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Eggplant with Tomatoes, Ricotta and Parmigiano-Reggiano

Eggplant is often associated with oil-and-cheese-rich eggplant Parmesan. This recipe takes all the elements of that classic dish and streamlines the preparation while cutting the fat substantially. For example, the eggplant is roasted in a hot oven with just a thin coating of oil, rather than fried in oil on the stovetop, and fat calories are kept to a minimum by using part-skim-milk ricotta and mozzarella cheeses

Ingredients:

  • 1 globe eggplant, about 1 1/2 lb., trimmed 
  • Kosher salt  for sprinkling, plus 1/4 tsp.
  • 4 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped yellow onion  
  • 1/2 tsp. minced garlic 
  • 1 can (14 1/2 oz.) whole or diced plum tomatoes with juices
  • 1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves 
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste 
  • 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese 
  • 2 Tbs. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese 
  • 2 Tbs. shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese 

Directions:

Cut off the stem end of the eggplant. Standing it upright on the cut end, cut the eggplant vertically into 8 slices, each about 1/2 inch thick. Finely chop the outer slices, which are mostly skin, and reserve. Sprinkle both sides of the 8 eggplant slices lightly with salt and layer them in a colander set over a plate. Place a second plate on top to weigh them down and let stand for 1 to 2 hours. Rinse the slices well and pat dry with paper towels.

Preheat an oven to 400°F.

Lightly brush both sides of each eggplant slice, using 2 tsp. of the olive oil for all of the slices. Arrange the slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake them until the bottoms are lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven. Leave the oven on.

Meanwhile, in a large, nonstick fry pan over medium heat, warm the remaining 2 tsp. olive oil. Add the onion and reserved chopped eggplant and sauté, stirring, until tender, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and their juices and half of the basil and bring to a boil, breaking up the tomatoes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring, until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Stir in the 1/4 tsp. salt and season with pepper.

In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano and a grind of pepper and stir to blend.

Have ready a shallow, 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Place 4 of the eggplant slices in a single layer in the dish. Divide the ricotta mixture evenly among the eggplant slices, spreading it slightly. Top with half of the tomato mixture, dividing it evenly among the slices, then top with the remaining 4 eggplant slices. Spoon the remaining tomato mixture over the top, dividing evenly. Sprinkle evenly with the mozzarella.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil. Bake until the sauce is bubbly and the eggplant is heated through, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the remaining basil. Serves 6.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma, Essentials of Healthful Cooking, by Mary Abbott Hess, Dana Jacobi & Marie Simmons (Oxmoor House, 2003).