This is a classic Italian comfort food dish that is sure to hit the spot on a chilly evening. For the best results, while in the market, make sure to choose large, bulbous Italian eggplants with fewer seeds, toss them in your hand, and select the ones that feel relatively lighter. Look for shiny skins and no soft spots or bruises.
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If using sausage, place 1 cup of the water and sausage in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Cover and boil for 3 minutes. Then, uncover and let the remaining water steam away. (Simply frying the sausage toughens the casing and that's not comfort food!)
Slice the eggplant into thick 1-inch discs and place on clean kitchen towels, flat side down. Season the eggplant heavily with 1 ½ tablespoons of the salt. Turn the discs over and season the other side with another 1 ½ tablespoons of the salt.
When the pan with the sausage is almost dry, add the onion, 1/8 cup of the olive oil, ½ teaspoon of the salt, and ½ teaspoon of the black pepper and brown over medium heat. Add the garlic during the last 5 minutes of browning.
Remove the onions from the pan and set aside. To the same pan, add the canned tomatoes, remaining water, ½ teaspoon of the salt, and ½ teaspoon of the black pepper. Cover and simmer over low heat for 25 minutes or longer, stirring frequently. Smash the garlic when softened and blend into the sauce.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Coat a 10-inch square baking dish with the remaining olive oil. Add 2 tablespoons of the tomato sauce. Brush all of the salt and emitted water off both sides of the eggplant thoroughly, and stand the slices up in the baking dish. Stuff the mozzarella between the eggplant slices.
In a bowl, stir the basil and parsley into the ricotta with the remaining salt and remaining black pepper. Spoon this mixture generously in between each eggplant slice.
Remove the sausage from the sauce and cut into ½-inch slices on a bias and tuck them in between the eggplant slices. Then, scatter the onions on top. (The baking dish should be stuffed tightly, as the eggplant will shrink when baked.)
Smother the baking dish with sauce and bake uncovered for 40 minutes. Serve piping hot with crispy Italian bread and a spoon! Enjoy!