Kitchen InFerno: Getting on Casserole’s Good Side

Healthy eating and college don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand, but knowing the right tricks can help turn eating right into a daily routine. Let Kiersten Ferno be your guide for navigating the health-food scene without taking a chunk out of your schedule. Welcome to the inFerno.

When we happened upon some ripe baby eggplants (thanks to Thanksgiving leftovers!), my immediate thought was to make eggplant parm. It’s easy, delicious, and certainly a staple in any Italian household. However, after weighing my options, I decided to turn a creative leaf and utilize the eggplant in a scrumptious chicken and ricotta layered lasagna with a spicy, zesty kick!

“Casserole” has a terrible connotation… something that your great Aunt Mildred might bring to family gatherings. Do not let that sway you away from making this dish! It is incredibly rich, full of spices and guaranteed to wow your crowd.

What you’ll need:
Makes 4 servings

8 baby eggplants, cut long-ways into thin slices
4 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon mint
2 pinches salt and pepper
6 sun dried tomatoes, minced
2 cups ricotta cheese
2 chicken breasts
½ Spanish onion, sliced thinly
¼ cup grated Asiago cheese

What to do:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Cut off the stem and base of each eggplant, then make long, thin slices.

3. In a pan, sauté olive oil, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, mint, sun dried tomatoes, salt and pepper for a few minutes on low to medium heat. (The goal is not necessarily to cook the ingredients, but to allow the flavors of the dry ingredients to come out and infuse the olive oil.)

4. Mix ingredients from pan with ricotta. Stir in bowl until mixed thoroughly.

5. Sear chicken in pan with a little olive oil. Sprinkle both sides with lemon pepper seasoning. (Searing means cook in a pan for a brief amount of time, cooking only the outside and leaving the inside rare. Do this because the chicken will be baking for quite a while in the casserole, and you don’t want it to dry out!) Tear chicken rather than slicing it to create better texture in the casserole.

6. Caramelize onions in a pan with a little olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

7. Tear chicken rather than slicing it to create better texture in the casserole.

8. Cover the base and sides of a small casserole dish with non-stick spray.
Layer each topping in the casserole dish, starting with eggplant slices. Follow with a layer of ricotta mixture, shredded chicken, caramelized onions, and repeat. Finish the casserole with one last layer of eggplant slices and sprinkle with grated Asiago cheese, salt and pepper.

9. Bake for 35 minutes.

10. Serve with a side of steamed veggies or a fresh, crunchy salad to vary the textures on your plate!

Tip from inside the Inferno: Allow the top layer of eggplant to brown. When the layers start bubbling, and the edges also turn a golden brown then that is a sure sign of a thoroughly cooked casserole.