We’re swimming in eggplant this summer – over planting, hot weather and rain at the right times have presented us with more eggplant than we can possibly eat. But we try because we like eggplant. It’s versatile, low cal and tasty. But there’s one preparation that I’m not very keen on, Eggplant Parmesan.
Eggplant Parmesan is one of those dishes that sound a lot better than it eats. In my opinion, the typical version is just a soggy mess. Fried eggplant slices, layered with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, covered in marinara sauce and baked in the oven. But why bread and fry the eggplant only to drown it in marinara sauce? And all that cheese melts into a stringy obstacle course. I’ve looked for alternate approaches but even the “deconstructed” versions usually just pile up the eggplant, marinara and cheese into a tower that still leads to soggy eggplant.
So I, here, try to build a better Eggplant Parmesan by deconstructing the basic premise.
1 large eggplant, sliced into 3/4″ thick slices
1 – 1/2 tsp. Salt
1 large egg, beaten
Bread crumbs – I use panko, Japanese style
Mozzarella cheese, grated – whole milk is best but part-skim is OK. Don’t bother with low-fat or fat-free
Marinara sauce, good quality bottled or home-made, warmed
Parmesan cheese, grated
Pasta, such as spaghetti, linguine, vermicelli, etc., cooked and drained
Preheat oven to 300˚ F.
Salt the eggplant slices and let drain in a colander for 30 minutes. Pat the slices with paper toweling to remove moisture and excess surface salt.
Dredge the slices in flour, then beaten egg and finally bread crumbs. Set aside on waxed paper for 10 minutes to allow the breading to set up a bit.
Fry the eggplant slices in a few tablespoons of olive oil until each side is richly browned and crispy. Place fried slices on a sheet pan and top with a tablespoon or two of mozzarella. Put into the oven until the cheese has melted and is just slightly browned – about 10 minutes.
To serve, put a small portion of pasta to one side of the plate and top with a little marinara and some Parmesan. Put two eggplant slices on the rest of the plate, a dollop of marinara and a sprinkle of Parmesan. Garnish with fresh basil.
The end result gives you what I consider the star of the event, a nice toothsome slice of eggplant with a crispy breading enriched with a reasonable amount of mozzarella, a little marinara to flavor and moisten the eggplant to your taste and some pasta as a side. Each of the elements hold their own character and best of all, they don’t get soggy.