If you’d like to make your own tomato sauce, here’s how I do it: Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a pot over medium, add 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and a pinch or three of red pepper flakes, and a little dried oregano, if you wish. Cook for one minute. Add a 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (it will splatter, be careful) and stir. Cook at a simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, until you get the saucy consistency you want. This yields 3 cups.
- 2 medium eggplants (about 3/4-pound each); use more if fairytale (small) eggplants
- Olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1/2 pound ground sausage meat (I use mild Italian pork or chicken)
- 1 1/2 cups tomato marinara sauce, prepared (use your favorite brand or the recipe in Notes)
- 1 handful fresh basil leaves, torn
- 2 tablespoons panko-style breadcrumbs
- 6 ounces (about 1 1/3 cups) low-moisture mozzarella, coarsely grated, divided
- 2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) finely grated parmesan, divided
Make the filling: While the eggplant roasts, prepare the filling. Chop the scooped-out eggplant flesh into about 1/2-inch chunks and set aside. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add onion and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add sausage meat and use your spoon to break it up and cook it just until no longer pink, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add chopped eggplant, season the mixture well with salt and black pepper, and cook, stirring as needed, until eggplant is soft and wants to stick to the pan, about 7 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of prepared marinara sauce and a bit of the basil and warm through. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Remove from heat and mix in half the mozzarella and parmesan.
Assemble and finish: When eggplant boats are soft, remove them briefly from their dish and pour remaining 1 cup prepared marinara sauce in the bottom and stir remaining basil into it. Arrange eggplant boats back in dish and stuff them with as much filling as you can (you’ll probably have a little extra which can be baked in a smaller dish). Sprinkle stuffed eggplants with remaining mozzarella and parmesan. Drizzle a teaspoon of oil and pinch of salt over the breadcrumbs and stir to evenly coat the crumbs, then sprinkle them over the cheese.
Bake stuffed eggplants for 10 minutes, just to marry the flavors, and then run under your broiler until brown and blistered on top, anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes, depending on how robust your oven is.
Serve: Let eggplant rest for 5 minutes before serving, spooning some extra sauce from the pan over each.
Do ahead: You can assemble this dish up to two days before baking it, and it also reheats well, keeping in the fridge for 2 to 4 days (the smaller length of time if you assembled it two days earlier). I haven’t frozen this dish but expect it to freeze well.