Baked Orzo with Eggplant and Mozzarella


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UPDATE: I originally posted this recipe in the beginning of October, 2012. Being the perfectionist I am, I didn’t like the pictures in the post so I took it down soon afterwards. I did like the dish though, and I made it again yesterday. This time I made some logistical changes: I used my 12-inch cast iron skillet, and broiled the dish for 5 minutes before I took it out of the oven. I’d drizzle some olive oil on top of tomato slices before they go into the oven next time. I think this dish will also be delicious if you add chopped olives and sub feta cheese for mozzarella and Parmesan.

It’s hard to believe that we are almost a month and a half into the fall now. It’s been two weeks since I came back from my vacation, and they just flew by. I love fall, I don’t want to miss a thing about it. I love its beautifully rainy days, foliage, hot coffee, slightly cheerless mood, and running in the cooler weather. I love fall colors, flavors, and the bounty of hearty ingredients. As always, I’ll be making batches of cream soup, roasting root vegetables, and gathering people at my place for dinner.

As I was traveling in September, I didn’t have a chance to bid farewell to the summer. Well, let me do just that now. Here’s a late-summer recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi, adapted by Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen.

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 large eggplant, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 celery stalks, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 ounces (about 1 cup) orzo, rinsed
  • 1 teaspoon  tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock or water
  • 1 to 3 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped (or half of that amount if you are using dry herb)
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 4 ounces mozzarella, firmer is better here, cut into 1/3-inch dice
  • 1 1/2 ounces (a generous 1/2 cup) Parmesan, grated
  • 3 medium tomatoes, diced or sliced*

Directions:

Sprinkle your eggplant generously with salt and let it drain in a colander for 30 minutes. Use this time to get the rest of the ingredients ready. After 30 minutes, rinse the eggplant 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 and garlic. Cook together for 5 more minutes on medium heat. Stir in the orzo and tomato paste and cook for two minutes more. Off the heat, add the oregano, mozzarella, Parmesan, tomatoes, fried eggplant, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon table salt, many grinds of black pepper and the stock and mix well.

Transfer the mixture to an 8×11-inch (about 2 quarts) ovenproof baking dish. Cover with foil and bake 20 minutes, then bake 20 minutes without the foil. (You can increase the ration of foil-on to foil-off time if you don’t like a crunchy pasta lid.) Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

*You can chop and incorporate your tomatoes into the mixture, or you can slice them and arrange on top of the pasta to prevent the latter from becoming crunchy.

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