As the eggplant in my garden have matured week after week, I've been putting off making Eggplant Parmesan. It's not because I don't like it, it's certainly been one of my favorite meals since I was a child. What I don't like is frying things, the spattering oil, the way the house smells, and cleaning up the oil after I'm finished. While I have learned a few great tips and tricks to frying, I'm not a fan at all.
I've made baked Eggplant Parmesan before, but baking it left the bitter taste in the eggplant. However, I wasn't going to give up on baked eggplant, so I tried a new process, and it worked perfectly. I salted and pressed the eggplant, then eggwash and breaded them and baked them on a wire rack. While they cooked, I prepared the chunky sauce, and then assembled and threw it back in for a quick bake to melt the cheese and meld the flavors together. While I do love Mom's Eggplant Parmesan with long strips of eggplant and a crushed tomato marinara laced between the layers, and a mozzarella blanket on top, I had a different version in mind.
During my senior year of high school, I went to the Homecoming dance with a huge group of friends. A new restaurant had just opened called Bucca di Beppo. We heard it was served family style and great for groups, so our homecoming group of 20 went there for dinner before the dance. I was still a vegetarian at the time, and asked if anyone else would want Eggplant Parmesan. One of my friends, Alison, said she would eat it so we ordered a large size. Oh.my.gosh! I'm sorry, Mom, but it was the best eggplant parmesan I've ever had! The eggplant was cut a little thicker, skin still on and tender, panko breadcrumbs added extra crunch, and the sauce, it was the sauce that made it! Chunks of sweet tomatoes laced with fresh basil and red onion, topped with Parmesan cheese, baked to perfection.
That dish was the inspiration for this version of Eggplant Parmesan. I picked two eggplant from my garden (I'm not sure what's going on with the speckled one, but it tasted great!) and a bunch of fresh basil from my pots. I splurged on San Marzano tomatoes because the dish was otherwise very cheap. Though it didn't have the buttery crust, the eggplant were tender, crunchy, and the sauce was sweet and delicious.
Tips and Trades:
-If you elect to fry your eggplant, here are a few tips! Be sure salt and press your eggplant well, the tiny water pockets will soak up oil, cause splattering, and weigh down your dish. Make sure your oil is at a steady temperature, around 375*, if it's too hot, the eggplant will burn before they cook, and if it's too low they will soak up the oil. Finally, drain well on paper towels or brown paper bags. My mom prefers to fry with Olive Oil, but Canola Oil works well too.
-San Marzano tomatoes are from the San Marzano region of Italy. They are sweeter than most tomatoes, and are imported. Look for a can to specifically say "San Marzano" and imported from Italy.
Baked Eggplant Parmesan
inspired by Bucca di Beppo
2 medium eggplant
2 eggs, beaten
1 c. panko breadcrumbs
1/4 c. Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1 tbsp. EVOO
1/2 medium red onion, diced (about 1 c.)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 28 oz. can whole San Marzano tomatoes
1 tsp. dried oregano
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Handful of fresh basil leaves
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
Wash eggplant, slice into 1/2" rounds.
Line a colander with tea towels or paper towels, place a layer of eggplant on towels, dust with kosher salt.
Place another layer of towels on top followed by another layer of eggplant and salt, repeat until all eggplant are covered and salted.
Place a heavy pot or plate on top and weigh down eggplant.
Rest for 30 minutes to an hour.
Preheat the oven to 400*
Place a wire rack on a baking sheet.
Add eggs to a shallow dish, whisk well.
Combine breadcrumbs in another shallow dish.
One at a time, plunge eggplant slices into egg wash, then dredge with breadcrumbs and place on the wire rack.
Continue until all eggplant slices are coated.
Place in the oven and cook for 40 minutes, until crisp on the outside and tender inside.
While eggplant cooks, prepare sauce.
Heat a small pot over medium heat.
Add 1 tbsp. EVOO, onions and garlic.
Season with salt and pepper, sauté for 5 minutes, until softened.
Add whole tomatoes and juice, break up with a wooden spoon, turn heat to low.
Add oregano and red pepper flakes, simmer until liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes.
Tear basil into the sauce, taste and season.
Remove eggplant from the oven.
Spoon some sauce into the bottom of a casserole dish, add a layer of eggplant.
Spoon 1 tbsp. sauce over each eggplant round, top with another and repeat.
Spoon the remaining sauce over the top of the eggplant, sprinkle with Parmesan.
Place back in the oven for 15 minutes, until cheese is melted.
Serve with fresh pasta or rolls for eggplant subs.