Roasted Vegetable Parmesan.
Here’s one dish where my total lack of food styling is probably not helpful in convincing you to rush out and make this recipe. However, if I show you the layers and layers of vegetable goodness lurking under that melted cheese, I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to convert you.
Think of this as a veggie lasagna without the noodles. Think of this as a perfect side dish for your Italian-Style Pot Roast OR just a great vegetarian casserole. And no noodles means Gluten Free if, like me, you leave off the breadcrumbs. Win, Win, Win.
You could put almost any vegetables in here just as long as they can stand up to the heat of the grill or super hot oven. Roasting the vegetables before baking might seem redundant but it does amazing things to the flavor of these vegetables that baking alone just can’t provide.
Honestly, grilled fennel? My new favorite thing.
Here’s what you need:
Eggplant, Zucchini, Fennel, Bell Peppers, Marinara Sauce, Mozzarella Cheese, Pecorino Romano Cheese, Bread Crumbs (optional), Olive Oil, Salt & Pepper.
For the absolute best flavor, grill your vegetables either on an outdoor grill (mine is gas) or indoors on a grill pan with good ventilation. If grilling is not an option, you can also roast the vegetables in a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes until slightly softened.
Preheat the grill or grill pan and also preheat the oven to 375 degrees for the baking portion of the casserole.
Cut the stem end off a medium sized eggplant and cut ½ inch thick slices vertically through the length of the eggplant.
Trim those crazy green fronds off 2 bulbs of fennel and slice the fennel vertically through the bulb keeping the core intact so the slices stay together.
Cut 2 medium zucchini in half and then cut them into thick slices lengthwise.
Drizzle the sliced eggplant, fennel, and zucchini with olive oil and season lightly with salt & pepper.
Throw 2 bell peppers (red, yellow, or orange but NOT green…too bitter to roast) on the grill to roast or blacken the skins. You can put the peppers right over direct, high heat or even blacken them carefully over the flame of a gas stove.
Place the vegetables on a preheated grill (medium high heat) and cook on both sides until slightly softened and slightly charred.
Nice grill marks on the eggplant. The vegetables will take about 3-4 minutes per side with the fennel needing just a bit longer to become tender.
When the peppers are black all over, remove them to steam in a ziplock bag…
and place all your other grilled vegetables on a big tray.
Grate 1 cup of Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese.
Now for the vegetable assembly line…
Spray a large baking dish (9×13) with non-stick cooking spray. Spoon about 1/2 cup of marinara sauce in the bottom of the pan and then layer the eggplant slices on top.
It’s fine if the eggplant overlaps a bit to fit in the pan.
Sprinkle about ¾ cup of grated mozzarella cheese and 1/3 of the Romano cheese over the eggplant.
Next, a layer of the grilled fennel. Pack it all in there.
Spoon about ¾ cup of marinara sauce over the fennel.
By now, your peppers should be cool enough to touch and steamed enough to peel. Remove all of the charred black skin from the outside of the peppers.
Remove the stems and seeds and blot the peppers dry with a paper towel. Cut into strips and place them on top of the sauce & fennel.
Sprinkle another ¾ cup of mozzarella cheese and 1/3 of the Romano over the peppers.
Make a layer of the grilled zucchini on top of the cheese and top it with the remaining sauce.
Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.
Note: the original recipe uses 3 cups of mozzarella but I used slightly less…maybe a little less than 2½ cups.
If you want a crunchy topping and are not gluten free, sprinkle 1 cup of bread crumbs on top of the cheese and drizzle with olive oil. I skipped the crumbs and honestly didn’t miss them one bit.
Bake at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes until bubbly and the top has formed a golden crust.
If you like things a little more crunchy, run the cooked casserole under the broiler for 1 minute to get some extra color on the cheese topping.
Let the casserole rest for 5 minutes for easier slicing and serving.
Sadly, I do not have a picture of this lovely collection of vegetables, cheese, and sauce on a plate. I was probably too busy eating my second helping to remember to take a photo.
Grilling or roasting the vegetables not only adds flavor but helps rid them of excess moisture so the vegetables are tender but not soggy. This really has the look, feel, and flavor or a lasagna but without the noodles.
It was even a big hit with the meat eaters at the table!
Here’s the recipe: adapted from Giada De Laurentiis