BAKED PENNE WITH VEGETABLE BOLOGNESE, MOZZARELLA, AND EGGPLANT
Every once in a while, we feel it’s permissible, as in the recipe below, to break a few of our rules and assemble a dish like this macaroni casserole. This one is guaranteed to please even the fussiest of eaters and sneaks in the six different healthy vegetables in our sauce along with some wonderful eggplant. It’s a great family dish and perfect for a barbecue when you’re feeding a crowd. You can assemble the dish a day or hours in advance and bake it about an hour before serving.
- 10-12 ounces mozzarella cheese, cut into ½ inch cubes
- 1 jar (25 ounces) Fresh’nFree Vegetable Bolognese
- 1 eggplant (about 1 pound)
Salt to taste
Vegetable oil for browning eggplant (optional)
1 pound penne
Brown the Eggplant
1. Trim off ends of the eggplant and peel it. Slice into ½-inch thick slices.
2. Set a colander in the kitchen sink or in a large bowl. Stand one layer of eggplant slices upright against the inside of the colander and sprinkle with a little salt. Stand another layer of slices against the first layer and sprinkle them lightly with salt. Continue until all the slices are salted. Let stand for 30 minutes.
3. Blot the eggplant dry with paper towels.
4. Add enough oil to a large frying pan to come up about ½ inch deep on the sides of the pan. (To avoid using oil, see recipe note below.*)
5. Heat the oil over high heat until it starts to shimmer. Using tongs, carefully dip one slice of eggplant into the oil. If it sizzles, the oil is ready for browning.
6. Transfer as many slices of eggplant into the pan as will fit in a single layer. Cook until golden brown on one side; turn and cook the second side.
7. Using a wide metal spatula, remove slices from the pan to drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Adjust heat or add more oil to the pan, if necessary to brown eggplant without burning it.
8. When all the eggplant has been browned and drained, cut it into 1 to 2 -inch pieces.
Assemble and Bake the Casserole
1. Preheat your oven broiler, with a rack about 8 inches from the broiler unit.
2. Cook the penne according to package directions or until al dente (“firm with a little bite”). While the pasta is cooking, warm the Fresh’nFree Vegetable Bolognese in a medium saucepan, covered, over medium-low heat. Just before the pasta is cooked, remove about 1/3 cup of the frothy, starchy water from the boiling pasta and stir it into the sauce.
3. Drain the pasta and turn it into a 3-quart oven-proof casserole fitted with a lid. Stir in the Vegan Bolognese sauce, then the eggplant, if using, and finally the cubes of mozzarella.
4. Place the casserole on the oven rack, and cook 5 to 6 minutes or until the broiler heat starts to melt the cheese.
5. Remove the casserole from the oven and cover it.
6. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Carefully reposition the rack in the lower third of the oven. Place the covered casserole on the lowered rack and bake about 20 to 25 minutes or until the dish is warmed through and the cheese melted.
Recipe notes: While the eggplant is a tasty addition, it’s not essential. If you’re pressed for time, or not an eggplant lover, leave it out and skip right to directions for “Assembling and Baking the Casserole.”
*Alternatively, to eliminate most of the oil, you can roast the eggplant slices on a lightly oiled large baking sheet in a 400-degree oven about 25 minutes or until they are soft and lightly browned.