Who doesn’t like a sumptuous Italian meal rich with spices, herbs, cheese and EGGPLANT? One of my favorite Italian dishes is eggplant parmigiana and it always seemed much too complex to try at home. But it isn’t that difficult at all and after a few tries, I now make one at home that frees me to order other delicacies at restaurants.
There are a good many steps in this recipe but they are easy ones and the final combination is like a superb casserole. First, take a medium size eggplant and for this you will need the full size vegetable and not the smaller Chinese or Japanese varieties. Make half inch slices of eggplant, season lightly with salt and set aside. I do not peel the eggplant but many find the skin can be bitter but not me who likes the extra texture of the lovely dark purple skin. Set up your dredging bowls of seasoned flour and beaten egg: flour first, egg second, and flour mixed with grated parmesan cheese in the final dredge. Fry the slices of eggplant in your choice of oil until browned. Since this is Italian, I prefer olive oil but any will do. Set the fried eggplant aside on a metal draining rack.
While the fried eggplant is “resting,” you can prepare the other ingredients. Sautee some red bell peppers and onions in butter or oil [or a combination of the two]. I prefer fairly large pieces of the bell pepper which only need to be very lightly cooked. Next you can use either homemade marinara sauce or your favorite jarred variety. For either, it is always better to add fresh basil and/or oregano along with your sautéed bell peppers and onions.
The next step is the easiest and the most fun – combining all your wonderful ingredients. Coat the bottom of a casserole dish with a light film of your sauce and top with a layer of eggplant. Add a generous layer of sauce topped with shredded mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. For extra creaminess you can also use some cream cheese or ricotta. Repeat this again, ending with marinara sauce. Cover with your cheeses and cook in the oven at 350 degrees for about thirty minutes. Remove and add more cheese and turn your oven to broil. Cook for about five to seven minutes until the top is browned and bubbly. You are done and ready to feast with just a bit of cooling [fifteen minutes is plenty]. Serve with a salad and garlic bread [remember there is no pasta in this dish so bread is a great addition]. You can also prepare a plain side of spaghetti if you like but I find this is too filling.
One of the best things about this recipe and many other Italian dishes made at home is its durability. Yes, there are a lot of steps and ingredients but it keeps well in the fridge for several days and reheats to perfection. Even better, it freezes beautifully so put some individual servings into containers and freeze for a delightful homemade meal in a few weeks that only needs a quick turn in the microwave. Enjoy.
–Photo and story by Dick Funderburke