Bake the eggplants and save half of them for a same-day meal (see Sunday Supper). A quick tomato sauce will be combined with lamb filling and will also serve as a base in which the eggplants will bake a second time right before you serve them. Preparing the baked eggplants, tomato sauce and filling took about 1 hour.
The plastic-wrapped dish of stuffed eggplants can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.
- For the baked eggplant
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 one-pound eggplants
- 1 large tomato, cut into 8 wedges, for garnish
- 4 long, thin green hot chili peppers, 1 1/2 inches trimmed from stem end and discarded, for garnish (optional)
- For the tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 large white onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 1 cup)
- 1 medium red or green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 1 cup)
- 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated
- 1 28-ounce can tomato puree (about 3 cups)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- For the lamb filling
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts or slivered almonds
- 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
For the baked eggplant: Position a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Have ready a large rimmed baking sheet or jelly roll pan and a large enameled iron gratin dish or other ovenproof baking dish.
Spread the olive oil in the bottom of the baking sheet or pan and scatter the salt on the oiled surface.
Trim the eggplant stems and caps; cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Use a knife with a rounded tip to score the flesh on the cut sides of the 8 eggplant halves no more than 1/2 inch deep on 4 of them; make deeper cuts on the other 4. Make 4 or 5 slashes lengthwise, then another 5 or 6 diagonal to those. Arrange the eggplants, cut side down, on the prepared sheet or pan. Bake for 20 minutes and test doneness with a fingertip; the eggplants should start to yield. Bake for 10 to 20 minutes, testing again every 5 minutes to make sure they do not overcook. The skin may pucker slightly and there should be no signs of char; the flesh should feel soft but not mushy.
Transfer the sheet or pan of eggplant halves to a rack to cool for 5 minutes. Use a wide spatula such as a pancake turner to loosen the eggplant halves underneath and invert them. Leave the 4 firmer, best-looking ones (with shallower cuts) in the sheet or pan and cover them with plastic wrap. Set aside the remaining 4 halves for the Eggplant Salad (see related Sunday Supper recipe).
For the tomato sauce: Combine the oil, onion and bell pepper in a large saute pan over medium heat. When the oil starts to sizzle, reduce the heat to low and cook about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have wilted. Increase the heat to medium-low and add the garlic, tomato puree and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring often, until the sauce is no longer watery. Reserve 3/4 cup of the sauce for the lamb filling; spread the remaining sauce in the gratin or baking dish and let it cool to room temperature.
For the lamb filling: In a wide saute pan over medium heat, combine the ground lamb and water. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring and mashing the meat with the back of a spoon or spatula to keep it lump-free; no pink should remain. Drain the meat in a colander, discarding the fat, then transfer the cooked lamb to a mixing bowl. Add the reserved 3/4 cup of tomato sauce and the allspice, parsley and pine nuts or almonds. Add salt and pepper to taste, stirring to combine. Set aside.
Arrange the eggplant halves, cut side up, on the cooled sauce. Divide the lamb filling evenly among the 4 eggplant halves, mounding it slightly in the center. Garnish with 2 tomato wedges placed near each end of each eggplant half, with the rounded sides facing outward. Arrange a pepper diagonally in the middle, if using. Press plastic wrap against the surface of the filling, then tightly cover the entire dish with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for up to 4 days.
From Nick Malgieri.
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
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