This iteration of the traditional eggplant bake adds a layer of saffron risotto rice. While not as common, it is equally, if not more (dare I say it) delightful. Other than the taste, the greatness of this dish lies in its usefulness. It is easily transportable. It is the ultimate dish to bake for a friend in need, and it is the kind of bake that can sit in the back of the fridge, uncared for, for a good few days, and taste all the better for it.
4 small eggplants (about 1kg total), sliced into 0.5cm rounds
½ cup plus 1½ tbsp olive oil
1 brown onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1½ cups arborio rice
¼ cup white wine
pinch saffron threads
1-1½ cups vegetable or chicken stock (you may need a little more than the 1 cup depending on the rate of evaporation)
2 cups tinned chopped tomatoes
2 cups store-bought flavoured tomato pasta sauce (marinara or alla vodka work well)
400g buffalo mozzarella, grated
a few basil leaves to scatter
1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan-forced (200C conventional).
2. Spread the eggplant slices across a few baking trays. Drizzle the ½ cup of olive oil over, turning the eggplant pieces to coat. Season very generously with salt and pepper. Pop the trays in the oven and cook until the eggplant is tender and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Turn the trays half-way through cooking, and flip over any slices that are taking on too much colour.
3. While the eggplant is cooking, place a deep-sided frying pan over medium heat. Add the remaining 1½ tablespoons of oil, and once hot, add the onion and cook for 5 minutes or until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute until golden. Add the rice and stir to coat, cooking for a further minute.
4. Add the saffron threads to the wine then pour over the rice. Cook until the wine reduces slightly, 1-2 minutes.
5. Slowly add the stock and season with salt. Cook for about 6 minutes, watching relatively closely, until the rice is al dente but still retains some bite (it will cook further in the oven).
6. Combine the tinned tomatoes and tomato pasta sauce in a measuring jug.
7. Cover the bottom of a large baking dish (about 30cm x 25cm x 12cm) with about 1 cup of the tomato mixture. Spread half the rice mixture across the dish. Sprinkle over one third of the mozzarella then arrange a layer of roasted eggplant slices, overlapping them so you can barely see any of the sauce.
8. Sprinkle over another third of the mozzarella then another cup of the tomato sauce, the remaining rice, followed by another layer of eggplant. Top with remaining tomato sauce and mozzarella, and season with salt and pepper.
9. Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese has melted, about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for another 20 minutes or until the top is beautifully golden.
10. Let this stand for at least 15 minutes so it sets a little, otherwise it will be difficult to serve. Scatter with basil leaves and season again with salt and pepper.