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Pepperoni & Mozzarella Topped Eggplant

My kids insisted that this was not pizza, and I have to agree, even if the topping is pretty much a pizza topping. This is fork food, not finger food, and not a pizza substitute. However it is a simple (enough) way to get some eggplant into our diets. Eggplant is beautiful and I often pick some up when it is available only to have it sit around and stare at me. Challenging me to use it before it goes bad. I  personally like eggplant best when it is in something; ratatouille, soup, or some other similar concoction.  Years ago when I was following a near vegetarian stint (I still ate fish once a week) during lent I came across a recipe that used balsamic vinegar and eggplant, it was not half bad, it just lacked fat (and try as I might I cannot find that same recipe online or in any of my notes or old meal plans). This version has plenty of fat transported flavor and makes an excellent light lunch, side dish or appetizer.

Pepperoni & Mozzarella Topped Eggplant

1/4 cup bacon drippings, melted

1 medium sized eggplant, sliced 1/4 inch thick (about 12 slices)

2 TBSP balsamic vinegar

3oz pepperoni, finely chopped

3 TBSP tomato paste

1/4 cup butter, melted

2 cloves garlic, pressed

1/4 tsp each sea salt, onion powder, Italian seasoning

dash or two of hot sauce

8oz whole milk Mozzarella cheese, finely diced

1 TBSP fresh basil, chopped OR 1 tsp dried basil

Preheat oven to 400F, you can put your bacon drippings and butter into separate oven safe bowls and allow them to melt as the oven warms up, while you do all of your chopping, dicing and measuring. Coat large stoneware bar pan or jelly roll sheet (the kind with an edge) with bacon drippings. Lightly brush eggplant circles on both sides with balsamic vinegar. Arrange them in the pan and bake for 10-15 minutes, cooked but not mushy. While the eggplant is baking, mix the tomato paste with the melted butter and garlic, stir to make your sauce (you could use olive oil instead of butter, but I really like the garlic butter flavor). Add your seasonings and your finely chopped pepperoni. When eggplant is ready top each one with a spoonful of pepperoni sauce and then top with the finely diced mozzarella. I like to use diced because it is easier to do with the full fat cheese then shredding by hand, and it leaves lovely mozzarella blobs. Turn your oven to broil and return eggplant to the oven watching and turning as needed to get the cheese bubbly, melted and a little browned (3-5 minutes). Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle with basil. Serves 6 as a side dish.

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