Eggplant Orzo Bake
Here’s an interesting factoid: In over five years of blogging, I’ve never made a straight up eggplant parmesan dish. I’ve stacked it, rolled it, and even stuffed it, but never just made a classic version.
As far as I’m concerned, there’s no reason to start today! This baked Eggplant Orzo casserole comes as close, flavor wise, to the traditional dish though. It skips a lot of the work though and is a lot easier to serve.
The final dish has chunks of slightly charred eggplant and pockets of mozzarella that make it a super-addictive dinner and one that will keep you warm on these cold nights.
1) Cube eggplant into 1/2-inch cubes. Place cubes in a colander and sprinkle with about a teaspoon of salt. Put a bowl filled with water on top of the eggplant to press. Let sit for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, prep other ingredients.
2) You can cook orzo in advance. When done, rinse with cold water and toss orzo with a drizzle of olive oil to keep the pasta from sticking.
3) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. When eggplant is done pressing, rinse with cold water. Heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add eggplant pieces and cook for 8-10 minutes until eggplant pieces are browned and lightly charred. Add herbs de provence and red pepper flakes to the eggplant and cook for another minute. Remove from the pan.
4) Add another drizzle of oil to the skillet. Add onions, carrots, celery, and red pepper and cook until veggies are softened. Add garlic and cook for another minute.
5) In a large bowl, stir together eggplant, veggies, orzo, tomatoes, and diced mozzarella. Season the mixture with a pinch of salt and pepper.
6) Transfer the mixture to a 2 1/2 quart (or 9×13) baking dish. Dust heavily with grated Parmesan cheese.
7) Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees F. covered with foil. Then uncover and bake for another 15-20 minutes.
8) Serve baked pasta while warm!
Prepping the Eggplant
The most annoying step in this Eggplant Orzo recipe is dealing with the eggplant. Anytime you are working with large eggplants like this, you need to salt and press them to get out some of the bitterness. If you can find baby eggplants, you can just use those and skip this step entirely!
If you’re using a big one though, just cut it into cubes and toss it with about a teaspoon of kosher salt. Then put the cubes in a colander and press them down with some weight. I just use a bowl filled with water that will nest inside the colander.
Let the cubes press for about 30 minutes and then rinse them really well with cold water and dry them off with a few paper towels.
To cook the eggplant, heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant cubes and cook them until they are tender and browned on the sides. This should take around 10 minutes.
At the very end of cooking, hit them with some red pepper flakes and herbs de provence.
Besides the eggplant, I chopped up a few other veggies that will enhance the flavor of the dish. You can just chop these while the eggplant is pressing.
When the eggplant is lightly charred, remove it from your skillet, add a fresh drizzle of oil and add all the veggies. Cook them for a few minutes until they are softened and add the garlic last so it doesn’t burn. Once the garlic is in, cook for another minute or so.
At some point, cook your orzo according to the package. Rinse it well with cold water once it is tender and then toss it with a drizzle of oil to keep it from sticking.
Stir the sauteed eggplant, vegetables, tomatoes, and orzo together in a big bowl.
Add in the mozzarella (I used fresh) and season the mixture with salt and pepper.
Scoop this all into a 2 1/2 quart baking dish or a 9×13 baking dish will work also.
Dust the Eggplant Orzo casserole with a layer of Parmesan cheese.
Cover this sucker and bake it for 20 minutes at 350 degrees F. Then uncover it and bake it for another 15-20 minutes so the top gets a bit crispy.
It’s a thing of beauty.
Maybe someday I’ll make a traditional eggplant parmesan, but until then you’ll just have to make this Eggplant Orzo.