Sautéed Baby Eggplant Halves with Mozzarella

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8 thin, long "baby" eggplants
2 teaspoons garlic chopped very fine
2 tablespoons parsley chopped very fine
black pepper, ground fresh from the mill
1/4 cup unflavored bread crumbs, lightly toasted
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 pound mozzarella, preferably buffalo-milk mozzarella, sliced no thicker than 1/4 inch

Trim the eggplants' green tops away, wash them in cold water, and split them lengthwise in two. Score the eggplant flesh in a cross-hatched pattern, cutting it deeply, while being careful not to pierce the skin.

Choose a sauté pan large enough to accommodate all the eggplant halves without overlapping. If you need 2 pans, increase the olive oil to 1/2 cup. Place the eggplants in the pan, skin side down, cross-hatched side facing up.

Put the garlic, parsley, salt, pepper, bread crumbs, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small bowl and mix well to combine the ingredients uniformly. Spoon the mixture over the eggplant halves, pressing it into and in between the cuts.

Pour the remaining olive oil in a thin stream, partly over the eggplants, partly directly into the pan. Cover, turn on the heat to medium low, and cook until the eggplant feels very tender when prodded with a fork, 20 or more minutes. Blanket each eggplant half with a layer of sliced mozzarella, turn up the heat to medium, cover the pan again, and cook until the mozzarella has melted.

Yield: 8 servings

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