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 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.
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.
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)
- 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
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.