The puff of bechamel, the silky, slippery eggplant, the fact that you can make this gluten-free and/or plant-based with a few simple changes, finding shortcuts like cooking the onion in the preheating pan and using fresh pasta sheets instead of dried to save on washing up … all of these make this recipe a perfect bookend, and a whole lot of reasons to loosen your shoulders. As with most slow-cooks, it’s a weekend project that only tastes better by Monday night (see Tips).
Serves 4-6, plus leftovers
1 brown onion, finely diced
3–4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for brushing and drizzling
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Pinch of salt flakes (see Skills spotlight), plus extra for salting the eggplant
Pinch of brown sugar for the onion, and another pinch for the sauce
2 x 400g (14oz) cans whole peeled cherry tomatoes (see Subs)
1 cup (250ml) tomato passata (puréed tomatoes)
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ bunch of parsley, finely chopped
½ bunch of basil, finely chopped
3–4 medium eggplants, about 1.5kg, cubed
375g fresh pasta sheets (see Subs)
Crusty bread, to serve
MYO pizza cheese
⅔ cup (100g) shredded mozzarella
1 cup (100g) grated cheddar
½ cup (50g) finely grated Parmesan
¼ cup plain flour
2 cups (500ml) milk
Scraping of nutmeg
½ cup (50g) finely grated Parmesan
Ground white pepper, to taste
Pop the onion, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, salt and sugar in a large high-sided baking dish. Whack into a cold oven, then crank the temperature to 190°C so it starts to cook as the oven heats up (about 20 minutes).
Once the onion is translucent and starting to caramelise, scoop the whole lot out into a bowl. Add a pinch of brown sugar and the tinned tomatoes, rinsing the tins out with a tablespoon of water and pouring the dregs in, too. Stir in the passata, oregano and most of the parsley and basil, leaving some herbs for garnishing.
Taste for seasoning and set aside.
Add the eggplant to the baking dish, drizzle with 2–3 tablespoons oil and toss to coat. Roast for 40–50 minutes, until super caramelised, then remove from the dish and set aside.
Meanwhile, make the bechamel sauce. Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan, add the flour and stir for 2–3 minutes. Start pouring the milk slowly into the buttery flour mixture (roux), while stirring with a wooden spoon and scraping the roux from the edges of the pan. Add the nutmeg. Change over to a whisk and continue cooking until the mixture thickens and comes to the boil (around 7–10 minutes), whisking from time to time to help break up any lumps. Once thickened, add the Parmesan and turn off the heat, still whisking until the Parmesan melts in. Season to taste with salt and white pepper.
In a bowl, toss together your pizza cheeses to combine. To assemble, spread a spoonful or two of the tomato sauce over the bottom of the baking dish. Place a layer of pasta sheets on top. Spread one-third of the tomato sauce over, then half the eggplant, and sprinkle with one-third of the pizza cheese. Cover with another layer of pasta sheets. Add another layer of tomato sauce, the remaining eggplant, then cheese, then pasta. Finish with a final layer of the tomato sauce. Pour the bechamel sauce over and sprinkle over the remaining cheese. Bake for 50 minutes, or until the cheese is melty and bubbling at the edges.
Serve drizzled with a little olive oil and garnished with the remaining herbs, with plenty of crusty bread to mop up all the saucy bits. Some peppery rocket leaves would be an ideal side here, too.
Tips This dish portions and freezes really well. While still hot, transfer serves into heatproof containers, then let these cool a little before storing in the fridge for up to 1 week, or the freezer for 2–3 months.
To reheat fridge leftovers, whack in a cold oven and crank the heat to 140°C — that way the inside warms through without the outside drying out. Thaw frozen lasagne in the fridge overnight, then cook as above
Skills spotlight: A chef’s pinch If you’ve ever seen a chef seasoning, you’ll probably know that “a chef’s pinch” really is a thing. A chef’s pinch is using all four of your fingers and thumb; a normal pinch is a thumb and pointer finger. The first is good for seasoning, the second for finishing. To help evenly distribute the seasoning, sprinkle the salt from a height (like Salt Bae!) and let gravity do its thing.
Subs If you only have dried lasagne sheets, there’s no need to par-cook them. Just add a whole 400ml can of tomato water to the sauce to help it fully cook through.
To ditch the gluten, use gluten-free pasta sheets, and make the bechamel with gluten-free flour.
For a vegan version, use plant-based cheese, and make the bechamel with olive oil and a non-dairy milk.
It really pays to find good-quality tinned cherry tomatoes for this, but you can also use fresh cherry tomatoes. Just blanch the skins off by dropping the toms into boiling water and pulling them back out again; the skins should slip straight off once cooled.
Images and text from The Joy of Better Cooking by Alice Zaslavsky, photography by Ben Dearnley. Murdoch Books, $49.99. Learn more here.
Love this recipe? Check out our others here