Eggplant Parmesan

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
vegetable oil
flour
2 cups canned, chopped tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
salt
3/4 pound mozarella (A)
Fresh basil leaves (B)
baking dish, approx. 11 inches by 7 inches
butter
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.

Enjoy!

Notes:

(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 πŸ˜‰

D.

16 Comments

  1. Dean says:

    Okay.

    First, Dr. Hoffman can cook. I know.

    But this is just wrong.

    (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.

    Please, please, people. Do yourself a favour and get a chunk of the real stuff, the reggiano. It’s pricey. It’s worth every last penny. Parmegiano reggiano is one of the world’s best things, right up there with clean water, girls in short skirts, and the Rolling Stones. The stuff in the green shaker can is NOT THE SAME PRODUCT. They don’t taste remotely alike. Really: do a taste test.

    Reggiano is wonderful stuff, cheese with a sweet, nutlike flavour that fills your mouth. The best has overtones of citrus, orange and lemon. Sometimes it reminds me of honey. Sometimes of the aftertaste of cantaloupe.

    Any dish worth making is worth making well, and you really should use the reggiano if you can possibly get it.

    I’m going to make this, and I’m going to use the reggiano!

    Ok, enough

  2. Walnut says:

    I agree with you 1000%, Dean, but Tammy lives in Iowa. Do they have reggiano in Iowa? I don’t know!

    Is the dish a lot better with the real deal? Yes. Would it still be tasty without? Yes.

    So I’ll make this one modification: if all you have is the green shaker can, skip the parmesan altogether. Call it Eggplant Mozzarella.

  3. Dean says:

    There are some things in life worth fighting over, and real reggiano is one of them.

    I didn’t like parmesan for years. Thought it was this dry, sharp, flat-tasting powder. Then, at a Commercial Drive restaurant years and years ago, the waiter asked if I wanted some parmeggiano on my pasta. No, I said, I don’t like it.

    He smiled and flaked a little piece off the block in his hand with the end of the grater (really, he did it deftly, like he did it a hundred times a day) and gave it to me. I must have looked at it dubiously.

    Try it, he said, in a thickish Northern Italian accent. Trust me, it’s not the same as the green can.

    It sure wasn’t. Maybe we can send Tam some if she can’t find it. Oh, wait, she needs it now.

  4. Walnut says:

    Dry, hard cheeses are the best. Nothing like a hunk of reggiano or asiago to nibble on with a bit of crusty bread and a glass of red wine. Yummmmm.

    Let me know how your eggplant parmesan turns out.

  5. Stamper in CA says:

    This sounds yummy; I have been craving eggplant but have always used the bread crumbs… so I learned something about using flour vs bread crumbs; the picture made my mouth water.

  6. dcr says:

    I will have to try this sometime.

    You’re right about the amount of oil that frying eggplant can use up. Surely you know the story behind the dish, Imam Bayildi. πŸ˜‰

  7. Lyvvie says:

    What is the benefit of kosher salt over other salts? I’ve not tried it, not easy to find, and would like to know before I go on the big search in the small city.

    Also, how far away is Hillsboro from you? Like close enough that our families could BBQ a few times a summer?? Google Earth makes it look forever away but driving miles are always relative.

  8. tambo says:

    Even though I joke about living in a cornfield, I’m pretty sure I can find reggiano ’round here somewhere. If it’s not at one of the bigger chain groceries in the area, I can always drive into Des Moines to Graziano’s (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/125602#681750). They even hand-make their tortellini! :)

  9. Walnut says:

    Lyvvie, isn’t Hillsboro in the San Francisco Bay Area? If so, it’s 7-8 hours drive from me.

    Tam, great! Foodyism strikes the heartland. Reggiano is pricy, but well worth the $$$.

  10. Lyvvie says:

    There’s a Hillsboro in OR too!! It’s outside of Portland, Beverton kind of area. But Doug!! Why the Kosher salt?!

  11. Walnut says:

    Oh! Whoops. It has to do with taste and texture, Lyvvie. With regular table salt, the crystals are so fine, it can be difficult to evenly salt a steak (for example) without “overdosing” particular areas. Some salt shakers are better than others in this regard. Kosher salt lacks iodine, so to some people (like me) it tastes better, too. On the other hand, you have to get your iodine someplace.

    I also live 7 hrs drive from Portland! We’re equidistant from all of the big cities, unfortunately — Portland, SF, and Sacramento.

  12. dcr says:

    Hillsboro is in Ohio too.

  13. Suisan says:

    Imam biyaldi is my favorite way of doing eggplant.

    No, wait. I meant Baba Ganoush

    No. I meant eggplant dolma, stuffed with lamb and mint and rice and…

    Hell. I’m a sucker for eggplant.

  14. Walnut says:

    More eggplant on the way. It’s worth two posts :)

  15. […] Following the seminar, we will break for lunch in the main cafeteria. Dr. Hoffman will be serving Eggplant Parmesan and Lemon Squares for dessert. […]