Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Baked Eggplant Parmesan

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.

Basic Marinara
(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.
Add in the oregano, red pepper flakes (if using) and 3 large basil leaves. Sauté one more minute.
Now add in the tomatoes and their juices using your hands to squish the tomatoes (watch out for flying tomato juices). Stir in the wine, 4 more basil leaves and a crank or two of freshly cracked black pepper. Simmer for at least 45 minutes though more just makes it better. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Can be refrigerated or frozen in batches at this stage. When ready to use, reheat and tear in additional fresh basil to taste.

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.
Preheat the oven to 375º and place a baking sheet with 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.
Pour beaten egg mixture into another wide shallow bowl. Dredge eggplant slices in egg mixture, letting excess drip off and then in the breadcrumbs. Place coated eggplant slices on the hot baking sheet and bake until golden brown on bottom, 20 to 25 minutes. Turn slices; continue baking until browned on other side, 20 to 25 minutes more. Remove from oven; raise oven heat to 400º.
In the bottom of a 9x13 inch 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.
Make a second layer of eggplant slices making a little tower atop the previous rounds (making little towers means serving is much easier). Top with 1 cup of sauce, one third of the mozzarella, half the remaining Parmesan, and all of the remaining basil. Add remaining eggplant, and top with the remaining tomato sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan (and pecorino if using). If you run out of eggplant, just top with sauce and cheese.
Bake at 400º until cheese has melted and the top is slightly brown, about 30 minutes. Allow to rest at room temperature for about 10 minutes before serving. Top with torn fresh basil and serve with side green salad.


  1. This looks and sounds delicious, Jen!! I wish I had read this before shopping for tonight's dinner, though, it does seem very time consuming. How do you find the time for these fancy dinners, not to mention clean up and write-up!? Good for you! (and for Dan! ;o)
    -Sarah Gerber

  2. Looks even better than the Sausage Factory. Really, it looks amazing!

  3. I'm making this tonight!! i've never salted my eggplant before to remove the moisture... I have a feeling that will be key. Will let you know how it turns out. xoxo