by Cat, July 2008 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)
In the 1970s, I was learning to cook dishes from other cultures, and was primarily a vegetarian. So when I saw a recipe for Eggplant Parmigiana in my new cookbook, The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas, I was excited to give it a try – despite the fact I’d never had eggplant before and had no idea what it was like.
I loved it, and wanted to share it with my Mom when she visited, but I knew she would make a face and refuse to eat anything made from eggplant – its name was so off-putting. So I peeled the eggplant (because the peel would give it away), and I made a more liquid sauce so the slices were completely covered (and thus better disguised). I told her it was chicken parmesan, and she never knew the difference. Many years later, when I confessed to my lie, she thought it was a good joke on her. It became one of her favorite stories.
- See also: 1. Chicken Parmigana; 2. Basic Meatless Tomato Sauces; 3. Fresh Tomato Paste for Parmigiana Sauce (the same as the recipe here); 4. Eggplant or Aubergine (About)
- Includes: 1. Eggplant Parmigiana; 2. Fresh Tomato Paste for Eggplant Parmigiana
I love the French name for eggplant: aubergine, which means ‘purple,’ my favorite color. Did you know it is in the same family as tomatoes and peppers (not to mention potatoes and tobacco)?
One of the things that makes this recipe special is the freshly-made tomato paste and the thick sauce it makes with red wine. The sauce stays where you put it – on the eggplant slices. If you are wanting a more liquid sauce, try one of my meatless tomato sauces: Basic Meatless Tomato Sauce or Marinara with Balsamic Vinegar or Wine.
This recipe is adapted from The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas (1), and serves 4 – 6 (depending on size of eggplant). This delicious dish was a staple in my diet when I was a graduate student living on $300/month, and even though I’m no longer vegetarian, I still make this dish a few times each year, for a change of pace.
The tomato/wine sauce for this dish is very richly flavored, and would be equally good on pizza. For a sweeter, richer flavor, you can use balsamic vinegar for part of the wine in the sauce. The sauce recipe is a bit vague on amount of wine (I use 4 – 6 oz):
- you want it to be thick enough that it will stay put and not run, but
- moist enough that you can gently spread it over each slice of eggplant.
I make my own tomato paste, then freeze it in an ice cube tray; each cube is 2 Tbsp (about 1 oz) of sauce. Alternately, if you have sweet, fresh tomatoes, I highly recommend making your own fresh tomato paste; see below for recipe.
Rusk (a dried bread) makes excellent breadcrumbs for this recipe. I make and dry a loaf every Christmas, then store in a cool dark place; it lasts all year and produces nice crumbs.
Fresh mozzarella is best in this dish, as it is softer in texture than the hard variety typically used on American pizzas. However, if you cannot find it, use the hard variety and grate it coarsely (rather than slicing it). Also be liberal with the grated parmesan (or Romano or Asiago) sprinkled over all.
Incidentally, you can use chicken or veal cutlets instead of eggplant in this dish. Just pound the meat pieces to flatten them into cutlets, then roll them after coating with the crumbs. Or you can do both meat and eggplant in the same casserole. See also Chicken Parmigana.
Important note about eggplant: As a member of the nightshade family, you should avoid eggplant if the meat of the fruit has any green color, as that green is toxic, and an indicator the eggplant is not yet ripe. See Eggplant or Aubergine (About) for more, including a video on testing for ripeness.
It’s important to salt the eggplant after slicing, to remove excess moisture, and also a bitter liquid that affects the flavor. This also salts the casserole, so you will not need as much salt in the sauce.
NOTE: you can skip the flouring and breading of the eggplant. Instead, prepare the eggplant slices as in step 1, then simply fry the dried slices in olive oil heated to 3750 F (do a few slices at a time so you don’t crowd the pan). Fry them about 2 minutes on the first side, 1 minute on the second. Pick up each slice with slotted spoon, then press out excess oil with the back of another spoon. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels, stacking slices as needed. [from Fine Cooking (2) website]. Personally, I like the breading from the original recipe.
Ingredients & Equipment:
- 1 medium eggplant
- 1 egg
- dried breadcrumbs (I use rusk)
- olive oil
- 1/2 lb (8 oz) fresh Mozzarella
- 6 oz tomato paste, preferably homemade (see below for fresh, homemade tomato paste; it also has its own post: Tomato Paste, Fresh. for Parmigiana Sauce)
- dry white or red wine, 4 – 6 oz or to taste
- pinch dried oregano or basil, or a bit more fresh
- 2 (or more) cloves garlic
- Unrefined Sea Salt and freshly grated black pepper
- 1 cup (or more, to taste) freshly grated Parmesan, Romano or Asiago cheese
- 3 small, shallow bowls (for dipping eggplant slices)
- cast iron skillet
- lasagna or other baking dish
- Wash eggplant and slice into 3/4″ thick rounds (no need to peel the eggplant). Place on sheets of paper towel and sprinkle with salt. Let sit for awhile until moisture beads appear on the top of the slices. Blot with paper towel.
- Meanwhile, put a little flour in a shallow bowl; whip egg with a little milk in second shallow bowl; and breadcrumbs in a 3rd shallow bowl.
- Dip slices into flour, then into egg/milk mixture, and then into the breadcrumbs, so they are well coated.
- Preheat oven to 4000 F.
- Heat olive oil in cast iron skillet, over medium heat; sauté coated eggplant, a few at a time (don’t crowd or they will get soft and mushy), until they are nicely browned on both sides. Tend them carefully and add oil as needed.
- When slices are crisp and golden brown, arrange them in baking dish, and put a slice or more of Mozzarella on each one. You may need two layers of eggplant & Mozzarella slices to fit into the pan.
- Make a thick tomato sauce by diluting the tomato paste with wine. Mince garlic, sprinkle with a bit of salt, and crush with flat side of a chef’s knife until they release liquid. Add to tomato paste with oregano or basil. Season with salt and pepper. Spread 2 – 3 Tbsp on each slice in baking dish.
- Sprinkle grated parmesan on top; bake about 15 – 20 minutes and serve steaming hot, and eggplant is tender.
Fresh Tomato Paste for Eggplant Parmigiana
This recipe, adapted from Fine Cooking (1), uses fresh tomatoes instead of tomato paste, for the sauce, and makes 6 Tbsp tomato paste. If using oregano in the main dish, omit the fresh basil in this sauce.
I just made this on 2/25/12 and it was great. I used fresh basil, so eliminated the oregano from the above recipe (I have sensitivity to the two together). I did process through my sieve, but then decided to use the discards because they tasted too good & garlicky. I used the discards on top of the bottom layer of eggplant, and the wine-enhanced paste over the top layer. How do you say wonderful in Italian? Meraviglioso!
Ingredients & Equipment:
- 1 large clove garlic (or 2 small)
- 1 3/4 lb plum tomatoes (or one 28-oz can diced San Marzano tomatoes, drained)
- 1 – 2 Tbsp olive oil
- Unrefined Sea Salt
- 6 fresh basil leaves (optional)
- cast iron skillet
- Peel garlic and cut in half; chop tomatoes coarsely. Tear basil leaves in half.
- Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant and barely golden, 1 – 2 minutes; reduce heat if they tend to burn. Add tomatoes and 1/4 tsp salt.
- Raise heat to medium high and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes begin to break down into a sauce, 20 – 25 minutes. Add warm water 1 Tbsp at a time if the tomatoes begin to dry up. You don’t want too much liquid.
- Lower heat to medium and continue cooking, until thick and chunky, 5 – 10 minutes.
- Off heat, remove garlic. Process tomatoes through a sieve. Then stir in basil, and season to taste with salt. Set aside until ready to use in above recipe. (Don’t forget to dilute with the wine and flavor with fresh garlic).
- The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas (see Beloved Cookbooks for more about this book)
- Howcast.com: howcast.com/videos/398335-how-to-tell-if-eggplant-is-ripe/ and their video on YouTube: youtube.com/watch?v=3V7zQshcybE