Baked Orzo & Eggplant Casserole

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Not everyone is a fan of eggplant. My husband is not.. however I sneak eggplant into our meals all the time and he really enjoyed this dish. This was great as a main meal but could be a great side dish as well. I started with a recipe from the Smitten Kitchen and tailored it to my taste and what I had in the pantry. I would like to try this with roasted tomatoes but my pantry was out so I used canned tomato sauce.

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large eggplant, cubed
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
  • 3 medium carrots, sliced
  • 3 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 medium onion, finely sliced
  • 8 ounces orzo, a rice-shaped pasta, rinsed
  • 1 ounce can of Tomato sauce (I used Hunts with garlic, basil & oregano)
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 to 3 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped (you can also use dried)
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest or more to taste, up to the zest of a whole lemon (optional)
  • 8 ounces shredded mozzarella (and extra for the top)
  • 1/2 cup parmesan, grated

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DIRECTIONS

Sprinkle your eggplant generously with salt and let it drain in a colander or on paper towels for 30 minutes. I used this time to get the rest of my ingredients ready. After 30 minutes, rinse it well and pat it dry on towels.

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the oil and once the oil is shimmering, add the eggplant. Fry for 8 minutes, stirring pieces occasionally. Using a slotted spoon or spatula, transfer them to paper towels to drain. Add celery and carrots to remaining oil and cook for 3 minutes before adding onion. Cook together for 5 more minutes on medium heat. Stir in the orzo and tomato sauce and cook for two minutes more. Off the heat, add the oregano, mozzarella, parmesan, tomatoes, fried eggplant, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon table salt, black pepper and the stock; mix well.

Sprinkle with additional Mozzarella cheese. Bread crumbs on top might be good also.

Transfer mixture to a 2 Quart ovenproof baking dish. Cover with foil and bake 20 minutes, then bake 20 minutes without the foil.

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