Eggplant Casserole with Penne, Tomato Sauce, Fresh Mozzarella, and Basil.

Eggplant Casserole with Penne, Tomato Sauce, Fresh Mozzarella, and Basil.

As with many things in the kitchen (and in life), this eggplant casserole is the result of an accident. Unexpected factors coming together in the right place at the right time.

First, someone in a Facebook group posted a 30 minute sheetpan eggplant with tomato sauce and parmesan. Then a friend replied that he was going to be making eggplant parmigiana. There’s something pavlovian about parmigiana. I see it and have to make it.

So chicken, fresh mozzarella, and basil were added to the shopping list. I was ready. Only I didn’t account for my lack of motivation to make chicken parmigiana on a weeknight. On the night it was planned, I managed only some chicken tenders coated in panko, coconut, and peanuts. We stuffed them into pita and pulled out a mess of things from the refrigerator. Chicken tenders with hummus, cucumber, and olives. Chicken tenders with hoisin sauce and green onions. Quick and easy for a weeknight.

Unfortunately, I was still left with the desire for parmigiana, mozzarella and basil, and no chicken. Two eggplants were in the fridge, and I couldn’t remember what they had been destined to become.

My goal: eggplant parmigiana meal on a weeknight.

About this eggplant casserole

Eggplant parmesan (melanzane alla parmigiana) is traditionally made by first slicing, draining, and frying the (sometimes breaded) eggplant. The eggplant slices are then layered with tomatoes or tomato sauce, mozzarella, and Parmesan and baked.

This eggplant casserole borrows some of these elements. The eggplant is salted and drained. But instead of frying, it is brushed with olive oil and roasted in the oven while the tomato sauce comes together and the pasta cooks. When the eggplant is cooked, it is sliced into strips. No layering. Just mix everything willy-nilly in the pasta pot, turn it out into a casserole dish, and bake.

FAQs about this eggplant casserole with penne, tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil

Did this really take 2 hours?

Yes. Although much of it was relatively unattended while I was on the treadmill and showering and then cleaning up the prep dishes. It can be done while working from home, or save it for a weekend and open up a nice bottle of red wine to go along.

Which wine should I drink with this eggplant casserole?

I’d pick an unassuming red blend or medium-bodied red. This is not the time for a big Cabernet Sauvignon.

Can I skip the salting and draining step?

Yes, if you are pressed for time. Salting removes the liquid from the eggplant (remember osmosis?) but it’s much more important if you are frying eggplant.

Is the eggplant mushy?

The eggplant definitely doesn’t remain as solid slices in this dish. If you hate mushy eggplant, I’d probably do a traditional parmigiana. I can’t vouch for this, but the NY Times claims to have a crunchy eggplant parmesan variation.

Can this be frozen?

Yes. Although you would want to add the basil garnish only after reheating.

Can parts be made ahead?

Yes. The most obvious component to freeze would be the tomato sauce.

Where’s that recipe for chicken tenders?

Coming, I promise.

Eggplant casserole with penne, tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil

Total Time 2 hours
Author uglyducklingbakery

Ingredients

Roasted eggplant

  • 2 medium eggplants (total ~1.5lb)
  • salt
  • 3 tbsp olive oil, divided

Pasta

  • 16 oz dried, tubular-shaped pasta (e.g. penne, rigatoni)

Marinara sauce

  • ½ medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 28 oz canned whole tomatoes
  • ½ tsp granulated sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste red pepper flakes, if desired

Assembly ingredients

  • 1 cup basil, coarsely chopped plus additional for garnish
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella, coarsely chopped
  • 1 oz parmesan cheese, grated

Instructions

  • Cut the eggplant into 1/2 inch rounds, smear with salt, and let drain in a colander for 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  • Wipe off and dry the eggplant slices. Place them on a baking sheet and brush both sides with olive oil. Bake them for ~40 minutes, flipping them over midway, until they have softened.
  • Meanwhile, start a pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta to al dente. Drain and return it to the pasta pot.
  • In a large sauce or saute pan with a lid, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and carrot and saute until softened.
  • Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  • Add the tomatoes and sugar cover. Bring the tomato sauce to a simmer, stirring occasionally to break up the tomatoes.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • When the eggplant is done, let it cool for a minute or two, and then slice into 1/2" strips.
  • Add the eggplant, tomato sauce, basil and chopped mozzarella to the pasta pot and stir to combine.
  • Turn the mixture out into a 9"x13" pyrex or other baking dish, top with Parmesan cheese, and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the dish is bubbling and the Parmesan has browned.
  • Garnish with basil.

What’s next?

If you make this eggplant casserole, please comment here or share a pic with me on Instagram!

Make another pasta dish from uglyducklingbakery like:
one pot pasta with ricotta and lemon
sausage ragu

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