This is a vegan dish for healthy eaters, to mark World Vegan Month – November.
Loosely based on the classic Italian dish, melanzane parmigiana, this version has nutritious mushrooms. It also has cashews for protein and vegan cheese, but both are optional. Non- vegans could, obviously, use regular dairy mozzarella and parmesan, if preferred.
You can use any type of mushrooms, either a single variety such as tasty chestnut mushrooms or a medley. If you use oyster mushrooms, be sure to discard the very tough end of the stalks.
It is a delicious served with a jacket potato or seedy bread and a green salad. It can also be a starter or side dish.
This is quite labour intensive, but also convenient as it can either be prepared (or part-prepared) ahead as refrigerated, it keeps well for up to 4 days before or after baking. It can also be frozen after it is baked.
These days, aubergines don’t need to be dredged in salt, which shortens the preparation time marginally. When buying aubergines, choose glossy, very dark purple ones.
This recipe serves 2-3 as a main dish but will go further if you use dairy cheese and increase the quantity. It can serve 6 as a starter or side dish.
4 large aubergines
400g mushrooms, halved or thickly sliced
2 x 400g tins (approx net weight) chopped tomatoes
1 x 140g tin of tomato puree
100g frozen chopped onion OR 2 large onions peeled and chopped
25g frozen chopped garlic OR 1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
50g unsalted cashews (optional)
200g Vegan Parmesan cheese, grated plus 200g Vegan Mozzarella (cheese is optional).
150mls olive oil
Salt/black pepper to taste
3 teasp fresh, chopped or dried herbs. (Any combination of Italian seasoning, Herbes de Provence, Oregano and parsley)
A large frying pan
A medium-size saucepan
A flat, oven-proof tray, such as a grill pan OR a large foil baking tray
A deep dish approx 8 x 10 OR a disposable foil dish, 8 x 10 and approx 3ins/6cms deep
Sharp serrated knife for slicing aubergines
Brush for oil
Sheet of aluminium foil big enough to cover an 8 x 10 baking dish
Pre-heat grill to maximum or 300 degrees.
Rremove thick leaves and stalks from aubergines and cut them into slices of approx half an inch/1.5cm. Try to keep the slices a uniform thickness if possible so they will cook more evenly.
Brush the grill pan lightly with oil and place aubergine slices side by side. Brush each slice lightly with oil. The slices should not overlap. You may find it easier to cook the aubergine slices in two batches. Place pan/tray under hot grill. Slices normally take 9-12 minutes but check after 7-8 minutes so they don’t burn. The aubergine slices are ready to turn when they are golden brown and look a bit pulpy. Turn each slice, brush lightly with olive oil and return them to the grill for 3-5 minutes. If cooking in two batches, place first batch on kitchen paper to absorb excess oil while you grill the remainder.
While the aubergines are grilling, heat a few teaspoons of oil in the frying pan and fry the mushrooms, turning them frequently, for 5-7 minutes till brown and softened. Sprinkle with a little salt and black pepper and some of the herbs and cook for a further minute. Remove from heat and set aside.
Now make the sauce. Place a splash of olive oil in a saucepan and heat gently. Add onion and garlic. Cover pan and cook very gently until softened and golden brown (3-5 minutes). Pour on the chopped tomatoes with their juice, and the tomato puree and remaining herbs and season according to taste. Stir well and increase heat until sauce is bubbling. Add cashews (if using) and allow sauce to bubble for 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer very gently, uncovered, for 10-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.
To assemble, lightly brush the baking dish with olive oil. Ladle in around half of the sauce. Lay half of the aubergine slices on the sauce spread as evenly as possible, and half of the mushrooms, also spread as evenly as possible. If using cheese, spread approx half of each type of cheese over the aubergines and mushrooms then lay all the remaining aubergines and mushrooms on top (again spreading them as evenly as possible). Ladle on all the remaining sauce followed by the rest of the grated mozzarella. Finish with the rest of the parmesan.
Once you have put it together and it has cooled thoroughly, you can refrigerate it for 2-3 days and bake it just before serving. Or you can bake it, allow it to cool and then refrigerate or freeze it.
To bake, pre-heat the oven to around 220 degrees. Cover dish completely with foil and place in hot oven for 15-20 minutes. (If taken from a very cold fridge, it may need a little extra baking time). After 15-20 minutes, or a bit longer if taken from a very cold fridge, carefully peek under foil. If the pie is hot and bubbling, remove foil and cook for a further 3-5 minutes uncovered. Alternatively, if using cheese, remove from oven and place under a hot grill for a few minutes so the cheese is brown and bubbly. If using Vegan cheese, remember that it doesn’t behave exactly like dairy cheese, so may require a bit less time uncovered in the oven or under the grill and it won’t look exactly like dairy cheese.
To reheat: cover with foil and place in an oven pre-heated to around 220 degrees for 20-30 minutes, again removing foil for the last few minutes or placing under the grill so the top can brown.
This dish is most delicious served warm rather than piping hot, so allow it to cool a little before serving.
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