Eggplant Parmesan is classic Italian cuisine . Skip the gooey mozzarella and let the crispy-fried eggplant and sharp, salty parmesan be the star! When paired with my quick tomato and garlic marinara (yes, those are chunks of garlic), it is a near perfect dish! We had friends over last night who said they didn’t know Eggplant Parmesan could be so good! The secrets to my classic recipe are first; slice the eggplant thick and salt them for at least an hour; second, bread and fry them in a combination of regular breadcrumbs, panko breadcrumbs and grated Romano cheese, third; finish baking the eggplant in the oven with a touch of chunky marinara sauce and lots of freshly grated parmesan cheese. You can eat these hot, room temperature or cold. They can be served as a main course, a veggie side dish or as a favorite Italian sandwich of fried eggplant on Italian bread. You can easily turn Eggplant Parmesan them into an elegant layered salad – a fried eggplant, thick slice of a ripe tomato, a thin slice of fresh mozzarella over arugula dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.
To salt or not to salt. I am a salter. Traditional cooking methods recommended liberally salting eggplant slices as a way to draw out moisture and reduce bitterness. The rule of thumb was that the larger and older the eggplant, the more bitter it was. Small, young eggplants didn’t need to be salted. While that is true, I think salting adds another benefit. Salting also alters the sponge like texture of eggplant so that they do not absorb as much oil when frying. The end result is a cooked eggplant with structure, instead of a spongy, mushy slice. I also leave the skin on when breading and frying eggplant. The skin helps to hold the shape and crisps up too. Bottom line is that I always salt my eggplant before cooking.
Classic Eggplant Parmesan
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 1 cup flour
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 cup bread crumbs regular or italian seasoned
- 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 large or 2 medium eggplants
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ cup grated Romano or pecorino cheese
- 1 ½ cups freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 2 cups Marinara sauce see my recipe at www.homemadeitaliancooking.com
- fresh basil
Optional: Peel the skin in stripes. This removes half of the skin and leaves some on for better flavor.
Slice eggplant in 1 - 1 1/2 inch round, thick slices. Liberally salt both sides and place the slices in a colander standing up (not flat). This helps them to drain. Place a plate on top and weigh down with a heavy can. Place the colander on a plate to catch the liquid. Let drain for 60 minutes.
Rinse well under cold water to remove the salt and pat/squeeze dry. The purpose of the salting is to remove bitterness (which is usually needed for larger, older eggplants) and to helps the sponge-like texture from getting too greasy when frying.
Set up breading station: Mix flour and salt and place on a plate, beat eggs with 1 tablespoon milk in a small bowl, and mix the breadcrumbs, Romano cheese, and black & red peppers in another shallow bowl. Coat both sides of one eggplant slice in flour, then in the eggs, and finally in the breadcrumbs. Continue breading all the eggplant slices. Set aside while oil is heating.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet on the stovetop over medium heat. Cooking in batches, add breaded eggplant slices and fry on both sides until lightly golden and crispy. Drain cooked slices on paper towels.
To assemble the casserole, layer 1 ½ cups Marinara sauce on bottom of baking dish, then add 1 layer of fried eggplant slices, then sprinkle top with ¾ cup parmesan cheese. Add one more layer of eggplant, spoon more sauce on top of the eggplant but do not completely cover. Top with the remaining parmesan cheese.
Loosely cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until the parmesan is golden and the sauce is bubbling.
Garnish with more grated cheese and fresh basil.
Serve hot or at room temperature.