The Sweet Partner in Crime loves her some eggplant parmesan. I’m reasonably sure that it’s her favorite thing I make, especially on celebratory occasions. One such occasion – the SPinC’s birthday -- we celebrated last weekend. For dinner, my tried and true entrée took center stage. Now this one’s a little more involved than some of the other recipes – so you should probably keep this in your back pocket for times when you can commit to it. You can rush the perfect parmesan.
I make my parmesan a little differently than traditionalists do. The eggplant slices are usually deep fried, and there’s usually grease and processed cheese congealing all over the place when things are all said and done. I still have plenty of cheese in the recipe, but I grill the eggplant instead, giving it a fresher, smokier taste since I’m not using egg, butter, flour, Crisco, or whatever. Fewer calories and better flavor. How can you go wrong? Want to try it?
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 3 medium sized eggplants, skin on, sliced into ¼ to ½” slices.
- Makings for your favorite red sauce – however you like it best.
- 8 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into small pieces.
- Shredded parmesan cheese
- Some shredded fresh herbs – oregano, basil, parsley – whatever turns you on
That’s it. No real proportions. You should plan to make a pretty good amount of sauce. You really can’t make too much. If it’s not tomato season and I can’t get a couple of pounds of fresh Romas, I’ll use a whole can of San Marzano style canned tomatoes and cut them up. I don’t drain them. I find that’s about the right amount.
Layer the eggplant in a colander. Top each layer with a generous sprinkle of salt. Repeat this process until you’ve got all of the slices salted. This “de-bitters” the eggplant. Leave this in the sink for about 45 minutes.
During this time, make your sauce. I’m sorry, but I steadfastly refuse to reveal the trade secrets of Michael’s Marinara Magnifico. It wouldn’t fly in Naples, but we adore it in Newport – that’s all I’ll say.
While your sauce is simmering, fire up the grill. Rinse off the eggplant slices and brush them in olive oil. (I sometimes put them in batches in a Ziploc with a little olive oil. Goes quicker.) Around the time the grill is ready, preheat the oven to 350. Toss the eggplant on the grill in a single layer. You may need to do a couple of batches, depending on the size of your grill.
Grill the pieces over medium-high heat until they become tender and get some grill marks. The skins will also blacken and shrivel a bit.
When you’ve got the slices grilled, bring them inside. Spray the bottom of a good sized baking pan with nonstick spray, then spread a little bit of sauce across the bottom of the pan.
Put down a layer of the eggplant slices. Top the slices with your sauce. Follow it with most of the fresh herbs (save a few for garnish), the mozzarella pieces, and a generous sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Repeat the layering process. Top with the rest of the sauce and add another generous sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil and bake for about 40 minutes. It’ll be good and bubbly.
Remove the foil and bake for 5-10 more minutes until the cheese on top begins to brown.
Remove from the oven and let stand for about 20-30 minutes. Be warned: the temptation will be maddening to just dive in. Trust me on this. Give it a few minutes to rest. Sprinkle with the rest of the herbs and then dive in.
We dug into the wine cellar and pulled out a Tenimenti Fontanafredda “La Villa” 2000 Barolo to go with this meal. Yep…we went all out for this meal. A Barolo is a big, powerful, tannic wine (which I’ve written about before…) – but eggplant is a great tannin smoother. It would work with young cabernets as well.
See, practically nothing to it. It ends up a little different each time, but that’s the fun of it, right?
As my grandmother Gerta (better known as “Oma”) used to say, “Enjoy! Enjoy!”