I had a couple girlfriends visit from Charleston this past weekend and we had a mahhvelous time. They both had their babies in tow so rather than plan a raucous night on the town Saturday, I made us a homemade meal instead. They arrived around noon and after unloading the vehicles and getting everyone acquainted with the pets, we headed to downtown Columbia for a “grown-up” lunch. Unfortunately, my go-to spot was closed (we learned the hard way Hunter-Gatherer, while open nightly for dinner, is only open for lunch oddly on Fridays). We then split up: MainMan hit the golf course, one group headed to the Warhol exhibit at the Columbia Museum of Art and the other went to the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden (where MainMan works). The day flew by and before we knew it it was dinnertime.
Luckily I wised up and prepared dinner the night before. The last time I tried to make this was when my parents were here in January. That was a big mistake. And they ended up doing most of the work. If you’d like to impress guests with this recipe, do yourself a favor and prepare everything the night before. Then when you want to eat it, assemble all the ready parts (eggplant already breaded and baked, sauce and cheese) and shove it in the oven for 30 minutes and voila. No loss, no foul. I promise you, you won’t taste the difference.
A few hours ago I expected to email the girls a link to this recipe already living on my blog, then I realized I never wrote it up (and you have to have a Cook’s Illustrated account to see their recipes — pretty stingy if you ask me).
So, without further ado, check out their eggplant parmesan recipe below. This was my fourth time making it, and it was the best version yet. You can make it in the 13×9-inch baking dish they recommend, or for a truly epic version you can make it in a deeper dish like we do in our Le Creuset Dutch oven. There’s nothing like digging into a bite of eggplant parmesan that’s 5-6 slices thick. One neat thing I like about this recipe is you don’t fry the eggplant. While you do douse the slices in flour and eggs to bread and batter them up, you bake them in the oven rather then submerge them in a bubbling, crackling pot of oil. Cook’s claims this is not only for health purposes, but it improves texture and removes bitterness. Thanks, Test Kitchen!
Use kosher salt when salting the eggplant. The coarse grains don’t dissolve as readily as the fine grains of regular table salt, so any excess can be easily wiped away. To be time-efficient, use the 30-45 minutes during which the salted eggplant sits to prepare for the breading, cheeses and sauce.
2 lbs. eggplant, sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds
Kosher salt and pepper
8 slices of white sandwich bread, hearty and torn into quarters
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1 cup)
1 cup all-purpose flour*
4 large eggs
6 T vegetable oil
*I always run out of the flour and eggs for coating the eggplant slices. To be on the safe side, I’d probably use 2-3 cups of flour and 6-8 eggs.
3 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Kosher salt and pepper
CHEESE (for layering)
8 ounces whole-milk or part-skim mozzarella, shredded (2 cups)
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
10 fresh basil leaves, roughly torn
Line baking sheet with triple layer of paper towels and set aside. Toss eggplant and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt together in bowl, then transfer to colander. Let sit until eggplant releases about 2 tablespoons liquid, 30 to 45 minutes (while a pain, this is a crucial step, and prevents your eggplant from being too watery). Wipe excess salt from eggplant, then arrange on prepared baking sheet. Cover with another triple layer of paper towels and firmly press each slice to remove as much liquid as possible.
While eggplant is draining, adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions, place rimmed baking sheet on each rack, and heat oven to 425 degrees. Pulse bread in food processor to fine, even crumbs, about 15 pulses. You should have about 4 cups. Transfer crumbs to pie plate or shallow dish and stir in Parmesan, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper; set aside. Wipe out food processor and set aside.
Combine flour and 1 teaspoon pepper in large ziplock bag and shake to combine. Beat eggs in second pie plate or shallow dish. Place 8 to 10 eggplant slices in bag with flour, seal bag and shake to coat eggplant. Remove eggplant slices, shaking off excess flour, then dip in eggs, letting excess egg run off. Then coat evenly with breadcrumb mixture. Set breaded slices on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Repeat with remaining eggplant.
Remove preheated baking sheets from oven. Add 3 tablespoons oil to each sheet, tilting to coat evenly with oil. Place half of breaded eggplant on each baking sheet in single layer; bake until eggplant is well browned and crisp, about 30 minutes, switching and rotating baking sheets after 10 minutes, and flipping eggplant slices with wide spatula after 20 minutes. Leave oven on.
While eggplant bakes, process 2 cans diced tomatoes in food processor until almost smooth, about 5 seconds. Heat olive oil, garlic and pepper flakes in large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and garlic is light golden, about 3 minutes. Stir in processed tomatoes and remaining can of diced tomatoes. Bring sauce to boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened and reduced, about 15 minutes (about 4 cups). Stir in basil and season with salt.
Spread 1 cup tomato sauce over bottom of 13×9-inch baking dish. Layer in half of eggplant slices, overlapping slices to fit. Distribute 1 cup sauce over eggplant, then sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella. Layer in remaining eggplant, then dot with 1 cup sauce, leaving majority of eggplant exposed so it will remain crisp. Sprinkle with parmesan and remaining 1 cup mozzarella. Bake until bubbling and cheese is browned, 13 to 15 minutes. Cool 10 minutes, scatter basil over top and serve, passing remaining tomato sauce separately.
Enjoy and happy baking!