Heirloom Eggplant Parmesan

By Melissa Roberts

Baked eggplant is light and delicious, making excellent use of seasonal eggplant and tomatoes.

I was craving eggplant Parmesan. This was a lucky thing. Eggplant season, along with tomatoes, is now at its peak. My CSA box presented both a bounty and a quandary: jewel-toned, unusual eggplants, including the striking heirloom Italian and Asian varieties, but as the Lone Eggplant Eater in the family, there was one too many of this gorgeous nightshade. My young sons are too finicky to try it, and my husband, in spite of his Lebanese heritage, has an aversion to its cooked texture–what some of us would refer to as “silky,” his palate translates as “slimy.”

I couldn’t face another batch of ratatouille or a bowl of babaganoush. And though eggplant Parmesan was what I wanted, the thought of frying sent me running for the hills. A baked version was by no means revolutionary, yet I’d never tested it in my own kitchen.

First task, cut down on oil, no easy feat, as eggplant acts like a sponge for it, and using too little bakes it up dry.  I decided to line baking pans with nonstick foil, then coat with a generous slick of olive oil to mimic a shallow fry. Since the eggplants were farm fresh, nice and taut with shiny skin, they didn’t need salting in advance, something required if the fruit is too mature. A dredge in beaten egg, then a turn in dried crumbs laced with Parmesan, lent the cheese’s unique nutty flavor and further crisped up the outside.

Once baked, the slices were layered with fresh tomato sauce and cheese. Though still a substantial dish, this one is less greasy and deceptively lighter than traditional versions. Pair it with a sauce made from a bumper crop of this season’s tomatoes. And though I still remain the lone eggplant eater, this dish freezes up beautifully, so if necessary, divide it into portions for easy reheating and the faint memory of late summer’s bounty.

Baked Eggplant Parmesan

Serves many (or about 8)

  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups fine bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 2 large eggplants (about lbs) or 2 lbs of any variety of eggplants, cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
  •  6 cups tomato sauce
  • 1 lb fresh mozzarella cheese, preferably organic, shredded

Special equipment: 2 large (4-sided) baking sheets; nonstick foil; 9 by 13-inch (or 3 1/2 quart capacity) baking dish

  1. Place racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat to 400F.
  2. Line each baking pan with foil and coat each with 1/3 cup olive oil.
  3. Whisk together eggs with 1/2 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper in a shallow bowl.
  4. In another shallow bowl, combine bread crumbs, parsley, 1/3 cup parmesan, 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper.
  5. Dredge each eggplant slice into egg, coating it well, then in crumb mixture. Transfer slices, as coated, onto baking sheet in a single (not overlapping) layer.
  6. Bake until undersides are golden, about 15 minutes, then turn over slices and rotate position of pans until other side is golden, 10 to 15 minutes more.
  7. Coat bottom of pan with 1 cup tomato sauce. Arrange one third of eggplant slices in a single layer over sauce. Cover with 1 1/2 cups sauce, 1/3 mozzarella. Repeat layering with remaining ingredients and sprinkle top with 1/2 cup parmesan.
  8. Bake, uncovered, until cheese is melted and golden, and sauce is bubbling, 30 to 35 minutes.

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