I realize I’m a little prone to hyperbole when describing my mother-in-law’s eggplant parmigiana, so I’ll try to keep the superlatives at a minimum today. (It’s not just me, by the way. Her recipe had already achieved a fully mythic stature in the family long before I ever came on the scene. Grown men nearly wept the year it went missing from her Thanksgiving table.)
I’ll be brief, then: one evening in the early days of our courtship, newly-minted boyfriend Matt invited me over for dinner. He fixed his mother’s eggplant parm, and then I married him. That is no exaggeration: that is the power of this eggplant parmigiana, people. (And yes, I married him several years later, and for many other reasons, but I swear it was that dinner that really got the ball rolling.) Suffice it to say, I highly recommend you try this, especially while eggplant is in season.
Rather than fry the sliced eggplant as is traditional, my mother-in-law bakes the breaded slices until tender and crispy-browned outside, then layers it with her sunny homemade sauce (I won’t give away all her secrets today) and gooey-bubbly mozzarella for an earthy, substantial, vibrant main dish. Many cooks salt their eggplant slices to draw out any bitter juices, but with young, in-season eggplant I don’t find it necessary. And like many Italian mothers before her, Lena’s measurements are more intuitive than exact, so don’t get too caught up in following the recipe to the letter. It’s the spirit of the thing that counts.
Lena’s Eggplant Parmigiana
makes one deep-dish casserole
- 2 medium eggplants
- 1 C flour
- 2 beaten eggs
- 1 C Pecorino-Romano cheese, grated
- 2 C whole milk mozzarella, grated
- 1 C bread crumbs (preferably an Italian-seasoning style)
- vegetable oil
- store-bought or easy homemade tomato sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prep the tomato sauce, if making. Slice off the stems and peel 1/2″ stripes, lengthwise, from the eggplant. Slice, horizontally, into 1/2″ rounds. Set up a station with three plates: one with flour, one with the beaten eggs, the third with a mixture of breadcrumbs and Pecorino. Dip each eggplant to coat with flour (both sides), then the egg, then the breadcrumb-cheese mixture. Set aside, separating with foil or plastic wrap to keep from sticking.
Coat two cookie sheets with a thin slick of vegetable oil and preheat in the oven for 10 minutes. Add the eggplant and bake, flipping halfway through, until browned and fork tender.
In an oven-proof 10″ oval or round casserole dish about 3″ high (it doesn’t have to be exact), layer the parmigiana: tomato sauce (enough to coat the bottom), eggplant in a single layer, mozzarella, tomato sauce. Repeat until you’ve used up all the eggplant. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Bake until bubbly, heated through and browning on top, about 30-40 minutes. Best ever!
Note: You can assemble the eggplant parmigiana ahead of time, storing in the fridge for several hours before baking, and it freezes very well. Bake and freeze until needed; thaw in the fridge overnight and reheat in a 350 degree oven. Don’t use aluminum foil to wrap the parm; the tomato’s acidity will react with the metal, eating through the foil and turning the parm an off-color.