Cook's Country (August/September 2010)
We struggle with eggplant. It's not that we don't like it, but this time of year, when we're getting five-plus pounds of it a week from our CSA, we have trouble finding ways to use it. (How much baba ganoush can two guys handle?!)
Of course, there's always eggplant Parmesan, but we've never really loved that dish. The eggplant parms we're used to are gloppy, mushy casseroles. Surely there's a better way to use up eggplant?
Well, with only one bite of this reinvention of the classic Italian dish, we were already thinking differently about eggplant parm.
There are three techniques this recipe uses that we think are genius suggestions for rethinking eggplant Parmesan.
First, it suggests cutting the eggplant into "planks" rather than rounds. This gives you a substantial piece of eggplant, and also requires less frying time because there are fewer pieces. This recipe for two produces only four pieces of eggplant that need to be fried.
Then, once the eggplant has been briefly fried in a coating of panko and Parmesan, it's transferred to the oven to bake on wire racks while you make the sauce. We love the simplicity of the sauce. Made in the same skillet the eggplant is fried in, it's a great, herby mix of eggplant, tomatoes and spices.
And lastly this recipe skips the "bake in a casserole dish" step altogether that you may find in other eggplant parm recipes. So banish the thoughts of the big, gooey mess you've known before. Once the sauce is made, you simply assemble the dish on a plate.
The result is, in a word, mindblowing. The savory combo of Parmesan and panko, nicely browned by being fried and then baked, still has our mouths watering. The sauce, infused with the summery scent of basil, is the perfect accompaniment for the eggplant. And with the eggplant in planks rather than small rounds, the dish is substantial and "meaty" enough that even the most ardent meat eaters will be pleased. Finally, cooking the elements separately and then assembling them on the plate allows the eggplant to stay crisp and crunchy, while the sauce is fresh and vibrant. It's all incredibly good.
Dare we say we're looking forward to getting more eggplant?
1 medium eggplant (about 1 pound)
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg
½ cup panko bread crumbs
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
½ cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
½ cup shredded provolone cheese
1. BREAD EGGPLANT. Cut two ¾-inch planks lengthwise from center of eggplant, halve each plank crosswise, and cut remaining eggplant into ½-inch dice. Place flour in shallow dish. Beat egg in second shallow dish. Combine bread crumbs, ¼ cup Parmesan, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper in third shallow dish. One at a time, coat eggplant slices lightly with flour, dip them in egg, and dredge in bread-crumb mixture, pressing to adhere. Transfer to wire rack set inside rimmed baking sheet and let sit 5 minutes (or refrigerate up to 1 hour).
2. COOK EGGPLANT. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Heat ½ cup oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Cook -eggplant slices until lightly browned, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to wire rack set inside baking sheet and bake until eggplant is tender and deep golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes.
3. MAKE SAUCE. Meanwhile, pour off oil and wipe out skillet with paper towels. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in empty skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add chopped eggplant and ¼ -teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Stir in remaining oil, garlic, and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 -seconds. Add tomatoes and reduce heat to medium. Simmer until eggplant is tender and sauce is thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in basil and season with salt and pepper; cover and keep warm.
4. ASSEMBLE. Combine remaining Parmesan and provolone in medium bowl. Top browned eggplant slices with cheese mixture and bake until cheese is melted, about 3 minutes. Transfer half of sauce to platter and top with eggplant slices. Spoon remaining sauce over eggplant. Serve.
Cutting Eggplant Down to Size
One eggplant yields over a dozen rounds, which require serial batches of tedious breading and frying. We figured out a less laborious way for feeding two.
1. Using a serrated knife, slice off one side of eggplant (reserve) and cut two ¾-inch planks from the center.
2. Cut planks in half crosswise so they’ll neatly fit into the pan for frying in a single batch.
3. Chop reserved side pieces into strips, then into ½-inch cubes, and set aside for building the tomato pan sauce.