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Classic Eggplant Parmigiana

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Serves six as a first course; serves four as a main course.

  • by Laura Giannatempo from Fine Cooking
    Issue 100

This is how they do eggplant parmigiana in Italy: no breading and no puddles of cheese, just thin layers of fried eggplant with homemade sauce, a little fresh mozzarella, and good Parmigiano-Reggiano. It doesn’t get more authentic than this.

For the eggplant:
  • 2-1/2 lb. eggplant (about 4 small or 2 medium-large)
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 cups olive oil (or a blend of olive and canola oils)
For the sauce:
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
  • 3-1/2 lb. plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped, or two 28-oz. cans diced tomatoes (preferably San Marzano), drained
  • Kosher salt
  • 12 large fresh basil leaves, torn in half
For assembling:
  • 6 oz. fresh mozzarella, torn into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1-1/4 cups lightly packed freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (3-1/4 oz.)
Salt the eggplant:

Peel the eggplant and cut each crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Cover the bottom and sides of a large colander with a few eggplant slices and sprinkle generously with salt. Top with more layers of eggplant and salt until you run out of slices (you’ll end up with five or six layers). Let the colander sit in the sink or over a large bowl for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours. The salt will draw out water and reduce the eggplant’s ability to absorb oil.

Meanwhile, make the sauce:

Heat the 3 Tbs. oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant and barely golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and 1/2 tsp. salt. Raise the heat to medium high and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to break down into a sauce, 20 to 25 minutes. If the sauce begins to dry up before the tomatoes break down, add warm water 1 Tbs. at a time. Lower the heat to medium and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until you have a thick, chunky sauce, 5 to 10 minutes more. (Too much liquid in the sauce will make the finished dish watery.) Turn off the heat, remove the garlic, and stir in the basil leaves. Season to taste with more salt, if necessary, and set aside.

Fry the eggplant:

Dry the eggplant by lining a large plate with a paper towel and setting a few slices on it. Top with another paper towel and layer on a few more slices. Repeat until you run out of slices.

Attach a candy thermometer to the side of a 3- or 4-quart saucepan. Add the olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. When the oil reaches 375°F, add as many eggplant slices as will fit comfortably in a single layer. Don’t crowd the pan. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can test the oil temperature by dipping a tip of one eggplant slice in the oil. If it immediately sizzles, the oil is ready.

Cook, turning once, until golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes on the first side and 1 minute more on the second. Working quickly, pick up each slice with a slotted spoon and press the back of another large spoon against the slice to squeeze out as much oil as possible. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Repeat until all the slices are fried, layering the fried eggplant between paper towels and adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain the frying temperature.

Assemble and bake:

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 450°F.

Layer about one-third of the eggplant slices so they overlap slightly on the bottom of a 10x8-inch (or similar size) baking dish. With the back of a spoon or an offset spatula, spread about one-third of the tomato sauce in a very thin layer over the eggplant. Evenly sprinkle about half of the mozzarella and 1/3 cup of the Parmigiano over the tomato sauce. Make another layer with one-third of the eggplant, one-third of the tomato sauce, the remaining mozzarella, and 1/3 cup Parmigiano. Make one last layer with the remaining eggplant, tomato sauce, and Parmigiano. Bake until the cheese has melted evenly and the top is bubbly, with browned edges, 20 to 25 minutes. Let rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Serving Suggestions

Serve with Spaghetti with Garlic, Hot Pepper & Pecorino, a fresh arugula salad, and Ice Cream Parfaits with Strawberries and Balsamic Syrup.

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 580; Fat (g): 52; Fat Calories (kcal): 460; Saturated Fat (g): 11; Protein (g): 13; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 33; Carbohydrates (g): 21; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 5; Sodium (mg): 320; Cholesterol (mg): 25; Fiber (g): 9;

Photo: Scott Phillips

As someone who has neither Italian heritage nor direct experience with Italian cooking, I found this recipe to be delicious (AND I made a mistake--read on!). A few of these reviews seem on the snarky side to me-- don't be fooled: the flavors and textures work so well together. I made the big and juicy mistake of forgetting to drain the cans of tomatoes, which has resulted in a bit of an extra-brothy tomato sauce, but no real harm seems to have been done. I did dredge the salted and rinsed eggplant slices in flour before frying (but only a very thin layer) and those seemed to hold up better than the non-dredged slices.

Do not fry the eggplant! Way too oily. Always, whether for moussaka or whatever, roast the eggplant. You can use little or no oil, cook until softened, about 20mins at 400 and then use for layering as per recipe. Salt it, rinse (!) to get rid of the salt, single layer on parchment paper and roast. I use the same paper for numerous rounds of eggplant slices. Otherwise, love the recipe!

This recipe is appalling. The true essence of southern Italian cooking is thrift and freshness. In the Italian home of my childhood neither my mother nor anyone else would have used 3 cups of olive oil for frying eggplant. My mother very lightly brushed the eggplant with oil and grilled or baked it in the oven till softened. She only used fresh tomatoes which she dipped in hot water and then quickly peeled and chopped. I gave this recipe one star because I could not do otherwise.

I have prepared this for guests and was told that it was the best Eggplant Parmigiana they had ever had. I do salt the eggplant but then rinse it and press dry on paper towels before frying. I love the freshness of the sauce. It is now part of my "go to" repetoire.

I prepared this dish with the last of our fresh tomatoes but the "salting generously" does not work. The dish was way too salty to eat. Is there some other solution ?

Just finished making this recipe for the third time this season using eggplants-Globe and Rosa Bianca, Roma tomatoes and basil from my garden. I always salt and weight my eggplants while preparing the other ingredients for the best results. If you use kosher salt it is easier to wipe some of the excess off. I started the sauce with roasted tomatoes for a more intense flavor and a shorter cooking time. I also "pre" lay out my slices in the pan before frying to be certain I have the right amount. Even better the second day.

i had some lovely firm egplants from my local farm and thought this dish would showcase their flavor. wrong! the egglant was too too greasy. the tomato sauce was too overpowering. both my husband and myself found the dish just okay, not worth repeating and not allowing us to enjoy fully the freshest eggplants.

This is just like the eggplant parmesian that I did in Tuscany. You do need to rinse off the excess salt though. I found a difference when I blended the sauce in a food processor and when I used a food mill. Using the food mill made the ingredients taste fresher and truer.

This is almost the same recipe I learned when I was living with a family in Italy. They floured the eggplant before frying it, and the fry was more saute than deep fry. It's no more than a three star recipe--closer to two I think--even if it is a taste of home. I think it is necessary to salt Italian eggplant--if you use an Asian variety, it may not need the purge. Interestingly, my most vivid memory of this dish was making it with my girlfriend--who didn't rinse the salt. We took it out of the oven, served the first helping to her mother, who tasted it, said: "salata" (too salty), and dumped the entire thing out a window and into the Arno. We had scrambled eggs for dinner with the only saltiness at that point being Daniela's tears. On the other hand, I've made it lots of times since without rinsing, so I guess it depends on how heavy a hand you have with the salt. Since the point is to draw out the water so the eggplant fries crisper, washing with water seems counter-intuitive and counterproductive. After nearly a lifetime of different melanzana alla parmigiana recipes ranging from authentic to, um, not, my personal favorite is the one Bobby Flay dreamed up in his Eggplant Parmesan (their spelling, not mine) throwdown. The roasted red pepper makes it something I keep coming back to, and the sauce is delicious on pasta by itself.

I cooked this recipe and found it too salty for my taste, so I agree that the salt should be rinsed off. However, I read somewhere that it was not necessary to salt eggplant. has anyone else seen this information? I like the idea of baking the eggplant after brushing with olive oil. It would be less oily and less trouble.

Similar to my favorite eggplant parmigiana recipe in Silver Palate cookbook. Try adding a dollop of ricotta cheese mixture (ricotta, eggs, parmesan cheese and chopped parsley)on top of each eggplant slice in the layering process.

Exceptional! Love it without the breading - less calories, too. I did rinse off the salt even though the recipe does not say to. This is very necessary. Used fresh tomatoes from my garden and sliced the garlic and left it in the sauce. Will try adding thyme next time as suggested. My grandsons, ages 13, 10, 6, all ate second helpings.

I thought this was fab!! I'll need to do a better job taking off more salt from the eggplant but other than that simple and delish!

Good receipe except: receipe forgets to rinse the salt off the eggplant. Even after a good rinse there's a lot of salt remaining. Try baking the eggplant slices coated with a litte olive oil. Works well without much oil. Texture is better. Flavor is good with listed ingredients. I find a half teaspoon of dried tyme adds a lot.

I found that, having slices only 1/4 in thick, the eggplant way overcooked and turned to absolute mush. Yes, my oil was the proper temperature. I will go back to 1/2 inch, breaded slices to avoid the mushy, oily texture. Perhaps this is the difference between "classic" and more contemporary cuisine where vegetables are more lightly cooked. The taste was excellent; the texture was awful.

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