Eggplant Parmesan done right is worth the wait

August’s arrival simplifies things for the food gardener. Water well and faithfully, preferably early in the day. Then pick as if your very life depends on it.

I’ve harvested enough cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, basil and beans in the past two weeks to share with at least eight other households. The only item my friends haven’t reaped in large quantities is eggplant. Reposing this year in a shadier spot, the Japanese and globe varieties have taken their sweet time while almost the entire month has passed without a household favorite dinner: eggplant Parmesan.

This blog has made several mentions of the classic, comfort-food dish over the years. But I’ve never posted an actual eggplant Parmesan recipe. My own is the product of observation, intuition and demonstration to several fellow eggplant lovers over the years.

Since the first time I made this dish in middle school under my mom’s direction, I’ve perceived eggplant Parmesan as straightforward if somewhat time-consuming. To lots of sliced eggplant, add breadcrumbs, oil, tomato sauce and cheese. Seasonings and other nuances are open to interpretation.

Health concerns aside, subtracting the breading and frying eliminates most of eggplant Parmesan’s appeal. So just make peace with the process (and extra fat) and enjoy this recipe a few times a year the way it’s meant to be made. The Chicago Tribune offered up this version last summer as the next best thing to an Italian grandmother’s.

The only points on which I disagree are salting the slices before breading and whether or not to peel. The Tribune’s writer James P. Dewan claims that the latter is personal preference, but I find eggplant peel to be an essential visual and textural aspect of the dish. As for salting, Dewan says he rarely bothers, but I believe that allotting an extra 30 minutes for this step yields crispier and tastier eggplant.

I have no quibbles with Dewan’s explanation for minimizing the mess that so easily materializes with breading. First, arrange your breading station according to whether you’re left- or right-handed, starting with the flour closest to your dominant hand.

  1. Using your dominant hand, dredge eggplant completely in flour, shaking off excess.
  2. Slip eggplant into the egg wash, flipping it with your other hand to cover completely.
  3. Grab some breadcrumbs with your dominant hand, then use your other hand to move the slice into the breadcrumb bowl. Drop the other breadcrumbs over the top and use your dominant hand to flip the slice, shake off excess breadcrumbs and lay it on a platter. (Your dominant hand should still be dry even if your other hand is damp with egg wash.)

Tribune News Service photo

Eggplant Parmesan

2 (28-ounce) cans Italian plum tomatoes

Chicken stock or water, as needed

1/2 teaspoon salt, divided

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste

2 pounds eggplants

2 cups flour

3 eggs, lightly beaten with 2 tablespoons water

2 cups breadcrumbs

Oil, as needed

Cooking spray, as needed

3/4 pound mozzarella cheese, grated

2 ounces grated Parmesan, or as needed

Pulse the tomatoes in a food processor until you have a coarse puree. Bring to a boil in a large saucepan, then reduce heat and simmer to reduce, for 15 to 20 minutes. If too thick, add the chicken stock or water as needed to adjust consistency. Season with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, or more to taste, and black pepper and crushed red pepper to taste.

While tomatoes are simmering, cut the eggplants into 1/4- to 1/2-inch slices. Season with remaining salt. Set up a breading assembly line: put the flour in 1 shallow bowl, the egg wash in a second and the breadcrumbs in a third. Dredge eggplant slices in flour, then coat in egg wash and coat with breadcrumbs.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add enough oil to cover bottom of pan by 1/8 inch. Wait 30 seconds to allow oil to come up to temperature, then fry eggplant slices in batches, until golden-brown, for about 2 to 3 minutes per side.

If, between batches, oil is gone and breadcrumbs in pan are starting to burn, take pan off heat, let it cool a bit, then wipe it clean-ish with several layers of paper towel. Put it back on heat, add more oil and proceed.

When the slices are golden-brown on both sides, transfer them to a paper towel-covered platter or a flat, paper grocery bag to soak up extra oil.

Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with some of the cooking spray; ladle in just enough tomato sauce to cover bottom. Cover tomato sauce with a layer of eggplant slices, then top with a thin layer of the mozzarella cheese. Cover with tomato sauce, then repeat process of eggplant, cheese and sauce, creating at least 2, maybe 3 layers. Cover final layer of eggplant with sauce and the Parmesan cheese. (You may have leftover sauce.)

Bake in a 350-degree oven until top is brown and bubbly and eggplant is heated through, for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven; rest for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

Makes 8 servings.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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