November 29, 2011

Cheezy Eggplant Bake

Did everyone survive the first of many holiday celebrations? I feel like Thanksgiving is always the kick off for an entire month of get-togethers & celebrating. It's a tasty step in the direction of Christmas, which is my all time favorite holiday.

Our aunt made a delicious butternut squash lasagna for Thanksgiving dinner & then sent us home with the leftovers! (Thanks! We've enjoyed every bite!)  As we were eating lunch on Saturday, the Bup had a great idea for a variation on the lasagna using eggplant & a pumpkin cheese sauce.

A few weeks ago, we discovered Angela's super delicious & creamy sauce that's cheesy in taste but very healthy & light. It's like a dream come true. We've had it on pasta twice so far, but I've never experimented further.

If you're a little iffy about eggplant, this probably isn't the recipe to kick off your love of the veggie. The flavor comes through & really compliments the cheesiness. You could substitute cooked noodles for the eggplant if that's more your style. Just try the sauce. It tasted even better after it baked & we loved this dish with all of its flavors & textures.

Spread out about 1/3 of the sauce in the bottom of the pan. Look at how creamy it is! You'd never know by looking at it that it's full of healthy nutrients. The main healthy components are pumpkin & nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast is a relatively new ingredient in my cooking life & it's fantastic. It creates a yummy cheese flavor without all the fat, cholesterol & calories, plus it's a great vegetarian source of vitamin B12.

Lay half of the eggplant slices on top of the sauce.

Sprinkle with mushrooms & onions. (No onions are in the pictured version.) I think it would also be good to add some chopped bell pepper or broccoli to the mixture, but I haven't tried that so I can't guarantee how the flavors would meld.

Top with another layer of sauce & sprinkle with garlic powder, black pepper & Italian seasoning.

Layer with the rest of the eggplant.

Top with the remaining sauce. At this point, you can go several directions. You can leave it as is or top with Italian seasoning. If you're feeling adventurous, sprinkle 1/3 cup of panko breadcrumbs on top for an added crunch.

After a short bake & broil, the top turns golden brown.

My favorite thing about this dish is how the creaminess of the sauce combines with the chew of the eggplant. It was filling & full of flavor without weighing me down - it was the perfect combo after all the Thanksgiving eating!

Cheezy Eggplant Bake
Serves 2

1 small eggplant (or 1/2 of a large eggplant), thinly sliced into rounds
6 white mushrooms, chopped
1 small onion, sliced
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp.garlic powder
1 tsp. Italian seasoning, divided
1/3 c panko breadcrumbs, optional
Pumpkin Mac 'n Cheeze Sauce

Preheat oven to 375*F. Spray a 5"x7" pan with cooking spray & set aside. In a small skillet over medium heat, saute mushrooms and onions until they soften & begin to sweat. Spread about a third of the pumpkin sauce over the bottom of the prepared pan. Lay half of the eggplant slices in a single layer to cover sauce. Spread mushroom & onion mixture over eggplant. Pour half of remaining pumpkin sauce over the mixture. Sprinkle with black pepper, garlic powder, & 1/2 tsp. of Italian seasoning. Place remaining eggplant slices in a single layer on top of sauce & seasonings. Top with the rest of the pumpkin sauce & sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning & panko breadcrumbs, if desired. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove aluminum foil & bake for 20 minutes more. Place under broiler for 3-5 minutes to lightly brown the top, watching closely so that it does not burn. Let stand for 5 minutes before slicing. Serve hot.

Note: Once you assemble the dish, it can be stored in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake it. Do not place a cold glass pan into a preheated oven! If you are going straight from refrigerator to oven, place pan in oven to slowly warm while the oven is coming up to temperature. Once the oven comes to 375*F, then bake for 15 minutes before removing the foil.


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