Eggplant Patties (version III)

about 2 pounds eggplant
1/3 cup unflavored bread crumbs, lightly toasted
3 tablespoons parsley chopped very fine
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped very fine
1 egg
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
black pepper, ground fresh from the mill
vegetable oil
flour, spread on a plate
an oven-to-table baking dish
butter for greasing the baking dish
mozzarella, preferably buffalo-milk mozzarella, cut into as many 1/4-inch slices as there are eggplant patties to cover

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

When the oven is hot, wash the eggplants, keeping them whole and untrimmed. Place them on the uppermost rack of the preheated oven, with a baking pan on a lower rack to collect any drippings. Bake until tender, when a toothpick will penetrate them without resistance, about 40 minutes, depending on their size. Take the eggplants out of the oven and as soon as they are cool enough to handle, peel them, and Cut them into several large pieces. Put the pieces in a pasta colander set over a deep dish. The eggplant should shed most of its liquid, a process that should take about 15 minutes and one which You call encourage by gently squeezing the pieces.

Chop the eggplant flesh very fine and combine it in a bowl with the bread crumbs, parsley, garlic, egg, grated Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Mix thoroughly to obtain a uniform blend of ingredients. Taste and correct for salt and pepper, Shape the mixture with your hands into a number of patties about 2 inches in diameter and 1/2 inch thick, spreading them out or the Counter or on a platter.

Pour enough vegetable oil into a frying pan to come 1/2 inch up the sides, and turn on the heat to high. When the oil is very hot, turn the patties on both sides in the flour, and slip them into the pan. Do not put in any more at one time than will fit loosely, without crowding the pan. When they have formed a nice dark crust on one side, turn them, do the other side, then use a slotted spoon or spatula to transfer them to a cooling rack to drain or to a platter lined with paper towels. Taste to correct for salt. Serve either hot or lukewarm.

Choose a baking dish that can accommodate all the patties without overlapping, smear it with butter, and put in the fried eggplant patties. Cover each patty with a slice of mozzarella.

Place the dish on the uppermost rack of the preheated oven. When the mozzarella melts, take the dish out of the oven and bring to the table promptly.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

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