For the longest time whenever anybody asked me what my favorite meal was I would answer, “Chicken parmesan.” Now, I couldn’t even begin to tell you what it is. Chicken parmesan still holds a special place in my heart though. Even more dear to it now though has to be Eggplant Parmesan. As I grew older I developed this weird distate for meat. I don’t mind poultry, particularly when it is ground, but anything with a overly chewy texture I can’t keep down. There is more to it then that but that’s the gist. Basically that is why I have developed a preference for Eggplant Parmesan when given the option- no chance of biting down on anything that doesn’t sit well with me.
Plus it’s delicious! Eggplants and tomatoes are pretty much meant to be. They make the perfect combination. And when eggplant is breaded and then fried, topped with tomato sauce, and cheese- amazing! Unfortunately I hate frying things though : / Not really because of how bad for you it is, but more so because it’s a pain in the butt. I never know what to do with all that oil! Anyways, it has been my mission to find a great baked eggplant parmesan recipe that was up to par with the fried version.
Here are the keys to creating a GREAT baked eggplant parmesan:
-Peel your eggplant!
-Cut your eggplant thin. It should be no more 1/4″ thick or else it will remain firm and uncooked.
-Salt the eggplant. This not only removes some of the bitter flavor but also softens the eggplant so that it cooks completely through.
-Make sure the sheet pan is HOT when you put the oil on! Otherwise the oil won’t get up to temperature quick enough to start cooking the eggplant immediately to create the “fried” crispiness you’re looking for.
-Please, please. Please- use hand shredded mozzarella!
That’s pretty much it! I also suggest that you definitely put a few slices of eggplant in the flour bag at a time to streamline the process. And when breading anything it also helps to have one “dry” hand to touch the flour and bread crumbs and one wet “hand” to dip in the eggs.
To tell the truth I didn’t make the tomato sauce in this recipe- I used a jar. I just wanted to quicken things up a bit, but I was really sorry I had done that once I tasted the jar sauce on the dish. It just didn’t do the meal justice. But then again I am not a real fan of jar sauce anyways…
- For the Eggplant:
- 2 medium eggplant (about 2 pounds) cut crosswise into ¼-inch-thick rounds
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 4 cups breadcrumbs
- 1 cup grated Parmesan (about 2 ounces)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 large eggs
- 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
- For the Tomato Sauce:
- 2 cans (14½ ounces each) diced tomatoes or pureed or crushed tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ½ cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
- Salt and ground pepper
- For Baking:
- 8 ounces whole or part-skim mozzarella, shredded (2 cups)
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 ounce)
- 10 fresh basil leaves, for garnish
- To make the eggplant: In a large bowl, toss half of the eggplant slices and 1½ teaspoons kosher salt; transfer salted eggplant to colander set over bowl. Repeat with remaining eggplant and salt. Let stand until eggplant releases about 2 tablespoons liquid, 30 to 45 minutes. Arrange eggplant slices on a triple layer of paper towels; cover with a triple layer of paper towels. Firmly press each slice to remove as much liquid as possible, then wipe off excess salt.
- While eggplant is draining, adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-thirds of the oven, place rimmed baking sheets on both racks, and heat oven to 425 degrees F.
- In a pie plate or shallow dish, combine breadcrumbs, Parmesan, salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Combine flour and 1 teaspoon pepper in large zipper-lock bag; shake to combine. Beat eggs in second pie plate. Place 8 to 10 eggplant slices in bag with flour, dip in eggs, let excess egg run off, then coat evenly with breadcrumb mixture. Set breaded slices on wire rack set over baking sheet. Repeat with remaining eggplant.
- Remove preheated baking sheets from oven; add 3 tablespoons oil to each sheet, tilting to coat evenly with oil. Place half of breaded eggplant on each sheet in single layer; bake until eggplant is well browned and crisp, about 30 minutes, switching and rotating baking sheets after 10 minutes, and flipping eggplant slices with wide spatula after 20 minutes. Do not turn off oven.
- To make the sauce: While eggplant bakes, process 2 cans diced tomatoes in food processor or blender until almost smooth (if using pureed or crushed tomatoes, skip this step).
- Heat olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes in large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until garlic is light golden, about 3 minutes; stir in processed and remaining can of tomatoes. Bring sauce to boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until slightly thickened and reduced, about 15 minutes. Stir in basil and season to taste.
- To assemble: Spread 1 cup tomato sauce in bottom of 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Layer in half of eggplant slices, overlapping slices to fit; distribute 1 cup sauce over eggplant; sprinkle with half of mozzarella. Layer in remaining eggplant and dot with 1 cup sauce, leaving majority of eggplant exposed so it will remain crisp. Sprinkle with ½ cup Parmesan and remaining mozzarella.
- Bake until bubbling and cheese is browned, 13 to 15 minutes. Cool 10 minutes, scatter basil over top, and serve, passing remaining tomato sauce separately.