RECIPE: Eggplant Parmigiana with Simple Garden Tomato Sauce
There's a lot of debate around if you should salt your eggplant or not to enhance the eggplant. Some chefs soak their eggplant in cold water and salt-actually brining it. My mother actually does this, and I like doing this when I grill my eggplants. It depends also on the kind of eggplants that you grow. We grow Japanese eggplants and they have fewer seeds and are sweeter. After doing some reading, I have found that salting eggplant for anything baked or fried is the best way to enjoy them. It breaks down the vegetable's cell walls so that it absorbs a little bit of the oil and it makes the eggplant super nutty and creamy, which is what you want in a baked dish. So the extra step is worth it, trust me. It makes my eggplant parmigiana amazing.
Part of this recipe is making a simple tomato sauce, but if you don't have time to make tomato sauce you can absolutely buy sauce from the store. It'll work just fine. If you have garden tomatoes, definitely use those in this simple sauce. But canned tomatoes will work just fine. My mom makes Eggplant Parmigiana by the truckload over the summer and then she cuts it up into serving sizes and freezes them for the winter. She has so many eggplants and tomatoes, she just doesn't know what to do with it all. What's better in the winter than enjoying garden fresh vegetables like eggplant parmigiana? So I suggest making a few batches of this over the summer and doing the same. Come winter it's fresh, it's cheap and it's easy!
Eggplant Parmigiana with Simple Garden Tomato Sauce
2 large eggplants, peeled and sliced into 1/4" thick rounds or lengthwise if you wish
or 4-6 smaller eggplants
3/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons of flour
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon of dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder
canola oil for frying
simple tomato sauce
1/8 of a cup of extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 Vidalia onion, diced
4-5 sliced cloves of garlic
1/2 medium carrot, shredded
2 1/2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 36 ounces jars of whole tomatoes
1/2 cup of basil, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon of salt
7 ounces of shredded mozzarella
8 ounces of fresh mozzarella, sliced
Grated parmesan cheese
fresh ground pepper and extra basil on top if you have it
Salt the eggplants:
Layer the eggplant slices on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt on both sides of the eggplants and cover again with paper towels. Basically, layer the eggplants in between paper towels sprinkled with salt until all the eggplants are lightly salted. Let sit for an hour and 30 minutes. The water will get drawn out of the eggplant and break down the cell structure so that they become sweet and creamy when added to the eggplant parmigiana.
While the eggplants are sitting make the sauce. In a three-quart heavy bottom saucepan heat the olive oil and add the onions and the garlic and cook until softened and slightly golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Then add the carrots and thyme leaves and cook until the carrot is very soft, about another five minutes. Add the tomatoes, crushing them in your hand (juice and pulp) to the pan. Bring everything to a boil, lower the heat add the basil and simmer and cook for about 45 minutes, or until the mixture is as thick as a hot oatmeal cereal. Season with salt. The sauce can be refrigerated for up to a week and frozen for up to six months. You can also can it.
Fry the eggplants:
You can do this a day ahead if you wish, but best the day of. Lightly rinse the eggplants under cold water and pat them dry to get the excess salt off. Whisk the eggs with the other batter ingredients until thick in a bowl. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat up the canola oil on medium-high heat until it is smoking. You may need to add more oil as you go and regulate your heat as you go. You want enough oil to be able to cover the eggplant slices in your pan. Dip the eggplant in the egg batter and fry in the hot canola oil until golden brown. Drain on paper towels until all the eggplant slices are fried. (It's all we can do to not eat all the eggplants at this point, they are so crispy and creamy, they are like candy. FAIR WARNING!)
Preheat oven to 425˚
In a 13" x 9" baking dish, spoon about 1/2 a cup of sauce on the bottom. Layer the eggplants along the bottom, and then add more sauce on top. Sprinkle with shredded mozzarella and parmesan and continue layering eggplant, sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese and parmesan until you have a top layer. On the top layer of sauce, add the sliced fresh mozzarella. Sprinkle with extra basil and fresh ground pepper if you have it. Cover with foil and bake for about 30 minutes. Take the foil off the last five minutes for a nice browning on top. Let the eggplant sit for 10 minutes before cutting and serve warm.