Yesterday, Tammy asked me for an eggplant recipe. This is one of the best, especially if you’re cooking for people who are “mmm I don’t think so” about eggplant. They’ll be so overwhelmed by the deliciousness of this stuff, they won’t even realize they’re fressin aubergines.
This is from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, quite likely the last Italian cookbook you’ll ever need to buy. I’ll give you Marcella’s recipe along with my running commentary (parenthetic letter, A, B, C . . . like that).
My favorite way to eat eggplant is baba ghanouj, but you need to be a serious eggplant craver for that one. Eggplant Parmesan, however, is a crowd-pleaser.
This is what you’re shooting for:
GBD, as Alton Brown says. Golden, brown, and delicious.
3 pounds eggplant
2 cups canned, chopped tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3/4 pound mozarella (A)
Fresh basil leaves (B)
baking dish, approx. 11 inches by 7 inches
1/2 cup or more freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese (C)
1. Peel the eggplant, slice it into 3/8 to 1/2 inch slices, and lightly salt each one, preferably with kosher salt. In a colander, stand the slices up so that the moisture will drip free. Allow the salt to do its thing — 30 minutes or more for this step. Then, lay out the slices on paper towels, using more paper towels to blot the top surfaces. You can even rinse them under the tap, but I don’t think it’s a necessary step.
2. Fry the eggplant slices. You’ll go through a remarkable amount of vegetable oil for this step. Don’t despair; most of it will drain off later on.
Dredge the slices in flour, just two or three at a time (D). Fry in hot vegetable oil, turning once so that both sides are browned. If you’re insecure on this step, practice with one of the small slices cut from the end of the eggplant. You’ll get the hang of it.
Add more oil as necessary.
Drain the fried slices on paper towels, blotting with more paper towels if necessary. (Oh, it will be.)
3. Put the tomatoes and olive oil in a skillet, turn the heat on medium, add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, stir, and simmer until the reduced by half. If you have another favorite recipe for tomato sauce, feel free to substitute it here (E).
4. Preheat oven to 400 F.
5. Slice the mozzarella as thin as you can — ideally, 1/8 inch thick. Tear basil leaves in half.
6. Smear the bottom and sides of the baking dish with butter. Layer fried eggplant slices on the bottom of the dish, add a layer of tomato sauce, then a layer of mozzarella, some parmesan, the basil, and then more eggplant. Repeat. Most of the time, I have two or three eggplant layers. The top layer should be eggplant, mozzarella, parmesan.
7. Place the dish in the upper third of a preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes. Marcella says to check it at 20 minutes to see if it’s giving up a lot of fluid. In my experience, this only happens if you have used buffalo mozzarella (see note A). Cook for up to 35 minutes, until golden brown and bubbly.
Serve by itself, with a nice crusty bread, or even over pasta. The dish tastes best on the first day, but it’s not half bad as leftovers if you reheat it in the oven. Microwaved, it tends to reheat unevenly.
(A) Marcella recommends buffalo mozzarella, but I have to disagree. The buffalo mozzarella available in most American markets has too high a water content. It gives up its liquid during the baking step and makes for a watery dish. Blech. Stick to good, old-fashioned mozzarella for this — the big hunk, not the pre-shredded variety.
(B) The basil is optional. I like it, but the dish doesn’t live or die by the inclusion of fresh basil leaves.
(C) As with the basil, I suspect this dish will work without parmigiano-reggiano (heresy, I know),
so don’t despair if all you have is Parmesan in the big green shaker-can. Okay, okay . . . don’t use Parmesano il fako. See Dean’s comment below.
(D) In my opinion, this is what makes Marcella’s recipe a stand-out success. Most eggplant parmesan recipes tell you to coat the slices in egg white, then dredge in bread crumbs, then fry. This yields a much greasier dish. The breading only serves to amp up the starch content and does little if anything for the overall flavor.
(E) In a pinch, you can substitute a pre-made tomato sauce, but it had better be a good one 😉