Meatless Monday II: Eggplant, mozzarella, and saffron rice bake


Generally, I dislike recipes that end with the word “bake.” It’s usually because the words “Hamburger Helper Taco” or “Cottage Cheese Tuna” precede it.

(Tangent: The same people who embrace these dishes probably think that a crockpot is a good place to cook a beef tenderloin, or think that a packet of Good Seasons salad dressing is the key to culinary magic. I recognize that not everyone is able to devote an hour to preparing dinner. And I don’t want to totally demonize the crockpot. They are useful in small doses — I’ll be busting mine out later this week for dinner — but if you use it more than four times a week then something is missing. A complete dinner does not come from the same freezer bag or box on a shelf, nor does it take 8-10 hours to cook. For all the talk about food deserts and the lack of fresh produce in poor communities, what middle-class and affluent people with access to fresh veggies do with processed food is a damn crime.)

Tonight’s extension of Meatless Monday came via Bon Appetit. I’ve run into problems with BA recipes in the past, but generally have success. This was no exception. The recipe was baked, but came out more of a cross between lasagna and eggplant parmesan. I thought I could squeeze into a weeknight dinner if I got home right at 4 p.m. From prep to table it took about 90 minutes. If I did this on a weeknight again, I would probably prep the eggplant in advance or make it on a Sunday, let it set and bake when I was ready to eat. Otherwise, this has a winter weekend dinner written all over it.

Undercook the rice so it doesn’t get mushy

WHAT WORKED: The risotto. A slightly undercooked (undercook it so it doesn’t go to mush while baking) saffron risotto is the middle layer of this dish, providing a nice flavor and texture surprise. I also think that a good store bought tomato sauce works here in lieu of homemade marinara. I opted for Wegmans seasoned tomato sauce. Either way, a good jarred sauce (not Ragu or Prego…think Trader Joe’s, Classico or Barilla) or refrigerated would work best.

WHAT DIDN’T: The eggplant. They were great, don’t get me wrong. They were also mammoth, courtesy of an organic farm that was part of Saturday’s farmer’s market trip. This dish probably works best with smaller rounds that can lined up and layered without the clunkiness of large pieces. It could probably use more mozzarella as well.

WHAT DID THE WIFE SAY: “This is good. I like the rice and the crustiness on top.”

WILL IT MAKE ANOTHER APPEARANCE: Very likely. This would be great for dinner with the in-laws on a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon.

Eggplant, mozzarella, and saffron rice bake
From Bon Appetit

  • 2 tbsp. plus 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • Pinch of saffron
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup vegetable broth or water
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 large eggplants (about 3 pounds), cut crosswise into 1/4-inch rounds
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups store-bought tomato sauce (such as marinara), divided
  • 1 lb. fresh mozzarella, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 2 cups), divided
  • 1 cup coarsely grated Parmesan (4 ounces), divided

Arrange racks in top and bottom thirds of oven; preheat to 425°. Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; cook, stirring often, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add rice; cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Stir in saffron, then wine. Cook until wine reduces slightly, about 1 minute. Add broth; season with salt. Cover and cook over medium heat until rice is very al dente and still crunchy, about 6 minutes; remove pan from heat.

Meanwhile, divide eggplant between two rimmed baking sheets, overlapping slightly to fit. Drizzle 1 cup oil over; season with salt and pepper. Bake, turning eggplant and rotating sheets halfway through, until tender and golden brown, 20–25 minutes.

Cover the bottom of a 13x9x2-inch baking dish with 1 cup tomato sauce. Sprinkle 1/3 of mozzarella over, then 1/3 of Parmesan.

Cover with a layer of eggplant rounds, overlapping so no sauce is visible beneath them. Add saffron rice, spreading out in an even layer. Sprinkle over another 1/3 each of mozzarella and Parmesan, then 1/2 of the remaining tomato sauce and another layer of eggplant. Top with remaining tomato sauce and remaining mozzarella and Parmesan. Cover dish with foil; transfer to a foil-lined baking sheet.
Bake until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted, about 15 minutes. Uncover dish and bake until golden on top, about 20 minutes longer. Let stand for at least 10 minutes to set before serving.

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