Although available year-round, eggplant is at its peak in the summer and early fall. But when the weather is hot and the outdoors are calling, who wants to spend the time and effort breading and frying? This recipe has all the flavors of a classic eggplant parmesan, but in an easy, lightened-up, weeknight-friendly package. It’s also quite adaptable: If you don’t have a grill, char the vegetables on a grill pan in your kitchen! Want to make the entire thing on the grill? Cook your eggplant on a well-oiled grate, then assemble your “boats” in a cast-iron skillet (see Note below). When picking out your eggplant, look for one with some weight to it and firm, glossy skin.
Halve the eggplants lengthwise through the stem. Using a sharp paring knife, score the flesh of the eggplant in a 1-inch crosshatch pattern, being careful not to pierce the skin. Season the cut sides with salt and let sit cut side up for 30 minutes.
Light a grill. Gently squeeze the eggplant halves to remove any excess moisture and pat dry with paper towels. Brush the eggplant halves all over with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Grill over moderately-high heat, turning once, until the eggplant is charred and tender, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet or large baking dish cut side up.
Preheat the oven 450°. In a small bowl, whisk the finely grated garlic with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the panko and parsley and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper.
Spoon ¼ cup of sauce over each eggplant and top with 3 to 4 slices of mozzarella. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on the eggplant. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the mozzarella has melted and the breadcrumbs are golden brown.
Transfer the eggplant boats to four plates. Garnish with basil leaves and parmesan cheese, if using, and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Serve right away
OPTIONAL SERVING SUGGESTION Serve with a simple green salad and crusty bread.
NOTE If preparing this recipe entirely on the grill, char the eggplant directly on a well-oiled grate, then assemble your “boats” in a large cast-iron skillet. Set the skillet on the grate, close the lid of the grill and cook over moderately-high heat until the cheese is melty and the breadcrumbs are crisp.