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(inspired by Jamie Oliver)

2-3 medium/large eggplants, about 2 ½ pounds, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
Olive oil, about ¼ cup
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon butter, unsalted
1 large onion, small dice, about 2 cups
pinch salt
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1½ teaspoons dried oregano
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, unsalted if possible
1 1/2 Tablespoons mild honey, optional
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
½ cup (packed) fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, about ¼ teaspoon of each or to taste.
4 ounces (about 1 ½ cups) grated Parmesan cheese, including 2 Tablespoons for bread crumbs
1/2 cup fresh dry bread crumbs
1-2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Roast the eggplant:
       Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with oil, and place in a single layer on two baking sheets. Very lightly sprinkle one side of each slice with salt. Bake until undersides begin to brown and soften, 10 to 15 minutes, then turn and bake until other sides are lightly browned, another 5-10 minutes. It’s ok if they don’t completely brown. Set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.

Make the tomato basil sauce:
       While the eggplant roasts, in a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the olive oil and butter and add the onion. Sauté until soft, about 7-8 minutes. Add the garlic, dried oregano, red pepper flakes, and sauté another minute. Add the tomatoes, partially cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer 15 to 20 minutes. Add the honey, vinegar, basil and salt and pepper to taste-use a little less salt, you will make up for it when you layer the parmesan in the dish. Simmer another 5 minutes.

Make the eggplant parmesan:
       Into a 8 or 9-inch square baking dish, (or a comparable size pan) spoon about ¾ cup tomato sauce, then add a single layer of eggplant. Sprinkle a from ¼-3/8 cup of the parmesan evenly over the eggplant. Repeat the layers 2 more times, finish with any remaining sauce and cheese.
       In a small bowl, combine the fresh bread crumbs and parmesan. Toss with just enough olive oil to moisten. Sprinkle on top. If desired, the recipe can be made up to this point and refrigerated. Just bring the pan to room temperature before baking.
       Bake until bubbly and hot in the center, about 40-45 minutes. Allow it to rest for 5 minutes before serving. Refrigerate leftovers for 3 days. Or freeze for 3 months. Just bring back to room temperature before reheating.

Makes 6-8 servings.    YUM!

LESSONS Learned:
1. There’s no need to peel the eggplants.
2. Don’t be deterred by the red wine vinegar. You won’t know it’s there, and it brightens up the dish.
3. There’s a lot of salty parmesan cheese in this dish, so don’t overdo seasoning with extra salt.
4. To make fresh bread crumbs: Choose a crusty loaf, (a mushy Wonder bread like loaf won’t cut it.) Cut 2-3 one inch slices, cut the crusts off and cut into one inch cubes. Whiz in a food processor or blender. Extras can be frozen for another use.
5. You can completely prepare the dish unbaked and refrigerate until you’re ready to bake it. Just bring it to room temperature first before putting it in the oven.
6. You can make this GLUTEN-FREE by simply eliminating the bread crumb topping.