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Stuffed Italian Eggplant
Stuffed Italian Eggplant
(Melanzane Ripiene Italiana)

For the Tomato Sauce:
One (28-oz) can whole tomatoes in juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 and 1/4 cups water
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

For the Eggplant and Stuffing:
4 small Italian eggplants (1 and 1/2 lbs total; preferably with stem attached
1/2 cup long-grain white rice
3/4 cup water
3 slices firm white sandwich bread, torn into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup whole milk
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 oz finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese (1 and 1/4 cups)
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
About 2 cups extra virgin olive oil 


Prepare the Sauce:
Drain tomatoes, reserving juice, then finely chop.

Heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a 4 to 5-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking.

Cook garlic, stirring, until golden, about 1 minute.

Add tomatoes with reserved juice, water, tomato paste, sugar, and salt and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 30 minutes.

Stir in basil.

Prepare the Eggplants:
Boil eggplants and make the filling while the sauce simmers:

Bring a 5 to 6-quart pot of salted water to a boil over moderately high heat.

Prick eggplants all over with a fork.

Boil eggplants, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until tender when pierced with a knife, 20 to 25 minutes.

Transfer with a slotted spoon to a colander to drain and discard cooking water.

When eggplants are cool enough to handle (after about 15 minutes), halve the eggplants lengthwise through stem (keep stem attached).

With a small sharp knife, scoop out and reserve flesh, leaving 1/4-inch thick shells.

Chop the flesh very finely and transfer to a large bowl.

Bring rice and water to a boil in a 1-quart heavy saucepan, uncovered.

Reduce heat and simmer rice, covered, until water has been absorbed and rice is tender, about 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes.

Fluff rice with a fork and add to chopped eggplant.

While rice cooks, combine bread and milk in a small bowl and let stand until bread has absorbed milk.

Gently squeeze bread, discarding any milk.

Add bread to rice mixture along with garlic, eggs, cheese, parsley, basil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and stir to combine well.

Sprinkle inside of eggplant shells with remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Firmly pack a scant 1/3-cup eggplant stuffing into each eggplant shell.

Put oven rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 375F.

Heat 1 inch olive oil in a 10-inch cast-iron or other deep heavy skillet over moderate heat until thermometer reaches 320F and add 2 eggplant halves, stuffing sides up.

Fry, turning over once using 2 slotted spoons, until golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes total.

Transfer, stuffing sides up, to paper towels to drain, then fry remaining eggplants, 2 halves at a time, in same manner, returning oil to 320F between batches.

Spoon sauce into a 3-quart (about 13 by 9-inch) nonreactive baking dish.

Add eggplants, stuffing sides up, and bake, covered with foil, until sauce is bubbling, about 25 minutes. Makes 4 main course servings.

That's it!
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