Please note that I used all SLO (Sustainable Organic Local) ingredients, as I do not have much of a spice repertoire to provide that extra flavor, and tended to use smaller vegetables as I found they tend to be much more flavorful then larger vegetables. So if you are not going to follow this, I suggest adding some savory and herb type spices. This was my way to compensate for the lack of spices. If you find any good spice suggestions that work well with this dish, please let me know. I am looking to build up my spice repertoire!
- 2 Medium Sized Eggplants (Equivalent to 2 pounds)
- 5 Small Zucchinis (Equivalent to 2 pounds)
- 4 Small Red Onions (Equivalent to 1 pound)
- 3 Large slightly over ripened Heirloom Tomatoes (Equivalent to 2 pounds)
- 1 pound of Crimini Mushrooms
- 1 pound of fresh,uncooked Spinach
- A few leaves of fresh sage
- 1 pound of grated cheese **1
- 1 stick of butter
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup cooking oil
- 4 cups bread crumbs
- Cut the Eggplant, Heirloom Tomatoes, and Zucchini into 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch cubes. There will be a lot of tomato juice from dicing the tomatoes. Leave that juice and loose seeds in. We will be using that stuff.
- Dice the Red Onions, Crimini Mushrooms, and Sage.
- Grate the cheese.
- Heat the water and butter in a small pot until the water has heated up and the butter has melted. Reduce to low heat. Stir in bread crumbs and stir it until it is homogenized. Turn off heat and let it sit to thicken.
1) Using 1/2 cup water (not the mentioned quantity in the ingredients) and SOME of the cooking oil, combine the Eggplant and Zucchini in a large skillet and cook this over low-medium heat until the contents start to soften and turn slightly translucent. Set aside. Do not worry about the excess water that forms, as this is intended.
2) Using another 1/3 cup water (not the mentioned quantity in the ingredients) and SOME of the cooking oil; combine the Red Onions and Crimini Mushrooms and cook over medium heat.
3) When the onions turn slightly translucent, add in the spinach little by little, while mixing it into the existing ingredients. The spinach will start to cook and shrink. When you have finished adding the last of the spinach, turn off the heat. Leave in the excess water that forms. This is intended.
4) Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
5) Add in the Heirloom Tomatoes with its juice and loose seeds to the mix created in Step 3. Stir it in. Then, tear up the sage leaves into little pieces and add this into the mix, Stir it in.
5) In a casserole dish, alternatively scoop in the mixes mentioned in Step 1 and the resulting mix in Step 4 so that they all combine. This includes all the liquids that have formed in these mixes. The idea is to have both mixes in there in distributed and equal amounts. I did not mix them in one pot, nor stir the two mixes in as I scooped them into the casserole dish due to the different flavors they contribute separately. Level out the mix to prepare for the additional layers in the next steps.
6) Sprinkle the grated cheese into the casserole dish until you have a layer that covers the entire dish, pretend you were adding a thick layer of cheese over a pizza-in-the-making, using the entire quantity. Make sure it is all level when done.
7) Layer in the bread crumb paste and make sure it is applied evenly and spread level. This will bake into a top crust.
8) Place into oven. Set the timer to 30 minutes. Wait.
9) Change the temperature of the oven to 350 degrees. Set timer to another 30 minutes. Wait.
10) Take the dish out of the oven and let it cool off and rest for 10 minutes.
11) Enjoy the meal!
**1: I used a local New Mexican made cheese that had a mild overall flavor reminiscent to medium cheddar but with a salty, nutty overtone that happened to have the perfect melting characteristic that does not leave oils. You can use any melty cheese you want as its purpose in the dish is to melt and seep a bit into the vegetable mix / stew below it and help thicken it. The cheese I used did this AND left a nice stretchy (lasagna style) layer that bound with the bread crust above it.
When I made this dish, I did not intend the steps above, as things just came spontaneously and turned out that way. I did not realize the contributions of each step and grouping of the ingredients until AFTERWARDS, when I was enjoying the meal.
The temperature change halfway through was an accident, as I recalled the temperature inaccurately. The temperature throughout is 350 degrees, but by me recalling differently, contributed to the crust forming nicely, and the lower temperature afterwards allowing for the thickening of the liquids in the dish.
The excess liquids contributed the bulk of the flavor, especially with the tomatoes, and thickened with the help of the cheese during cooking to form a thick stew-like consistency, which was what I figured would happen by leaving the formed excess liquids in.
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