…Is, quite potentially, the only recipe that could “fake out” non-veggie lovers…
I mean, who wakes up and says, “I’d like eggplant tonight, please.”?
Ummm, yeah. That just doesn’t come up in conversation at our house.
However, if you add some cheese, a bit of fry-doodle (technical term, here), homemade tomato sauce with fresh basil and a bit more cheese, you just might have something…
I used to gobble Olive Garden’s Eggplant Parmesan. Absolutely loved it. Still do. But, I gotta tell ya, this eggplant I made last night blew it out of the water.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s a bit time-intensive, so there’s definitely still love for Olive Garden’s made-to-order version, but wow, the homemade stuff is just… Well, homemade. Simple as that, I suppose.
And, this ain’t my first rodeo with Eggplant Parm. I made a version last year (a very different version) that turned out absolutely terrible. I mean, epic fail. The eggplant was mooshy, the sauce was watery… Ugh. So, I admit, I had some trepidation in embarking on this recipe.
But, gee. I’m soooo glad I did.
I adopted this recipe from FoodNetwork’s Tyler Florence. I made a few minor changes (I’ll note them), mostly due to my previous Eggplant Parmesan experience and partially due to my taste buds… Gotta rely on the taste buds…
Check out Tyler’s original recipe here. When you do check it out, you’ll notice that the “prep” time is denoted as 20 minutes, and the “baking” time is 60 minutes. Baking time – correct. Prep time – completely unrealistic unless you have elves or clones or dexterous unicorns running around your kitchen. Not even kidding. Prepare for a solid hour of prep – and perhaps a bit more – before baking.
A big but… Remember to enjoy the prep and cooking part. That’s integral to this whole cooking business – nourish the body, nourish the soul.
Bottomline… It may be a crunch to get this done for a weeknight meal. You decide. I did it on a weeknight, but I also had a bit of extra time. The meal itself is fantastic for a party or gathering of friends, and honestly, I think you could pawn this dish off on some of your pickiest eaters.
Oh, and one more thing – do not, don’t even think about, using store-bought sauce as an alternative to the homemade sauce. Store-bought sauce is prepared and composed differently, and it will change the entire aura of your dish. Don’t do it, even if it’s real tempting.
Spicy tomato sauce
* 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
* 5 garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
* 1 cup pitted whole black olives, roughly chopped
* 1 tsp hot red pepper flakes (or a tad more for additional spice, or a tad less if your family is less-pepper-inclined); I thought it really added depth to the sauce
* 3 Tbsp capers, drained
* 2 (28-oz) cans whole tomatoes, crushed/smooshed by hand (do not wear white while crushing/smooshing)
* 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, hand-torn
* Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
For the eggplant prep
* 4 cups Italian-seasoned dried bread crumbs
* 1 Tbsp garlic powder
* 1 Tbsp dried oregano
* 5 eggs, divided into 3 and 2
* 1 cup all-purpose flour
* Extra-virgin olive oil
* 2 to 3 lbs eggplants – usually 2 medium-sized eggplants
* 2 lbs part-skim ricotta cheese (original recipe calls for whole milk, but I felt the part-skim did a great job in the dish)
* 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
* 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan-Romano (I used a 3-cheese blend – Parm, Asiago and one other fancy name)
* 2 lbs shredded mozzarella cheese
For the sauce
Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and heat until shimmery. Reduce heat to low. Wait about 1 minute, then add the garlic. Cook on low, stirring occasionally for 5 to 10 minutes (you’re infusing the olive oil with the garlic. Using a fine mesh strainer, remove (or strain) the garlic from the olive oil, putting the olive oil itself back into the pan. Hand-crush/smoosh the tomatoes (remember – do not wear white), and add them, along with their juices, to the pan. Bring to a low simmer. Stir in the basil and season with salt and pepper (your seasoning with s & p will vary, depending on your taste buds, so taste the sauce to make sure the counts are right). Cover and simmer for 15 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, keep covered and set aside.
Sweat the eggplants:
Cut off the ends of the eggplants and, using a sharp knife, slice away the skin. Cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place the slices from the first eggplant in a collander set inside a large bowl. Sprinkle generously with coarse sea salt. Add the second eggplant, repeat the salting. Allow the eggplants to sit for at least 15 to 20 minutes. You’re “sweating” the eggplants, encouraging them to release any excess juices that could change the makeup of the final dish.
Combine the bread crumbs, garlic powder, and oregano in a medium bowl. Season generously with salt and pepper and mix well. Crack 3 of the eggs into another medium bowl, season with a bit of salt and pepper, and beat with a fork to mix. Put the flour in a shallow baking dish (pie plate works great) and season with (you guessed it) salt and pepper. Arrange your workstation by the stove: place the flour, beaten eggs, and bread crumbs on a flat surface near the stove.
Rinse the salt off the eggplant slices. Pat dry with paper towels.
Heat 1/4-inch (or so) olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, dredge the eggplant slices first in the flower (you may need to “pat” it to adhere), then dip them in the egg (thoroughly coat), then coat them in the breadcrumb mixture, pressing to adhere the breadcrumb mixture. Add as many eggplant slices to the skillet as will fit comfortable in a single layer, cooking until tender and browned on both sides (they will cook pretty fast – about 2 minutes or less on each side if your oil is nice and hot). Drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining eggplant slices. Add more olive oil to the pan, as needed.
Prep the cheese
Stir together the ricotta and 1/2 cup of the Parmigiano cheese. Stir in the basil and remaining 2 eggs, and season with salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Assemble the dish
You’re going to need a large (think larger than 9X13), deep baking dish (an aluminum store-bought one-use works great). Spoon some of the tomato sauce (think about 3/4 cup or so) over the bottom of the baking dish. Add a layer of eggplant slices. Spread with half of the ricotta mixture. Spoon another layer of tomato sauce over and sprinkle with about one-third of the mozzarella. Repeat with a layer of eggplant slices, the rest of the ricotta, tomato sauce, and another third of the mozzarella. Sprinkle with the 3/4 cup Parmigiano.
Put the dish in the oven and bake for about 1 hour, until golden and bubbling. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.
I served it over whole wheat angel hair pasta, cooked al dente.
Enjoy, Friends! Even somewhat-obscure veggies are awesome!