1. Peel the eggplants and cut into crosswise slices about N inch thick. Put the slices in 1 or 2 colanders and sprinkle them with salt. Let drain for 30 minutes. Press gently with a kitchen towel or more paper towels to squeeze out the remaining moisture, then wipe away excess salt with paper towels. (Do not rinse the eggplant will absorb water.)
2. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Oil a 9-by-12-inch baking dish.
3. Pour olive oil to a depth of 1/4 inch into a large sauté pan, preferably nonstick, and place over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the eggplant slices in batches and fry, turning once, until golden and tender. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Add oil to the pan only as necessary to prevent sticking, or the porous eggplant will drink more than it needs. The frying should take about 6 minutes for each batch.
4. Add the tomatoes to the pan and cook until they break down and acquire a saucelike consistency, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, if using, during the last 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Spread a thin layer of the tomato sauce in the prepared baking dish. Add half of the eggplant slices, then half of the remaining tomato sauce. Top with the remaining eggplant and then the remaining sauce. Scatter the grated cheese and then the bread crumbs evenly over the surface.
6. Bake the eggplant until golden, about 25 minutes. Let rest for 15 minutes before serving.
NOTE: To peel and seed tomatoes, cut an X in the blossom ends and drop into a pot of boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds, or until the skin starts to wrinkle. Using a slotted spoon, transfer quickly to a bowl of cold water to halt the cooking. When cool to the touch, remove the skins and cut in half crosswise. Hold each half upside down over the sink and shake and squeeze the tomato gently to release the seeds.
TO MAKE AHEAD: Prepare through Step 5, cover, and refrigerate for up to 1 day before baking. Or, after baking, let cool completely, cover, and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
TO REHEAT: This dish is best reheated in a microwave, but can be reheated in a preheated 350°F oven until heated through.
From From Our House To Yours. Compilation copyright © 2002 by Chronicle Books LLC. Foreword copyright © 2002 by Joyce Goldstein. Photographs copyright © 2002 by E.J. Armstrong. All rights reserved. First published by Chronicle Books LLC, San Francisco, California.
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