If you like macaroni and cheese, this dish will deliver as much comfort, but with a whole lot of nutritious veggies, spices and herbs. You can replace orzo with other quick cooking grains, such as Trader Joe's 10-minute pearled barley or farro.
I love Taleggio in this dish – it melts beautifully and has lovely texture – but feel free to replace with mozzarella, or with a vegan hard cheese.
A note about eggplants: I usually salt my eggplants and let them sit in a colander to sweat out some of their bitterness. This isn't always necessary and depends on how young and firm the eggplant is, but since some of my guests are very sensitive to the bitter taste of eggplant I take extra precautions. Many of the people who say they hate eggplant don't even notice it's in this dish. If you're using a young, just picked eggplant, you can skip step 2 of this recipe.
This recipe is inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi's in Plenty More.
- 1 large eggplant or 2 small ones, peeled and cut to 1-inch dice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- 4 large carrots, peeled and cut to 1/2-inch chunks
- 6 celery stalks, fibrous parts peeled, cut to 1/2-inch dice
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- I ½ cup of orzo, rinsed
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons Dr. Ayala's Magic Spice (Original or Spicy)
- 1 2/3 cups water
- 4 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano or basil
- 4 oz Taleggio cheese, cut into small chunks (can be replaced with hard mozzarella or vegan cheese)
- 5 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (or vegan cheese)
- 3 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- Freshly ground pepper to and salt to taste
- Heat oven to 350 °F.
- Eggplant salting: Place diced eggplant in a colander, add salt, and let sit for 30-60 minutes. Beads of sweat will form on the eggplant. Rinse the salt with cold water and pat the eggplant pieces dry.
- Place eggplant on a baking pan, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and bake for about 20-30 minutes, until the eggplant is lightly browned. Take out of the oven, and leave oven on.
- In the meantime, in a large sauté pan over medium high heat, sauté the onion until golden, then add the carrots, celery and garlic, cooking for about 5 minutes.
- Add to the orzo, tomato paste, Dr. Ayala's Magic Spice and water, and cook for 2 more minutes and remove from heat.
- Add the baked eggplant, the fresh oregano or basil and the cheeses (Taleggio, Parmesan, or whatever you're using), mix well.
- Transfer to a baking dish.
- Arrange sliced tomatoes on tip, and sprinkle with oregano, salt and pepper.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the orzo is cooked and all the water is absorbed.