October 10, 2013 at 1:00 am

Maureen Tisdale

Let's Talk Food: Italian Baked Eggplant, and what are you doing with eggplant?

Eggplant, in season until mid-October, takes well to strong Italian flavors. (Maureen Tisdale / The Detroit News)

One of my favorite things about being pregnant was the extra allotment of dairy I got with every meal. The baby needed the calcium, but the momma got to eat it, which was happy tidings for this cheese-lover.

As my sister, Tiff, says, Youve always been a bit of a mouse, Reen. So I frequently made cheese my dairy of choice throughout my pregnancy, and that made an eggplant bake I devised extra indulgent.

The recipe basically involved layering ingredients. There was a layer of lazy polenta (cornmeal baked with water and a little oil, butter and garlic salt for about 50 minutes, stirred just once after 40 minutes), a layer of tomato sauce, another of roasted eggplant, another of seasoned ground beef and, finally, a layer of cheese. It was a real treat.

Since I have a better relationship with food when its in specific, consistent portions (I weigh and measure it) and, as Ive written before, I tend to batch-cook in advance I laboriously planned this dish to make even portions.

Ive been asked for this recipe several times in Twitter chats about Italian flavors, cheese and more. But like so much of my cooking, its more of an idea you can play with than An Official Recipe, which is also true of the simpler eggplant side Im sharing today.

Taking advantage of the tail end of eggplant season (through mid-October), last week I made an easy eggplant bake with tomato puree and Italian seasoning. I threw in mushrooms and shallots (other times Ive included onions; it just depends on what I have on hand).

Including a side of fruit and the Sun-dried Tomato, Avocado & Mushroom Salad Ive written about before to make it a meal, I ate the eggplant for four days, each serving with a couple ounces of melted mozzarella cheese on top for protein. While I just adore the bouncy gooeyness of mozzarella, it usually doesnt hold me over as well as meat for a protein. So when I do this dish without mozzarella to save a spot for meat, I sprinkle on Parmesan (a tablespoon or less per serving) before baking for just a touch of that salty goodness.

Sure, its no Cheesy Beefy Eggplant Polenta Bake (thats what I think Ill call my pregnancy dish, if ever I officially write it up), but it is delicious for a relatively light, healthy, seasonal side when I need to limit myself to eating for one.

Italian Baked Eggplant

Though Im sharing here how I made this recipe last week, I doubt Ive prepared it with the same exact seasonings twice. For example, I used fresh thyme and parsley Id purchased as possible add-ins for the reader-suggested Irish Colcannon dish I wrote about last week. Typically, though, I shamelessly stick to whatever dry herbs I have in the house.

2 medium eggplants
4 ounces sliced mushrooms
28-ounce can tomato puree
Dried basil, oregano, rosemary, to taste
Fresh thyme and parsley, to taste
1 large shallot (two large cloves)
teaspoon garlic
8 ounces mozzarella cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees, cover a large baking sheet with foil and cooking spray. Cut up eggplant in bite-sized chunks and add to large bowl. Mix with mushrooms and tomato puree. Dump mixture onto the sheet and spread out as much as possible.

Sprinkle the herbs evenly over the pan, then slice the shallots thin and scatter them over the dish. Season with garlic salt.

Cover in foil (for faster baking and better moisture retention) and bake for 25 minutes. If using cheese, distribute it evenly (2 ounces per portion) over the top just before serving and heat until melted.

Makes four servings, plus a little leftover (of the eggplant medley).

Per serving (without cheese): 168 calories; 1 g fat (0.2 g saturated fat; 5 percent calories from fat); 39 g carbohydrates; 0 mg cholesterol; 139 mg sodium; 7 g protein; 11 g fiber.

Per serving with cheese: 310 calories; 10 g fat (6 g saturated fat; 29 percent calories from fat); 40 g carbohydrates; 32 mg cholesterol; 400 mg sodium; 21 g protein; 11 g fiber.

How are you preparing eggplant? Wed love to hear about it in the comments below this story on www.detroitnews.com/letstalkfood. Over the next few days, Detroit News Food Editor Maureen Tisdale will respond to comments or questions. You also can follow her on Twitter @reentiz. Join the discussion!