I hated eggplant as a kid. So did my sister, Michele. And my Mom’s attempts to get us to eat it were met with fierce resistance. Wartime-style subversive resistance.
Josie’s eggplant Parmigiana was made by breading and frying the eggplant first and then constructing the casserole dish with tomato sauce, mozzarella and Parmigiana cheese (sadly the “green can” stuff because that’s all that was available in the 60s in our town). But as I grew up, I learned that this was a delicious dish. Heavy and richer than eggplant Parmigiana found in the Naples area of Italy but just as delicious in its own way. I can only determine that this style of “eggplant parm” is a mixture of the traditional lighter unbreaded eggplant dish from Naples combined with a breaded and fried eggplant style found in and around Amalfi. So perhaps it was viewed as a more elegant, expensive dish.
The fierce resistance came to a head one summer evening when my sister and I again refused to eat eggplant Parmigiana for dinner. Flat out refused. We were a united wartime front on this one. So in a time-honored tradition used by parents, we were told, as my parents moved off to watch TV in the other room, to stay at the dinner table until we finished eating our dinner. My sister and I, refusing to give an inch, hatched a plan. My mom had served the food in a bowl placed on a plate. Eggplant being usually cut in discs, was the perfect shape to conceal under the bowl and declare “we’re done!!”. It was only when the eggplant floated to the top of the dish water in the sink that our deception became clear and all hell broke lose!
Today, of course, I love eggplant. Fried, baked, grilled, diced, rolled, hot, cold. . .you name it. And there are a few tricks I’ve learned along the way to making it successful.
First and foremost, salt it and let it sit. Regardless the shape you’ve cut, generously salt it and let sit in a colander for 30 minutes. Excess water will bleed out that can be damped off with paper towels. The eggplant will absorb less oil when fried.
And second, if pan frying or deep frying, you need a SCREAMING hot pan using an oil with a very high smoke point. Grapeseed oil is the best choice. Heat the oil till shimming but not smoking – but close. This will prevent the eggplant from soaking up too much oil. You’ll need to adjust the heat as you cook because when you first put the eggplant in, the oil temperature will drop. Use an oil thermometer if in doubt. Grapeseed oil’s smoke point is 420°F.
So here’s the recipe as I remember it. Slightly improved for modern times but retaining a few 1960s household conveniences. I recommend you make it the day before serving to let all the flavors blend.
Serves 4 to 6 people.
Ingredients and Directions:
- 2 medium-size globe “Italian” style eggplant
- Grapeseed oil: enough to put ½-inch at the bottom of your wide sauté pan
- 1 cup or so of all-purpose flour
- 1 egg
- 1 cup or so of Italian-style breadcrumbs – YES, out of the can
- 2 cups of homemade tomato sauce
- ½ pound grated whole milk mozzarella (low moisture type)
- ½ cup Parmigiana-Reggiano cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
- A casserole dish of your choosing – ideally an oven to table serving dish
- Discard the ends and slice the eggplant into ½-inch discs and salt and drain as described above. I leave the purple skin on but some people like to peel it first.
- Prepare the breading station: three dinner plates in a row filled with 1) flour with salt and pepper mixed in; 2) the egg and some water, lightly beaten, and 3) the Italian-style breadcrumbs.
- Prepare a wide sauté pan with ½-inch of grapeseed oil and heat to just below smoking.
- Working quickly, dredge an eggplant slice in flour, then egg wash and then breadcrumbs. Make sure to fully coat at each step. Carefully place in the hot oil and fry till golden brown. You can probably get about 4 slices in the pan at once.
- Turn over each slice and repeat the frying on the other side. Be VERY careful when placing the eggplant in the hot oil and flipping the slices. Use long tongs and be careful not to splash yourself with the hot oil.
- Place the fried eggplant on a paper towel to absorb the excess oil. Proceed to fry all the eggplant. Do not bread ahead of what you can fry right away as it will get soggy.
- Let the eggplant cool to room temperature on the paper towels.
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
- Build the eggplant Parmigiana casserole by layering the dish with a small amount of tomato sauce, then the fried eggplant, then some more sauce. Top with the ½ the shredded mozzarella and ½ the Parmigiana cheese. Repeat with another layer of sauce, eggplant, sauce and cheeses.
- Cover with foil taking care that the foil is not resting on the cheeses. Bake for 1 hour. Remove the foil and continue baking until the cheeses are lightly browned—about 10 more minutes.
- Remove and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate overnight.
- When ready to serve, let it warm back to room temperature or gently heat it in a low oven (250ºF). Cut and serve at room temperature or just above!