Weekend Project: Pasticcio di Melanzane

eggplant torta 1

Sure, you could clean the gutters this weekend, or power wash the deck. You could rake leaves or aerate the lawn. You could sweep out the garage or reorganize your closets or put away your summer clothes. There’s something about this time of year that makes us want to put things in order.

Unless.

Unless you decide to go in the other direction and make this pasticcio. You could set aside order, just for awhile, and make this fabulous, gooey layered and baked affair of eggplant, chicken, mashed potatoes and mozzarella, a one-dish meal if ever there was one, a beautiful mess that bids a fond farewell to summer (eggplants) and waves hello to fall (mashed potatoes). A mess worth making.

The word ‘pasticcio’  means just that: mess. In Italian it is used as an expression to describe a complicated situation or one gone awry. In culinary terms, it refers to an improvisational baked dish, usually one with pasta. In the case of this pasticcio, long, thin slices of fried eggplant enclose a rich filling of chicken, cheese and creamy herbed mashed potatoes.

eggplant pasticcio assembly

I won’t lie to you. This is no 30-minute meal. But so what? Does everything have to come together in the time it takes to watch a sitcom? I certainly hope not. I’ve been making this pasticcio for years ~ it’s in my book Big Night In (where I gave it the more orderly name of Chicken, Eggplant and Potato Torta) and is adapted from one of my mom’s old magazines (circa nineteen-eighty-something). It’s a recipe that has stood the test of time, and one that is worth the time it takes to make it.

So instead of your edger, get out your cutting board and frying pan, your knives and your potato masher, and start slicing and chopping and frying and mashing and assembling. Once your pasticcio is put together, cover it and pop it in the fridge until it’s time to bake ~ even up to a couple of days. (Don’t freeze it, though, as freezing will turn the mashed potatoes grainy and watery.)

Wipe up the oil spatters and wash the frying pan. Go about your weekend and on Sunday evening, bake the pasticcio. Before you know it, dinner is ready. Order has been restored, and it tastes good.

Makes 8 main-dish servings

Pasticcio di Melanzane

This one-dish meal takes some time to assemble but it's not difficult, and it's definitely worth the effort. One bite and you'll see why: creamy mashed potatoes, tender rosemary- and sage-scented chicken, and oozy mozzarella are all wrapped in a thin layer of fried eggplant slices. Most of the work can be done in advance and you can set the assembled pasticcio in the fridge until it's time to bake it. (From Big Night In)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 to 2 pounds eggplant
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, for dredging
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 1 1/2 pounds Yukon gold or other yellow-fleshed potatoes
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
  • 12 ounces thinly sliced boneless, skinless chicken breasts (cutlets)
  • 12 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced

Instructions

Trim the ends off the eggplant and cut it lengthwise into thin (1/4-inch-thick) slices. Sprinkle the slices with a little salt and layer them in a colander. Set a plate on top of the eggplant and weigh it down with a heavy object. Let drain for 1 hour. Wipe the slices dry with paper towels.

Put the flour in a shallow baking dish. Lightly dredge the slices of eggplant, shaking off excess flour. Heat 1/4 cup vegetable oil in a large skillet placed over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot (375 degrees F) add enough eggplant slices to fill the skillet without crowding. Fry on both sides until golden brown, about 5 minutes total. Remove to a large platter lined with paper towels. Continue to fry the eggplant slices, adding more oil as necessary, until you have fried them all.

Place the potatoes in a large saucepan with water to cover by 1 inch. Generously salt the water, cover the pot, and set over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and boil the potatoes for 25 minutes, or until tender. Drain the potatoes in a colander and let sit until they are cool enough to handle. Peel the potatoes, return them to the pot, and mash them with a potato masher. Drizzle about 1/4 cup olive oil over the potatoes and season the with a little salt, pepper, and half the rosemary and sage. Mix well with a wooden spoon or sturdy silicone spatula. Cover and set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in a large skillet placed over medium heat. Add the sliced chicken breasts and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and the remaining rosemary and sage. Sauté for 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until no longer pink. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.

Heat the oven to 475 degrees F. Lightly coat a large baking dish with a little olive oil. Arrange the eggplant slices on the bottom and around the perimeter of the baking dish so that about a third of each slice on the perimeter drapes over the rim (you will be folding the slices over the top of the pasticcio once you have finished filling it). Reserve a few slices of eggplant for the top.

Spread the mashed potatoes over the eggplant in one even layer, smoothing it out with a spatula. Arrange half the mozzarella and all of the chicken slices over the potatoes. Top with the remaining eggplant and fold the overhanging pieces of eggplant from the bottom layer over the top. Arrange the remaining slices of mozzarella on top of the eggplant.

Bake the pasticcio for 20 minutes, or until hot and bubbly and the mozzarella on top is nicely browned. Remove the pasticcio from the oven an dlet it rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

NOTE Serve the pasticcio with a simple salad tossed with olive oil and vinegar on the side.

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25 Responses to Weekend Project: Pasticcio di Melanzane

  1. Adri September 13, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

    That’s a pasticcio I can get behind. Even though it is, as you say, no 30- minute meal, that does not bother me. I am so tried of every one looking for “quick” meals. I want food that someone put some love into, food that cooks long enough for the components to marry and build some real depth flavor, what Bart and I call “real food.” This one is tantalizing, the ultimate one-dish meal. Give me a green salad and some wine, and I am good to go. Bart would consume the entire thing. Guaranteed.

    • Domenica Marchetti September 16, 2013 at 9:10 am #

      Thanks Adri. What I really like about this is the sort of unusual mix of ingredients. Each one could stand on its own but they’re really good put together. I’ve been thinking about making a vegetarian version ~ maybe portobellos instead of the chicken. At any rate, it’s one of those recipes that can be played around with. Cheers, D

  2. mltucker September 13, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

    This looks scrumptious Domenica. Classic combination.The mash would hold it all together nicely!

    On my last trip to Abruzzo in June, the proprietors of the B&B I stayed at in Roseto degli Abruzzi, Lucia and Fernando of Luci a’ammare, used a ridged sandwich press to pre-cook melanzana for their Parmigiana dish. The melanzana gave off a nice nutty flavour. Would this method work for your dish? We have adopted it at home, using a ridged cast iron pan or the bbq grill, and it seems to work for most recipes.

    Buon Appetito!

    • Domenica Marchetti September 13, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

      Thanks for this excellent tip. I don’t have a sandwich press, but I have to believe that if this short cut works for melanzane alla parmigiana it would also work in this dish. I am intrigued ~ I may have to invest in a sandwich press and test it out. Cheers, and thanks for reading.

      • mltucker September 14, 2013 at 8:41 am #

        Dominica, I have followed your site for some time, surreptitiously, and then realised some of your other followers were at Let’s Blog Abruzzo, Michelle and Helen specifically. Small world, eh? Ciao for now and happy cooking.

        • Domenica Marchetti September 16, 2013 at 9:04 am #

          Yes ~ I know both Helen and Michelle. Two of my favorite people. I’ve met others from Let’s Blog Abruzzo through them. I wanted to be there myself but it was the end of the school year for my kids; tough time for me to get away. Magari alla prossima…

  3. laura (Tutti Dolci) September 13, 2013 at 7:50 pm #

    Your pasticcio looks mouthwatering, as does any dish made with care. It may not be a 30 minute meal, but I have a feeling the result would be well worth the effort!

    • Domenica Marchetti September 16, 2013 at 9:11 am #

      Thank you Laura ~ even my eggplant-phobic kids gobbled this one up.

  4. Frank Fariello September 14, 2013 at 8:52 am #

    This really *is* a beautiful mess. And a delicious one, too, I’m sure. Bookmarked for a future weekend!

    • Domenica Marchetti September 16, 2013 at 9:11 am #

      Grazie Frank ~ have a great week.

  5. Chiara September 14, 2013 at 10:39 am #

    delizioso questo pasticcio, un piatto da mangiare in compagnia degli amici o in famiglia, sarà sempre gradito ! Buon fine settimana Domenica, un abbraccio !

    • Domenica Marchetti September 16, 2013 at 9:12 am #

      Grazie Chiara 🙂

  6. Majella Home Cooking September 15, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

    Yum, yum, yum! Now would you please come up and make it for me, my friend?? 🙂 I swore I was going to make something inspired, comforting and delicious (this dish certainly fits the bill) this weekend in order to combat the back-to-school madness and instead, am staring at a jar of my tomato sauce and trying to think of a more creative way to use it than a mere plate of pasta after today’s line-up of soccer games. Un abbraccio forte, Michelle

    • Domenica Marchetti September 16, 2013 at 9:13 am #

      Nothing wrong with a “nice dish,” IMHO. xo

      • Domenica Marchetti September 16, 2013 at 9:14 am #

        by that I mean a nice simple dish of pasta with sauce. Works for me any day of the week (or weekend).

  7. Rosa Mayland September 16, 2013 at 3:45 am #

    A mouthwatering casserole. This is such a comforting and flavorful dish. A soul-uplifting “mess”!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

    • Domenica Marchetti September 16, 2013 at 9:15 am #

      Thank you Rosa. Have a great week.

  8. bettyannq @Mango_Queen September 17, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    What a wonderful, comforting meal this is. I love eggplants and I have been searching for creative different ways with it. I found one here. Thanks for sharing this treasured recipe, Domenica. You don’t have to apologize for the length of process ~ all good things need time to make.

    • Domenica Marchetti September 23, 2013 at 11:35 am #

      A belated thank you, Betty Ann. I’m on the road and haven’t been checking in on my web site. I imagine you have some wonderful eggplant recipes of your own! xo

  9. elisa September 17, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    Leave it to my husband! This pas Sunday I wanted to make this pasticcio. I had the eggplant on paper towels draining, the masked potatoes were ready and so was the mozzarella.No chicken, I didn’t have the time to buy it. (a lot of construction is going on in our place). As I was making a phone call upstairs, I heard my husband saying” this is delicious!”. I went back to the kitchen and he was eating this gigantic focaccia sandwich he made filled with eggplant slices, mashed potatoes and mozzarella. He called it the “HE” sandwich!

    • Domenica Marchetti September 23, 2013 at 11:36 am #

      Elisa, this made me laugh. Thanks for telling me. I think your husband just invented a fabulous new panino.

  10. ciaochowlinda September 24, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

    Domenica – I’m just catching up on blogs and realized I missed this one. It’s a combination I’ve never had, but I can just imagine it tastes wonderful. It certainly looks delicious. Once in a while, it’s worth spending time in the kitchen to produce a great meal – and this certainly qualifies. I love the photo of that melting cheese – so tempting.

    • Domenica Marchetti September 27, 2013 at 8:51 am #

      Thanks Linda. Even my kids (who profess not to like eggplant) love this one. True comfort food.

  11. elisa September 26, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

    I just got your last book “The Glorious Vegetables of Italy” I am going to enjoy it for a loooong time! Beautiful photography!

    • Domenica Marchetti September 27, 2013 at 8:52 am #

      Elisa ~ thank you. Yes, the photography is stunning. Sang An is incredibly talented. Let me know what you cook.

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