This eggplant parmigiana is one of my favorite celebratory dishes for late summer, when the eggplants and tomatoes are at their very best. I use canned tomatoes for the sauce, and a dice of fresh heirloom cherry tomatoes and basil on top, after it comes out of the oven. The combination of fresh and cooked tomato flavor is unbeatable.
At the market, look for eggplants that are very dense. When you pick one up, you should feel surprised at how heavy it is. I don’t bother with salting and draining eggplants for most dishes, but for this one it makes a big difference. You don’t want a bunch of liquid coming off of the eggplant when it is in the oven, making the breading soggy.
Japanese panko breadcrumbs work fantastic for this dish, because they fry up so light and crispy. You can find them at Asian grocery stores, and I’ve also seen them at better mainstream markets lately.
Accusations that I would eat this cold for breakfast the next day are completely unfounded. It is always gone long before then.
Eggplant Parmesan (or Eggplant Parmigiana)
Serves 6 as a main course
3 large or 5 smaller globe eggplant, about 4 pounds total
2 cups canned crushed Italian tomatoes (San Marzano preferred)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup flour
4 eggs, beaten
3 cups panko breadcrumbs
3/4 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced thin
two handfuls of fresh basil, roughly chopped, divided
1 cup fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1.5 cups diced heirloom tomatoes (cherry or full size)
- Peel eggplant and slice lengthwise in scant 1/2″ thick planks. Layer in a colander or on a cooling racks, with a heavy sprinkling of kosher salt in each layer, top with a plate and weight with some cans, and let drain for at least 30 minutes. Wipe off excess salt with a paper towel.
- Make a quick tomato sauce by sauteing the garlic in the olive oil and adding the diced tomatoes, and reducing a bit while you make the rest of the recipe. Don’t add salt because the eggplant will still have residual salt from the draining process.
- Set up for dredging, with plates for the flour and panko, and a shallow bowl for the egg. Also, get a rack or sheet pan covered with paper towel to receive the booty. Get out and butter a large baking dish and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Put a good 1/4″ of vegetable oil (not olive oil, it will smoke too much) in your biggest skillet and and heat on high. Working with two slices of eggplant at a time, pat them in the flour until they have a dry coating, then drag through the egg, and finally press both sides in the panko, covering thoroughly. Place them in the skillet, where they should start sizzling immediately. Fill the skillet loosely, leaving yourself some room to work. Flip when brown, maybe 2 minutes, then remove to the paper towels when brown on the other side. They should be tender to a fork at this point, because the oven baking is just to melt the cheese, not cook the eggplant.
- To assemble, lay down your first layer of eggplant, and top each slice with a couple tablespoons of tomato sauce, a piece of mozarella, a bit of parmesan, and a bit of basil . Build up three layers using all of the ingredients and finishing with cheese.
- Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, until the cheese it thoroughly melted.
- To serve, put a healthy stack on each plate, and top with about 1/4 cup of the diced heirloom tomatoes, any remaining basil, and a grind of fresh pepper.