Baked Eggplant with Onions and Fresh Tomatoes
2 lbs small firm eggplants
1.5 lbs ripe plum tomatoes
1 lb low-moisture mossarella, cut in half inch cubes
.25 cup fresh basil leaves, loosely packed to measure, chopped.
.25 teaspoon peperoncino flakes or to taste
.5 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 large onions, peeled, sliced in half inch rounds
6 plump garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
Ingredients for breadcrumb topping:
1 cup dry bread crumbs
1.5 tablespoons chopped italian parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
.5 teaspoon dried oregano
.25 cup freshly grated cheese - pecorino, or parigiano-reggiano, etc.
Grated zest of a small lemon
2 pinches kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh basil leaves, shredded, for serving (optional)
1. Trim the stem and bottom ends of each eggplant and shave off ribbons of skin lengthwise with a vegetable peeler, creating a zebra-striped pattern all around. Slice into half inch think rounds. Lightly salt the slices on both sides, using about a tablespoon in all, and layer rounds in a colander, set in the sink. Put a plate over the slices and weight with cans or heavy objects to press out liquid. Let drain for 30-60 minutes then rinse, and pat dry with paper towels.
2. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400 degrees F.
3. Trim the stem end of the tomatoes, cut in half crosswise. Squeeze the halves over a strainer set in a bowl, scraping out and catching the seeds in the strainer and collecting the tomato juices in the bowl. Cut the tomatoes into half inch chunks, put them all in a bowl, and toss with the cubes of cheese, chopped basil, peperoncino, .75 teaspoon salt, and 4 tablespoons of the olive oil.
4. Brush the bottom and sides of the baking dish with a tablespoon of olive oil. Lay the onion rounds in the bottom in one layer, with the garlic cloves scattered among them, and drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. Lay the eggplant slices over the onions in an even layer, overlapping if needed. Scatter the tomato and cheese chunks evenly on top of the eggplant, and drizzle the collected tomato juices all over.
5. Put the bread crumbs and all the dry seasoning in a bowl, toss to blend, then drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil, and toss well, until crumbs are evenly moistened. Sprinkle them evenly over the top of the eggplant, tomato, and cheese layer.
6. Tent the baking dish with a sheet of foil, arching it so it doesn't touch the crumb topping and press against the sides. Set the dish on a baking sheet, place in oven, and bake for 45 minutes, until the juices are bubbling actively. Remove the foil, and continue baking for another 30 minutes or so, until the eggplant is lightly caramelized on the edges but tender and easily pierced with the tip of a knife, and the bread-crumb topping is browned and crisp.7. Let the eggplant rest for 20 minutes before serving. Serve as you would lasagna. If you like, sprinkle shredded fresh basil over each portion.