- 2 lbs. small, firm eggplants
- 1 Tbsp. plus 3/4 tsp. Kosher salt
- 1-1/2 lbs. ripe plum tomatoes (about 6)
- 1 lb. low-moisture mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
- 1/4 tsp. peperoncino flakes, or to taste
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 6 plump garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 cup dry breadcrumbs
- 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
- 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
- 1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1 tsp. grated lemon zest
- pinch of salt
- 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Slice the eggplant into 1/2-inch rounds. Lightly salt the slices and layer them in a colander, set in a bowl or in the sink. Let the eggplant drain for 30 minutes, rinse them, and pat dry with paper towels.
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400 degrees F.
Trim the stem end of the tomatoes and cut them in half crosswise. Squeeze the halves over a strainer set in a bowl, scraping out the seeds in the strainer and collecting the tomato juices in the bowl. Cut the tomatoes into 1/2-inch chunks, put them all in a bowl, and toss with the cubes of cheese, chopped basil, peperoncino, the remaining 3/4 tsp. salt, and 4 Tbsp. of the olive oil.
Brush the bottom and sides of a baking dish with about 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil. Lay the sliced onion in the bottom in lone layer, scatter the garlic cloves over the onions and drizzle with the remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Lay the eggplant slices over the onions in an even layer, overlapping if necessary. Scatter the tomato and cheese chunks evenly on top of the eggplant, and drizzle the collected tomato juices over all.
Put the breadcrumbs and all the dry seasonings in a bowl, toss to blend, then drizzle over them 2 Tbsp. olive oil and toss well. Sprinkle evenly over the eggplant, tomato and cheese layer.
Tent the baking dish with a sheet of aluminum foil, so it doesn't touch the crumb topping. Bake for 45 minutes, until the juices are bubbling. Remove the foil and continue baking for another 30 minutes, or until the eggplant is lightly caramelized on the edges, and tender, and the bread crumb topping is browned and crisp.
Let rest for 20 minutes before serving.
~Adapted from Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy