Mention eggplant to adults and they will register a mix of pleasure and apprehension. First, the vegetable resembles an oversized purple tuber with the consistency of a sponge. Secondly, if it's cooked improperly, eggplant has a bitter taste and can be mushy.
Done right, however, cooked eggplant is sublime. Few people who've experienced this dish will decline Eggplant Parmesan — it's Italian comfort food that's the answer to a cold winter's night. This lighter version doesn't follow the traditional method of dredging and frying the eggplant in olive oil. Instead, the eggplant is roasted and the dish is prepared with an eye towards shaving excess calories from the ingredient list. Cooking the red sauce and the eggplant separately elevates the flavor, while layering them at the end results in a dish that is satisfying. Just don't tell your nonna (if you have one) that you've reverse-engineered her signature meal with better results, otherwise you'll be the one that's roasted!
Prep time: 40 minutes
Total time: 90 minutes
Yields: Feeds 4 to 6
Equipment you'll need
- Chef's knife
- 2 cutting boards
- Paper napkins
- 2 large baking dishes or ovenproof skillets
- Large cooking pot with lid
- Quart–sized blender or immersion blender
- Grill spatula
- Long wooden spoon
- Oven mitts
Photo: Enrique Gili
- 2 large eggplants, trimmed, cut lengthwise
- 1 tbs. Kosher salt, divided
- 1 tbs. fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1 tbs. thyme, chopped
- 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
- 1 large yellow onion, halved and sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tbs. dry basil leaves
- 28 oz. can stewed tomatoes
- 6 oz. can tomato paste
- 1.5 cups water
- 1/3 cup red wine, merlot or cabernet sauvignon (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 8 oz. or about 2 cups part-skim mozzarella, grated
- 2 oz. or about 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
- Pinch black pepper and red pepper flakes (optional)
- Preheat oven to 415 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Rinse and prep eggplants. Remove green stem. Cut eggplants in half lengthwise. Place halves flesh side up on cutting board and make three deep incisions along the length of each half followed by an X, so the halves are cross hatched in a diamond-shaped pattern. Sprinkle each section with salt and gently rub salt into flesh. Place halves flesh side down on top of a cutting board lined with paper napkins to absorb excess moisture. Set eggplant aside to rest for about 30 minutes.
- For the sauce, prep vegetables. Place cooking pot over medium-high heat and add 2 tbs. olive oil with onions and garlic. Saute vegetables until tender, about 5 or 6 minutes. Season with basil leaves and stir until aromatic. Then add stewed tomatoes and tomato paste, with 1.5 cups water and 1/3 cup red wine. Cover and bring to a low boil, about 15 minutes, then reduce heat to simmer.
- Coat bottom and sides of 2 baking dishes or skillets with olive oil, about 1 tbs. for each. Add fresh herbs. Squeeze eggplant to remove excess moisture, and drizzle olive oil on flesh, about 1 tbs. each. Place eggplant flesh side down on cooking surface. Place baking sheets on lower rack of oven and cook for 45 minutes.
- Meanwhile, check tomato sauce and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Remove sauce from heat to cool, about 10 minutes. Then pour 2/3 into a blender and puree.
- Combine grated mozzarella, Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs, a pinch of black pepper and red pepper flakes in a mixing bowl and fold until combined.
- At the 45 minute mark, eggplant should be blackened, wrinkled and on the point of collapse when poked. Remove baking dishes from the oven to allow eggplant to cool, about 5 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Then cover each eggplant half with 1 cup of sauce and a half cup grated cheese. Return to oven and cook eggplant for about 12 minutes, or until cheese has melted and starts to brown. Serve hot. Pair with salad, pasta or even a roasted sweet potato.
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