Sausage and Eggplant Casserole

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Have I told you about my friend Kim?

No, not that one.  Not the one I’ve known since 10th grade who can still finish my sentences and read my mind from 100 miles away.

This is my other Kim.

When Michael and I first moved here, I was lost.  I had lived in the same small town my whole life and suddenly we moved away to a town where I knew no one.  I didn’t know where anything was.  I didn’t have any friends.  It was summer, so I wasn’t working.  Michael would go to work every day.  And I would sit in our apartment and cry.  It was pitiful.

We started going to a local church and joined a Sunday school class.  It was a wonderful class and we immediately met lots of great couples.  There was one particular girl in the class who was big pregnant.  I remember the first time I saw her, she was wearing a pretty red dress.  She had the sweetest smile – with these awesome dimples.  Her husband worked out of town, so she usually came alone.  A couple of weeks later, our director announced that she and her husband had had their baby girl and our class was going to take food to them.

I thought to myself, “I can cook.  I’ll do that!”  So on the night we were taking dinner, I thawed up a big package of field corn from my parents’ garden and cooked it with lots of butter.  I somehow managed to find their house (Michael may have driven me.  That part’s fuzzy.  He probably did.  I get lost easily.).  I walked up to the door and rang the bell.  When the door opened, I saw her husband, Steve, for the first time.  I don’t remember much about the visit.  I was probably only in the house five minutes.  But taking something as simple as corn to their house cemented our friendship.  How friendships begin with, “Hey, you don’t know me, but here’s some corn!”?  So much has happened over the years!  I remember using a red marker to draw polka dots all over a white teddy bear when Sarah, their daughter, got chicken pox.  We helped them move to a new house.  We had dinner with them lots of times.  We went on vacation with them and several other families for a LOT of years.  We attended tons of Sunday school parties together.  We celebrated the birth of their son, Andrew.  We marveled when Kim completed her doctorate.  We prayed with them when Steve felt God telling him that he should abandon practicing law and go into full-time ministry.  I’ll never forget that day.  We went to Logan’s for lunch and Steve held a sleeping baby Christopher during the entire meal.  We watched as Steve became a member of the staff at our church.  They rejoiced with us when Elizabeth was born.  We were happy/sad  for them when Steve was called to another church in our area to be their pastor.  Sarah babysat our kids.  We watched her go away to college at our alma mater.  We watched Andrew growing big and strong and playing football in high school.  We saw them adopt Steve’s two nephews and weave them into their family.  The McAlisters have been a big part of our family for the past 20 years.

And now, they’re moving.  Like really moving.  Steve was recently hired at a church in the same town as the college where Kim teaches and Andrew attends and plays football.  And while I’m so happy for them, I’m such a selfish friend.  Because I don’t want her to go!  Once we both had kids, we didn’t spend as much time together, but we texted often to keep in touch.  I know we can still do that, but I’m really going to miss my Kim.  She’s going to be an hour away!

Last weekend, they were showing their house here, and she needed to give away some vegetables that they had picked to keep the frost from getting them.  Tomatoes, jalapenos, and eggplants.  What a nice surprise to find fresh vegetables on our front porch!

I haven’t cooked a lot of eggplant.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, every time I see one, I remember the scene from Coneheads where the wife sees the pile of eggplants in the grocery store and freaks out.

But I started forming a plan of how I could use these eggplants.  I wanted to create a dish that my family would love because I want this to be a dish that I make often in the future.  That way, every time we have it, I’ll think of Kim and Steve.

Yes, I know it’s sappy.  But most of my memories and thoughts are centered around food.  At least this will always be a good one!  Velvety, savory, crunchy from the breadcrumbs on top.  The only thing my family found wrong with it was that they wanted more.  I’ll have to double it next time.

Sausage and Eggplant Casserole

  • 1 pound of ground sausage (I used Jimmy Dean)
  • olive oil for sauteeing
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 2 large eggplants, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 8 cups)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream
  • 1 cup of grated Parmesan
  • 2 cups of Panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • nonstick cooking spray

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a large skillet, brown the sausage over medium high heat, using a spatula or wooden spoon to break up clumps while it’s cooking.  When sausage is done, remove with a slotted spoon to paper towels so it can drain.  Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter to the sausage drippings and add the cubed eggplant to the skillet.  Cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally.  The eggplant will drink up most of the oil and butter.  Add more if the pan becomes too dry.  After about 10 minutes, the eggplant will be about half done.  Add the bell pepper, onion, and garlic and continue to stir until vegetables are tender.

Remove from the heat and stir in the cream, Parmesan, and 1 cup of the breadcrumbs.  Stir until completely combined.  Add the sausage to the mixture and stir.  Taste the mixture now.  The saltiness of your Parmesan will determine how much salt to add.  I added 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper and 2-3 teaspoons of salt.

Transfer to a 9X13 pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray.  Spread evenly into the pan and top with remaining cup of breadcrumbs.  Drizzle with melted butter and bake for 30 minutes.

Well Duh #1:  If your eggplant is very firm, you may have to sautee it for longer.

Well Duh #2:  I used the minced garlic that comes in a little jar.  I’m lazy.

Well Duh #3:  If you don’t want to use heavy cream, you could use buttermilk – or even whole milk.

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