I recommed that you grow eggplant in your garden if for no other reason than they are some of the prettiest plants you can grow. The leaves are pale green with tinges of purple on the edges of the leaves and the purple flowers that preceed the eggplant are stunning, with a bright yellow cone at the center of the rich purple bloom. Strong plants that grow to 24″ in height, they are aesthetic and productive, with each plant producing 4-5 eggplant.
When confronted with a basket of eggplant from the late harvest, I did the logical thing and made eggplant parmesan. One of the great Italian comfort foods, this caserole is made in a fashion similar to lasagne, with eggplant slices layering in place of the noodles. Associated with the Naples region, the first references to this dish were in the 14th century and modern versions trace to the late 18th century when tomatoes were coming into popularity in Italian cooking.
My version of this dish is pretty straightforward, relying on traditional techniques and basic ingredients and because I use gluten-free flour and breadcrumbs, this is a gluten-free dish. The eggplant I grow is an Italian Beatrice variety, which produce smaller eggplants than what you are accustomed to in the produce aisle. The fruit is firm and attractive with few seeds and great taste and texture.
Ingredients, serves 4
4 medium or 1 large eggplants
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove minced garlic
1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes (preferably San Marzano), tomatoes diced, reserve juices
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil
1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs
1 1/4 cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided
3/4 cup flour
4 eggs, beaten (more if needed)
1/4 cup olive oil (plus more to oil the sheet pans)
1 1/2 pounds fresh mozzarella, sliced into 1/4-inch slices
Eggplants are like a sponge, they absorb any liquids they come into contact with and with all that moisture they will transform from a beautiful fruit into a mushy mess. The essential first step is to slice the eggplant into 1/2″ thick slices and sweat out the moisture prior to cooking. Lay the slices on a half sheet baking pan and sprinkle with salt, on each side. Let them rest 30-45 minutes and pat each slice dry with a paper towel.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lay out three bowls, one for the flour, one for the eggs, and the last for the breakcrumb mixed with half of the Parmesan cheese. Drench each slice in flour, dip in the egg, and bread with the breadcrumbs and cheese mix. Place the slices on a baking sheet and put in the oven for 20 minutes.
Sauté garlic in olive oil and add the tomatoes and basil. Crush the whole tomatoes to make a nice sauce, let simmer.
Remove the eggplant slices from the oven. In a 9×13″ or 12×12″ caserole dish, spoon some of the sauce and layer the eggplant slices. Add more sauce and place slices of mozzarella on the eggplant, and more eggplant slices with sauce. Sprinkle the remaining Paremesan cheese as the top layer.
Bake uncovered in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes, let rest 10 minutes before serving.