A three-cheese almost-lasagne
On perusing the pasta aisles recently, I realised that lasagne noodles are in fact more expensive than regular pasta. You get less (which I suppose makes sense, because you don’t use as much), but for some reason, you pay more for this. I scratched my head, and instead just decided to go with the spirals I had at home…and man, am I glad I did. This has got to be the best stumbled-upon thing I’ve made up on the spot, EVER, and it is packed with vegetables (ok, so it also has considerable amounts of cheese, but seeing as there’s no mince, your heart should come out alive), garlic, and onions. Seriously, don’t be concerned. It’s pretty cheesy, but not dripping in the stuff. How could you go wrong, right?
I served it Lone-Star styles (if you’re a New Zealander, you’ll know that Lone Star does HUGE meals, which no female would be able to finish) with roast pumpkin and potatoes, but this is fine (and certainly substantial enough) on its own (which is great, because you’ll have less to clean). Ok, so you’re still reading, but still you’re probably wondering: what on earth IS it, then? I guess it’s a layered three cheese vegetable pasta bake, but that’s really quite wordy, so if you have any name suggestions, I’d love to hear them!
Just to pimp this some more: As well as smelling absolutely drool-inducing (this is the dish vegetarians should use to convince carnivorous friends that they do indeed have a life), this is so much easier than lasagne, as you don’t have to carefully place the noodles on a single layer or anything. You get more for your dollar, and you don’t have to end up with left over pasta that you’ll only ever use with lasagna, because you’re using spirals (or whatever other pasta you want) which are much more versatile. It’s a win win win.
The recipe, already!
Three cheese layered vegetable pasta bake
serves two on its own (generously, as the cheese makes this quite filling).
I’ve put a * by the ingredients where you could easily try another vegetable in its place (suggestions at the bottom of this post), just to make things more versatile.
250g pasta (half a bag), any shape is fine, just not spaghetti-style noodles or cannelloni.
1 small eggplant, sliced into 1cm slices
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (divided)
string beans, snapped into 1″ lengths (about 1c)*
4-5 mushrooms, thickly sliced*
1/2 an onion, roughly chopped
optional: pinch dry oregano
100g feta, cubed
1/4c finely grated parmesan (optional if you’re on a really tight budget)
2/3c grated cheese (edam is a good choice)
salt and pepper
Start some pasta cooking in a saucepan (no need for oil, just salt).
Meanwhile, heat 1/4c cooking oil in a large non stick frypan on medium heat, and arrange the eggplant slices into the oil on one layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cover, letting cook for about 2 minutes (you want the bottom to be flecked with golden brown bits and the tops to have started going translucent). Flip all the slices, add a splash of water, and quickly cover again, letting cook on the other side for a further two minutes until they are also flecked with golden brown. Uncover, add 3/4 of the garlic, and stir, mixing the garlic through. Continue adding splashes of water to get the eggplant to get mushy-ish, and stop adding water a minute before they’re cooked (they will have shriveled up a bit and changed from being white on the inside to brown). The garlic should not be burnt (ie, should not go darker than a golden brown colour). Transfer the slices to a baking dish with relatively high sides (a round 20cm dish is fine), keeping the eggplant all on one layer. Try to scoop out as much of the garlic as you can from the pan.
Preheat your oven to 200C or 400F, arranging a rack on the top third of the oven. Add a tablespoon of oil to the still hot pan, and add the onions. Cook until translucent and the edges start to go golden brown, then add beans, oregano, and garlic, and cook for about a minute before adding mushrooms. As soon as the mushrooms are coated in the juices and oil from the pan, turn off the heat, and let them sit in the pan.
Sprinkle the eggplant slices with 1/3 of the parmesan and regular cheese, and 1/4 of the feta. By now the pasta should be done. Turn off the heat on the pasta, and using a slotted spoon, scoop out about a half of the pasta and dump it on the cheese-covered eggplant slices. Don’t worry if there’s a little water that gets in, that’ll keep things moist. Top the pasta in the baking dish with all the beans and mushrooms from the pan, then sprinkle with 1/3 of the parmesan and regular cheese, and 1/4 of the feta. Spoon on the second half of the pasta, and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
Pop in the oven for about 20-30 mins, until there are golden flecks on the melted cheese top. This can be served all on its own as a complete meal…and you won’t regret it later!
Other vegetables that could taste awesome with this:
peeled cubed pumpkin – will require a longer cooking time though
broccoli florets – will require slightly longer cooking time (about a minute)
marrow or zucchini/courgette slices
fresh spinach – will require no cooking in the pan, just layer directly
squash – will require a longer cooking time
If you want to up the protein (you evidently are a carnivore :P), add some pine nuts in there. Seriously yum.