Eggplant lasagnaSo simple and classic, right?

Not so fast. There are a lot of potential pitfalls in eggplant lasagna that can turn it from a delicious main to something messy, ugly, insanely time-consuming–or worse. But eggplant lasagna is hardly unique in this. Most dishes that you eat in a restaurant, cook from a cookbook, or make after receiving a Blue Apron box, go through rigorous testing. They may have started as a few notes scrawled on a napkin, but they end in a perfect meal–one that you get to eat.

Still, eggplant lasagna is a good example, so let’s go back to the yummy vegetarian main that some of you may have made last month. Our test kitchen had a big vision: a vegetable lasagna in the Italian-American red sauce tradition, like you’d get in little Italy or on a good eggplant parmesan sandwich. Layers of eggplant, fresh pasta, tomato sauce, ricotta, melted mozzarella, and parmesan cheese. What could go wrong?

Well, not too much in the taste department at least. The first eggplant lasagna, pictured above, featured oven-roasted slices of graffiti eggplant baked up with ricotta and tomato sauce. Ultimately, each bite tasted good, it’s just that the casserole and the slices didn’t look pretty at all. Food should look appetizing–you eat with your eyes as well as your mouth–and that meant that Eggplant Lasagna, version #1, had to go.

In the name of polar opposites, Eggplant Lasagna Version #2, was refined and beautiful. Layers of fried eggplant rounds intermingled with noodle circles and shmears of fresh ricotta cheese. Look above: the resulting dish was gorgeous! Sadly, there were other issues. We had used up way too many bowls: plates for breading the eggplant and pans for frying it, a cooking cutter for shaping the pasta sheets, a lot of bowls and spoons. Our kitchen was a mess, and we didn’t want to make yours messy too. Plus, with the warm parts, the ricotta got really soft and the stack was apt to fall off. Sigh. We’d make this again for a special occasion, but it was just too much for everyday cooking.

And then we hit on the jackpot, the wonderfully creamy and rustic eggplant lasagna we sent out to you.

We prepped more eggplant, plus onions, basil, garlic, and cheese. Then we simmered up our tomato sauce.

The best technique for the eggplant turned out to be pan frying–but without breading. This produced a vegetable that had body and depth but spared us the mess of frying up the slices. We added the bechamel sauce you see below to keep the lasagna both sturdy and pretty. Plus, the combination of bechamel and tomato sauces creates beautiful, complimentary layers: rich and acidic, a great combination.

We kept the fresh spinach pasta sheets whole again this time – as in Version #1. No cookie cutters needed here!

And then, we just layered the ingredients in our casserole pan, making sure to cover the top with plenty of cheese, a move that adds deliciousness and a beautiful golden finish to the victorious Eggplant Lasagna, Version #3.

Are there other recipes you’d like to see how we developed? Check out our cookbook and then let us know in the comments!