I recall having a version of this dish in Greece, and I am sure the Greeks brought it to Sicily, and I am sure the Sicilians brought it to America. I have found it at weddings and on the menus of Italian restaurants across America. It is a great dish for a large party and for a buffet table. I like it best hot out of the oven, but it is also good at room temperature. “Eggplant” is a misnomer; the vegetable is neither white nor shaped like an egg. However, the first eggplants to arrive in Europe were a rare oval-shaped white variety, and the name stuck. When buying eggplants, look for even color and firm feel. The eggplant should be heavy relative to its size; when you pick it up at the market, it should be firm and crisp, not spongy, to the touch.
6 small eggplants (2 lbs total)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 pound ground beef
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups cubes of day-old country bread
1 cup milk
1 cup grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 hard-boiled egg, chopped
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Scoop out the flesh to make a shell about 1/2 to 1 inch thick. Finely chop the flesh and set aside.
Heat 4 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium- high heat. Toss in the onion, and cook until it begins to soften, about 3 to 4 minutes. Crumble in the ground beef, and pour the wine over the meat. Cook, breaking up the beef with the back of a wooden spoon, until the meat releases its juices and they then cook away, about 6 or 7 minutes. Add the bell pepper and chopped eggplant, and season with 1 teaspoon of the salt. Cover, and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.
Scrape into a bowl to cool. Pour the milk over the bread cubes in a small bowl. Once the bread has softened, squeeze out the excess milk and put the bread in the bowl with the cooled meat filling. Add the grated cheese, parsley, egg, and tomatoes, and mix well.
Put the eggplant halves in a large baking dish, and drizzle with the remaining 4 tablespoons oil. Sprinkle with the remaining teaspoon salt, and toss well to coat all of the eggplant with the oil. Fill the eggplant halves with the filling, and arrange snugly in the baking dish. Cover the dish with foil, and bake until the eggplant is tender all the way through, about 40 to 45 minutes. Uncover, and bake until the top of the filling is browned and crispy, about 10 minutes more.