Saturday, September 12, 2009

Creamy Baked Noodles with Eggplant

As I assembled this meal, I thought, "This seems a lot like moussaka." A cheesy white sauce custard on top of eggplants and tomatoes seasoned with cinnamon. I was a little disappointed.

Then I ate it. It reminded me more of baked ziti than moussaka--yay! (Not that I don't love moussaka--I do--I just didn't want a recipe that was simply a variation of it). My only complaint was the time it took to make it, not quite as quick and easy as I would have liked, due mostly to the white sauce. I didn't have quite a pound of eggplant, so I evened out the pound with some mushrooms I had leftover from when we made pizza. (You could also substitute mushrooms entirely for the eggplant if you preferred). I also mistakenly used a different mystery cheese instead of Parmesan and it was just fine. The family loved it. M thought it was tasty, her only question was, "Why did you have to put eggplant in it, Mommy?" (She picked the eggplant out, as usual). Definitely repeatable.

Creamy Baked Noodles with Eggplant (or as I think of it: Eggplant Baked Ziti)
adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 pound eggplant (or mushrooms or a combination), peeled and cut into 1" cubes
1 small red onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/4 t ground cinnamon
a pinch of paprika
2 c tomatoes, chopped (or 1 15-oz can of diced tomatoes with some of the juice)
4 T butter
8 oz penne pasta (or other chunky pasta)
2 T bread crumbs
1 1/2 c milk
2 T flour
2 eggs beaten
1 c Parmesan, freshly grated

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook until the eggplant is softened and browned, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside. Add more oil to skillet if necessary and add onion and garlic. Cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in cinnamon, paprika, and tomatoes. Reduce the heat and simmer until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Return the eggplant to the pan and adjust seasonings. Set aside.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a pot of boiling water until it is al dente. While the pasta is cooking (and the sauce is simmering), heat the milk (microwave or on the stove) until small bubbles appear. Melt 2 T butter in a small saucepan. Add flour and whisk constantly until the mixture turns golden, about 5 minutes. Slowly add the hot milk, whisking continously, and cook until the mixture thickens (3 - 5 minutes for whole milk, longer for skim milk and depending on high the heat is). Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir a couple of T of the white sauce into the beaten eggs, then a little more. Pour egg mixture into remaining white sauce and stir in half of the Parmesan.

When the pasta is al dente, toss with 1 T of melted butter and 1 T of bread crumbs. Set aside (this will probably be done before the white sauce is). Put half of the pasta in a 9" square buttered baking dish. Cover with half the tomato sauce. Cover with remaining pasta and then, tomato sauce. Pour all of the cheese sauce over top. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan and bread crumbs. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees oven for 45 minutes, or until the top turns golden brown. Let rest for a few minutes before cutting and serving.

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