Don’t you love these food posts that proclaim their recipe to be “the best”. How do they know? Have they tried every recipe in the world? I realize that this hyperbole is part of the blogger gig. You have to talk up your stuff – otherwise, why would anyone try it? “The just so-so beef stew” doesn’t have the same ring 🙂
However, I’m going to qualify my statement by saying that this is the best Eggplant Parmesan that I’ve ever made. I’ve tried different recipes and techniques, and this is the one.
I’ve loved eggplant ever since my first bite, and I agree with Alex Guarnaschelli who says, “I would eat Eggplant Parmesan as my last meal on earth.” I find that eggplant is something you either love or hate. I love it – I love it roasted or in ratatouille or in baba ganoush or baingan bharta. I could go on, but this is about my favorite of favorite eggplant dish, eggplant Parmesan.
Disclaimer: this is not a weeknight meal. I am definitely taking advantage of my time off to make some dishes that take a lot more prep and cook time. Eggplant Parmesan is a labor of love no matter how you make it, it’s time consuming. I still think it’s worth putting on your weekend repertoire.
I developed this recipe from several different recipes that I found on line. The basis for the sauce, however, is Alex Guarnaschelli’s recipe. When I’ve made eggplant or chicken parm in the past, I frequently used a jar sauce. Making a batch of sauce in addition to all the work of frying the chicken or eggplant seemed like one more thing – and I don’t use a lot of sauce, so it was totally ok with my family and I.
Then I made Alex’s sauce (with some tweaks), and I can tell you that this has raised my eggplant parm to a new level – restaurant quality. And this sauce is really so simple, easy, and quick, that you MUST make it. You must. You won’t regret it.
Don’t skimp on the tomatoes – use the San Marzano, it really will make a difference. I don’t mind spending the money on ingredients when I can really taste or feel the difference. The San Marzano tomatoes will melt like butter when cooking, but leave some chunky bits too – which is what you want.
I bought the cheaper ($2.99) brand. The Progresso were $4.99. That’s when I don’t pay the price – when you are just paying for the name.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Before you make the sauce, there’s another MUST step that also makes a difference : salting and draining your eggplant. After slicing the eggplant into 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick rounds, lay the eggplant slices out on a rack over a rimmed sheet pan (or layered in a large colander). Sprinkle salt over both sides of the eggplant rounds and let sit for at least 1 hour, 2 is even better. Then rinse them with cold water and dry them.
I must have read at least 50 different recipes for eggplant parm, and at least 80% of them had this step. Some recipes (Alex’s included) would say you could skip this step if you didn’t have time, but they still suggested it. Alex says that salting it draws out the liquid and bitter flavor. Who wouldn’t want to do that?
While your eggplant rounds are getting less bitter, you can make your sauce. It will take less time than it takes to salt and drain your eggplant.
Once the eggplant is ready, it’s now time to coat the eggplant and bake it. Yes, I said bake. No frying in this recipe. Maybe I should call it “Twice Baked Eggplant Parmesan” because you bake it once with the coating to get it crispy, then you layer the baked slices in with the sauce and cheese and bake it again.
The other unique thing about my recipe – no egg. I find that egg can make the eggplant tough, so I just skip it. No flour either. I use wet eggplant rounds, dip them in the breadcrumb and cheese mixture to coat, and put them on a rimmed baking pan (jelly roll or larger) that has been coated well with olive oil. If you want a little more moisture for the crumbs to stick to the eggplant, you could first dip in milk or water. Once you have filled the pan, drizzle a little bit of olive oil on top of the rounds and bake at 425 degrees for 18-20 minutes – turning them over at the half way point. The eggplant comes out crispy on the outside, and nice and soft inside, without being oily.
Now it’s time to assemble your casserole, bake, allow it to rest for 10 minutes, and you are done!
I served this to my sisters, and they both said it was delicious and asked me for the recipe. As a bonus, I only used about 1/4 c of breadcrumbs, so it’s very low on the starchy carbs if you are watching those sorts of things.
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium yellow onions, peeled, halved, and cut into thin slices
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and grated
- Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 2 (28-ounce) cans San Marzano whole plum tomatoes
- 2 medium eggplants, washed and cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds (about 2 1/2 pounds)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 Tablespoons breadcrumbs, plus more as needed
- 8 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 3 Tablespoons grated Parmesan, plus more as needed
- 1/4 c olive oil
- In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.
- Add the onion and garlic and season with salt and red pepper flakes.
- Cook until the onions become translucent, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Add the sugar and the canned tomatoes. Use a wooden spoon to break up some of the whole tomatoes and cook 10 to 15 minutes over medium heat, stirring from time to time. Taste for seasoning, the tomatoes should be fairly broken down and the flavors coming together.
- Cook for another few minutes if the tomatoes still taste like they need a little more time to break down.
- Set aside to cool.
- Slice the eggplants into 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch thick rounds. Lay the eggplant slices out on a rack over a rimmed sheet pan (or on several layers of paper towels).
- Sprinkle both sides of the eggplant rounds lightly with salt. Let the eggplant rounds sit and release moisture for 1 hour, 2 even better.
- Combine 3 T of breadcrumbs with 3 T grated Parmesan cheese, and place in a shallow bowl or rimmed dish.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. Spread 2 tablespoon of olive oil each over the bottom of two rimmed baking sheet pans.
- Working one at a time dredge the eggplant slices in the breadcrumb parmesan cheese mixture. Add more breadcrumbs and cheese 1T at a time as needed.
- Place the eggplant slices on oiled sheet pan. Drizzle a little oil over the top of each breaded eggplant round.
- Place breaded, prepared eggplant slices in the oven and cook for 9-10 minutes then turn the slices over and cook for another 9-10 minutes until they are nicely browned.
- Spread the tomato sauce over the bottom of a 9x13-inch casserole dish. Place a third of the eggplant rounds in a single layer covering the sauce on the bottom of the pan.
- Dot the rounds with sauce (or more depending on taste) and cover with a layer of shredded mozzarella.
- Place another third of the eggplant rounds over the cheese and dot with sauce. Layer the mozzarella over the sauce.
- Add the remaining eggplant in a single layer on top of the cheese. Dot with the sauce and the remaining mozzarella.
- Bake uncovered at 350°F for 35 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before cutting into to serve.