I’m always shopping the discount bin at our grocery store. It saves us TONS of money on fresh produce, and gives me wonderful inspiration for trying out new dishes. This week I totally lucked out and got 2 American eggplants for $1, as well as 2 Chinese eggplants for $1. Andrew assumed I was going to make my typical baked snack of sliced eggplant topped with tomato slices, feta cheese, and oregano. It’s easy to make and I really like it, but needless to say, it’s of NO interest to Andrew. Boy was he surprised when I had him try eggplant Parmesan instead!
I have to be honest that I don’t think I’ve ever had eggplant Parmesan in a restaurant, although I know that a lot of people really like it, as it was ordered often when I was a server. I also do not come from a family known for Italian cooking, so really learning about and making this recipe was a whole new experience for me. Fortunately I do know enough about cooking methods to be able to create my own style of this very popular vegetarian dish.
A major influence for this recipe was the fact that I was cooking it for my children, so taste, texture, and time were all very important factors. I really only had about an hour and a half to play around with how to make it, get my kitchen organized enough to be able to make it, and to have it on their plates to eat.
With that in mind, I decided to try two different methods I’d seen listed in recipes. Most called for baking the eggplant and then baking the whole dish again after assembly. I found that this made the eggplant really soft, a texture not so much to our liking. However, eggplant can be known for being a little bitter. This comes from the seeds at it’s center. Baking or cooking is the way to reduce this, so I wanted to be sure that texture didn’t override taste. I decided to bread and pan fry the eggplant first, assemble, and have a shorter bake time, and then finish it off under the broiler. One could call this the work-night version of eggplant Parmesan, which would otherwise be a long-baked layered casserole dish.
Now for breading I had really liked the use of buttermilk in Andrew’s fried chicken recipe, and I really like the texture of panko bread crumbs, so there wasn’t any thought time for that decision. The recipe calls for traditional Italian red sauce, which has many ingredients and needs to be slow cooked. If I’d had more time or had pre-made sauce on another night I certainly would have used it, but I needed to work with what was quick and reasonable. Along with the ‘using what is available’ issue, for the grated Romano and Parmesan, all I could find stocked was a shaved Romano Parm blend so I simply tossed it in my bullet and on I went.
Last but not least, and actually the first step of the recipe, salting the eggplant. Do this. You will easily see the moisture brought out by this process. I think it’s worth it.
Now, when I said Andrew was surprised by this recipe I was not joking.
For a guy who is totally not into vegetarian dishes; a guy who is completely uninterested in eggplant in particular; a guy who could eat nothing but pizza, sub-sandwich, and burgers for the rest of his life…. He was shocked at how much he really loved this dish! And to be totally honest, the best part for both of us was the sandwich we made out of the leftovers the next day. Seriously, reheat (or don’t) a little stack of this goodness and slather a few slices of your favorite artisan bread with the extra red sauce. You are on your way to a VERY good meal!
This recipe is a win for all! A family dinner and a take to work lunch the next day, on a budget, and all on a week-night.
By: Semiserious chefs
- 2 American eggplants
- 1 quart buttermilk
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1 cup traditional bread crumbs
- 5 oz grated Romano and Parmesan blend
- 1 pound mozzarella ball – slice into 1/2 inch rounds
- Salt (to taste)
- 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 3 T olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves sliced
- 1/2 medium onion finely diced
- 1/2 T thyme
- Slice the eggplant into 1/2 inch rounds. Salt both sides and place on a baking rack and sheet pan or towel. Let stand for 40 minutes to draw out moisture.
- Make the red sauce: While your eggplant ‘sweats’ add the olive oil to a medium sauce pan, and fry the garlic and onion over medium high heat until opaque and soft. Reduce heat to medium low, add tomatoes and thyme and allow to simmer until needed.
- Fry the eggplant: Wipe the off moisture and salt off of the eggplant rings with paper towels, until dry.
- Mix both bread crumbs and 1/2 cup of Romano and Parmasan cheese in a large plate.
- Pour the buttermilk over the eggplant in a large bowl.
- Bring about 1/2 inch of vegetable oil in a large skillet to frying temperature over medium-high heat.
- One at a time, pull an eggplant slice out of the buttermilk, leaving it completely slathered, and lay it into the breading mix. Turn it over and used other hand to completely coat the eggplant pressing more on as needed.
- Fry 4 rounds at time for 5-7 minutes, turning once, until the breading is golden brown and crispy on both sides.
- Assemble your dish: First lay down a thin layer of the red sauce in the bottom of a 9×11 pan. Place one layer of eggplant rounds over the sauce and add more sauce and a slice of mozzarella to the face of each. Repeat this with a second smaller eggplant round on top, and again more sauce, a slice of mozzarella and finally a generous cover of Romano and Parmesan cheese.
- Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.
- Finish-off under the broiler until the cheese on top is golden and crisp.