Here’s a great way to turn a classic comfort dish into a Passover-friendly crowd pleaser. This lasagna subs Matzo for pasta and layered with matzo-coated eggplant, creamy ricotta, homemade tomato sauce and (of course!) lots of mozzarella. It just might make Matzo lasagna a staple for many holidays to come.
Cook’s Note: The tomato sauce can be made up to 2 days ahead, cooled and refrigerated.
Ricotta Filling & Assembly
Special equipment: a 9-by-13-inch dish baking dish, at least 2 1/2 inches deep; an immersion blender.
For the tomato sauce: Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onions and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring, until the onions are translucent and very soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano and red pepper and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until the tomato paste deepens in colour, about 4 minutes. Add the wine and cook, scraping the bottom of the pot, until the liquid mostly evaporates, about 3 minutes. Add the crushed and diced tomatoes, 2 teaspoons salt and several grinds of black pepper. Rinse out each tomato can with ½ cup of water and add it to the sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until reduced by about one-fourth and thickened, about 1 hour.
Blend the sauce with an immersion blender until smooth. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and stir in the basil. Set aside (see Cook’s Note).
For the eggplant: Arrange the eggplant slices on a rack set over a baking sheet and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon salt. Set aside to draw moisture out from the eggplant, flipping them over halfway through, about 30 minutes.
Combine the matzo meal, thyme, oregano, 1 teaspoon salt and several grinds of black pepper in a shallow bowl. Whisk the eggs, ½ teaspoon salt and several grinds of black pepper together in another shallow bowl.
Blot the eggplant slices very dry on both sides with paper towels. Working one slice at a time, dip the eggplant into the egg mixture, allowing excess to drip back into the bowl, then dredge it in the matzo mixture, pressing gently to coat. Place coated slices back on the rack and repeat with the remaining eggplant.
Pour enough oil into a large skillet to reach a depth of about ¼ inch and heat over medium-high heat until very hot and shimmering and a slice of eggplant immediately sizzles as when it touches the oil. Working in batches, fry the slices until golden brown on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Place cooked eggplant back on the rack to drain and season lightly with salt while hot. Repeat until all the eggplant is fried.
For the ricotta filling: In a medium bowl, stir the ricotta, Parmesan, egg, basil, garlic powder, ½ teaspoon salt and several grinds of black pepper together. Refrigerate until ready to assemble the lasagna.
To assemble the lasagna: Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Spray all sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan or casserole dish at least 2 1/2 inches deep with nonstick spray. Set aside ¾ cup of the tomato sauce, ¾ cup of the ricotta filling and 1 ½ cups mozzarella.
Spread 1 cup tomato sauce evenly over the bottom of the dish. Top the sauce with full sheets of matzo, then break others to fit as needed. Spread ¾ cup ricotta filling evenly over the matzo with a small offset spatula. Layer one-third of the eggplant over the ricotta, top with one-third of the mozzarella and top with one-third of the remaining sauce. Repeat the layers of matzo, ricotta, eggplant, mozzarella and sauce two more times. Add a final layer of matzo, then spread with the reserved ¾ cup ricotta, the reserved ¾ cup sauce and sprinkle with the 1 ½ cups reserved mozzarella and 3 tablespoons Parmesan.
Spray a piece of foil large enough to fit over the baking dish generously with nonstick spray and cover the baking dish tightly. Place on a baking sheet and bake until the matzo is soft and the sauce is bubbling, about 45 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the mozzarella is lightly browned in spots, 15 to 20 minutes longer. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.