My wife, Rhonda, and I have been on a Keto diet for a couple of months now. The things we miss most are pizza and pasta. As many of you know, we owned an Italian restaurant, Frankie’s Pizza and Pasta, for 24 years … born out of our love for those amazing foods. So now I am on a mission to satiate my Italian cravings while on Keto. This recipe was another success on that journey.
The Keto diet allows for a lot of fat. Thus, the addition of the sausage and I did not skimp on the cheese.
Mis en Place: I always start with mis en place, the French term for “everything in place”. Doing this before you start cooking helps to ensure that you do not burn something while chopping something else or leave out any ingredients. After I assembled everything, I went on to chop my onions, garlic, and herbs before proceeding.
Sweating the eggplant: I started the process by slicing the eggplant about 3/8 inch thick. I then laid the slices on paper towels on a baking sheet.
I salted the eggplant, then covered this with a second layer of paper towels. On top of that I placed a second baking sheet and weighed it down with a can of tomatoes. The idea is to sweat some of the moisture from the eggplant which removes some of its bitterness. This is completely optional. In my experience, the difference is not significant.
A Possible Shortcut: If you don’t want to make your own sauce, feel free to substitute a jar of your favorite Marinara. If you use this method, I would still sauté onions and sausage as described below and add those to the sauce.
Making the sauce: While my eggplant was sweating, I began my sauce, which was simply my marinara (what many Italians would call Sugo Pomodoro), with the addition of Italian Sausage. One of the keys to good marinara is high quality tomatoes. I used Cento brand San Marzano tomatoes. The best price I found for these is at Trader Joe’s. I like the Cento Italian Plum tomatoes (that are not designated as San Marzano) just as well. I used whole plum tomatoes which I crushed myself. An alternative is to use Crushed Tomatoes if you prefer a smoother sauce. When I make a double batch, I usually use one can of each.
I began by sweating the onions, then adding my garlic, then the sausage. Once the pink was gone, I added my herbs. I used dried oregano and Italian parsley–both grown in my garden. Fresh basil would be perfect, but my basil is dying now that autumn has arrived. Another option is to use dried basil or marjoram.
Next, I added a little white wine to deglaze (completely optional), and some extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. If you find the sauce to be more bitter than you like, feel free to add a little sugar. Once the flavor was to my liking, I turned the flame to the lowest setting and allowed the sauce to simmer.
Cooking the Eggplant: There are a variety of ways you can cook the eggplant. It was a beautiful day, and I was cooking in my outdoor kitchen, so I decided to grill them on my gas grill. First, I brushed them with olive oil.
Other options include baking them in the oven. To do so, remove the paper towels and place them on a lightly oiled baking sheet (or silicone baking mat). Bake at 425 F. for 15-20 minutes or until tender. You can also bread them and fry them. I personally don’t like this method as they really soak up the oil!
An option with the eggplant: Some people (my wife included I found out afterword), don’t care for the skin on the eggplant which can be tough. Feel free to remove the skin with a sharp peeler or paring knife. Or I have at times removed part of it (in stripes), which can be a happy medium).
Assembling the Dish: The assembly is simple. Select an appropriate baking dish. I have this cool cast iron one I used. It wasn’t quite big enough, so I also did a separate one in a smaller rarebit. This worked out great because my wife wanted less cheese on hers : )
Place a layer of sauce in the bottom. Top that with eggplant. If needed, you can slice it to fit. Top with more sauce, then a layer of mozzarella and grated parmesan. Repeat with eggplant, sauce, and additional cheese. I chose to top mine with some Italian parsley. You can add that before or after baking.
Baking: All that was left now was to bake the casserole. I prepared mine earlier in the afternoon, then placed it in the refrigerator to bake later. If you do so, I suggest pulling it out at least a half-hour before baking to allow it to come to room temperature. Preheat oven to 425 F. Cover with foil. Bake for 20 minutes. Then remove foil and bake further until nicely browned (another 10-12 minutes). Cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.
Serves 4 as a main course / 6 as a first course:
1 large globe eggplant–sliced approximately 3/8 inch thick
1 teaspoon salt
1/ cup olive oil
1/2 medium onion
3-5 cloves garlic-minced
1/2-pound Italian sausage
1/4 cup white wine
28 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes
1 tbls. tomato paste
fresh or dried herbs (see Frankie’s Tips)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1-1/2 cup shredded mozzarella (or fresh mozzarella—diced small)
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano- Reggiano (lightly packed)
- Read Frankie’s Tips regarding sweating eggplant (optional), and methods of cooking. If roasting eggplant in the oven, preheat to 425 F. Brush baking sheet with olive oil. Place the eggplant slices on the trays in a single layer. Lightly brush the top side of the eggplant slices with remaining oil. If you did not sweat the eggplant, sprinkle with salt now.
- Bake in oven for 15 to 20 minutes until tender and lightly browned. When eggplants are done cooking, remove and reduce oven to 400 F. Allow eggplant to rest until cool enough to handle.
- While eggplants are baking and cooling, prepare the sauce. Add about a tablespoon of olive oil to skillet and heat over medium until oil begins to shimmer. Sauté onions until they begin to soften. Add garlic and sausage. Chop sausage as it cooks and sauté until all pink is gone.
- Add wine and deglaze skillet (scrape brown bits from bottom of pan). Cook until wine is reduced by half.
- Crush canned tomatoes by hand and add to the skillet along with their juices. Add paste.
- Add the remaining olive oil. Add herbs (see Frankie’s Tips), and salt and pepper to taste.
- You’re now ready to assemble. Place a layer of the meat sauce in the bottom of the baking dish (9×9 would be a good size). Place a single layer of eggplant on top of the sauce.
- Top with half of your cheese.
- For the second layer, do a layer of sauce, then eggplant, a little more sauce, then top with cheeses.
- Cover baking dish with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 10-12 minutes until cheese is bubbly and nicely browned.
- Allow to rest ten minutes before slicing.
- Put on some nice Italian music, pour a glass of your favorite dinner beverage (I like with a nice Italian red wine), and give thanks to God for his bountiful gifts! Buon appetite!