- If the eggplant is particularly large or full of seeds, sprinkle it with salt and set in a colander for at least 15 and up to 60 minutes. Rinse and pat dry. Heat the oven to 400°F. Heat a charcoal or gas grill, or the broiler, and move the rack to about 4 inches from the heat source. (You can also use a stovetop grill pan here, heated over medium-high heat.)
- Brush the eggplant lightly on both sides with some oil and sprinkle with salt (if you didn’t salt it earlier) and pepper. Grill or broil until browned on both sides, turning once or twice and brushing with more oil if the eggplant looks dry. The idea is to keep the eggplant cooking steadily without burning, so adjust the heat and position as needed. The eggplant is usually ready in somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes. When done, set eggplant slices aside.
- Cut the chicken so you have 8 or so large pieces. Pound or press them a bit so they’re evenly flat. Brush them all over with some oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill or broil the chicken, turning once, no more than 3 minutes per side (to check for doneness, cut into a piece with a thin-bladed knife; the center should still be slightly pink). Set the chicken aside.
- Lightly oil a 2-quart baking dish, then spoon a layer of the tomato sauce into the bottom. Top with a layer of eggplant, then a sprinkling of Parmesan, then a layer of chicken, and finally a few basil leaves. Repeat until all the ingredients are used. (There will probably be sauce left over; warm it up to pass at the table.) Toss the remaining Parmesan with the bread crumbs, and the mozzarella if you’re using it. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then toss again. Spread the bread crumb mixture evenly on top of the mozzarella. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the dish is bubbling hot. Serve hot or warm.
All-Purpose Tomato Sauce
Makes: 6 to 8 servings (about 1 quart)
Time: 30 minutes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion or 2 medium onions, chopped
About 4 pounds canned whole tomatoes (two 28- or 35-ounce cans), chopped, liquid reserved
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley or basil leaves (optional)
- Put the olive oil in a pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 3 minutes. Then add the tomatoes.
- Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down and the mixture comes together and thickens a bit, 10 to 15 minutes. For a thinner sauce, add some or all of the reserved liquid and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes; if you want a thick sauce, save it for another use. Taste, adjust the seasonings, and stir in the herbs before using. (You can also let the sauce cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to several days.)