Eggplant is the best nightshade (sorry, tomatoes). Inventory of eggplant is starting to dwindle on grocery store shelves, and it is BECAUSE of this lack of eggplant that the sun doesn’t want to wake up as early or stay out as late, and we all have to suffer the dark and cold. It’s science!
But while there are still a few purple stragglers left, make the most of it. My favorite way to eat eggplant is in eggplant parmesan. Now, there are about as many different ways to make this dish as there are days in the year. I am not trying to discount your Nonna’s recipe, so simmer down. This is just the way I’ve always made it, and what I go looking for in a late summer /early autumn comfort food.
serves 6; active cooking time 45 minutes, total cooking time 2.5 hours
- 5 to 6 cups, or around 50 ounces, of tomato sauce*
- 2 medium eggplants or 1 large eggplant, washed and cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds (about 2 and 1/2 pounds)
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 large eggs
- 3 tablespoons whole milk
- 3 cups breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- Vegetable oil for frying, as needed, about 1 and 1/2 cups
- 1 and 1/2 pounds mozzarella cheese, cut into thin slices
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
- 2 handfuls fresh basil, leaves only, torn
- Arrange the eggplant rounds in a single layer in a colander. Sprinkle with salt as you layer them in the colander, allowing the eggplant to sit for about 1 hour. After an hour, rinse with cold water and dry them thoroughly with a kitchen towel.
- Put the flour in a medium bowl and season with salt and pepper. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk and season with salt and pepper. In a third bowl, combine the breadcrumbs with the oregano and fresh thyme leaves and season with salt and pepper.
- Dip each eggplant slice in the flour and shake off any excess. Then, dip in the egg mixture, and finally in the breadcrumbs. Make sure to coat both sides of each slice of eggplant. Arrange them in single layers on the baking sheets.
- Before frying the eggplant rounds, begin to preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- In a large skillet, pour enough oil to accumulate about 1/2-inch in the bottom. Heat the oil & use a pair of kitchen tongs to add a single layer of the eggplant to the pan. Cook them until they are golden brown, about 2 minutes on each side. Remove from the oil and transfer to a baking sheet fitted with a kitchen towel so the eggplant can drain as the others cook. Season lightly with salt. Take care to reheat the oil back up to temperature before adding another batch of slices to the pan.
- Assemble the dish in a 9 x 13 inch baking pan. Begin by putting abut 1/4 cup of tomato sauce on the bottom. Top with a layer of the fried eggplant, which can overlap. Sprinkle a quarter of the Parmesan cheese and layer 1/4 of the mozzarella on top of the eggplant, and then add layer of torn basil leaves. Spoon tomato sauce over that layer, and repeat it two more times to make 3 layers total. Top with all remaining cheese.
- Press the layers down firmly into the dish once assembled. Place the dish in the top part of the oven and cook until the cheese is melted and bubbly, 35 to 40 minutes.
- Serve the dish over pasta, which can be cooked while the dish is baking. Penne or farafelle are my favorites with this dish.
* You don’t have to make your own tomato sauce, you can buy one of the large jars of Prego and I will tell no one.
Try to get the slices of eggplant as consistent in size as possible, which will make them fry more evenly. Also, be aware this recipe tends to require every dish in the cupboard to pull together. This is not one of those one-pot sensations with quick clean-up! But it’s darn delicious, and if you’re only two or three people, you’ll get plenty of leftovers out of this endeavor.
Making eggplant parmesan may seem more expensive than other recipes, but that’s because you must invest in good mozzarella and parmesan, as well as fresh basil, to make the dish spectacular. Don’t skimp on these ingredients. In any case, you should expect to spend around $5.00 per serving. If you try this recipe, let me know how it turns out, and add any variations you like to employ if you’re a seasoned eggplant parmesan specialist!