This traditional meatless entrée usually consists of thick slices of the aubergine vegetable deep fried and baked in a rich tomato sauce. For a new twist on this old favorite, try thinly slicing the eggplant and layering it with the sauce to create a magnificent casserole with alternating flavors and textures.
The eggplant derives its name from the fact that it was originally small, white, and egg shaped. Hybridization has led to the meaty purple behemoths that we know today. Eggplant is a part of the nightshade family which includes potatoes, tomatoes, and tobacco of all things. Centuries of crossbreeding have not been able to erase the slight bitterness still present in the raw vegetable. Luckily, this can be eliminated with a little culinary knowhow.
The eggplant is a moist, spongy vegetable. The trick to a successful eggplant parmesan is to eliminate most of that moisture before cooking. By slicing and salting the eggplant ahead of time, you can wick away the moisture leaving only the meaty fruit to cook as desired. This has the added effect of removing the bitter flavor compounds contained within.
What you will need for the sauce:
1 pound roma tomatoes, concasse
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon basil, minced
1 tablespoon oregano, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Place the tomatoes in a pot of boiling water for 10 seconds. Drain and shock in an ice bath. Peel and remove the seeds. Dice and set aside.
Heat the oil in a sauce pot over moderate heat. Add the onions and the garlic and sweat until translucent. Stir in the tomatoes cover and simmer for 1 hour.
Stir in the basil and oregano for the last 15 minutes of cooking. Season with salt and pepper to your liking, and puree to a coarse consistency.
What you will need for the casserole:
1 cup all purpose flour
¼ cup milk
2 cups coarse bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
Oil for frying
Mozzarella cheese, shredded
Slice the eggplant into ¼ inch rounds. Dust liberally with salt and place in a colander to drain for 30 minutes. Rinse off the excess salt and give the slices a squeeze to remove any excess moisture. Lay the slices on sheet pan fitted with a wire rack to dry.
Season the eggplant with pepper and dredge in flour. Beat the eggs and milk together and dip the rounds into the mixture to coat. Coat liberally with the bread crumbs and place them back on the wire rack as you go.
Heat the oil to 350 degrees in a cast iron skillet. Fry the eggplant, careful not to overcrowd the skillet, until golden brown. Lay the pieces on a few layers of paper towels to remove any excess oil.
Lay a single layer of eggplant in a casserole dish and cover with a layer of sauce. Alternately layer the eggplant and sauce in the dish. Cover with cheese and seal with a sheet of foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Remove the foil and continue to bake until the cheese browns on top. Slice into squares and serve with a side of spaghetti.