Eggplant Parmesan is one of the cheapest meals you can make. Assuming that you already have oil, flour, eggs and bread crumbs in your kitchen, all you need is a jar of marinara sauce and an eggplant. I consider it a cleaner recipe, meaning I make it when I need to clean out the fridge. I also do this with pastas and casseroles sometimes. I usually make Eggplant Parmesan whenever we have several bags with only an ounce or two of cheese left in them, or whenever we have homemade spaghetti sauce left over because *someone picked out all the meatballs.
You start by slicing your eggplant into 1/3″ thick slices. There’s an ongoing debate about whether or not you should peel eggplant. I peel it for the grill, but leave it for the oven.
Once sliced, you need to draw out the moisture. To do that, llayer them in a colander, making sure to sprinkle salt on each piece. Once they’re arranged, put a plate on top and weigh the slices down for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours. I learned this essential method from Simply Recipes.
The salt will draw the water out of the eggplant, condensing the flavors and allowing the flesh to fry better in the oil. Look at how the flesh has changed color:
When you’re ready to start cooking, wipe off the pieces with a paper towel. Next, set up your breading station with three plates:
- A plate of flour seasoned with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper.
- A plate of eggwash. I make my eggwash by beating two eggs with a teaspoon of dijon mustard. You could use a buttermilk or cornstarch slurry if you don’t have any eggs.
- A plate of breadcrumbs. It doesn’t matter if you use Italian, panko or cracker meal. I usually go with Italian breadcrumbs mixed with a little cornmeal.
You know the drill; coat both sides of the eggplant in flour and lightly shake off the excess. Then dredge the flour-covered pieces through the eggwash and drip off the excess. Finally, coat both sides with the breadcrumbs. Try to keep your fingers clean or else you’ll get doughfingers (If you’re unfamiliar with that term, you won’t be after this process).
Once the eggplant pieces are all breaded, preheat the oven 350°. The next step is to add enough oil to a pan to coat the bottom. If I have some cheap olive oil on hand, I’ll use that. Otherwise, I just use some canola oil. Warm the oil over medium heat, and start frying when the oil begins to wrinkle (if that makes sense):
Don’t walk away; it doesn’t take long to brown each side. You may have to add more oil to the pan after each batch. Drain all the eggplant pieces on paper towels.
You fry the eggplant on the stove top, but you really cook them in the oven. Start by ladling some sauce into the bottom of a casserole dish. This keeps the eggplant and cheese from sticking. Arrange as many eggplant pieces as you can in a single layer. Top each piece with a little parmesan cheese. Next, spread a spoonful of sauce over each piece and top with mozzarella cheese. Repeat this process with the remaining eggplant pieces, staggering them so you can see the layer beneath:
Finally, cover with foil and cook until the eggplant heats through. Cooking time depends on how hard or softy you like your eggplant. A rule of thumb is to cook it until the sauce begins to bubble:
Serve alone, or with bread and salad.
This is a recipe you can really play around with. Feel free to add sauteed vegetables to the sauce, use multiple cheeses, or anything else you can imagine. Just remember, the star of this show is supposed to be the Eggplant, not the sauce or the cheese.
This is the same recipe I use for Veal and Chicken Parmesan. It’s actually the base for lots of recipes. Pound out and bread some pork instead of eggplant and you’ve made Pork Schnitzel. Do it with tenderized round steak and you’ve made Chicken/Country Fried Steak. The only real differences are in the seasonings and the ingredients of the eggwash/slurry, so have some fun experimenting with it.
* That “someone” is usually me.