A new-school eggplant parm — it’s baked (not fried) and topped with fresh cherry tomatoes and basil.
This is not your grandma’s eggplant Parmigiana.
The old-school dish, with those layers of gooey mozzarella cheese, fried eggplant and hearty red sauce is hunger-inducing, for sure. It’s also a shining example of Italian peasant cooking — make the most of what you’ve got, even if what you’ve got is just some vegetables, cheese and stale bread.
I remember watching my mom make it, and it seemed like quite the production.
First, she prepared the eggplant by peeling, slicing, salting, draining and then breading it. Next she set up her electric frying pan on the kitchen table and waited for the oil to get hot. She fried the eggplant in multiple batches, followed by a thorough paper-towel blotting.
Finally, the fried slices were put into a baking dish, covered with the cheese and sauce before baking. It seemed like forever before we could dig in!
Plus, all that frying and cheese can feel pretty heavy. My lightened-up version will satisfy cravings for Italian comfort food, minus the fussy preparation.
Here’s a few tips for making crisp baked eggplant:
- Choose small, firm eggplants. I love the striated purple and white Grafitti variety – they’re meaty and sweet with little to no seeds.
- Put your fresh mozzarella in the freezer for about 30 minutes to ensure nice, even slices.
- Egg whites help the seasoning and crumbs adhere, eliminating a heavier, flour-and-egg batter.
- Preheat the sheet pan. It will keep the eggplant from absorbing too much oil and helps brown and crisp the coating.
If you like this recipe, check out Eggplant Parm Mac and Cheese.
baked eggplant with mozzarella and tomato-basil salad
Yield 4 - 6 servings
- 2 small eggplant (such as Graffiti variety); 1 1/4 pounds
- 2 egg whites
- 2 teaspoons crumbled dried oregano
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt or 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cups prepared fresh tomato sauce or marinara
- 1/4 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced into half-moons
- 1/2 cup fresh parmesan cheese
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes (in mixed colors if available)
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- Handful fresh basil leaves
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Have a large rimmed rectangular sheet pan and a large baking dish ready.
- Peel the eggplant, or partially peel, leaving stripes of skin here and there. Slice into 1/4-inch-thick circles.
- Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl with the oregano, salt and pepper. Put the panko crumbs in another large bowl or shallow pan.
- In 2 or 3 batches, dip the eggplant slices in the egg white mixture so that they're evenly coated, then add to the bowl with the crumbs, tossing around to make sure the crumbs adhere.
- Put the empty sheet pan in the oven for 7 minutes (it will start smoking). Remove from the oven (with oven mitts) and pour enough oil in the pan to a depth of 1/4-inch, about 1/2 cup of oil.
- Immediately arrange the eggplant on the hot pan. Bake for 7 minutes, then turn the pieces over and bake another 5 minutes or until they're nicely golden on the other side.
- Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. Put the tomato sauce in a large baking dish, then add the eggplant to the dish. Distribute both cheeses over the eggplant and bake 15 minutes.
- Quarter the cherry tomatoes and toss with 1 tablespoon extra olive oil, the vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Tear the basil leaves into strips and gently toss with the tomatoes.
- Serve the eggplant with some of the tomatoes spooned over the top.
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