baked orzo with eggplant and mozzarella
Baked Orzo with Eggplant and Mozzarella
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi
I made a couple changes to this recipe due to personal preferences. The original called for a lot of carrots and celery (4 carrots, 3 celery stalks) but I wanted them to just be a background flavor, not main ingredient. I also chopped them more finely. I used a lot less lemon zest and oregano than was suggested because I was nervous but ended up wishing for more of each so I’ve listed the range from my amount to the suggested one below. Finally, the tomatoes were intended to be sliced and then arranged across the top of the dish as it baked. If you’d like to do it this way, sprinkle them with a teaspoon of dried oregano, salt and pepper before you bake it. I chopped them for two reasons: I wanted the tomatoes inside the dish and I also like the crunchy lid of a baked pasta dish. A layer of tomatoes would protect you from that if you’re not into it. (You probably don’t like pudding skin either, do you? It’s okay. We can still be friends.)
You could easily use whole wheat orzo here, or I suspect, another grain. However, you’ll have to do a bit of fiddling with the broth level to adjust for each one. Grains that take longer than pasta to cook (just about all of them) would probably benefit from par-cooking before they go in.
A few other substitions: I didn’t have any vegetable broth and used water. I felt it wasn’t lacking at all for flavor. If you don’t have fresh tomatoes, you can use canned ones (though fresh will hold up better on top). If you don’t have fresh oregano, use half the amount of dried oregano. If you don’t like or don’t have either, thyme, fresh or dried, would work well here but it’s much stronger in flavor and only half as much should be needed.
1 large (mine was just over 1 1/4 pounds/570 grams) eggplant, cut into 3/4-inch dice
Salt and black pepper
1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 celery stalk, in a 1/4-inch dice
1 medium onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces (225 grams) orzo, a rice-shaped pasta, rinsed
1 teaspoon (6 grams) tomato paste
1 1/2 cups (355 ml) vegetable stock
1 to 3 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest or more to taste, up to the zest of a whole lemon
4 ounces (115 grams) mozzarella, firmer is better here, cut into 1/3-inch dice
1 1/2 ounces (a generous 1/2 cup or 45 grams) parmesan, grated
3 medium tomatoes, diced
Sprinkle your eggplant generously with salt and let it drain in a colander 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 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 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.
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