I always really wanted to like eggplant. It’s my Aunt Bambi’s favorite (therefore cool to me when I was a kid). But I’ll admit, I had only tried it a couple of times and I never cared for it. Especially baba ganoush. Ew. I always felt that it was mushy and left it at that.
So when I struck up my list it seemed appropriate to add eggplant in there. Especially as a vegetarian, I really have wanted to like it – sometimes it’s the only vegetarian friendly option at a restaurant! In discussing with people, I kept hearing that eggplant has to be just right in order for it to be good. So this terrified me a little, thinking there was no way that the very first time that I made this that it would turn out just right. So I consulted my trusty how-to book for any help or suggestions. Luckily, I struck gold and got some pretty idiot-proof instructions for eggplant parmesan. I figured, if I don’t like a thing that’s breaded and fried and covered in tomato sauce and cheese, well then I’m just not going to like it. In The New Best Recipe, they actually didn’t fry the eggplant, they baked it. But I took that frying upon myself to ensure the tastiness of this recipe that I didn’t have high hopes for liking.
I purchased two large globe eggplants and got on with it. I sliced the eggplant into 1/4″ thick rounds and salted them with kosher salt. I then let them sweat for about 30-40 minutes to pull out the excess water. I then firmly patted them dry with paper towels. During that wait, I prepared the sauce. My book called for canned tomatoes, so that’s what I used! Along with some fresh garlic and spices.
After the eggplant slices are very dry, it’s time to bread them. My aforementioned handy go-to book had very specific preferences for how to bread the eggplant: Flour, egg, breadcrumbs, rest. So I followed that, and then let them sit on a wire rack for a few minutes for the breading to set.
I then pan fried them in some canola oil over medium-high heat until perfectly browned. Then I built the eggplant parmesan in a casserole dish, layering sauce, eggplant, and cheese.
I then baked the whole thing for about 25 minutes, and broiled for the last 2-3 minutes to get a great finish on the cheese. And ta-da, eggplant parmesan!
This eggplant parm was AWESOME. It wasn’t mushy at all, had great flavor, and I couldn’t stop eating it! Sarah was over helping with photos for this post, too (thanks, Sarah!) and she helped me eat it. As did her fiance. As did future AK for lunch the following day. This was a lot of eggplant! Luckily, it was incredibly delicious and I had no complaints eating a ton of it.
Lessons learned here:
- It is absolutely crucial that you do not skip the salting/sweating step for the eggplant. You need it to be as dry as possible so it doesn’t get mushy!
- In the future, I would either make half as much, or I would set some of the fried eggplant aside (without sauce and cheese) for leftovers and add the sauce and cheese upon reheating, as the leftovers did get a tad bit soggy. Really the eggplant held up great, it was just the breading on the eggplant that got a little slippery.
- Eggplant is great! You were right, Aunt B! I look forward to trying it in a healthier recipe in the future… one that’s not fried and covered in cheese. (as magnificent as that is!) – Let me know if you guys have any suggestions!
adapted from Cook’s Illustrated New Best Recipe
2 medium globe eggplants, cut cross wise into 1/4″ rounds
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
2 cups bread crumbs
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil
salt and pepper
8 oz. part-skim mozzarella cheese (2 cups shredded)
1 oz. Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
10 fresh basil leaves, torn for garnish
2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes (Hunt’s fire roasted garlic are my fave!)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
salt and pepper
- Salt the eggplant rounds with kosher salt and let sit for about 30-45 minutes in colander over a bowl (as it will release liquid)
- During this time, prepare the sauce. In a large saucepan over medium heat, add the olive oil. Once heated, add the minced garlic and crushed red pepper. Cook until the garlic is browned.
- Pulse the canned tomatoes in a food processor until less chunky. Add the tomatoes to the garlic mixture, adding salt and pepper to taste as well as the fresh chopped basil. Let simmer.
- After the 30-45 minutes wait time on the eggplant have passed, spread the eggplant out over a thick layer of paper towels. Cover with more paper towels and press firmly on each slice to remove as much excess liquid as possible. Then wipe off the excess salt.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Collect three shallow bowls or pie pans. In the first, add the flour. In the second, whisk the two eggs. In the third, add your breadcrumbs.
- Coat the sliced eggplant in the flour, shaking off any excess. Then dip in the egg, followed by the breadcrumbs. Let the breaded eggplant rest on a wire rack.
- In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Cook the eggplant until browned, about 3-4 minutes per side. Flip carefully as to not disturb the breading.
- Remove the cooked eggplant from the skillet and place on a layer of paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
- Spray a 13×9 casserole dish with cooking spray, then add alternating layers of sauce, eggplant, and cheese.
- Pop the casserole dish into the oven for about 25 minutes. For the last couple of minutes, broil the eggplant to get a nice brown color on the cheese.