The last time John was on travel in Virginia, he enjoyed an eggplant dish that he wanted us to recreate at home. I had the advantage that Italian cuisine is my specialty, but the disadvantage of not having seen, or tasted, the original. So, this is what I created from John’s description. He said the original was served with a small dish of Spaghetti Marinara on the side, but what’s better than serving it right on top of the pasta so it can soak up all the gooey goodness of the sauce and the cheese? That’s what I thought! So, I referred to a super-simple Italian classic pasta that is tossed in butter, garlic, and olive oil. Here is the delectable result! And, just like Lasagne, we expect the leftovers to be even better than the firsts.
There is nothing difficult about this recipe, but you’ll want to allow about 1 1/2 hours to prepare it. You can make it ahead, then place in the oven 1/2 hour before serving.
Pat with paper towels, and turn over.
1 1/2 cups Panko bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon Garlic Salt
1/2 teaspoon Italian Herb Mix
Begin working on Spinach and Ricotta Filling:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
While Spinach is cooling, return pan to the stove and fry the eggplant:
Return pan to medium heat and fill with 1 cup Olive Oil (to start – add more if you need it because eggplant soaks it up like a sponge).
While oil is heating, place one slice of eggplant in the eggwash, then press it into the breadcrumbs – turning to coat thoroughly.
You can fry up to 4 pieces at a time, turning to make sure they’re evenly golden brown.
Remove to a tray lined with paper towels.
Continue until all pieces are done.
Let eggplant rest and finish Spinach and Ricotta Filling.
To the bowl of Cooked Spinach, add:
1 15-ounce container of Ricotta Cheese
Salt, and Pepper to taste.
Whisk with a fork until thoroughly combined.
Spray a large oval (or rectangular) baking dish with Pam, or coat with olive oil.
In the interest of time, I used a 26-ounce jar of Tomato and Basil sauce from Trader Joe’s, but if I were going to make it from scratch, I would use Giada’s Marinara Sauce which is our go-to recipe.
Pour half of the Tomato Sauce in the bottom of the baking dish.
Then spread the Spinach and Ricotta Filling over it.
Pair up same-size pieces of the Fried Eggplant and place one layer over the Spinach and Rocotta Filling – spacing them out evenly.
Sprinkle with 1 cup Shredded Mozzarella (or Italian Cheese Blend).
Place remaining pieces of Fried Eggplant over their partners (We had 10 pieces total, so 5 stacks.)
Top each stack with remaining Tomato Sauce – spreading out with a spoon.
Then top with another cup of Shredded Mozzarella (or Italian Cheese Blend).
Set filled baking disk on a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet, and bake for 30 minutes.
Gemelli Aglio e Olio (Garlic & Oil)
While the Eggplant Florentine is baking in the oven, cook a 16-ounce package of short pasta according to package directions. We used Barilla’s Gemelli (which means “Twins” in Italian) because they’re sturdy & hold up well to heavy sauces.
Drain the pasta and return the pan to medium heat.
Quickly stir in:
4 ounces Butter
1/4 cup Olive Oil
2 cloves Garlic, minced
When garlic softens, return drained pasta to pan and toss to coat.
Add Salt & Pepper, to taste.
Putting it all together…
Place about 1 cup of the Gemelli Aglio e Olio in a pasta bowl.
Scoop one stack of Eggplant Florentine over it – scooping up the sauce, too.
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We served this with Italian Bread and Butter.
And, we stored the leftovers by placing the Eggplant Florentine over the Gemelli Aglio e Olio in a lidded glass bowl.