Crunchy yet soft, cheesy and tangy; eggplant parmesan is a great big dish of contrasts and love.
I’ve never made eggplant – or chicken – parmesan before and I’d actually never heard of it prior to moving to the U.S. but heck, was I missing out. It was somewhat of a staple in the rotation of dishes served up at the hippy co-op I lived at for a year in Austin. I’d often opt for the eggplant version over the chicken, I think mainly because I was so unfamiliar with this vegetable (which, by the way, we Brits call aubergine) and the textures just fascinated me.
So, you understand my excitement when I wandered down to the farmers’ market at the weekend in the early morning of a crisp, late summer day and found all these magical eggplants in season. My mind immediately went to this dish. And here it is.
- 1 large eggplant
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes
- Salt and pepper
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup flour
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/4 cups panko breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
- 1/3 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
- Slice the eggplant crosswise into 1/2 inch rounds and toss slices with a teaspoon of salt. Set in a colander and let it drain for half an hour.
- While the eggplant is draining, pour the olive oil into a sauce pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute until fragrant, but careful not to burn it! Add the tomatoes to the pan with their juices and break them up with a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper, and add a pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook for 30 minutes, until thickened.
- Dry the eggplant slices with a paper towel. Place flour into a large bowl. Crack and beat the eggs in another bowl. In a third bowl, mix together the panko, Parmesan, and a pinch of salt. Dredge the eggplant slices through the flour, shaking off the excess. Dip eggplant in the egg and then in the panko. Set aside on a wire rack.
- Pour the canola oil into a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Fry the eggplant slices in batches, about 2 to 3 minutes a side. Set aside to drain.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F. Make two layers in your dish (or more, depending on the size of your dish) of the ingredients, in the following order: tomato sauce, eggplant, mozzarella, parmesan, basil. Repeat.
- Bake 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. Garnish with additional fresh basil.
I just love the combination of tangy tomato sauce with rich, creamy parmesan and that awesome crunch from the fried eggplant slices – it’s such comfort food!
Obviously this isn’t the lightest dish in the world with all that deep frying and baked cheese so serving it alongside a big salad is a grand idea. So is a nice big glass of red wine. And really, some fresh, crunchy bread wouldn’t kill you, would it? Since it takes longer than I usually like to spend on cooking during the week (about 1.5 hours from prep to mouth) it’s also a perfect weekend dish.
What’s your ultimate comfort food?