When I was nineteen, I got a job waiting tables in an Italian restaurant. I was home for the summer and pining away for my boyfriend (who I later married). It was a miserable job. I would get so nervous; once I even dropped a plate full of glasses. They shattered around the ankles of a couple tucked away in an alcove for what was supposed to be an intimate dinner. It did expose me to good Italian food, though, including eggplant parmigiana. I don’t know if I had ever even tasted eggplant before, but I guess it’s not surprising that I loved it, as it was deep-fat-fried and smothered in gooey cheese.
Years later, I wanted to recreate the taste of that dish without spending hours in the kitchen. I also wanted a higher vegetables-to-fat ratio than traditional eggplant parm.
This is the result. It does taste different than the traditional dish, largely because it doesn’t have the crunch from breaded and fried eggplant. It’s a bit more like a vegetable lasagna. It’s delicious, though. The eggplant slices become almost creamy after being broiled, with a touch of salt and olive oil on their slightly-singed exteriors. The bread crumbs give the dish heft, while the tomatoes lend sweetness and give it a saucy texture. I used mozzarella today, as I had a nice block in the fridge, but parmesan or feta would be equally lovely.
I couldn’t resist making this today, as I brought in the last of our eggplants from the rain this afternoon. I still have some basil and tomatoes out in the yard too, so it was the first thing that came to mind (even though, strictly speaking, I didn’t actually use any of my own tomatoes…) It’s a perfect fall dish, warming the house as it bakes and sending waves of garlic and basil through the kitchen and beyond.
Special Diets and Allergies: nut free.
Easy Eggplant Parmigiana
A lighter, easier version of the Italian classic, this dish combines salty eggplant slices with a sweet tomato sauce. Serve steaming hot, while the cheese is still melted on top. This is delicious by itself, but would also be fantastic on top of noodles. It would be particularly tasty with an accompaniment of spaghetti coated in fresh garlic sautéed in olive oil. I like to leave the skins on the eggplants when I make this, as I like their chewy texture, but if you like a more homogenous feel, peel them.
3-4 medium to large eggplants
1 1/2 C fresh, soft whole wheat bread crumbs
1/2 t garlic powder
1/4 C fresh basil, chopped
2 cans (14.5 oz each) Italian Style stewed tomatoes, partially drained
1 C mozzarella cheese, grated or thinly sliced
- Turn the broiler on to high. Grease a 9″ pie pan or 8×8″ square pan.
- Wash the eggplants and trim their green tops off. Slice into 1/4″ thick rounds. Place as many as you can fit in a single layer on a greased cookie sheet and lightly brush the top sides with oil. Sprinkle with salt. (I would err on the side of too much.)
- Place under broiler and cook until the flesh is golden brown in the middle and some of the edges are starting to crinkle and turn a deep brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven, flip the eggplant slices over, lightly brush with oil and sprinkle with salt. Place back under the broiler and cook until golden brown, about 3 more minutes.
- Repeat with the rest of the eggplant slices until they are all toasted.
- Turn off the broiler and preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Mix the bread crumbs, garlic powder, and basil.
- Puree the tomatoes in a food processor for a second, just until chunky, not so long that they become smooth.
- Layer the ingredients in the greased pan: half the eggplant slices, half the bread crumbs, half the pureed tomatoes, and a third of the cheese. Repeat, sprinkling all of the remaining cheese over the top of the dish.
- Bake in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until hot and bubbling.