The last time I had this dish I was still in college, and all was not well. I wondered how it was possible for one vegetable to soak up that much grease. It was like fat sponge. I stayed away from the dish until this week when I was suddenly struck by a need to get this classic right. I eat a lot of eggplant, but most of it is roasted or cooked in liquid, where it can absorb all the goodness it wants. But with some leftover mozzarella and tomato sauce from making pizza the night before, I had everything ready to go.
I figured the reason it tasted so fatty before was not that it was fried, but that it was fried poorly. I found this Gourmet recipe that salts the eggplant to get rid of extra moisture, and then coats it in flour, egg, and Panko. When pan fried over medium-high heat, the crust turns a beautiful golden brown, and perfectly protects the eggplant. Panko, those amazing Japanese bread crumbs, provide a crunchier exterior than regular bread crumbs, and make for a perfect contrast to the succulent eggplant. And I mean that. I've never had eggplant taste like this. There is no need to spring for a meat. This classic dish is perfect without any meat at all.
- 1 large eggplant
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes
- Salt and pepper
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup flour
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/4 cups panko breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
- 1/3 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
Slice the eggplant crosswise into 1/2 inch rounds. Toss the eggplant with a 1 teaspoon salt. Set in a colander and let it drain for half an hour.
While the eggplant is draining, pour the olive oil into a sauce pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for a minute until fragrant. Dump in the tomatoes with their juice and break them up with a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper, and add a pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook for 30 minutes, until thickened.
Dry the eggplant slices. Dump the flour into one bowl. Crack the eggs and beat together in a second bowl. In a third bowl, mix together the panko, Parmesan, and a pinch of salt. Dredge the eggplant slices first through the flour, shaking off the excess. Dip eggplant in the egg and then in the panko. Set aside on a wire rack.
Pour the canola oil into a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Cook the eggplant slices in batches, about 2 to 3 minutes a side. Set aside to drain.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F. Spread 1/2 of the tomato sauce in a baking dish. Top with the eggplant slices. Spoon the rest of the sauce on the eggplant slices, and sprinkle with Parmesan. Set the mozzarella slices on top of the eggplant. Place the baking dish in the oven. Cook for 20 minutes or until the cheese bubbling and golden brown.