WOW. This was amazing. We are battling over the leftovers. 😉
This version of this classic Italian casserole is from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. I added garlic and basil to the tomato sauce and modified the proportions. I found it interesting that breading the eggplant is an Americanized method used to prepare this dish. Hazan only coats the salted and dried eggplant slices with flour prior to frying them.
We ate it with pasta on the side but crusty bread would also be wonderful. Cheesy and delicious.
Yield: Serves 6
- 3 to 3 1/2 pounds eggplant (I used 4 small organic eggplants)
- coarse salt
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced, optional
- 28 oz can canned whole imported Italian plum tomatoes with juice (such as San Marzano), crushed by hand or coarsely chopped
- 3/4 to 1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, preferably buffalo-milk mozzarella (I used cow-milk mozzarella)
- vegetable oil, for frying (I used canola oil)
- all-purpose flour spread on a plate or glass pie dish
- 8 to 10 fresh basil leaves plus 1 sprig for the sauce plus chopped leaves for garnish
- an oven-to-table baking dish, approximately 11 inches by 7 inches or its equivalent (I used a 2-quart baking dish)
- unsalted butter or cooking oil spray for the pan
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- crusty bread or pasta, for serving, optional (I used 1/2 pound penne)
- Cut the green, spiky top off each eggplant and peel it. Cut each eggplant lengthwise into slices about 3/8-inch thick.
- Stand one layer of slices upright against the inside of a pasta colander and sprinkle with salt.
- Stand another layer of slices against it, sprinkle with salt, and repeat the procedure until you have salted all the eggplant you are working with. Place a deep dish under the colander or place the colander in a large bowl to collect the drippings and let the eggplant steep under salt for 30 minutes or more. (This process is important in order to remove excess moisture from the eggplant.)
- Meanwhile, put the olive oil in a pot, turn the heat on to medium, add sliced garlic, if using. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Add tomatoes (with juice), basil sprig, and salt; stir, and cooking the tomatoes down until thickened, about 15 minutes.
- While the sauce is cooking, thinly slice the mozzarella.
- Before cooking, pat each slice of eggplant thoroughly dry with paper towels. (I placed all of the eggplant slices in 3 layers (one for each layer of casserole) between slices of paper towels to dry.)
- In a large frying pan, pour enough oil into it to come 1 to 1 1/2 inches up the sides, and turn the heat up to medium-high to high. (I used 45 to 50 oz of canola oil in a 12-inch sauté pan.)
- Working a few slices at a time, with the eggplant thoroughly dried with paper towels, dredge the slices in the flour, coating them on both sides. (Do only a few slices at a time at the moment you are ready to fry them, otherwise the flour coating will become soggy.)
- After coating with flour, fry the eggplant, by slipping as many slices into the pan as will fit loosely without overlapping. Cook to a golden brown color on one side, then turn them and do the other side. Do not turn them more than once. When both sides are done, use a slotted spoon, tongs, or spatula to transfer them to a cooling rack placed over a paper towel-lined rimmed baking sheet to drain or to a platter lined with paper towels.
- Repeat the procedure until all the eggplant is done. If you find the oil becoming too hot, reduce the heat slightly, but do not add more oil to the pan.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. (I set my oven to convection.)
- Wash the basil leaves, and tear each leaf into two or more pieces.
- Smear the bottom and sides of the baking dish with butter or coat with cooking oil spray.
- Put in enough fried eggplant slices to line the bottom of the dish (about 1/3)(the original recipe recommends placing them in a single layer but I used overlapped slices).
- Spread some of the cooked tomato over the first layer of eggplant slices (about 1/3), cover with a layer of mozzarella (about 1/2), sprinkle liberally with grated Parmesan (about 1/3), distribute a few pieces of basil over it (about 1/2), and top with another layer of fried eggplant (another 1/3).
- Repeat the procedure in step 16, ending with a layer of eggplant on top. (3 layers of eggplant with sauce and 2 layers of cheese with basil)
- Sprinkle the top layer of eggplant slices with remaining sauce topped with remaining grated Parmesan (about 1/3), and place the dish in the upper third of the preheated oven.
- Occasionally eggplant Parmesan throws off more liquid as it bakes than you want in the pan. Check after it has been in the oven for 20 minutes by pressing down the layered eggplant with the back of a spoon, and draw off any excess liquid you may find.
- Cook for another 10 to 15 minutes, and after taking it out allow it to settle for several minutes before bringing it to the table.
- Garnish with additional fresh basil, as desired.
Note: Eggplant Parmesan tastes best shortly after it has been made, but if you must, you can complete it from several hours to 2 or 3 days in advance. Refrigerate under plastic wrap when cool. Warm it up on the top-most rack of a preheated 400°F oven.