Paleo Eggplant “Lasagna”

If the cheese is your favorite part of lasagna, this might not be your favorite. If you like the other stuff, you’re in for a treat.

My understanding from listening to people who’ve actually spent time in Italy is that the food isn’t actually all pasta and cheese. You wouldn’t know it from looking at what’s on the menu at the average Italian restaurant here in America, though. Everything’s a carb-fest with a side of melted mozzarella.

That means turning Americans’ favorite Italian dishes into something paleo can be a bit of a challenge, and the results are never quite the same as the original. The classic example is spaghetti-squash-spaghetti. Sure, it tastes good, and it can help get you past a pasta craving, but no one would claim that it tastes like regular spaghetti. I guess what I’m saying is that if you bite into today’s dish thinking it’s going to taste exactly like lasagna, you’re going to be disappointed. If you’re interested in something that’s in the same general family as lasagna but is delicious in its own way, you should keep reading.

From this angle, you can't really see the onion and garlic, but they're there. I also had to add a second can of tomato paste when I realized that one wasn't going to be enough.

Ingredients

3-4 eggplants
2 green bell peppers
1 medium onion
4 cloves garlic
1 to 1 1/2 lbs italian sausage
2 cups sliced mushrooms
2 6oz cans tomato paste
3 tbsp dried italian herbs (2 tbsp for the meat and vegetables, 1 tbsp for the sauce)
salt and pepper to taste
About 1/4 cup of salt for the eggplant

Equipment

Draining Rig
Pan
9×13 Casserole Dish
Mandolin (recommended)

Start by slicing the eggplants length-wise. You’ll need to remove the top of each eggplant, and the slices should be between and eighth and a quarter of an inch thick. I sliced mine with a mandolin, and I recommend using one if you’ve got it. Lay the slices out on a draining rig and liberally salt one side. Wait one minute, turn the slices over, and liberally salt the second side.

This many slices take up a lot of room. I had to pull out my backup draining rig to hold them all.

 

Let the eggplant sit for about an hour. This will give the salt an opportunity to pull moisture from the slices. When an hour has passed, rinse the eggplant slices under cold water and set them aside.

The liquid that gets pulled from the eggplant is bitter. Rinse it and the excess salt off of the slices before using them.

 

Chop the bell peppers and the onion into medium-sized pieces.

The pieces should be about the size of your thumbnail.

 

Mince the garlic.

The garlic should be as finely minced as you can make it.

 

Put a pan over medium heat. Depending on your pan and your sausage, you may want to add a little olive oil to the pan, but usually the sausage will have enough fat in it to keep it from sticking.  For this dish, you want the sausage to crumble like hamburger, so it needs to be removed from the casings. Slice all the way down one side of each sausage with a knife, and peel the casing away. Add the sausage to the pan, and break it up into small pieces as it cooks.

Your sausage should look like this when it goes in the pan, not like sausage links.

 

When the sausage has browned, move it to the sides of the pan. Add the peppers, onion, garlic, and 2 tbsp of the italian herb seasoning to the center of the pan. Allow the vegetables and seasoning to cook for about 2 minutes before stirring them into the sausage.

Adding the ingredients into the center lets them cook in the juice from the sausage for a few minutes.

After combining the vegetables and sausage, let everything cook for another minute. Set everything aside in a large bowl. Add the sliced mushrooms to the pan you’ve been using to cook everything else. Cook the mushrooms in the pan for about five minutes, stirring frequently.

Using the same pan for the sausage and the mushrooms will help the mushrooms pick up some flavor.

 

When the mushrooms are done, mix them in with the sausage, onions, and peppers. Combine the two cans of tomato paste with two cups of water, 1 tbsp of italian herbs, about a teaspoon of salt, and a few pinches of pepper. Stir the mixture to combine it into a tomato sauce.

I actually did mine in two batches, because it's a lot of sauce.

 

Get out a 9×13 casserole dish, and pour a little of the sauce in the bottom. This should just be a small amount to help keep the eggplant from sticking to the bottom of the dish.

I like a glass dish because it heats everything evenly. Any kind of casserole dish will work, though.

 

Lay out a layer of eggplant slices in the dish, and spread a little more of the sauce on top of them.

Try to cover as much as possible with each layer of eggplant.

 

Add about a third of the meat and vegetable mixture on top of the eggplant. Pour a little of the sauce on top of it.

Don't make this layer too thick, or things will fall apart badly when serving.

 

Repeat the layering steps two more times (eggplant, sauce, meat, sauce, eggplant, sauce, meat, sauce). Then finish with a layer of eggplant. Pour any remaining sauce over the top layer of eggplant.

It should end up looking sort of like lasagna. See?

 

Bake the dish uncovered at 350 for about 30 minutes. Then, increase the heat to 425 and bake for another 15 minutes. Allow the dish to cool for a few minutes before serving.

The sauce on top will caramelize a little. This is crucial to avoid an eggplant-in-tomato-juice flavor.

 

Notes

  • Three eggplants were the right amount when I made this. If your eggplants are small, or if you slice them too thick, you may need four.
  • You can assemble this dish ahead of time and bake it later. Just store it covered up in the refrigerator. If you do make it ahead of time, put the dish in the oven while it’s pre-heating to 350. Then cook it like the original instructions say.
  • Because it doesn’t have any cheese to help bind it together, this dish falls apart much easier than traditional lasagna. I was able to serve reasonably intact pieces by letting it cool a little and using a nice big spatula.
  • Your sauce may initially seem a little thick, but remember that the vegetables in this dish will add some water to the mix while they bake.
  • I used a mild italian sausage, but I think that a spicy italian sausage would work even better. If you try it, please let me know with a comment.
  • Miriam suggested that adding some black olives to this dish would be a good idea. If you like olives, go for it.
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