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Garden-Style Eggplant Parmesan

Garden-Style Eggplant Parmesan
Although this dish can be made throughout the summer, it is particularly good at the end of the season. Late-harvest tomatoes allowed to ripen to a deep, dark red make a sauce that is sublimely sweet and full of flavor.

Ingredients:

For the sauce:

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 lb. fully ripe tomatoes, peeled and coarsely
      chopped
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh marjoram or oregano
  • Salt, to taste

  • 4 or 5 small or 2 medium-large eggplant, cut
      into slices 1/2 inch thick
  • 4 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 8 to 10 fresh thyme sprigs or 2 to 3 Tbs. fresh
      thyme leaves
  • 6 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into bits

Directions:

To make the sauce, in a large saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and sauté until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes; do not allow to brown. Add the tomatoes and marjoram, increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until the tomatoes have cooked down to a sauce, 30 to 40 minutes. Taste and season with salt, if needed.

Preheat an oven to 450°F.

Place the eggplant slices in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Drizzle evenly with 2 Tbs. of the olive oil and sprinkle with the salt. Turn the slices over and drizzle with the remaining 2 Tbs. olive oil. Top with the thyme and place in the oven. Cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Turn and cook until lightly browned on the other side, 5 to 6 minutes more. Place under a preheated broiler until a slightly golden crust forms on the tops of the slices, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and broil on the other side until golden, 2 to 3 minutes more.

Reduce the oven temperature to 400°F.

Arrange one-third of the eggplant slices in a shallow 2-quart baking dish. Top with layers of sauce, mozzarella, oregano and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Repeat the layers, beginning with the eggplant. Reserve a layer of eggplant, sauce and then Parmigiano-Reggiano for the top. Dot evenly with the butter.

Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven and carefully tip it, pressing on the surface with a spoon or spatula. If there seems to be too much juice, pour off the excess. Return to the oven and cook until the top is lightly browned and bubbling, 15 to 20 minutes more. Remove from the oven, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let stand for 10 minutes. Scoop from the dish to serve.
Serves 4 to 6.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Lifestyles Series, Casual Outdoor Dining, by Georgeanne Brennan (Time-Life Books, 1998).