Parmigiana di Melanzane (Eggplant Parmesan)
Eggplant Parmesan is one of those classic dishes served in every red checkered tablecloth Italian restaurant outside of Italy; it’s a Sopranos family hit (no pun intended); and it’s probably the most impressive combination of left-overs I can think of. Imagine you make a big weekend spaghettata (spaghetti dinner) and serve lots of fried eggplant on the side. If you’re smart enough to make extra tomato sauce and fried eggplant, the next day you’ll have the ingredients ready for Eggplant Parmesan. Just assemble and bake.
To prepare the eggplant:
1 ½ lbs eggplant for the Eggplant Parm. dish, or more for delicious fried eggplant.
salt for draining
½ cup or so of flour for dredging
oil for frying
Slice the eggplant crossways into ½ inch rounds. No need to peel it. Salt the rounds on both sides and arrange as vertically as possible in a colander so that they can drain. Place a bowl filled with water on top of the eggplant slices to weigh them down and help extract the juices. Let drain for about 2 hours. **I do this for reasons different from what you find in most cookbooks. They often suggest this draining step to leech out the eggplant’s bitter juices. That’s fine but I also find that this improves the texture in the final dish. There’s nothing worse to me than undercooked, spongy eggplant, and I’ve never produced that when I’ve followed this step.
Dry eggplant slices on paper towels. Fill a plastic bag with ½ cup or so of flour. Get 2 frying pans ready with oil to coat the bottom. You can just barely coat the bottom or you can coat it with ¼ inch of oil. How much oil you use depends on you. You have a lot of options here. This Mario Batali recipe suggests baking the slices on an oiled sheet which would dramatically cut down the amount of oil in the final dish. I went for the high caloric version instead. I made a double recipe of what you see here and ate fried eggplant as a veggie side dish yesterday because plain baked eggplant slices just didn’t appeal to me. So once you’ve got your frying pans with oil over medium heat, drop 3-4 slices in the plastic bag with the flour, shake and place them in the pans. Once the pans are full with one layer of eggplant, fry until they’re a medium brown. Flip and fry the other side. Take out and drain on paper towels. Continue until you have fried all the slices.
To prepare the sauce:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, mashed
*1/2 tsp anchovy paste (optional)
3 15 oz cans of Italian San Marzano tomatoes (or fresh tomatoes if they’re in season)
2 bay leaves
*½ -1 cup red wine (optional)
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp oregano
salt and pepper to taste
In a large frying pan over medium heat, place the olive oil and onion. Fry the onion until very lightly browned (4-5 minutes) then add the garlic. Cook for 1 minute. If your canned or fresh tomatoes are not the most flavorful, you can add the anchovy paste now to boost the taste. Then add the tomatoes and bay leaves and cook, stirring periodically for 2-3 hours. If the consistency gets too thick during that time you can add some red wine. In the last 5 minutes of cooking add the thyme and oregano. Salt and pepper to taste.
Assembling the dish:
2 cups of the tomato sauce
the fried (or baked) eggplant
3 medium balls of fresh mozzarella sliced as thinly as possible
10 fresh basil leaves sliced thin
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
¼ cup dry breadcrumbs, toasted in 1 tsp olive oil
Spread ½ cup of sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 13 oval oven-proof dish. Layer half the eggplant a evenly as possible. Layer ½ the mozzarella. Music to layer mozzarella by: “Woke Up This Morning” (Sopranos Theme Song) by Alabama 3. I have had this song running through my head all afternoon and I don’t even like it. Sprinkle with half the basil leaves and then half the grated parmesan. Spread the rest of the sauce evenly over everything. Continue layering the other half of the ingredients in the same order. Finally sprinkle the top as evenly as possible with the toasted bread crumbs. If you want to be like Carmella or Janice Soprano, you can make the dish up to this point and freeze it. When somebody dies, you can bring the dish still frozen over to the berieved’s house to help them get through the mourning process without having to cook. Otherwise, just bake in a 350F oven for 30-40 minutes until the middle is bubbling. Enjoy with a side salad and some crusty bread.