It doesn’t get more authentic than this and no puddles of cheese are necessary. Thin layers of fried eggplant with a light marinara sauce make up this classic dish. Breaking from my usual Sicilian-self I’ve eliminated the extra breadcrumb calories. Aside from the obvious benefits of a lower calorie count this Eggplant Parmigiana dish has another benefit — it can be served as a first course, vegetable side dish or even a main course.
Eggplant Parmigiana Classica
2 1/2 lbs eggplant (approx 2 large or 4 small eggplants), skin and ends removed
3 cups + 3 TBS olive oil (can use 1/2 vegetable and 1/2 olive oil)
5 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
3 1/2 lbs plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped (can substitute 2 28 oz cans diced tomatoes, drained)
12 large basil leaves, washed/dried/sliced
8 oz fresh wet mozzarella, torn into 1/4 inch pieces
1 1/2 cup (approximately 3 1/4 oz) Parmigiano-Reggiano
salt and pepper, to taste
2 TBS garlic salt
1 TBS Italian Seasoning
Take the eggplants and begin to prepare by first removing the ends and then removing the skin. Cut each eggplant crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices. Cover the sides and the bottom of a colander with a few eggplant slices and sprinkle generously with kosher salt. The salt will draw out the water and reduce the eggplant’s ability to absorb oil. Top with more layers of eggplant and salt until you run out of slices. Fill a large pot with water and place the colander with the eggplant in it, weighting it down with a heavy bowl. This will keep the eggplant from turning brown. Bathe the salted eggplant in the water for 30-60 minutes.
While eggplants are in the water begin to make the sauce. Heat 3 TBS of olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until just golden and fragrant, approximately 2-5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and/or the diced tomatoes with 1/2 tsp salt. Raise the heat to medium-high and stir occasionally until the tomatoes begin to break down into a sauce consistency. If using canned tomatoes it will take 10 minutes however, if using fresh tomatoes it should take 20-25 minutes. (Note: When using fresh tomatoes the sauce tends to dry up before the tomatoes have properly been broken down. In this instance you will want to add warm water, 1 TBS at a time.) Lower the heat to medium, add in the garlic salt and Italian Seasoning. Continue cooking tomatoes 5-10 minutes until the sauce becomes thick and chunky sauce as if there is too much liquid the sauce will make the final dish watery. Turn off the heat, remove the garlic and stir in the basil leaves. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Allow the eggplant to drain and pat dry each slice so to avoid dangerous hot oil splattering when it is time to fry the eggplant. It is easiest to do this by lining a baking sheet with paper towels and putting a few slices on it. Top with another paper towel and add in a few more slices, repeating until no slices remain.
To fry the eggplant, fill a 3-4 quart sauce pan or pot with the remainder of the oil and heat to 275 degrees (this can be checked with a candy thermometer or if you don’t have a candy thermometer cut a small edge of one eggplant and dip it into the oil – if it sizzles immediately, the oil is ready.) I find that using a pot vs a sauce pan does reduce some of the oil splatter around the kitchen but can be a bit more dangerous when turning/browning the eggplant slices. When adding in the eggplant be certain not to crowd the pot/pan. Cook, turning only once, until golden brown on the other side. It is important to work quickly when frying and turning the eggplant and I recommend a slotted metal spoon or metal tongs. The second side always cooks quicker so watch carefully once turned onto the second side. Once cooked to desired brown color, drain-off as much oil as possible. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Repeat until all of the slices are fried, layering the refried eggplant between the paper towels.
Using a 8×10-inch baking dish, layer about 1/3 of the eggplant slices so they overlap slightly on the bottom. Next layer the marinara sauce over the eggplant, make sure to cover. Evenly sprinkle half of the mozzarella and then 1/3 cup Parmigiano cheese. Repeat for the second layer then for final layer put more tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese over the remaining eggplant slices.
Bake in preheated oven at 450 degrees on a rack positioned in the center of the oven until the cheese has melted evenly and the top is bubbly with browned edges. Cooking time is approximately 20-25minutes. Let rest for at least 10 minutes before serving to allow the cheese to become a bit more firm before serving so that it doesn’t fall apart when transferring from baking dish to plate.
As a main dish this serves four as a side dish it serves six.