Eggplant Parmesan with Italian Sausage

Today the Binghamton farmers’ market was teeming with sweet corn, peppers of all sizes and colors, and several varieties of eggplant.  I picked up a beautiful round heirloom variety with a white skin and purple striping. Along with a basket of just-picked tomatoes it was just the thing for eggplant parmesan.

Ingredients

½ pound hot or mild Italian sausage, either pork or poultry (ok, hot pork is the way to go)

1 medium eggplant, about 1 pound

4 medium tomatoes, about 1¾ pound, or 28 ounces of canned tomatoes, preferably no salt added

1 medium onion, chopped

1 small bell pepper, seeded and chopped

4 or 5 cloves garlic, minced

3 or 4 fresh oregano leaves

4 or 5 fresh basil leaves

1 small sprig flat leaf parsley

1 tsp. crushed dry red pepper, or to taste (optional)

½ tsp. sugar (optional but recommended with canned tomatoes to bring out their flavor)

¼ dry red wine

Generous grind black pepper

½ pound shredded part-skim mozzarella

¼ cup grated parmesan

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt

Method

The eggplant

Trim the ends off the eggplant and slice into ¼-inch thick rounds. Layer the slices into a large bowl, sprinkling each layer with kosher salt. Set aside for about 30 minutes. Drain, rinse well in fresh water, and lay out on a kitchen towel covering with a second towel. Let dry for a few minutes.  (If you are sure the eggplants are not a variety prone to bitterness you can skip the salting step.) Heat a small amount of olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium high heat and, working in batches, brown the eggplant nicely on each side replenishing the olive oil as needed. Be sparing, though, because eggplant is a like an oil sponge and can easily become too oily. Set aside.

The sauce

If the sausage is in links, remove the casing and chop. If using bulk sausage simply break up. Put the sausage in a frying pan and cook over medium heat until well brown and the fat has rendered out. Place in a strainer set in a bowl to drain.

Dip the tomatoes in boiling water for a few seconds. Let them cool for a minute or two then peel. Cut out the stems and halve equatorially. Squeeze out the seeds and set aside.

Coarsely chop the onion and bell pepper. Finely chop them in a food processor. Heat a bit of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with a lid and sweat the onions and peppers until soft, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for a couple more minutes until fragrant. 

Puree the tomatoes in the food processor and add to the onions and peppers. Tear the herb leaves into the pot. Add the crushed red pepper, sugar, red wine, and black pepper. Cover partially and simmer gently for a half hour or longer.

Puree the sauce with a stick blender or, very carefully, in a food processor. Add the sausage and return to a very low simmer until warm through.

The dish

Heat the oven to 350° (325° for convection). Cover the bottom of an 8” x 10” x 2”metal or glass baking dish with a thin layer of the sauce. Layer the eggplant overlapping the slices. Cover with the rest of the sauce. Spread the shredded mozzarella over the top and sprinkle with the parmesan. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 20 to 30 minutes. Turn on the broiler and finish until nicely browned. Allow to set for at least five minutes before serving.

Serves 4 to 6 depending on accompaniments.

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