serves: 8 to 12 as a side dish
Another wonderful way to use bread-something that we always have in abundance in our house, fresh, day-old, and dried-is as an element of many savory dishes. It is used in appetizer gratinate, soups, and salads, and day-old bread is great in desserts. Here bread slices are the base and substance of a summertime vegetable lasagna, in place of pasta. You could multiply this recipe and make this as a big party or picnic dish. It's wonderful warm or at room temperature as a hearty side dish. To vary, roast the eggplant instead of frying it.
3½ pounds medium eggplant
2 cups flour, for dredging
½ cup canola oil, for frying, or more if necessary
½ teaspoon salt, or more if necessary
2 tablespoons soft butter, for the baking pan
12 slices day-old country bread, from a 1 1/2-pound loaf
6 cups Tomato sauce
2 cups Grana Padano, or Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
Trim the stem and bottom end of the eggplants. Peel off all the skin, if it is tough or, with tender eggplant, remove ribbons of peel, in a striped pattern.
With a sharp chef’s knife, cut all the eggplant lengthwise into slices, about 1/3-inch thick. Toss a few slices at a time in the flour (in a large bowl or on a tray) to coat completely on both sides; shake off the excess and pile in another bowl or tray.
Pour 2 or 3 tablespoons of the canola oil into the skillet and tilt it so the entire bottom is coated with a thin film of oil. Set the pan over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes.
Lay a batch of eggplant slices into the pan with plenty of space between them. You want to brown the pieces quickly, with minimal oil, so keep the heat up but don’t let the oil smoke or the vegetables burn. Fry the slices for about 2 minutes until lightly colored on the underside, then flip them over and fry 2 minutes on the second side. Drain the slices on sheets of paper towel and sprinkle with a couple pinches of salt while hot.
Brown the remaining floured eggplant in batches, adding oil to the pan as needed. Remove to paper towels and salt them right away, using about 1/2 teaspoon for all the slices.
Assembling the Lasagna: Arrange a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400°. Cut the crusts off the bread slices. If they are soft and fresh, you can dry them briefly in the oven but don’t let them get crisp or brown.
Butter the bottom and sides of the baking pan generously. Spread a cup of the tomato sauce in a thin layer in the bottom of the pan. Cover the bottom with a single layer of bread slices. Trim the slices and cut them in pieces so they fit close together and lie flat (but you don’t have to fill every small crack or hole). Spoon about 2 cups of sauce onto the bread and spread it evenly.
Make a layer of zucchini (or sautéed eggplant), using half the slices. You can lay them crosswise or lengthwise in the pan, whichever way fits best. Overlap the slices as necessary to make an even layer that completely covers the sauce. Press down gently to condense the lasagna and make more room in the pan, then sprinkle 1 cup of grated cheese evenly over the top.
Now repeat the layering: Arrange another layer of bread slices and trimmed pieces. Cover the bread with 2 more cups of sauce, spread evenly. Lay out the rest of the zucchini (or eggplant) slices in an overlapping layer. Spread the remaining tomato sauce, about a cup, in a thin layer. Sprinkle another cup of cheese (or more!) in a generous layer over the top of the lasagna.
Cut a sheet of aluminum foil about 2 feet long—preferably from a wide roll of heavy duty foil. Press the foil so it hugs the sides of the pan and bend it to make a “tent” over the lasagna that doesn’t touch the surface anywhere.
Bake the lasagna covered for about 45 minutes, giving the zucchini plenty of time to cook. Remove the pan from the oven and carefully unfold the foil from the sides of the pan and lift it off completely. Don’t get burned by the pan or the steam that is released—keep your face and hands out of the way. And don’t let the foil mess up the cheesy topping! (In a glass casserole, you should be able to see the sauce bubbling up around the sides of the pan.)
Return the lasagna to the oven and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the top is deep golden-brown. Let the casserole settle for a few minutes before serving (it will stay hot for some time). Cut in squares or rectangles of whatever size you like and lift out individual pieces with an angled spatula.