I had initially been planning to make eggplant rolls filled with pilafy red pepper-garlic-pine nut rice, with tomato sauce poured over all and baked. This would have been a much prettier dinner, but it ultimately turned out to be too fussy and not fast enough for me. Instead I mixed my tomato sauce with rice and lots of toasted pine nuts, then layered it with thin eggplant slices and cheese. The ingredients are exactly the same; the taste is probably nearly the same. The presentation is a HUGE MESS. That's ok! Messy food wins!
Eggplant, rice and pine nut mess
half a big eggplant
jar of tomato puree
salt, pepper, marjoram, basil, oregano
grating cheese or provolone/mozzarella, optional
First, make a cup of good rice. I used brown long grain; any kind should work fine. Let the rice cook while you're making the sauce.
Sauce: get out a saucy pan; warm some olive oil in it. Smash, peel, and chop a bunch of garlic cloves. I had about eight or ten. Add chopped garlic to the pan. Then dice half a red pepper, or however much pepper you have. Add it and cook it too. When everything is softened, and the garlic is barely golden, add a jar of tomato puree or other reasonable tomato business. You want a lot of sauce, since later it will come in contact with eggplant, the vacuum of the vegetable world. Salt and pepper; spice mildly with marjoram, basil, and oregano. If you have a parmesan rind lying around, you can add that too; the cooking will leach a little dairy out into the sauce.
Simmer until the rice is done. At the very end, taste for seasoning. Then add a slug of vermouth, stir, and let simmer another few minutes.
While sauce and rice are cooking, toast pine nuts. Use a lot, maybe 2/3 cup. I used an entire little package, which was a good choice; the pine nuts make this. It would be edible without them, but nowhere near as good. So. Use them. To toast nuts, put a little frying pan over medium-low heat. Add pine nuts. Toss occasionally until the nuts turn a little golden all over. Then take them immediately off the heat and out of the pan. Watch these carefully; nuts can burn in a second.
Then peel an eggplant and slice it into thin rounds, maybe 1/4 inch thick. I used about half an eggplant for a 12 inch casserole dish. If you have smaller eggplants, adjust accordingly. These thin slices would be really fast on a mandolin, if you have such a thing and feel like washing it afterward. I used a knife.
When everything is done, bust out a casserole dish. Ladle some sauce into the bottom and spread it around. Then lay some eggplant slices in the pan in a layer.
Toss fluffed rice and pine nuts into the rest of the sauce. Stir it all up. Add a layer of rice on top of the eggplant. If you want a layer of shredded cheese, add that. If I'd had spinach, I would totally have added a layer of that too. Then start again with eggplant. Keep layering until the casserole dish is full and you're out of ingredients; make the top layer one of sauce and rice, then cheese. I had the very end of a cheese rind, which the microplane miraculously made productive again.
Bake it all at 325F for about 45 minutes, or until eggplant is cooked through and cheese is nice and melty/crispy.
Eat it with red wine and a dark green salad.
And now, the variation that I would have done were I not feeling lazy:
Eggplant rice rolls
Cook the red pepper and a little garlic separately from the sauce. When the rice is done, fold them into it. Add pepper, a slug of olive oil, whichever spices sound good, and some cubed or shredded cheese if you feel like it.
Instead of cutting the eggplant into rounds, make long slices down its length. Put a spoonful of rice at the end of a strip of eggplant. Roll it up and lay it loose side down in a casserole dish. Repeat until out of everything.
Pour sauce over; top with shredded cheese if you list. Bake at 325F.