A perfect summer dish when the freshest eggplant is available, this is also wonderful during the winter to bring back a faint memory of summer. An abbreviated version of the traditional recipe, here the eggplant slices are baked, not fried, for no reason other than the fact that it uses much less oil and it doesn’t make nearly the mess that frying does.
While many Italian cooks prepare this with a meatless sauce or even with crushed tomatoes right from the can, we always used meat sauce at home during my childhood and it just doesn’t taste right to me without it.
About 6 to 8 servings
1/4 cup olive oil
6 large cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2-3 ounces ground beef
1 long, hot green pepper, optional
1 Pomi puree or other puree, 26 to 28 ounces
1 large sprig basil, folded back onto itself and tied
EGGPLANT AND GARNISHES
3 large eggplant, about 3 to 3 1/2 pounds total, rinsed, ends trimmed, cut into 1/4-inch slices
3/4 pound fresh mozzarella, coarsely grated
1 generous cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
20 large leaves of basil, optional
2 half sheet pans or jellyroll pans, oiled and strewn with salt, plus an 11 x 8-inch oval gratin dish or other baking dish
- For the sauce, combine the oil and garlic in a large saucepan and place on medium heat. Stir occasionally as the garlic begins to color, then use a slotted spoon to remove all but a few pieces.
- Add the meat and stir and mash so it doesn’t clump and continue to cook, stirring, until the meat takes on a little color. Add the pepper and allow to color a little.
- Remove the pan from the heat and cool for a couple of minutes to avoid splattering when adding the tomato puree. Stir in the puree, and add the basil, a little salt, and 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, lower heat, set a cover ajar on the pan and simmer,. Stirring occasionally for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
- Cool the sauce slightly, remove the pepper and basil, strain out the meat, and correct seasoning.
- While the sauce is cooking, set 2 racks in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 500 degrees.
- Arrange the eggplant slices on the prepared pans (they can overlap slightly since they shrink) and bake them for 5 minutes. Slide out one rack at a time and use tongs to turn the eggplant slices. Turn the pans back to front and switch racks. Bake until the eggplant is cooked through and softened, about 5 minutes longer. If they need more cooking, turn slices and pans and alternate racks again.
- Immediately after removing the pans from the oven, slide a thin, flexible spatula under each slice to make sure it isn’t stuck to the pan. Cool the eggplant.
- To assemble, oil the baking dish and spread a spoonful of sauce in the bottom. Top with a third of the eggplant slices, more sauce, some basil if you have it, and a third of the grated cheese mixed with the mozzarella. Repeat twice more with the remaining ingredients, finishing the top layer with sauce and the remaining cheese mixture.
- At this point you may cover the gratin dish with plastic wrap and set it aside for several hours before baking.
- When you are ready to bake, set a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees.
- Bake the eggplant until it is nicely colored and bubbling, about 45 to 50 minutes. Cool slightly before serving and serve warm or at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate leftovers and bring to room temperature before serving again.