I’ve had my share of cooking disasters, and this one looked like it was headed that way. Before I left the house, I put brown rice and water in the rice cooker, clicked it to start and went on my merry way, expecting to use the results in a stuffing for baked eggplant. Three hours and many errands later, I came home to uncooked rice and a puddle of water on top. The electric outlet stopped working. By now it was too late to cook the rice so I moved to plan B – bread crumbs instead of rice. Sauté the ground meat (check), dice the onions (check), mince the garlic (check) and …..brrrring …… it’s the phone and husband calling. When I tell him I’m in the middle of preparing dinner he asks: “What are you making?” me: “Stuffed eggplant.” Silence for a few seconds, then a comment about the last time I made it when the eggplant wasn’t cooked through. I have to admit it was like eating shoe leather. “Make sure you cook the eggplant long enough,” he advises. With that thought in mind, I scooped out most of the interior of the eggplant, and parboiled the eggplant shells first so they’d get a good head start cooking before their time in the oven. But 20 minutes in the boiling water was too long. Here’s the sorry state they were in when I rescued them from the pot: I had scooped out all but about 1/4 inch of flesh, but most of that flesh had cooked away to nothing in the boiling water. Still, I thought I’d try to reshape the purple blobs with the stuffing mixture and use the oval shape of the casserole to keep them intact. Whaddaya know? It worked. Here’s what it looked like just after I put the stuffing in: And here’s what it looked like just before it went into the oven, topped with cheese and tomato sauce: And here’s what it looked like just before it all disappeared quicker than you can say mozzarella. I’m kind of glad the rice cooker didn’t work because I liked the bread crumb substitution even better. And the eggplant was so soft and silky that the shoe leather memory was now history. The dish had such a luscious mouth feel it was like eating eggplant-flavored ice cream. Hey, maybe that could be the next big thing! Here’s the recipe that will serve four people or two shameless gluttons: Baked Stuffed Eggplant: 1 large eggplant 1 pound ground meat (I used ground chicken breast) 1/2 cup minced onion 2 garlic cloves, minced 3 T. olive oil red pepper flakes, to taste salt, pepper to taste 1/2 cup bread crumbs 1/2 cup parmesan cheese 1 cup grated mozzarella (Don’t bother spending the extra money on hand-made mozzarella for this recipe – the already-grated kind in a plastic bag actually has a better melting characteristic.) 1 egg handful of chopped parsley about 1 cup of tomato sauce
- Cut the stem off the eggplant and cut it in half. Run a knife around the perimeter of each half, keeping about 1/2 inch of the flesh intact. Scoop out all the rest and chop it in small pieces. Place the two halves of the eggplant into boiling water and boil for about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove and drain.
- Sauté the ground meat and discard any fat or water left over. Set the meat aside in a bowl.
- Sauté the onion until soft in the olive oil. Add the chopped eggplant pieces and cook through, continually stirring so they won’t stick to the pan. Add the garlic when the eggplant is nearly cooked through. Sauté until the eggplant is soft. Remove and place in the bowl with the ground meat.
- To the bowl, add all the rest of the ingredients except the tomato sauce, but save a little bit of the parmesan and mozzarella to sprinkle on the top. Mix together and fill the eggplant shells, forming them with your hands into an oval shape if necessary.
- In an ovenproof casserole, place a small amount of tomato sauce. Place the eggplant halves into the casserole, and top with more of the sauce and the cheeses.
- Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30-45 minutes.
- If you can keep your mitts off, let the eggplant rest about five minutes before slicing. It will hold its shape better that way.