Stuffed eggplant sounds pretty sophisticated, but it is actually quite easy to do and not as labor intensive as you might think. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to prepare stuffed eggplant (along with some ideas for the filling). Bits and pieces of the information below have already been posted on various other recipes, but I’ve condensed all the information so it is all in one place.
First, when selecting an eggplant, look for one with smooth skin that is a deep purple color. Avoid bruises or dents, and select an eggplant that feels heavy for it’s size (this indicates ripeness). Try not to buy an eggplant over 1 or 1.25 pounds, as heavier eggplants are usually bitter. Eggplant is mostly in season from about June to September, though some gourmet stores may still import good varieties this time of year. The best bet for eggplant slightly past its prime is to peel, cut into chunks, salt the flesh (more on that below), and saute with other seasonal vegetables or bake with tomato sauce.
First, start by cutting the eggplant in half lengthwise. The stem and cap are not edible, but you can leave on for presentation. The leaves can also be peeled back to reveal more edible flesh.
Next, use a small paring knife to score the flesh. Start with diagonal slashes all in the same direction, slicing as deep as possible without piercing the skin. Keep the cuts about 1/2 inch apart.
Then slice in the opposite direction, creating a cross-hatch pattern. Try to connect the corners as much as possible, leaving complete squares cut out. Then run the paring knife about the edge of the eggplant, leaving less than 1/4 inch of flesh next to the skin. Again, be careful not to pierce the skin, but cut deep enough to loosen the flesh.
Using a spoon, scoop out the flesh. The pieces should pop out rather easily, following the cross-hatch pattern. You may need to scoop out additional seeds at the bottom of the eggplant, if so discard. The seeds are edible but rather bitter.
Chop any connected flesh into 1/2 inch cubes. Place the eggplant flesh in a colander and sprinkle with salt. This will draw any bitterness to the surface of the eggplant. Let set for about 15-20 minutes, then rinse and gently pat dry.
Once the eggplant is ready, prepare the “stuffing.” Here is an easy recipe:
Stuffed Italian Eggplant
2 eggplants, about 1 lb each
1/2 lb bulk Italian sausage
1 pkg (8 oz) mushrooms, sliced
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
1 can (15 oz) low-sodium tomato sauce
2 tbsp red wine or apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and brush with olive oil. Arrange the hollowed out eggplant halves in a single layer on the baking sheet.
Heat oil in a large skillet. Add sausage, breaking it apart with a wooden spoon, and cook 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and bell pepper to pan. Saute 3-5 minutes, until pepper begins to soften. Add onions and garlic, sprinkle with salt and saute until onions are softened, about 3-5 minutes. Add oregano and red pepper flakes and toss.
Add to pan (prepared as described in above instructions). Stir in tomato sauce and red vinegar. Bring liquid to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes, until sauce is thick. Remove from heat and let set for 5 minutes.
Fill the hollowed out eggplant halves with tomato mixture. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over each stuffed eggplant. Bake 15-20 minutes, until top is lightly browned and bubbly. Drizzle the top of the eggplants with olive oil if it looks like it is beginning to dry out. Use a large spatula or serving spoon to transfer stuffed eggplants to plate.
Leftover “stuffing” can also be tossed with cooked pasta. To make for six, use prepare three eggplant and add 2 cups cooked pasta after tomato sauce is added and brought to a boil. To make vegetarian, omit the Italian sausage and add mushrooms (saute with the onions).