Eggplant Mozzarella Stacks

Eggplant is available year-round, with the peak season during August and September.  Choose a firm, smooth-skinned eggplant that’s heavy for its size.  Eggplant becomes bitter with age and should be used within a day or two of purchase.  In Italian, the word eggplant – melanzana- is derived from mela insana, meaning “mad apple.”  Once upon a time, botanists thought that the eggplant was poisonous and could cause insanity.

1 large eggplant, cut into ½-inch slices

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 egg

½ cup buttermilk

½ cup dry bread crumbs

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

¼ teaspoon mustard powder

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

5 tablespoons butter, melted

1 (32-ounce) jar prepared marinara sauce

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 cup cooked ground beef (about ½ pound)

Sliced fresh Mozzarella cheese

Shredded mozzarella cheese

Fresh basil, to garnish

Red pepper flakes, to garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place two baking racks on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Spray baking racks with cooking spray. Slice eggplant into ½-inch slices. Place eggplant on prepared racks and season with salt and pepper on both sides. In a bowl, mix egg with buttermilk. In a separate bowl, mix dry bread crumbs with grated Parmesan cheese, mustard powder and cayenne. Dip each slice of eggplant int buttermilk mixture and then into bread crumb mixture, coating well on both sides. Place on prepared baking racks on baking sheet. Drizzle eggplant slices with melted butter. Bake for 30 minutes in preheated oven, until eggplant is cooked through and the bread crumb coating is crispy. In the meantime, pour marinara sauce in a saucepan. Add dried oregano and cooked ground beef. Heat over medium heat until sauce is hot.

Remove eggplant from oven. To assemble: Layer eggplant with slices of Mozzarella cheese, ending with a slice of eggplant on top. Place back on the baking rack and return to oven to cook for several minutes until the cheese has melted. To serve: Spoon heated marinara sauce over the egg plant stacks. Top with shredded Mozzarella. Garnish with fresh basil and crushed red pepper flakes. Serves 2.