I’ll never forget the first time I made eggplant parmesan. It was in the mid-80s, and I was preparing it for my Dad, who was mainly responsible for instilling my love of food and cooking. Dad loved to make Italian dishes and his red sauces were incredible. He would tinker for hours in the kitchen, perfecting old recipes and experimenting with new ones. He finally had to give up making dishes that took any amount of time because of his health, so one day I decided to make him eggplant parmesan, one of his favorites (mine, too!)
Well, it was horrible. I mean really, really bad. Throw-away and call-for-a-pizza bad. While my marinara sauce was excellent (I had that down pat, thanks to Dad), the eggplant itself sucked. First, I cut the slices too thick. Next, I didn’t salt the eggplant slices and let them drain to get rid of the excess moisture. What a mess! Dad insisted on trying it, but was happy when I told him that pizza had already been ordered.
I am thrilled to say that almost 30 years later, I have finally perfected my recipe for eggplant parmesan. I just wish my Dad was here to enjoy it, especially on this Father’s Day. This one is for you, Dad.
Ingredients (Serves 4-6)
- 1 ¾ to 2 lbs. of eggplant (3-4 medium sized), sliced fairly thin
- Kosher salt
- Vegetable oil for frying
- 2 to 3 large eggs, beaten
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ cups Italian breadcrumbs
- 4 to 5 cups marinara sauce (make your own or use your favorite store-bought brand)
- 8 oz. mozzarella, cut into thin slices (I accidentally bought small ball – one big ball is preferable)
- 1 ¼ cups fresh parmesan cheese, grated
- 9 to 10 fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded
- Fresh ground pepper
- Fresh parsley for garnish (optional)
Sprinkle the eggplant with the salt.
Place it in a colander set over a bowl, then let drain at least an hour. I soak up some of the excess liquid with paper towels several times during this step.
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Heat the marinara sauce (and I hope you make your own – it’s way better and you get to control the ingredients. But use the store-bought stuff if you must.)
Stir together flour, salt and pepper in a shallow bowl. Lightly beat eggs in a second bowl with a tablespoon of water and place the breadcrumbs in a third bowl.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking.
Working with one slice at a time, dredge the eggplant in flour, shaking off any excess.
Then dip in the egg mixture, again shaking off any excess.
Dredge the slices in breadcrumbs until evenly coated.
Fry the eggplant slices in a single layer, until golden brown on each side, 5 to 6 minutes per batch.
Transfer the eggplant to paper towels to drain.
Spread 1 cup or so of marinara sauce in bottom of an oiled, 2 ½- to 3-quart baking dish. Arrange about one third of eggplant slices in one layer over sauce, overlapping slightly if necessary. Cover the eggplant with some more of the marinara and sprinkle some of the fresh basil on top of the sauce.
Cover with a layer of the mozzarella and sprinkle with some the parmesan cheese.
Continue layering with remaining eggplant, sauce, fresh basil, mozzarella and parmesan, ending up with the final layer of eggplant, sauce and parmesan.
Bake, uncovered, until cheese has melted and the sauce is bubbling, 35 to 40 minutes. I place a piece of tin foil under the casserole dish in case of any spills.
Let the eggplant rest for five to 10 minutes after removing it from the oven. Garnish with some fresh parsley if you’re serving it to guests to make it look pretty.
Serve with a tossed salad, some crusty bread and a glass of good wine.
Dad would have definitely approved and gone for seconds. The eggplant is perfectly seasoned and tender, and goes great with the spicy marinara sauce and the ooey-gooey cheese. Yum, yum, yum! And it’s perfect for a meatless Monday meal.
Eat, drink and be merry!
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