Parmigiana di Melanzane

Being a cookbook lover goes hand-in-hand with being a food lover. Sitting and browsing through a stack of cookbooks brings me an immense amount of pleasure. Needless to say, I have acquired a vast amount of cookbooks over the years. The problem is, I love making up my own recipes so much that I often neglect my cookbooks.

Yesterday, however, I was inspired to open one of my favorite cookbooks. It's called Tastes of the Mediterranean; it's more of a magazine than a cookbook, but what I love about it is the fact that every recipe has a picture. If a cookbook doesn't have pictures, I'm typically very adverse to purchasing it. Anyway, back to my inspiration. In the cookbook, there is a recipe for Parmigiana di Melanzane, which is Italian baked eggplant with tomato and mozzarella. The reason the version in this book was so unique is that they made the eggplant almost like a twice-baked potato in that they took the guts of the eggplant out of a split eggplant, then made a filling, and baked the filling in the skin of the eggplant. I just bought some very small eggplant, which was required for the recipe, so I decided to try it out, which a few modifications. The baby eggplant make all the difference because they only have a few seeds, therefore they don't have the bitterness large eggplants do. I only like eggplant when it's meltingly tender, so by searing the eggplant, scraping out the flesh, cooking it in the sauce, and then baking it, I was sure the vegetable would be very soft, and it was. I made a shortcut in the recipe by using marinara sauce instead of canned tomatoes and herbs, however I'm sure both would be fine.

This recipe would be a good main course for two if each person had two eggplant halves, or it would be a good side dish or first course if each person had only half an eggplant.

Parmigiana di Melanzane

2 small eggplant (about 6-8 oz each)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
14 oz chunky marinara sauce
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 cup reduced fat shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
non-stick cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Halve each eggplant lengthwise, keeping stems intact. Score the flesh by cutting a criss-cross pattern with the tip of a knife, being careful not to cut through the skin. Brush the cut sides of the eggplant with some of the oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3. Heat a skillet large enough to accommodate the eggplant over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant, cut-side down, and cook until the flesh is deeply browned. While the cut-side is cooking, brush the skin with the remaining oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Once the cut-side is browned, flip the eggplant and cook until the skin is softened and the flesh is fully softened. Set the eggplant aside.
4. Reduce the heat in the skillet to medium, and add the onion and garlic. Saute until the onion is translucent, then add the marinara and basil. Allow the sauce to simmer.
5. Meanwhile, using a melon baller or spoon, scrape the eggplant flesh from the skin, being careful not to tear the skin; leave approximately at quarter inch of flesh clinging to the skin of the eggplant. Chop the eggplant flesh and add it to the sauce, increasing the heat of the pan to high to allow the sauce to thicken and reduce, about 10 minutes.
6. Once the sauce is thickened, add half of each cheese and stir to combine. Divide the sauce mixture between each of the eggplant skins, using two spoons to help control the stringy melted cheese. Place them in a non-reactive 9x13 baking dish sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Cover the pan with foil and bake in the oven for 1 hour.
7. After one hour, remove the foil and sprinkle over the rest of the cheeses. Continue to bake until the cheeses are melted. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the eggplant to rest 5 minutes before serving.

Per eggplant half:
Calories: 242
Fat: 13.7 g
Saturated fat: 3.7 g
Cholesterol: 12 mg
Sodium: 605 mg
Carbohydrates: 21.2 g
Fiber: 6.1 g
Sugar: 11.5 g
Protein: 9.3 g

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