I have so many stories related to this picture. Let’s start with the idea that the casserole is over three-quarters gone, and I’m just now getting a picture of it. That’s because I just now got a new smart phone with a camera to replace the last one, and this is all that’s left to take a picture of. Too bad you couldn’t see how beautiful it was when I first pulled it out of the oven and shaved cheese all over it.
The second story has to do with the olive oil pooled on the bottom of the dish. But that ties into the third story: how to botch up something that looked so easy on TV.
Have you ever done that? Have you ever watched an expert on TV do something and say to yourself, “I can do that!” After the bathroom wallpaper fiasco (please–don’t ask), you’d think I’d learned my lesson. Although I’ve successfully made several of the recipes I’ve seen on TV, they’re usually by home cooks. This one was by a restaurant chef, Italian Gabriele Corcos, and his actress wife, Debi Mazar. When I saw them make this on The Cooking Channel’s Extra Virgin, I thought, I can do that!
The original recipe involved softening two eggplants (sliced length-wise) in hot olive oil and using them to line the bottom and sides of a spring-form pan. They’re supposed to drape over the sides a bit. A mixture of ground beef, marinara sauce, and cooked-to-almost-al dente ziti pasta goes inside the eggplant bed. Then you put a few more eggplant slices on top and fold the ends of the lining eggplant over the mixture, so the final product looks like a flower closed in rest. When it’s cooked and cooled, you’re supposed to be able to take it out of the pan and serve it like a thick, savory cheese cake.
It looked wonderful and so very easy to make, if not a bit time consuming. Actually, prep time took me over an hour (probably because of all the snags I kept running into). Then the casserole is supposed to rest, weighted down, for about 45 minutes, then bake for another 45-minutes to an hour. So I started making this sucker at 8 a.m. to have ready for lunch (we usually eat around 11). I had all the ingredients, or so I thought. Usually I keep a variety of pastas on hand, including ziti, but supplies were thin and the ziti was gone. Maybe MSB would run to the store for me . . .
Next, I discovered my mandolin slices the eggplant way too thin. After several slices fell apart in the hot oil, I gave up and sliced the rest by hand. Maybe it would work. Then, after I softened them in the oil, I tried to line them in the spring-form pan just like I saw on TV. Well, the problem with my hand-sliced eggplant was that some of the thicker slices didn’t want to drape over the sides, and one of the two eggplants wasn’t long enough to even reach over the sides.
By this time, the fact that I didn’t have ziti pasta was moot–whatever I made with all this eggplant wasn’t going to be what I set out to make anyway. Eggplant lasagna came to mind, but I didn’t have lasagna noodles either.
So what we have in the picture is the final servings of a Baked Eggplant Linguini. Same ingredients, different presentation. Pasta is pasta, after all; only the shape varies. The recipe is luscious beyond belief, even if it isn’t quite the same.
As for the oil coating the bottom of the dish: Do you know how much oil an eggplant can soak up? Yowzah! If that’d been lard instead of EVOO, we’d both be dead of heart attacks by now!