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Italian-Style Eggplant, Tomato and Spinach Casserole

Italian-Style Eggplant, Tomato and Spinach Casserole

This Italian-style dish has all the layered flavors of lasagna without the pasta. Easy to prepare it combines eggplant, tomato sauce, cheese and spinach in a convenient and satisfying dish.

Eggplant is a member of the nightshade family of plants, which includes tomatoes and bell peppers. Usually deep purple in color, eggplants are native to Sri Lanka and southern India. They were probably brought to the West during the 16th century and are a favorite of home gardeners. Eggplant is known by many names for example, the Sanskrit name is vatinganah and the French and British call it aubergine.

The eggplant slices define the layers and by leaving the skin on the eggplant, you avoid any excessive mushiness. Medium sized eggplants work well, but you should avoid large eggplants because they tend to be more bitter than the smaller versions.

The addition of the Fontina cheese provides a creamy intense flavor. It is a classic Italian cheese made from cow's milk and is very popular in northern Italian cuisine. It melts into a rich consistency, which is why it is also a favorite for fondue dishes.

If you don't happen to have any Fontina handy, though, cheeses like Gouda or Gruyère also work well for this dish. Spinach provides color and consistency – in addition to a healthy measure of nutrition.

The result is a dish you can cut and serve like lasagna that provides a robust vegetarian variety to your menu. You can experiment with the number of layers that you like and the cheeses that appeal to you to create your own customized version of this recipe.

Eggplant, Tomato and Spinach Casserole

Yield: Makes 8 servings.

Ingredients

  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 2 medium eggplants, washed, ends cut off (do not peel)
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 (16-oz.) jar reduced-sodium chunky marinara sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil, divided
  • 2 cups cooked spinach
  • 3/4 cup shredded Fontina cheese (Gouda, Gruyère, or Monterrey Jack may be substituted)
  • Black pepper and salt (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Bring large pot of water to boil. Spray 7 x 11 baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.
  3. Slice eggplant lengthwise in very thin slices, about 1/4 inch each. Add to boiling water with a quick stir. Eggplant slices will float to top; push down into water. Cook for about 2 minutes from when it starts to boil again. Drain and set aside.
  4. Mix oregano into marinara sauce and spoon 1/4 cup sauce onto bottom of baking dish. Place a layer of eggplant slices, as you would pasta, on bottom of dish. Cover eggplant layer with more tomato sauce, some basil, a layer of spinach, and then sprinkle some fontina cheese on top. Sprinkle with salt and pepper if desired. Continue to layer eggplant, sauce, basil, spinach and cheese until you reach almost the top of baking dish. The last layer should finish with both Fontina and Parmesan cheese.
  5. Cover baking dish with parchment paper and then aluminum foil and bake for about 35-40 minutes.* Test with knife for doneness. If knife can be inserted with no resistance, uncover, and bake for additional 15 minutes until top is golden and bubbly. Remove from oven. Let rest for 10 minutes and garnish with remaining basil.

    * Depending on the size of the eggplants you might have a little eggplant left over. Also depending on the thickness of the slices it might take a few more minutes in the oven.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
150 calories
7 g total fat
2.5 g saturated fat
19 g carbohydrate
7 g protein
7 g dietary fiber
151 mg sodium

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