Lighter take on a classic heavy eggplant Parmesan

A vegetarian delight, eggplant Parmesan nonetheless can still be very heavy. This lighter recipe retains all of the ingredients that make my favorite version so wonderful.

Eggplant tends to soak up oil, so I took a cue from my mom and cut each eggplant into ΒΌ-inch slices, brushing each slice with vinaigrette, then baking them until tender and golden. This limits the oil they can absorb. I also sprayed each slice with a modest amount of oil before baking them.

Unfortunately, this created a new problem — what about the breading? I literally turned the recipe inside out, placing the bread — in the form of croutons — inside the rolled-up slices of eggplant.

And, while I’m aware that the roasted red peppers in my recipe are not typical, I added them because they contribute bulk and good nutrition.

Even though this recipe uses less cheese, I attribute its success to my Speedy Marinara Sauce. Loaded with garlic, a bit of oil and a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes, this sauce radiates so much robust flavor that folks forget the missing cheese.

About buying eggplant: I recommend getting the biggest you can find for this recipe. Look for skin that’s smooth and flesh firm to the touch. If you use smaller ones, just overlap the slices slightly to make substantial roll-ups.

Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” and has written three cookbooks, including “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.”

Inside-Out Eggplant Parmesan Rolls

Serves 6. Recipe is by Sara Moulton.

2 slices large rustic (not bagged sliced) white or whole-wheat bread, crusts discarded and bread cut into 1/4-inch cubes (about 13/4 cups)

1 tbl. extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

2 lbs. large eggplant

Olive oil cooking spray

1/2 cup finely chopped roasted red pepper

2 ozs. fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1/2 oz. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1 tsp. minced garlic

21/2 cups purchased marinara sauce or Speedy Marinara Sauce (recipe below)

Fresh basil, to garnish

1. Heat oven to 400 F and adjust the oven racks so there is one in the top third and one in the bottom third.

2. In a medium bowl, toss the bread cubes with oil and a pinch of salt. On a large rimmed baking sheet, spread them in an even layer and bake on the oven’s lower shelf until golden brown, 5-8 minutes. Transfer back to bowl.

3. While the cubes are baking, slice eggplant with skin on top-to-bottom into 1/4-inch-thick slices, discarding end pieces.

4. Spray the baking sheet you used for the bread as well as a second large baking sheet with the olive oil spray. Sprinkle eggplant slices very lightly with salt on both sides and arrange in a single layer on baking sheets. Spray lightly with additional olive oil spray. Bake until barely golden, 16-20 minutes, switching the sheet pan positions in the oven after 8 minutes.

5. Add the red pepper, mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano and garlic to the bread cubes and toss well.

6. Pour half of the tomato sauce into the bottom of a shallow baking pan. Set aside.

7. Arrange eggplant slices on a kitchen surface, overlapping a few if they are small to make a wider rectangle (you will need 12 portions total), and divide the filling among the portions, mounding it in the center of each slice. Roll up the slices to enclose the filling. Place the rolls, seam side down, in the baking dish. Spoon remaining sauce over rolls and bake on lower rack until sauce is bubbling, 15-20 minutes.

8. Divide rolls between 6 serving plates, making sure each portion has ample sauce. Top with fresh basil.

Nutrition information per serving: 260 calories (90 calories from fat = 35 percent of total calories); 11 grams fat (3 grams saturated; 0 grams trans fats); 10 milligrams cholesterol; 34 grams carbohydrate (7 grams fiber; 9 grams sugar); 9 grams protein; 780 milligrams sodium.

Speedy Marinara Sauce

Makes 21/2 cups.

2 large garlic cloves, smashed

2 tbls. extra-virgin olive oil

Hefty pinch red pepper flakes

28-oz. can low-sodium diced tomatoes (preferably fire roasted)

Kosher salt

In a medium skillet, combine the garlic and the oil. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, turning over the garlic several times, until it is just golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and a hefty pinch of salt, bring to a boil, and cook at a brisk simmer for 20 minutes, or until the sauce is reduced to about 21/2 cups.