Tuesday, July 1, 2008

blame it all on exxon and enron

Oh dear. It's been a while since I've been here, hasn't it? I don't see any cobwebs, but this place is looking a bit dusty. Pardon me while I tidy up.

I have an excuse. It might even qualify as a good excuse: I'm working as a research assistant to a professor this summer, and I've been kept very busy with the latest round of decisions handed down by the Supreme Court. In a way, it's really all the fault of Exxon and Enron that I haven't had any time to sit down and write up what I've been cooking lately.

At least there has been plenty of cooking, because Bella and I have a standing appointment to visit Haymarket on Saturday mornings, and I inevitably come home with too much produce. Last week, I found myself with two large eggplants, a huge bunch of basil, and a huge bunch of mint (plus seven pears and a pound of tomatoes, but that's another story), and no particular plan for their fate.

I probably would have ended up with perfectly acceptable - if unremarkable - roasted eggplant and basil-mint pesto, if I hadn't remembered a summer dish Matt likes to make: eggplant, roasted and smothered in tomato sauce with mint, baked with a topping of crumbled goat's cheese. Though I like the flavors, I find that it suffers from "don't-know-what-to-serve-it-with" syndrome. It usually ends up served over angelhair pasta, but I've never found that to be an entirely satisfactory solution.

The answer? Borrow Alex's pasta machine, make fresh mint pasta, and bake up an eggplant, goat's cheese, and mint lasagne.

I used the "ten-layer" approach I've seen on a few blogs, which calls for paper-thin sheets of pasta and thin layers of filling, supposedly producing lighter results than the standard method. (If you're generous with the sauce, you can also get away with not parboiling the lasagne sheets.) I can confirm that it worked quite nicely: this lasagne is light enough to still be appetizing on a hot summer's day, and you can even have two pieces with no ill effects.

Eggplant, Goat's Cheese, and Fresh Mint Lasagne

To make this dish richer - or appease any die-hard meat-eaters - you can add a little sauteed ground lamb to the filling.

(Serves one for many days.)

This is a time-consuming dish. It's not complicated, but it has lots and lots of little steps, and if you don't plan it out carefully, you'll be layering pasta sheets with eggplant at one am and swearing you'll never do anything quite so stupid again. (Trust me. I learned this the hard way.)

You have two options: either set aside a quiet weekend afternoon to do the whole thing in one go, or make the pasta and the eggplant on one day, and do sauce and assembly on the next.

Start with the pasta: Take a bunch of mint leaves and chop them finely. You'll want something between a third- and a half-cup of chopped leaves. Set them aside.

Clean your kitchen counter - you want it very, very clean, and perfectly dry. Tip out one cup of flour on the clean surface, and make a well in it. Crack in an egg, add a pinch of salt, and pour in a little olive oil - about a teaspoon or so to start.

Stick your fingers in the well to break up the egg, and stir with your fingers so that the flour gets pulled in little by little. When the liquid in the well looks pale yellow and pasty - a bit like pancake batter - add another teaspoon of olive oil, and the chopped mint. Keep stirring.

Keep stirring until the dough starts to pull away from the counter, then knead it gently until the excess flour is incorporated. If it looks as though you have a lot of excess flour, add a teaspoon of water. Form the dough into a ball, and start kneading.

Keep kneading. Knead until your arms feel as though they're going to fall off, and then knead some more. When the dough feels smooth and elastic, you can stop. Form it into a ball again, wrap it in plastic, and put it in the fridge to rest. (You may want to go have a rest, too.)

Next, prepare the eggplant: Preheat the oven to 350F. Take one large eggplant, cut off the ends, and peel the skin. Cut it in half lengthways, and then slice it as thinly as you can. Lay the slices on a baking sheet, brush with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. Roast until the slices are soft and wrinkly around the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

(If you're doing this in one go, remove the pasta dough from the fridge at this point.)

Now we move on to the sauce: Chop up six to eight garlic cloves, and saute them in olive oil until they're fragrant and browned. Add one sixteen-ounce can of tomato puree and a teaspoon of salt, and let it simmer, stirring occasionally, over very low heat. When the sauce starts to smell good, turn the heat off and stir in a few leaves of chopped fresh basil, and a few leaves of chopped fresh mint.

Still awake? It's time to put everything together. Preheat the oven to 400F.

Assemble your pasta machine. You can either roll out all the lasagne in one go and cover the sheets with damp tea-towels, or roll out the sheets as you go along. (I'm short on tea-towels, so I use the latter method.)

Get out your baking dish, and spread a layer of sauce in the bottom. Add a layer of eggplant, another layer of sauce (be generous), a sprinkling of crumbled fresh goat's cheese, and a layer of pasta. Repeat until you've run out of eggplant. If the last layer is pasta, cover it with all the remaining sauce. Top with crumbled goat's cheese.

Bake for twenty to thirty minutes. Allow to cool for ten minutes before serving.

Note: If you have leftover pasta dough, it can be rolled out and cut into pappardelle, which goes nicely with a sauce made from garlic, fresh tomatoes, blue cheese, and a little fresh basil.


Ann said...

Lovely! I've been wanting to do the ten layers thing, too. But not until cool weather. :-)

Lisa Cornelius said...

Lovely to see you again. And I'll take this dish without the lamb, please. Veg sounds great!! mmm.

Julie said...

Nice! The mint is a good touch and I love lasagna that isn't heavy --fresh pasta makes a much more delicate lasagna. It makes all the difference.

Kim said...

Glad you are back, you have been missed. I am impressed beyond words. This looks absolutely incredible. My daughters favortie dish is eggplant parmesan, but she also likes goat cheese, so making this for her. The no meat version. Well done, it was worth the wait.

Cakelaw said...

Your summer job sounds really inteersting. This lasagne looks sooooooo good - I am very impressed by the fact that the pasta is handmade as well!!

adele said...

My summer job has its moments. Sometimes it's unbelievably dull. :P

Handmade pasta is really quite fun, and easier than it sounds. :)

Alex said...

I can vouch for the lightness and tastiness of this pasta. Absolutely lovely.