Did I just discover the holy grail of Eggplant Parmesan? Methinks yes.
I love eggplant parmesan. And chicken parmesan. And [fill in the blank] parmesan (even veal, which I tried once, before I decided that I never wanted to eat baby animals again). It’s basically guaranteed to be good even at a so-so restaurant, but homemade… well, you can’t beat that.
[fill in the blank] parmesan can be somewhat complicated to make, because traditionally it involves breading and frying the [fill in the blank] part, THEN layering it with delicious sauce and cheeses, THEN baking it. It generally creates a huge mess and is fairly time consuming, regardless of how delicious it is. It can also be fairly heavy due to the frying, leaving you full of regrets, lying on the couch unable to move (no? Just me? OK then).
So tonight, I tried something different. Inspired by a recipe in Martha Stewart’s Meatless (one of my favorite cookbooks), I made individual eggplant parmesan stacks and sauteed the eggplant pieces with a little salt, pepper, and olive oil, rather than breading and frying them. Then, I simply stacked with sauce, cheese, and basil, and baked! Delicious! And since I had a bunch of marinara sauce already made, the whole process only took about 25 minutes (besides the optional way I prepped the eggplant- see note below) and I barely broke a sweat (partly because the weather has cooled off substantially, but also because it was very easy).
And, since Zach is still out of town (WAHHHHH, again), it was incredibly easy to make this meal for just me tonight (especially since I went grocery shopping after my last post). I made two stacks and it was more than enough. If I had paired it with a side salad or pasta, one would have been plenty for dinner (recipe below is for four stacks, which feeds two or four people depending on how hungry they are). Despite the stacks’ small size and their light ingredients, the richness of the eggplant and the combination of flavors and fresh cheeses makes this a very satisfying, hearty meal.
I know what you are thinking right now, and why yes, I DID make that gorgeous loaf of homemade whole wheat bread in the background! I am experimenting with making a hassle-free whole-wheat bread from scratch and will post results in the near future. But if I am being honest, as pretty as it looks, it came out a bit dense. I have some tweaking to do before I post a recipe. Even so, this fresh bread was delicious with olive oil bread dip on the side!
Recipe and how to prep the eggplant below- enjoy! :-)
Optional eggplant-prep: Eggplant can sometimes be a little bit bitter and cause a bit of indigestion if not cooked thoroughly and prepared properly. In addition to cooking it thoroughly, one other easy thing can be done in advance to reduce the bitterness, if you have time. About a half an hour to an hour before cooking, slice the eggplant, salt it, and place it upright in a colander with a clean towel underneath, or in the sink. The bitter liquid in the eggplant will be drawn out by the salt and drip through the colander, almost like it is sweating (I apologize for the somewhat unappetizing comparison). After 1/2 to 1 hour, remove the eggplant and blot dry with a clean towel. Not only will the eggplant be less bitter and more easily digestible, but it will brown more effectively when sautéing because it is dry! Again, this step is not vital, but whenever you cook eggplant it is a good idea to do this if you have time (kind of like how soaking beans is way better than not soaking beans before you cook them- but it’s not necessary!).
Lightened-up Eggplant Parmesan Stacks
- (optional): at least 1/2 hour before cooking, sprinkle salt on the eggplant slices, place upright in a colander on a clean towel or in the sink, and allow the liquid to be drawn from the eggplant slices and drain. Blot slices dry with a clean towel.
- Season eggplant slices with pepper (and salt, if skipping optional first step) and saute for approximately 2 minutes on each side in a large skillet on medium-high heat in olive oil. Set on paper towel to drain.
- Top each slice of eggplant with a spoonful of tomato sauce, a small piece of mozzarella cheese, approximately a tablespoon of parmesan cheese, and a pinch of the fresh basil.
- Repeat the layers two more times, omitting the basil on the last layer.
- Bake in a 375 degree oven for 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted (this doesn't take long because all the ingredients are already cooked and the eggplant is warm!)
- After removing from oven, add remaining basil on top of each stack (this is added after baking so it doesn't dry up or burn)
- Serve with a little bit of crushed red pepper and some fresh cracked black pepper on top, if desired.