This is one of those dishes that can be prepped in advance (think the night before or early in the morning) and then just tossed in the oven when you walk in the door from school or work.
It does have about an hour bake time but if the prep is done in advance, I find this to be a very satisfying and easy weeknight dinner. The hour cook time usually gives me enough time to get changed, make a salad and relax a bit (aka play legos and matchbox cars with my son).
Plus, this is an easy and tasty way to use eggplant, which for some is a very polarizing vegetable. I, for one, love eggplant, in all its many incarnations but I know that there are many of you who yourself don’t love it or live with someone who might be a bit adverse. Even though there is a lot of eggplant, it is not as prominent of a flavor as it might look in this dish.
Another major bonus about this dish is how much kids love the whole “boat” concept. You can get them involved in stuffing the boats prior to baking and also crumbling the topping on!
- To make this NUT-FREE, omit the topping or use an alternate crumb depending on your dietary preferences – some that would work are of course, bread crumbs (regular or whole wheat), gluten-free bread crumbs, crushed crackers or just a sprinkling of Parmesan Cheese.
- Eggplant oxidizes pretty rapidly when cut. It may turn brown all-over or just in some spots. This is OK. Read here for more on preventing this if this worries you.
- To do the PREP in advance, complete all steps up to #8 in the cooking instructions. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook. I recommend removing from the fridge while you preheat the oven so the eggplant and filling isn’t ice cold when you put it in the oven.
- Make sure to use a BROIL-SAFE baking sheet or cooking dish. If you don’t have one, skip the Broil step.
- 1½ Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 5 to 6 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 to 3 large Italian eggplants (about 3 lbs total), insides scooped out and finely chopped, shells rubbed with olive oil, salt and pepper
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1½ pounds ground beef
- 2½ cups homemade pasta sauce, divided (or your favorite 25-ounce jar!)
- handful fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped (for garnish)
- ⅓ cup blanched almond flour
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- pinch salt
- If you have a food processor, use it to save time! Process the garlic, remove to small dish and pulse the onion until just chopped. Set aside. (If chopping by hand, finely chop onion and garlic and keep in separate dishes until ready to use.)
- Next, wash and dry Eggplant. Trim the ends and split down the middle lenthwise. Use a spoon to scrape out most of the meat, leaving a nice “boat” or shell in-tact to hold the filling. Repeat this on all the Eggplant halves.
- Transfer the eggplant boats on baking sheet lined with tin-foil. Rub each with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Place the eggplant meat into the bowl of the food processor and pulse until chopped (alternately, hand chop until diced). Measure 2 cups of chopped eggplant meat out, set aside and discard the rest.
- Grab a handful of washed parsley leaves, finely chop and set aside for garnish.
- Lastly, combine ingredients for topping in a small bowl and mix until well combined.
- Preheat oven to 350F.Set a large frying pan over medium high heat. Once hot, add 1½ Tablespoons of olive oil. Heat oil for 30 to 45 seconds and add chopped onion and chopped eggplant along with 1 tsp of kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and crushed red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 7 to 8 minutes.
- Add garlic and continue cooking an additional 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add ground beef to onion mixture and use a spoon to break up any large pieces. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 6 minutes or until most of the pink is gone.
- Drain beef mixture through a fine mesh colander to remove excess liquid and fat. Use your spoon to really press out the liquid and move the meat mixture around the colander.
- Return to frying pan, lower heat to medium and add 1½ cups of the pasta sauce. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes until heated through.
- Remove pan from heat and divide beef mixture up among eggplant boats. Take care not to overfill them and make sure to pack the meat in pretty tightly.
- Grab the almond flour and olive oil topping and divide among eggplant. For 6 boats, I used just under 1 teaspoon each. Use your fingers to gently and evenly spread the topping over each eggplant boat.
- Place in the oven on the center rack and bake for 50 to 55 minutes, until eggplant is fork tender. Turn the oven to broil and finish by broiling for 2 to 3 minutes or until topping is slightly brown.
- Remove, let cool for 5 to 10 minutes, top with chopped parsley, serve and Enjoy!