Stuffed eggplant is a great make-ahead crowd-pleaser.
- 2 medium firm eggplants (pale, purple-skinned eggplant, if available)
- Salt and pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), for drizzling, plus 2 tablespoons
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 small chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped, or 1 teaspoon crushed chili flakes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup beef or chicken stock
- 1 can Italian tomatoes (28 ounces) or 8 fresh plum tomatoes dressed with EVOO, thyme, salt and pepper, and roasted at 325ºF for 1 hour until they burst and the skins are lightly browned
- A few leaves basil, torn
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups whole milk, warmed
- Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
- Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Pre-heat the oven to 425ºF.
Halve the eggplants lengthwise. With a small paring knife, score the flesh and cut the eggplant around, leaving a 1/4-inch border from the skin. Scoop out the flesh with a spoon, leaving the eggplant shells or boats for roasting.
Chop the eggplant flesh and season with some salt. Drain on a kitchen towel or paper towels.
Dress the eggplant halves with a drizzle of EVOO to coat the fleshy insides and season with a little salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven. Reduce the heat to 375ºF.
Heat the EVOO, two turns of the pan, in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the beef and brown and crumble; then add the eggplant flesh, onion, garlic, chili, salt and pepper. Cook to soften, 7-8 minutes add the tomato paste and stir. Add the stock and stir. Crush up the canned or roasted tomatoes and add to the pan, then reduce the heat a bit and simmer to thicken.
Heat a saucepot over medium heat to melt the butter. Whisk in the flour, cook for 1 minute, then whisk in the warm milk. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and thicken the sauce to coat a spoon.
Fill the eggplant halves with the meat and eggplant mixture, dividing evenly. Pour some béchamel over each eggplant half and top with a little Parm cheese. Bake until brown and bubbly on top