Eggplant is a sponge to oil and butter, but I've found that it often doesn't need as much as most people give it. My favorite mixologist, Kirk, at Cure in New Orleans, names cocktails that are riffs "improved," i.e. the "Improved Aviator." The new is sometimes nothing like the original, but flavor notes are similar.
Hungry for a new way to do eggplant, without breading, frying, and layering tons of cheese, I turned to the Bible of authentic Italian cuisine, The Silver Spoon. The recipe is not in English anywhere online--until now! It Italy, this is called "Melanzane in Festa" or "Festive Eggplant" and it certainly lives up to the name. This is especially good when made one day ahead up til the point of baking, or reheated for leftovers the next day.
This could be a hearty side or a vegetarian maincourse. The presentation is nice enough for company, and you can make a day ahead to save time and improve the flavor.
4 small eggplants
3-4 medium tomatoes, seeded and thinly sliced
9 oz Mozzarella--I used low fat shredded stuff since it was just me on a weeknight, but a nice real mozzarella is what the recipe actually calls for
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
Dried or fresh herbs: parsley, basil, thyme
Preheat oven to 350. Brush an ovenproof dish with olive oil.
Cut off the top eggplant stem. Working carefully, slice downward into the eggplant without going all the way through. You are looking for 1/4 inch thick slices, with the bottom still in tact. The Italians call this "making petals".
Place the sliced eggplant into the prepared dish. Carefully wedge tomato slices in between the eggplant. If using fresh mozzarella, alternate slices of that in as well. If using shredded mozzarella, carefully sprinkle it in to the "petals" throughout.
Combine garlic, parsley, basil, and thyme if desired in a bowl or mash a bit in a mortar and pestle. Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. If using dried herbs, allow to sit to soften spices for a few minutes. Drizzle mixture over eggplants, making sure to get oil into white flesh for better absorbtion.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
If you can, make one day ahead up until this point. The spongy eggplant really soaks up all the flavors.
Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes, remove foil and bake for another 15.
Shown here as a vegetarian maincourse, with roasted sage-spiked pumpkin: