A true crowd pleaser, so delicious as a main course or side dish everyone will beg for more. There are many foods I love but this casserole, simple as it is, rates right up there at the top. Its creation spawned from our having one producing eggplant bush in our small garden at the back of our yard. As much as I also love fried eggplant at some point enough is enough and the excess tends to dry up the appetite. Consequently last summer I decided to do something different. I got in my kitchen and fussed and fretted and mixed and matched flavors I prefer. The result was this recipe. The deciding factor for it was my neighbor and her guests. I made a huge amount of the casserole and took a baking dish full over to them. They oohed and ahhed and gave forth so many compliments and requests for the recipe that I became convinced I had a winner – not just to appease my appetite but that of the public also.
I must admit this neighbor is the recipient of many of my “concoctions” and is always kind and so far always affirming. It is great to have a taste tester just next door, especially since we have different regular food preferences. It lends more credibility to her being a spokesperson for the public. I am indebted to her and her friends and family for assisting me with the review of my culinary creativity.
The white dots on the picture of the casserole are the chunks of mozzarella cheese nestled in the meat mixture. It is soft and wonderful and blends perfectly with the rest of the flavors. The aroma of its baking will have everyone gravitating to the kitchen. Don’t tell picky eaters it has eggplant in it, they will never know. And if you don’t like eggplant, try zucchini, or leave them both out, it will still be delicious.
Give it a try, serve some, freeze some for another night and enjoy it all over again just warmed in the microwave. That is, if there is any left to freeze. When I make it for lunch it is gone by the end of dinner.
Read through the recipe first, so you will have an idea where you are going with the preparation. Everything is cooked before putting in the oven so you can taste all the way through and adjust seasonings to your personal taste.
Serves 8 generously, may be frozen
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 1½ pound ground Angus Chuck
- 6 ounces mushrooms, diced
- 1 green pepper, seeded and diced
- ⅔ small white onion, diced
- ½ tablespoon minced garlic
- ½ tablespoon parsley flakes
- 1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
- Salt to taste
- 1 large eggplant
- 1½ cups Italian seasoned bread crumbs
- ½ cup sliced kalamata or small black olives, rinsed and drained well
- 12 ounces tomato sauce, unseasoned
- ¾ pound Mozzarella cheese, cubed small
- ½ cup mozzarella, finely shredded
- ½ cup heavy whipping cream
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese
- Red pepper flakes – optional
Spray a very large and deep frying pan with oil and put over medium high heat.
Add 3 tablespoons olive oil. When hot, add beef and begin to brown, breaking into large chunks.
Add mushrooms, green pepper, and onion and sauté until onion is transparent.
Add garlic and sauté another minute then add parsley, black pepper and salt to taste. Turn off burner and set mixture aside.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Peel and dice eggplant.
Spray another large skillet with oil, then add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Turn heat to high and add eggplant to skillet. Continuously stir eggplant, brown lightly on all sides, then drain in colander. Eggplant absorbs a lot of oil and throws a lot of oil when baked.
In a 4-quart or larger bowl, put mixture from first skillet, eggplant, and breadcrumbs. Stir well.
Add olives, ½ of the tomato sauce and mozzarella cubes and stir well again. Put all into a well-greased 9×9 inch baking dish that goes from oven to table. Combine remaining tomato sauce and shredded mozzarella with cream and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Pour sauce over casserole. Sprinkle Parmesan and crushed red pepper flakes over all.
Put casserole in preheated oven and bake for 30-35 minutes until heated through, being careful not to let top darken too much. If top gets too dark put a foil tent over casserole for remainder of baking time.
Drain or spoon off excess oil.
Serve as a main course with a pasta side dish or crunchy hot Italian bread, or as a side dish with Spaghetti and Meatballs or other Italian dishes.