Say YES to Eggplant!
Italian Sausage Stuffed Eggplant!
Now that I have your attention I should tell you that I absolutely LOVE eggplant. Always have. Even as a kid.
After I posted the Greek Orzo recipe last week, I heard from several of you in the comments here and on Facebook that you don’t cook Eggplant. Why not?
I’ll admit that as vegetables go, it is sort of a weird one. Not as weird as the rutabaga but definitely weirder than the usual tomatoes, peppers and zucchini.
I think that the secret is to cook eggplant with other bold flavors although one of my favorite ways to eat it is very simply grilled with some salt and pepper and then loaded onto a pizza with some goat cheese.
Stuff it with Italian Sausage, mushrooms, sauce and cheese? Heck yes!
Here’s what you need:
1 large or 2 small eggplants*, 1 pound Italian Sausage, mushrooms, onion, garlic, tomato sauce, parmesan/romano cheese, mozzarella cheese, olive oil, fennel seeds (optional), dried oregano, dried basil, salt & pepper.
*Let’s talk about eggplant. When you’re shopping for eggplants in your store, look for them to be firm and very shiny. Avoid ones that are sort of dimpled or have little soft spots. Sometimes the very large eggplants can be sort of pithy inside so I often buy 2 smaller eggplants for this recipe.
Chop the stem end off of the eggplant and cut it in half top to bottom.
Using a small, sharp knife, carefully cut around the inner edge of the eggplant half leaving about 1/2 inch of the eggplant to make a shell.
You’ll notice that there is often a natural line where the seeds stop that you can use as your guide for cutting. Be extra careful not to cut through the bottom of the eggplant. We don’t want our little eggplant boats to spring a leak.
Make a few cuts vertically and horizontally through the middle section to make it easier to remove the inner eggplant pieces. Once again, take care not to cut through the bottom.
Use your fingers to gently pull the eggplant pieces out of the middle and set the pieces aside in a bowl.
If you need to, you can use a large spoon to gently scrape the inside bottom of the eggplant shell. This will help even it out and allow room for extra stuffing.
Repeat this process for all of the halves of eggplant. If your shells are a little wobbly, you can shave a tiny, tiny little bit off of the bottom to give them a little more stability.
To prepare the other stuffing ingredients, chop up one large onion.
Rinse, wash, or brush off 8 ounces (1 regular sized package) of mushrooms to your liking and slice them up.
I’m a mushroom washer. I come by the habit genetically.
Smash, peel and chop up 3-4 cloves of garlic. Mince the garlic into tiny pieces.
We are going to par-boil or precook the eggplant shells for a minute to make them tender. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and then add a generous handful of salt…. the same way you cook pasta.
Do not skimp on the salt. Eggplant can sometimes be weirdly bitter. To avoid this, you MUST salt the water. I’m not a big salt eater but I put in a good handful when I am boiling the eggplant shells. Don’t worry, they won’t be in there long enough to get all salty.
When the salted water is rapidly boiling, drop in the eggplant shells and cook for 2 minutes.
You can use some tongs or a wooden spoon to submerge them a bit. Rescue them after NO MORE than 2 minutes. They will still be quite firm but will quickly soften up.
Drain the shells upside down on some paper towels until the stuffing is ready.
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
For the Italian Sausage Stuffing, remove the outer casings from your sausage links. 3 links usually equal about 1 pound of sausage. My store sells them in packages of 5 links so I just pop the extra 2 links in a freezer bag and use them for pizza later. If you have bulk sausage, you can obviously skip this step.
Heat about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the sausage links and work to break them apart with a spatula or wooden spoon.
The sausage gets easier to break up as it cooks. There will also be a chance to cut the sausage into smaller pieces later.
Cook the sausage until it is nicely browned on all sides and then remove it from the pan.
Add the chopped onion to the pan and saute for about 5 minutes over medium heat until tender but not browned.
After the onions have a head start, add the garlic and saute for a minute or two.
Use your spoon to scrape up any tasty bits left in the bottom of the pan by the sausages.
Remember the innards from the eggplant? Grab them and give them a good chop.
You want fairly small pieces – similar in size to the mushrooms – so that the eggplant will combine with all of the other stuffing ingredients. Chop, chop, chop.
Add the sliced mushrooms and the chopped eggplant to the pan of onions. You might need to add a Tablespoon or so of extra olive oil since both the eggplant and mushrooms will soak it up.
Cook the veggies for about 5 to 10 minutes on medium heat until nicely tender and golden in color. Notice that the eggplant shrinks up as it cooks.
If your sausage is still in rather large pieces, toss it on the cutting board and chop it up into bite-sized little morsels.
Try not to eat all the sausage while you’re cutting it up. Add the sausage to the pan of veggies. Pour in 1 can (15 ounce) of tomato sauce.
The sausage at my grocery store is good but fairly mild so I like to jazz things up with some extra spices. I add at least 1 Tablespoon of dried fennel seeds. Some Italian sausage already contains fennel seeds as a seasoning so you might be able to omit this step. Personally, I like fennel seeds, so in they go.
I also add 1 Tablespoon each of dried oregano and dried basil, 1 teaspoon of salt and pepper and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.
I’m using a Parmesan/Romano/Asiago blend that came pre-grated from the store. Makes life a bit easier.
Stir everything together and reduce the heat to low. Cook for a few more minutes until the stuffing mixture is nice and thick.
Place your eggplant shells in a baking pan (don’t be alarmed if they are a little flabby at this point) and fill them with the Italian Sausage mixture.
Go ahead and really load them up! Cover the pan with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, remove the foil and sprinkle the tops generously with grated mozzarella cheese.
I’m using about 1/2 cup of cheese per eggplant boat. There should be quite a bit of liquid that has cooked out of the eggplants in the bottom of the pan. This is totally normal. Return the pan to the oven, cooking uncovered for 15 minutes to melt the cheese.
To get a nice golden crust on top, turn on the broiler for the last minute or so of cooking. WATCH THEM THE WHOLE TIME THEY ARE UNDER THE BROILER SO THEY DO NOT BURN. This only takes about 1 minute and you will have golden, delicious, cheesy, eggplanty goodness.
Everything tastes better with Italian Sausage…especially eggplant!
Here’s the recipe!