set over medium-high heat. Pat the eggplant slices dry with a paper towel and when the oil is hot, slip the slices into the pan. Cook the eggplant in batches until slices are a light golden brown.
Transfer browned slices to a platter lined with paper towels to drain.
Into a heavy bottomed pan, put the chopped onion, the butter, and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Turn the heat to medium high. Saute the onion until it is a pale gold. Add the chopped tomatoes along with their juices and turn the heat to low. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the parsley and basil. Stir 2 or 3 times, then transfer two-thirds to a bowl. Leave one third in the risotto pot.
Bring the broth or broth-water to a simmer in a saucepan or in the microwave.
Put the rice in the risotto pot with the tomatoes and turn up the heat to medium high. Stir the rice for a few seconds to coat with tomatoes, then put in the wine. Cook, uncovered, stirring from time to time, until the wine has evaporated.
Then add a ladleful of broth. Stir steadily until all of the liquid of the broth has evaporated. Proceed in this manner, adding broth when necessary (if you run out of broth, add water) and stirring constantly to keep the rice from sticking to the pot, until the risotto is done. Risotto should be tender but firm, or al dente. Altogether, this should take about 30 minutes. Add several grindings of freshly ground pepper. Add salt only if you have used water in place of some of the broth, and only a little. Remember, the cheese added to the recipe when assembling will add saltiness to the dish.
Let the risotto cool in the pan or on a large platter and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Butter a 13-by-9 baking dish. Spread half of the risotto on the bottom of the baking dish. Cover the rice with a layer of eggplant slices, about one-third of the eggplant. Pour half of the reserved tomato sauce on top of the eggplant. Top this with half of the mozzarella cubes and one third of the grated cheeses.
Top the cheese with the remaining rice, one more third of the eggplant, the remaining sauce, the rest of the mozzarella, then another one-third of the grated cheeses. Top this with the remaining eggplant and sprinkle the top with the remaining grated cheese blend.
Bake for 15-20 minutes in the upper third of the oven, until the cheese melts and forms a light, golden crust.
Serve directly from the baking dish after allowing the casserole to settle for about 5 minutes.