I've been growing eggplant for as long as I've been gardening. It's one of my favorites. The meaty texture is perfect in a main dish or a side. I even made "meatballs" out of it. Every season, I make a batch or two of eggplant parmigiana with my garden eggplant. It's a classic that freezes well, so we can enjoy it throughout the winter.
I took my inspiration for this recipe from Lidia Bastianich's Italian-American Kitchen cookbook. I love Lidia. I worship the culinary ground she walks on. But, her cookbook recipes tend to be written in paragraphs, which I find difficult to follow. I modified her recipe to reflect how I've actually been making it (I rarely follow recipes as written), and created this one. (I also wrote it in a format that is easier to follow). I took the shortcut of using store-bought tomato sauce. (I hope none of you are gasping right now...) The first time I made this, I also made her tomato sauce recipe, but found I hadn't made enough and had to supplement with jars of sauce I had on hand. Ya know what? It was delicious. Making this dish takes up enough time and effort that I don't mind taking a shortcut if it doesn't sacrifice flavor. I never see anyone complaining as they ask for seconds....
Whether you grow your own eggplant or you get it at your local market, I hope you'll give this recipe a try. It's become one of my favorite dishes to make (and is the most-requested by my husband).
TIP: You may use different amounts of some ingredients, depending on how you make it. For example, the eggs, flour and breadcrumbs are for dredging/coating the slices, so you can gague how much you'll need along the way; you may also prefer a less cheesy version or use less sauce. These are flexible and can be modified as needed.
2 1/2 - 3 pounds eggplant (about 2-3 medium)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon table salt
All purpose flour (for dredging), about 1 cup
1 1/2 cups plain unseasoned breadcrumbs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup olive oil
2-3 (24 oz) jars marinara sauce
1 1/2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Fresh basil (about 15-20 leaves)
2 pounds fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2" thick slices
Trim the ends of each eggplant and peel the skin in strips lengthwise, leaving 1/2 inch strips of skin about 2 inches apart.
Cut the eggplant lengthwise in 1/2-inch thick slices and place them in a colandar over a large bowl. Sprinkle kosher salt over the eggplant slices and let drain for about an hour. Rinse the eggplant with cold water and pat dry.
Note: This method of "sweating" the eggplant is intended to take some of the bitterness out. However, many don't consider it necessary. You can skip this step if desired.
In three wide, shallow pans or bowls, do the following:
Bowl 1: Add flour.
Bowl 2: Whisk the eggs and table salt together.
Bowl 3: Add breadcrumbs.
TIP: Place the bowls in a row in the order of Flour, Eggs, Breadcrumbs. (I remember the order by thinking February's abbreviation of FEB.)
Pour the vegetable oil and olive oil into a heavy medium to large skillet and heat on medium-high heat. (I use a large cast iron pan).
Dredge the eggplant slices in the flour and shake off excess.
Dip the floured eggplant into the egg mixture, making sure that both sides are coated. Let excess drip back into the bowl.
Press each side of the eggplant slice into the breadcrumbs to coat it entirely.
Add as many eggplant slices that will fit without the slices touching. Cook for about 3 minutes per side or until they are well-browned on both sides. Remove the slices when done to a baking sheet layered with paper towels. Repeat as needed until all slices are cooked. (Lower heat and add oil if needed throughout cooking.)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
TIP: Place a baking sheet covered in foil on the oven rack below the rack you'll be placing the baking dish on. This will catch dips and keep your oven clean.
In a 9"x13"baking dish, add these ingredients in layers in the following order, pressing each gently and repeating each layer twice (end with mozzarella and a little drizzle of sauce):
Sauce (enough to coat)
Sauce (about 3/4 - 1 cup)
Add a little sauce, if needed to fill in the borders, but don't overfill.
Cover the baking dish loosely with foil and place in the oven for 30 minutes.
Uncover and continue baking for about 20 minutes more until it begins to get golden in spots. Let it rest for 30 minutes before cutting into squares and serving.