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Betsy Kuebler | Farmers EC

Savory Italian sausage, seasoned eggplant and bubbly cheese create a pull-out-of-the-freezer-and-bake feast when friends and family arrive for the holidays. Kuebler sautés the eggplant slices in the sausage drippings—a resourceful step that relies on the seasoned oil for extra flavor.

1 jar (24 ounces) pasta sauce
1 pound bulk pork sausage, spicy or mild
2 1/2 pounds small Japanese eggplants, washed and stemmed
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
2 cups ricotta cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 pound mozzarella cheese slices

1. If you plan to serve the casserole right away, heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread small amount of pasta sauce across the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, then pour the remaining pasta sauce into a large mixing bowl.

2. Brown the sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add browned sausage to pasta sauce, reserving drippings, and stir to combine.

3. Slice the eggplant into 1/2-inch rounds. Generously season the slices with salt and pepper. Sauté the eggplant slices in the sausage drippings over medium-high heat until the eggplant is golden and tender on both sides. Arrange eggplant slices in single layer in prepared baking dish.

4. In a medium bowl, whisk together ricotta, eggs and Parmesan. Spread ricotta mixture evenly over eggplant. Pour reserved pasta sauce over ricotta layer. Arrange mozzarella slices over the top.

5. Bake about 45 minutes, until heated through and the cheese is bubbly and golden brown.

6. If you intend to save this for baking at another time, cover tightly with plastic wrap and freeze up to 6 months. To serve, uncover and bake about 90 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven.

Makes 8–10 servings.

Cook’s Tip

With its porous, spongy flesh, eggplant absorbs oil quickly. If your skillet dries out when you’re browning the slices, add olive oil as needed. You can also freeze the casserole after baking. To do this, allow it to cool completely, cover and freeze. To serve, reheat in a 350-degree oven about 1 hour, or until heated through and bubbly.