I love this recipe because you get all of the warm, hearty, comforting attributes of a meaty Bolognese sauce in a vegetarian meal. The rich and velvety texture of baked eggplant makes it an incredible stand-in for ground meat.
- 6 baby eggplants, or 1 large globe eggplant
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large Spanish onion, finely diced
- 2 medium carrots, finely diced
- 1 small celery stalk, finely diced
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped to a paste
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Calabrian chile flakes, season to taste
- 1 cup dry red wine
- Two 28-ounce cans plum tomatoes, with their juices
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano
- Parmesan cheese for garnish (if desired)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Peel half the skin from the eggplants in 1-inch sections (so the eggplant looks striped). Slice each eggplant crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick rounds and cut each round into a 1/2-inch dice.
3. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large sauté pan over high heat until it begins to shimmer. Add half the eggplant, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring continuously, until the eggplant takes on some color and becomes soft, about 5 minutes. Spread the eggplant on a baking sheet in an even layer. Add 3 tablespoons of the oil to the pan and repeat with the remaining eggplant.
4. Transfer eggplant to the oven and bake until very soft, turning once, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
5. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a Dutch oven over high heat. Add the onion, carrots and celery and cook, stirring often until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the chili flakes and cook for 30 seconds more.
6. Stir in the wine and bring to a boil. Cook until the liquid has completely reduced, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juices, and the sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the tomatoes begin to soften and break down, about 15 minutes. Using a potato masher, coarsely mash the tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened, about 20 minutes more.
7. Fold the eggplant, basil and oregano into the sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Use immediately, or let cool to room temperature, transfer to an airtight container, and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for up to 1 month.