Eggplant Parmesan

EggplantPlg

Who doesn’t love Eggplant Parmesan – layers of fried, breaded eggplant smothered in a rich tomato sauce with oregano and cheese and then baked until the mozzarella is melted and oozing!  Eggplant Parmesan, is an old Sicilian dish.  The dish, although commonly called Eggplant Parmesan, actually has nothing to do with the City of Parma or for that matter Parmesan cheese, and is incorrectly named.  It should really be called Eggplant Parmiciana, and even mainland Italians call the dish Eggplant Parmigiana.  It was fittingly named because the layering of the eggplant slices resembled the slats of a shutter (pamiciana).  Enough of the culinary history lesson though.

Eggplant Parmesan is not difficult to make, but it is time consuming.  You can easily cut down on prep time by using jarred tomato sauce or making the sauce a day or two in advance.  Sometimes a layer of ricotta cheese is also added. It’s delicious but way too rich for me.  Being conscientious of keeping my weight down, I have also included a method for baking the eggplant that uses a lot less oil and makes a lot less mess.  But as usual, everything fried seems to taste better.  You be the judge.

EGGPLANT PARMESAN
Parmigiana (Parmiciana) di Milinciane/ Parmigiana (Parmiciana) di Melanzane

Difficulty Rating: Intermediate
Makes 6 servings.

FOR THE SAUCE:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large onion, minced
2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 clove garlic, crushed or minced
6 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

FOR THE BREADED EGGPLANT:
2 large eggplants (2 to 2 ½ pounds), ends trimmed and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch thick round slices
1/4 cup + 1 teaspoon salt
2 cups plain dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
Olive oil for frying

FOR THE ASSEMBLEY:
4 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 cup grated Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan cheese
2 cups (8 ounces) mozzarella, shredded

1.PREPARE THE EGGPLANT:  Dissolve the 1/4 cup salt and 8 cups water in a large bowl.  Add eggplant slices and place a plate on top weighted with a can to completely submerge the eggplant.  Set aside.

2.MAKE THE BREADING:  Combine breadcrumbs, cheese, parsley, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper in a medium bowl by rubbing the mixture between your hands.

3.MAKE THE SAUCE:  Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil, over medium heat, in a large 5-quart covered pot over medium-high heat.  Add onion and saute until soft and translucent about 6 minutes.  Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, and basil, and thin with 1 1/4 cups of water more or less.  Bring sauce to a low boil.  Reduce heat to simmer, cover with lid, and cook for 15 minutes stirring occasionally.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir in sugar if using.  Cook 10 to 15 minutes longer.

4.BREAD THE EGGPLANT:  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Drain the eggplant and pat dry with a clean dish cloth or paper towels.  Beat eggs in a shallow bowl with 2 teaspoons of water.  Place the flour in a separate shallow dish.  Working with 1 eggplant slice at a time, dredge in flour first, shaking off the excess, then evenly coat all over in the beaten egg, and coat with breadcrumbs.  Place in a single layer on sheets of parchment paper or wax paper.

5.FRY THE EGGPLANT:  Line a cookie sheet with paper towels.  Heat a 1/2-inch layer of oil in a large deep skillet over medium heat until hot.  Working in batches, fry several eggplant slices at a time on both sides until golden brown, about 5 minutes on each side.  Transfer onto cookie sheet to drain.

FOR THE NO-FRY VERSION:  Spread 1/4 cup olive oil in a rimmed baking sheet.  Place on the lowest rack position in oven and heat for 4 minutes.  Carefully remove from oven and place half of the eggplant slices in a single layer.  Bake on the lowest oven rack for 8 minutes, until browned, turn slices over and bake the other side for 8 minutes.  Transfer to a platter.  Pour 1/4 cup of olive oil onto the same baking sheet and repeat with remaining eggplant.

6.ASSEMBLE THE EGGPLANT:  Place a layer of sauce in a 9-by-13-inch rectangular baking dish.  Arrange 1/2 of the eggplant slices in a single layer over the sauce.  Ladle approximately half of the sauce over the eggplant.  Sprinkle with half of the oregano, grated cheese, and mozzarella.  Continue layering with the remaining eggplant and cover with remaining sauce, oregano, cheese, and mozzarella.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.  Uncover and bake 15 minutes longer, until cheese is melted.

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