Gooey, cheesy, and surrounded by marinara sauce. My stuffed eggplant parmesan is satisfying Italian American comfort food full of great flavors just right for Sunday dinner…or any other night.
While I have a couple different versions of chicken parmesan here on my site, Crispy Mozzarella Stuffed Chicken Parmesan Meatballs and my Chicken Parmesan Casserole, I recently realized I hadn’t posted any recipes for eggplant parmesan. Horrors!
Luckily this is one horror which is easily remedied, and it didn’t take me long after I realized to start cooking. The only issue now was to decide which of the many versions of the dish I was going to post first.
Baked? Fried? Breaded or not? Stacks? Casserole?
These were all good ideas to start from, and I was totally going to give you my fried, no-breading, eggplant parm casserole. (Which is awesome!) But then I saw these adorable small eggplants in the store and I knew I had to stuff them.
Actually, I would say these are mid-sized eggplants. There are little, teeny ones but I don’t think I’d have the patience to scoop them out for stuffing. At least not for dinner; maybe a cute appetizer dish. Smallish eggplants, though, are perfect to stuff for dinner.
Big enough that you aren’t fiddling with a dozen when you are making dinner, but small enough that one makes a great meal. Also, small enough that you don’t have to worry about the bitterness or the seeds of large eggplants.
Note: Your eggplants WILL turn brown within moments of scooping them out. Everything is going to be sauteed or browned in the oven anyway, so don’t worry about it.
Once I had decided on stuffed eggplant parmesan, I had a couple of decisions to make.
First question – what should I stuff those eggplants with?
I knew right off that I wanted this to be a complete meal and have plenty of protein. I did consider beans for a vegetarian option, but I really liked the idea of ground beef or Italian sausage in the filling. (I would have considered mushrooms if I liked mushrooms, but I don’t so I didn’t. 🙂 If you like mushrooms, feel free to give them a try.) And of course I was going to add the eggplant that I scooped out along with some aromatics, spices, and my favorite Marinara Sauce.
While both beef and sausage were tasty, I preferred the milder flavor of the beef here. In fact, the chunky beef eggplant sauce I ended up with was so good that I wanted to eat it up with a spoon! (Full disclosure: I did eat several spoonfuls.) Add another cup of marinara sauce and you can toss it with pasta as is and be very happy.
Second question – how exactly should I cook the eggplants?
The basics are easy enough and similar to any other stuffed vegetable I’ve made: fill and bake until the cheese is gooey and the sauce is bubbling. Simple enough and yet it took me three tries to get it right.
Try one I baked the shells until they seemed fairly tender, filled them, and we ate. Though not the shells since they were all hard and unpleasant and not actually tender at all. Try two I baked the shells longer, but now they were soft in a bad way. Bleh. All mushy with no flavor. Which had me thinking seriously of pasta with eggplant sauce! But then I was hit with inspiration.
What do people like about eggplant parmesan?
They like fried eggplant! Even baked versions coat the slices in oil and get them crispy and browned. Which meant that’s what I had to do here.
So, for try three I salted the shells and coated them with oil and baked them until they had started to get golden brown. Now I had a stuffed eggplant parmesan where every part of recipe was tasty, from the cheese right down to the shells.
– Happy Baking, Annemarie
Baked Stuffed Eggplant Parmesan
- 4 small eggplants, 7-9 oz each
- kosher salt and olive oil
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1/2 cup chopped red onion, about 1/2 of a medium onion
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1/4 tsp dried red pepper flakes
- 4 cups marinara sauce, homemade or store bought, divided
- 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, low moisture
- 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup basil leaves, thinly sliced, divided
- Preheat oven to 425F.
- Cut the eggplants in half and scoop out the flesh, leaving about 1/4 inch on the sides in the shell. Chop up the scooped out eggplant and set it aside.
- Liberally salt the insides of each eggplant shell with kosher salt. Then rub them with olive oil so you have a sheen of olive oil on the insides. Bake the eggplants upright for 30-35 minutes. The eggplants will be very soft and browned.
- While the eggplants are cooking, make the filling. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once it's shimmering, add the ground beef and saute until it has begun to lose its red color, about 2 minutes.
- Add the chopped eggplant, onion, garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Sprinkle some kosher salt over the skillet. Saute until the eggplant is soft and tender, 6-7 minutes. Stir in 1 cup of the marinara sauce and about half of the sliced basil.
- Take the eggplants out of the oven and transfer them to a plate for the moment. Spread out about 2 cups of the marinara on the bottom of the baking dish and then put the eggplant shells back in.
- Mix together the cheeses. Divide the filling among each of the eggplant shells. Then top each with some of cheese. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until the cheese is melted and starting to brown. Top with the rest of the sliced basil.
- Serve with the pasta of your choice. Toss the pasta with the remaining 1 cup of marinara sauce.
- Depending on how much pasta you serve and how hungry everyone is, this recipe can serve anywhere from 4 to 8 people.
- Don't be afraid to get the eggplant shells fairly brown. Thinner areas around the walls will get quite brown by the time they are done.
- I used 'pizza cheese' mozzarella, the low moisture type.
- You can substitute in sweet Italian sausage for the ground beef if you wish.
- Don't cut off the tops off the eggplants. The stem makes for a nice presentation at the table and keeps the eggplants from completely falling apart when you bake them.
- I used my Marinara Sauce in the recipe.