SAUSAGE STUFFED EGGPLANT BOATS

2 large eggplants, about 3-pounds

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon salt, divided

½ teaspoon black pepper, divided

1 large onion, chopped

8 large cloves garlic, chopped

1-pound bulk sweet Italian sausage

½-pound ground beef

1 tablespoon Dish off the Block Ciao Bella Italian Spice Blend

2 cups spaghetti sauce (homemade or your favorite brand)

1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese

¾ cup grated parmesan cheese, divided

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1-pint grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half

2 tablespoons fresh parsley or basil leaves, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise.  Using a paring knife, cut around the perimeter of the cut side, leaving about ¼” of the flesh in the shell so it holds it’s shape. Scoop the flesh out of the center and chop it into 1” cubes.  Place them in a colander and toss with 2 tablespoons of the salt.  Let sit for 30-40 minutes.  Rinse well with cold water to remove the excess salt and, then, squeeze any excess moisture out of the eggplant with your hands (there will be a good amount).  Set aside.

Place the eggplant ‘shells’ on a foil-lined baking sheet, cut-side-up, and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Season them with ½ teaspoon of the remaining salt and ¼ teaspoon of the black pepper.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Remove and set aside.

Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to a large deep skillet over medium high heat.  Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft and fragrant about 2-3 minutes.  Add the sausage to the pan and cook, breaking it up with a spatula for 5-6 minutes until almost cooked through.  Add the reserved chopped and drained eggplant to the pan along with the Italian seasoning, remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper.  Continue cooking, stirring frequently, for 5-6 minutes until the eggplant starts to get soft.  Add the spaghetti sauce to the pan and cook for another 3-4 minutes, stirring until the eggplant is very soft and the sauce is absorbed and coating everything in the pan.

Scoop have of the sausage mixture into the eggplant shells on the baking sheet.  Top with ½ cup of the parmesan cheese and all of the ricotta, evenly between each shell.  Top with the half of the mozzarella and the remaining sausage mixture.  Sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella over the tops and place the tomatoes, cut-side-down over the top.  Finish with the remaining ¼ cup of parmesan and bake for 20 minutes until bubbly, melted, and lightly browned.

Garnish with chopped parsley and basil.  Serve with more parmesan on the side and a big glass of red!

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