Rice and Eggplant Casserole (Arroz y Berenjena en Cazuela)

Perfect as a side dish or standalone meal, this rice and eggplant one-pot dish is easy and delicious. This full-flavor rice can accompany a simple grilled fish or chicken. It is also a great accompaniment to a mix green salad for a meatless dinner. Do not use pre-cooked, pre-seasoned, or converted rice for this recipe. These types of rice will not absorb the flavors or produce the right texture. When selecting the eggplants at the market, feel them to be sure they are firm. If they feel soft, it means they are full of seeds, which is not desirable. The homemade tomato sauce is incredibly easy. It only simmers for 30 minutes, so you can check on it while you pan fry the eggplant.

Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Spanish
Level: Intermediate
Prep: 1 hr
Inactive: 1 hr
Cooking: 30 mins
Total: 2 hr 30 mins
Yield: 6 servings

Special Equipment

  • Baking Sheets
  • Shallow bowl
  • Colander
  • Wooden spoon
  • Tongs
  • Paper Towels
  • 2 1/2-quart baking dish
  • 3-quart heavy saucepan or small Dutch oven with tight-fitting lid
  • Large frying pan

Ingredients

For the Casserole

  • 1 cup long-grain raw white rice, cooked (preferably not converted)
  • 2 medium firm eggplants, peeled and cut into slices ¼ inch thick
  • Coarse-grained Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour, for dredging eggplant slices
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for frying eggplant slices
  • 2 cups simple homemade tomato sauce, recipe follows
  • 1 (8-ounce) package mozzarella cheese, freshly grated
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Unsalted butter, for greasing baking dish

For the simple homemade tomato sauce

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled, and finely minced
  • 1/2 cup good-quality dry white wine
  • 1 (28-ounce) can good-quality crushed tomatoes in puree
  • 1/2 cup hot good-quality chicken broth (preferably homemade)
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 4 drops hot sauce
  • 6 fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley (small tender stem and leaves only)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled (preferably Dominican, Greek, or Mexican oregano)

Directions

  • Arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer on several baking sheets. Sprinkle both sides of the eggplant slices generously with the kosher salt and allow it to sit for about 1 hour to sweat out the extra moisture and with it a good bit of the bitterness of the vegetable.
  • To make the tomato sauce, in a 3-quart heavy saucepan or small Dutch oven with tight-fitting lid, heat olive oil and butter over medium-high heat.
  • Add onion. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes.
  • Add garlic and sauté 1 minute.
  • Add the wine. Bring the mixture to a boil and scrape any brown bits up from the bottom of the pan into the onions with a wooden spoon.
  • Add tomatoes, broth, sugar, hot sauce, basil, bay leaf, parsley, and oregano. Stir well to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed. Bring to a rapid simmer. Cover. Reduce heat to lowest setting possible. Simmer very gently, stirring occasionally, until sauce is quite thick and homogenous, about 20 to 25 minutes.
  • While tomato sauce is simmering, transfer the eggplant slices to a colander in the sink, and rinse well under cold water.
  • Transfer eggplant slices to a work surface and pat them dry with paper towels. Set aside.
  • Line 2 baking sheets with paper towels and set aside.
  • Place the flour in a shallow bowl and season lightly with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
  • Place a oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  • Lightly butter the bottom and sides of 2 1/2-quarter baking dish. Set aside.
  • Heat about 1/4-inch olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.
  • When the oil is hot, working one at a time, dredge the eggplant slices in the flour and shake off excess flour. Add as many eggplant slices as you can comfortably fit in a single layer in hot oil. Cook quickly, turning, until golden on both sides, about 2 minutes on each side.
  • Using tongs, remove the fried slices from the pan and place on a paper towel-lined baking sheet.
  • Repeat with the remaining eggplant slices. (Note: Take care to reheat the oil back up to temperature before adding another batch of eggplant slices to the pan.)
  • When all eggplant slices are transferred to the prepared baking sheets, seasoned them lightly with salt and pepper.
  • To assemble the dish, line bottom of prepared baking dish with half the cooked rice. Cover rice with half fried eggplant slices; the eggplant slices can overlap slightly. Evenly sprinkle half of the parmesan and mozzarella cheese over the eggplant. Pour half of the tomato sauce over all to cover. Repeat the layering one more time. Alternating layers of remaining rice, eggplant, parmesan cheese, and sauce, and finishing with remaining mozzarella cheese on top of the sauce.
  • Put the dish in the oven and bake until cheese is melted and bubbly, about 30 minutes.
  • Let stand 15 minutes before serving.
  • Leftovers keep well, covered, and refrigerated, for about 4 days. Reheat before serving.