While my brother Joey and Mark toodle around Puglia for two weeks, I am stateside thinking up creative ways to use my still plentiful bounty of eggplant. I read a line in a New York Times article (‘The Misunderstood Eggplant’, 2008) that said ‘My favorite line about eggplant is from ‘How to Pick a Peach,” an appreciation of seasonal produce by Russ Parsons. “Let’s get one things straight: most eggplants are not bitter (even though they have every right to be after everything that has been said about them).” 🙂 Very cute and true. I tend not to fry my eggplant because frankly I just have not been able to master a delicately fried eggplant. My mother frequently made Eggplant Parmesan for our family, the neighbors, the relatives. I never remember hers as being heavy or too oily. I remember a delicate dish of creamy yet crunchy eggplant mingled with cheesy topping. And even though time may cause memories to blur a bit around the edges, I try and try again to fry eggplant as my mother did. My versions always soak up almost every ounce of oil, leaving the delicate eggplant a bit too heavy. So instead of frying, I typically roast my eggplant which gives it a smokey, deeper flavor (or so I like to think given my failure at frying). The purple powerhouse of the eggplant’s skin comes out crisp and crunchy, a worthy substitute for it’s fried cousin. You can roast the eggplant several hours ahead and assemble just prior to baking. This lower fat version nestles the creamy roasted eggplant in a fresh tomato sauce and loads of freshly grated Parmigiano then baked until nice and bubbly. Enjoy and Happy Fall!!
Roasted Eggplant Parmesan
To roast the eggplant:
2 large or 3 medium eggplants
For the tomato sauce:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, diced
6-8 large ripe tomatoes (peeled, seeded, chopped; about 3 pounds) or 1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A few leaves of fresh basil, chopped
About 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano, divided
1/4 cup breadcrumbs, unseasoned
Extra oil for drizzling on top
1. Roast the eggplant: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut off the top and bottom of the eggplant and slice into 1/2 inch rounds. Cover a large baking sheet with foil. (You may need to use two to accommodate all the eggplant). Brush the eggplant on both sides with olive oil and place the rounds on the foil. Place in the oven and roast for about 15 minutes, turning halfway through. Remove from the oven when the eggplant are browned and skin crispy. Allow to cool.
2. Make the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add in the onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add in the garlic and sauté for an additional minute. Add in the diced tomatoes and simmer until the tomatoes have cooked down a bit, about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally as they are cooking to prevent them from sticking. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir in the basil.
3. Mix 1/4 cup of the breadcrumbs with the grated Parmigiano. Set aside. Lightly oil a baking dish or gratin pan. Put about 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan. Layer the sliced eggplant over the tomato sauce, overlapping the edges. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover with a layer of tomato sauce. Sprinkle heavily with the grated Parmigiano. Repeat with another layer of eggplant, sauce and Parmigiano. Repeat until all the eggplant is used but be sure to end with a layer of sauce. Sprinkle with the Parmigiano and breadcrumb mixture. Drizzle the top with olive oil.
4. Put in the oven and bake until browned and bubbly on top, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven. Allow to rest for a bit to allow the eggplant to set. Enjoy!