I cannot remember the first time I had it, but I know it was after I left home for college because eggplant was one of the few dishes my father simply would not eat, so Mom never cooked it.
However, I think if he’d had this version, he would have changed his mind.
It’s that delicious.
But it’s also one of the most labor intensive recipes in my repertoire, so Mom would not likely have tried to make it for our family of 11. In addition, eggplant can be quite pricey, so I reserve this dish for special occasions or for the summer when eggplant is available from the garden for free or from local farmers’ markets for less than half of what it costs the rest of the year.
Which is right now at the end of July.
Today was just such a day. Cool and rainy. And a neighbor had just happened to give us two beautiful eggplants from his bountiful garden. The timing was right to make a batch of this recipe.
WORTH THE EFFORT
Although it is a good bit of work to get this meal on the table, the results make it worth it – at least a couple of times a year – and I’ll often double or even triple the recipe to make several pans of it, and freeze it for later eating. It does freeze extraordinarily well.
You can also freeze it in portion sizes after you’ve cooked the whole thing, and simply nuke them in the microwave for a fast and tasty meal for busy times.)
NOT A LOW-CALORIE DISH
Now, I want to say that this dish can be a caloric nightmare. For anyone who doesn't know, eggplant is like a sponge, and will absorb huge amounts of oil if you fry it. I have no need for all that fat and no desire to stand over a hot frying pan tending to it, so I opt instead to oven fry it, and save myself some time and calories. I also use partially skim mozzarella cheese to help make this meal a little less of a caloric bomb. But be advised that this is still by no means a low-cal recipe.
There are also a few other ways to simplify the cooking process for this meal, if you’re interested in having it more often as part of your weekly menu and not just as a special occasion offering. They will all likely add to the cost a bit, and may alter the flavor somewhat, but they still make for a tasty meal.
- Use a jarred tomato sauce. I personally do not care for jarred spaghetti sauce at all, but I do keep a jar or two on hand for “emergencies”, and if you catch a sale, you can sometimes find a jar for only a bit more than you would pay for canned, plain crushed or diced tomatoes.
- Use pre-grated cheese. It’s usually quite a bit more expensive than the brick form, but if using it makes you less likely to do take-out or go to a restaurant, then go for this small convenience. It’s much cheaper than either of those options. My rule of thumb is that I won’t pay more than $4 a pound for cheese, unless it’s a special occasion. I wait for the sales, stock up, and freeze any extra (yes, you can freeze cheese). And sometimes my local grocery store actually has large bags of pre-grated cheese on sale less than $3 per pound, a big savings. When that happens, I try to buy a bag or two and freeze them. It’s a simple matter of using what I need from the bag and returning the rest to the freezer.
- Don’t bother with the breading at all. I personally do not like the eggplant nearly as much without the breading, but many people like it just fine, and even prefer it, so go right ahead and give it a try. Just spread some oil on the slices, bake it as directed, and then use it. This works best, I’ve found, if you can slice the eggplant very thin.
But if you just want a special occasion meal that is sure to please, then follow the recipe as outlined below.
Here it is:
Makes 8-10 servings (can be easily doubled for larger crowds)
Freezes exceptionally well
Prep time – a good hour
Start to finish time – approximately 2 hours
Total recipe cost – approximately $10.00
Total per person meal cost with tossed salad and fresh bread or pasta – approximately $1.75
2 29 ounce cans crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoons canola oil and
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion
4-8 cloves garlic (depending on taste and the size of the cloves)
1 cup dry red wine
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon basil
1 tablespoon oregano
2-3 large eggplants or 3-5 fat/large zucchini (3-4 pounds total weight)
4 eggs*** (see the instructions below for how to make this recipe without using eggs)
2-3 cups of bread crumbs
¼ cup (approximate) canola oil
½-¾ pound part-skim mozzarella cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Eggplant or Zucchini Parmigiana
Tossed green salad
Garlic or plain bread
3-6 cups of cooked pasta (rotini, bow ties, etc.) (optional)
Recipe continues after pictures
- Peel and dice the onions and peel and chop or mince the garlic.
- Combine olive and canola oil in a large saucepan and heat over medium heat.
- Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5-8 minutes, or until translucent. Add garlic and cook about 1 minute longer, stirring frequently. Add the wine and simmer for about 2 minutes.
- Add the 2 cans of tomatoes, the 2 teaspoons of sugar, the 1 tablespoon each of basil and oregano, and the ½ teaspoon of salt, stirring to blend well.
- Cover and simmer the sauce for at least 25 minutes while you go on to prepare the rest of the meal.
- Set the oven to 400 degrees.
- Wash, the eggplant and peel it, if desired (although not necessary). Cut off the ends. Slice it either lengthwise or crosswise, according to your preference, into into pieces approximately ¼-inch thick.
- Spread about 1 cup of bread crumbs on a plate.
- Break and beat 2 of the eggs (to start) in a bowl or large plate, along with a little water.*****
- ***Take 1 piece of eggplant at a time with a fork, coat it on both sides with the egg mixture and then coat it on both sides with the bread crumbs. Stack the breaded eggplant on a plate on the side.
- When you run out of the egg mixture, simply mix the remaining 2 eggs with some water and continue. The same goes for the bread crumbs. Just add more to the plate as needed. ***
- Spread a few tablespoons of oil on a cookie sheet and pre-heat the oiled pan in the oven for a minute or two. Remove it and close the oven door, while you place as many slices of eggplant as will fit into the pre-heated cookie sheet. Return the pan to the oven and bake for about 7 minutes. Set a timer to remind yourself.
- Turn the eggplant and bake another 5-7 minutes on the other side. Remove the baked eggplant slices to a plate. Repeat with the remainder of the eggplant until it is all oven fried. Set it aside with the rest of the eggplant.
- While the eggplant is cooking, coarsely grate the cheese onto a plate to make about 4 cups.
- Ladle about ½ cup of sauce into a large 9x12 baking dish.
- Top with a layer of eggplant. Arrange and cut the eggplant to fit.
- Top the eggplant with about 2 cups of sauce, about 1⅓ cup of grated mozzarella and a couple of tablespoons of Parmesan sprinkled over the top.
- Repeat 2 more times, ending with a sprinkling of Parmesan. Reserve any extra sauce.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
- Bake the casserole at 350 for 30-45 minutes, until it is bubbling and the cheese is fully melted, or until it is browned to taste.
- Let the eggplant stand for about 5-10 minutes before cutting and serving it.
- Serve over the pasta and topped with the extra sauce, if desired, along with a tossed salad and the optional bread.
****If you cannot eat eggs, then simply coat both sides of the eggplant with milk or oil before coating each one with the bread crumbs.