lasagna two ways sausage and eggplant

Lasagna Two ways: Sausage or Eggplant

There are some rather obvious things about cooking that I wish someone had taught me early on.

Almost every recipe calls for garlic to be added with the onions, but if garlic browns or burns it turns bitter. The lesson: wait until your onions have all but cooked before you add the garlic.

Almost every recipe claims you can caramelize onions in five minutes or less. Onions take a long long time to brown. The lesson: plan on doubling, if not tripling, cooking times for nice caramel brown onions.

But the biggest lesson might be—you need to make a dish a couple of times to really know if it works, if there are shortcuts to be had, and how you can best tweak the taste to your liking.

About a year ago, I started making a sausage and mushroom lasagna on Sunday afternoons. Sometimes it was for dinner, but more often than not it was for three or four days worth of kids’ lunches.

The first few times I made the lasagna it was messy and it took me a while to get it sorted. I’d have to check and double-check the recipe, could never remember the sequence of layering (noodles, sauce, ricotta, then what??), the cooking time or temp, etc.

Soon enough, I could prep, assemble and cook the entire pan in about 70 minutes.

It seems obvious, but the more you make something the sooner you learn where the shortcuts are, and then you no longer need to check and re-check the recipe.

When Kid1 became a vegetarian, this was a recipe I thought I’d have to scrap. The sausages provide the backbone of flavor and texture in the dish. But as I was roasting a whole eggplant for a Jose Andres’ recipe at New Year’s, I realized how easy it would be to replicate sausage stuffing by pureeing the roasted eggplant with Italian sausage seasonings. Just pop the eggplant into a food processor with some fennel seeds, salt, fresh garlic and pinch of hot chili flakes and voila (or a vedere?)

It worked.

After a few tries with the vegetarian lasagna, and sorting out the new shortcuts, I’m now able to knock out a pan in just over an hour (minus the cooking time for the eggplant). To my mind, it’s not quite as good as the sausage version, but it’s pretty darn close and the kids haven’t complained about their lunches all week.

Original Sausage and Mushroom Lasagna (adapted from Epicurious)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound (500 grams) cremini mushrooms, finely diced
1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons dried Italian seasoning blend
1 pound Italian sausages, casings removed
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup red wine
1 to 1.5 litres tomato sauce
1 package of no-cook lasagna noodles
15-ounces ricotta cheese
4 cups of mozzarella

Eggplant and Mushroom Lasagna

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound (500 grams) cremini mushrooms, finely diced
1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons dried Italian seasoning blend
1 large eggplant (approx. 1 pound), cooked, peeled and pureed with 2 garlic cloves, pinch of salt, 1 teaspoon fennel seeds and a pinch of dried chilies
1/3 cup red wine
1 to 1.5 liters tomato sauce
1 package of no-cook lasagna noodles
15-ounces ricotta cheese
340 gram ball of mozzarella

*To cook your eggplant, set your oven to 350°F, poke a few holes in the eggplant, put it on a cookie sheet and roast for 1 hour. After the eggplant has cooled, carefully pull off the skin and stem, discard. Place the roasted eggplant in the bowl of a food processor with a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of fennel seeds and a pinch of dried chilies and buzz for about 15 to 20 seconds.
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large skillet or saute pan warm the olive oil, add the mushrooms, onions, and seasoning blend—sauté until the mushrooms give off their moisture, about 6 minutes.
2. Add the sausage and sauté until brown and cooked through, OR
If you’re using eggplant, stir to incorporate the cooked spiced eggplant puree with the mushrooms and warmed through.
3. Add 2 or 3 cloves of minced garlic and cook for one minute, followed by the wine—cook until almost all liquid evaporates, scraping up the bottom of the pan, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
4. Grate ¾ of the mozzarella ball and combine with the ricotta.
5. In a lasagna pan/ baking dish, spread 2/3 cup tomato sauce over the bottom. Place a layer of noodles (about 4?) over sauce (noodles may overlap slightly).
6. Top with about 1 cup sauce (I use a pastry or bbq brush to distribute the sauce evenly over the noodles). And then distribute 1/3 of the ricotta-mozzarella mixture and 1/3 of the mushroom mixture over top.
7. Repeat 2 more times: noodles, sauce, ricotta-mozz, mushroom mixture.
8. For topmost layer, cover with noodles, enough sauce to cover and the remaining grated mozzarella (that 1/4 of the ball saved from earlier). Cover the pan with foil, tenting in center to prevent cheese from getting stuck, and bake for 45 minutes. Remove from oven, carefully lift-off the foil and then tuck the pan back into the oven until bubbling at edges and cheese is browned, about 10 more minutes longer.
9. Let stand 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

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Michael Forbes

About Michael Forbes

Michael, a communications professional by day, is a father of two, an avid (but bad) hockey player, and an amateur cook. He finds it incredibly challenging to write about himself in the third person. View all posts by

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