Eggplant Parmesan…just saying those words immediately causes red checkered tablecloths and bulbous bottles of vino tinto masquerading about in their grass skirts to dance around my head. As a self-diagnosed cheese-aholoic, anything ‘parmesan’ immediately perks my taste buds into high gear. Add to that some lonely eggplants in my frige crying for a hot bath in garlic and basil dotted marinara with lumps of oozing mozzarella to play with. Ah, well I don’t even need advanced math skills to tell you what all THAT adds up to…one hell of a delicious freaking dinner, that’s what!
Eggplant Parmesan is usually predicated on the notion of fried eggplant slices that then get baked in sauce and cheese. Now, there is NOTHING wrong with fried eggplant. Hell, there’s a ton of GREAT things about fried eggplant! But tonight I just wasn’t feeling the frying thing. Ok, I admit, I was also trying to shave a wee bit of fat and calories off this one too. So I opted to bake my eggplant slices before layering them in a casserole dish for the tomato and cheese finale. And I have to say, it totally worked! The result was a tender, light and less greasy dish. Even my eggplant-wary husband gave this one top scores. The copious amounts of cheese I employed certainly cleverly masked my fry-less meal and they likely made the whole baking to save calories exercise a bit moot, but the joy I got from eating this dish with a little less guilt (earned or not) was well worth it and I will definitely be baking my eggplant parm in the future.
This meal also gave me an opportunity to make marinara sauce and if there is one thing I love as much as cheese (well almost anyway), it’s that sweet tomato goodness. The house is perfumed with the aroma of garlic and onion melting into each other with the bright tang of plump canned tomatoes and their juices and sweet fresh basil all coming together in happy bubbling harmony on my stove.
It must be noted that there are a variety of different sauces one can make that are referred to generally as marinara. People all have their own twists and turns to making sauce and I am no different. For today’s dish I opted for a very basic sauce. I wanted the marinara to support the eggplant and not upstage it. This is also a sauce you could pull together during the week, or better yet, make a really big batch and keep a jar in the frige and the rest in portions in the freezer for easy use.
(A Girl and Her Kitchen)
6 cloves of garlic, sliced very thin (or minced)
1 shallot, minced
1/4 of a red onion, minced
Handful fresh basil leaves, whole
2 tbsp olive oil
2 28oz cans of whole peeled plumtomatoes
1 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional though highly recommended)
1-2 oz of red wine like a cabernet (optional though highly recommended)
1 inch chunk of Parmesan cheese rind
1/2 tsp salt
Pepper to taste
In a sauce pan heat olive oil on low heat. Add in the shallot, onion and salt and sauté 3 minutes. Add in the garlic and sauté for another 5 minutes on very low heat. Take care not to burn garlic. Stir often.
Baked Eggplant Parmesan
(A Girl and Her Kitchen)
2 medium eggplants (should be firm and smooth), sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
1 1/2 cups plain bread crumbs (or panko)
1 1/2 tsp oregano
1 1/2 tsp basil (dried)
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 cup grated parmesan, divided
1/4 cup grated pecorino romano (optional)
2 eggs, beaten with 2 tsp cold water
1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded (or sliced, or just use the whole darn ball of it)
1 batch basic marinara sauce (recipe above) or 1 jar of your favorite sauce
Big Handful fresh whole basil leaves
Cut eggplants into 1/2 inch rounds. Arrange one layer in the bottom of a large colander and sprinkle evenly with salt. Repeat with remaining eggplant, salting, until all eggplant is in the colander. Weigh down the slices with a couple of plates and let drain for at least 20 minutes and up to 2 hours. The purpose of this step is to have the eggplant release some of its moisture before cooking.
silpat in to warm up (if you don’t have a silpat, spray the sheet with Pam or something similar).
When eggplant has drained, press down on it to remove excess water, wipe off the excess salt, and lay the slices out on paper towels to remove all the moisture. In a wide, shallow bowl, combine breadcrumbs, 1 cup of parmesan cheese, oregano, dried basil and season with salt and pepper. Mix well.
baking dish, spread 1 cup of tomato sauce. Top with one third of the eggplant slices. Top eggplant with one third of the mozzarella slices. Sprinkle with a bit of Parmesan and lay a basil leaf on top of each eggplant slice.