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Baked Stuffed Eggplant

Serves 4

I love stuffed eggplant and should make it more often. This recipe can be altered to taste. You can use more beef and less rice. You can use all rice to keep it vegetarian. I prefer it with Asiago and Parmesan cheese, but it is equally good with sharp or extra sharp cheddar. The eggplants take a little time to assemble, but can be prepared ahead and refrigerated until baking, adding a little more time as needed to get hot. This easy and delicious main dish can be made in any amount needed.

Stuffed Eggplant Recipe Photo

Halve the eggplants lengthwise. Remove enough of the inside to leave about a 1/2-inch shell. Chop the part you remove and reserve. Place the eggplant halves in a microwavable dish. Cover with plastic wrap. Microwave on high just until tender, about 2 minutes depending on wattage. Remove wrap and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil. Brown the ground beef, crumbling with a spoon as you stir. Add the onion, green peppers, reserved chopped eggplant, garlic, oregano, fennel, basil, salt and pepper. Sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, reserving about 1/2 cup of the juice for later. Place in a large bowl. Add the rice and mix well. When slightly cooled, add the grated cheeses. Taste for seasoning.

Place the eggplant halves in a lightly greased baking dish in one layer. Fill each with the rice mixture, pressing down firmly to stuff well. (If there is extra stuffing, arrange it around the stuffed eggplants.) Drizzle with the reserved tomato juice and extra grated Parmesan, then drizzle with a little olive oil. Cover tightly with foil and bake until hot and bubbling, about 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest about 5 minutes before serving.

Notes: The fennel seeds can be crushed in a spice grinder, mortar or on a cutting board with the bottom of a heavy pan. It is not necessary to grind, just crush slightly.