Full disclosure, my husband is a chef. While he's now on the business side of the food world, he cooked professionally for many years in restaurants and has a few homestyle classics I am lucky enough to enjoy at home. One of them is eggplant parm. The first rule of eggplant parm in our home is Ben only makes it when we can't remember when the last time he made it! This way the meal remains a special treat. This recipe is not what I would call a weeknight staple as it is a bit complicated to make. Ben tries to make this recipe in the summertime since eggplants, tomatoes, and basil are flooding all the farmers markets. However, he also makes it with canned tomatoes in the winter and it is the perfect comfort food on a cold rainy night for a dinner party. While he's making the eggplant parm, I am on salad duty. I always made a real "ceasar salad" alongside. This Italian American classic meal is a favorite we hope you'll share with your family and friends for years to come. Check out Ben's recipe below!
Prep Time: 3 hours
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 4 hours
2 large cans whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes (if you can, spend a little more for the good kind, it’s worth it)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 big cloves of garlic, sliced thin
½ bunch of basil
3 lbs eggplant (any variety will do, but I prefer smaller ones if possible. More flavor and easier to work with)
3 large eggs
1 qt breadcrumbs (any brand works, but homemade breadcrumbs are amazing - recipe on the way)
2 cups canola oil
1 lb fresh mozzarella
6 oz parmigiano reggiano
Open the cans of whole peeled tomatoes into a large bowl, and squish the tomatoes between your fingers with clean hands until a chunky sauce is formed. Pour the crushed tomatoes into a large sauce pot, along with the olive oil, sliced garlic, a big pinch of salt, a few grinds of black pepper, and the basil (stem and all). Bring the sauce up to a simmer, put a lid on it, and let it do its thing for the next two to three hours, stirring and tasting occasionally as you go. After a couple of hours of low simmering, the sauce will be a rich red and smell amazing.
I know that home frying can be a little daunting, but shallow-frying is a good first step in that direction. While the sauce is cooking, slice the eggplant into 1/2" thick discs and transfer them to a large colander (strainer). Salt them liberally with kosher salt and let the bowl sit in the sink for 15 minutes. The salt will draw a good deal of moisture out of the eggplant, removing much of its natural bitterness and making them easier to fry. After 15 minutes, use a paper towel or clean kitchen towel to dry off the eggplant slices.
Pour the canola oil into a wide, heavy bottomed pan and heat over medium-high heat. The should be about ½” deep, depending on how wide the pan is. While the oil is heating, get your frying setup ready. Crack the eggs into a medium bowl and whisk them until no strands remain. Place the breadcrumbs in a separate bowl. Working piece by piece, dip the eggplant in egg wash, dredge in breadcrumbs, and carefully place in the oil. Fry for about 1 minute on each side, until the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Once the pieces are done, carefully remove them from the pan and place them on a cooling rack, being mindful not to stack them so they don’t get soggy. You may have to replenish the oil and skim excess breadcrumbs throughout the frying process so the oil doesn’t taste burnt.
Assembly and Cooking
Heat your oven to 375F. Slice or tear the mozzarella into silver-dollar-sized pieces, and get a hand grater ready for the parmesan. Remove the basil stems from the tomato sauce (you can chop them up and put them back in or discard them at this point), and bring your fried eggplant, sauce, and cheeses to your prep area. In a large casserole dish, layer the ingredients as follows: tomato sauce on the bottom, eggplant, sauce, sliced mozzerella, shredded parmesan, eggplant, sauce, cheese... Keep this eggplant/sauce/cheese pattern going until you get to the top of the casserole dish. Finish with a generous helping of cheese on top. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, remove the foil and finish baking uncovered for another 15 minutes to get the top cheese nice and bubbly.
Make sure you let the eggplant parm rest for at least 10 minutes before serving! I know it will be tempting to cut right into it, but fresh out of the oven it will still be a bubbling cauldron of tomato sauce and melty cheese. Resting the parm will let it firm up and cool down just a little bit so that it’s easier to cut, serve, and eat. Bon appetito!