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What Is Eggplant Parmesan?
Parmigiana di melanzane is a southern Italian casserole consisting of layers of fried eggplant slices baked with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese. It has become a staple of Italian-American cooking and is known stateside as eggplant parmesan. Usually served as a main course in Italy, eggplant parmesan is also common on sandwiches in the US.
Although parmigiana di melanzane is the most common parmigiana in Italy, you'll find zucchini and artichoke versions in Naples, and veal and chicken parmesan in the United States.
4 Essential Ingredients for Eggplant Parmesan
The first written recipe for parmigiana di melanzane comes from a 1786 Italian cookbook and consists of eggplant seasoned with herbs and spices and topped with butter, parmesan cheese, and an egg yolk mixture before being baked. The modern formula looks a little different.
- Eggplant: Salting the eggplant ahead of time prevents moisture loss during the frying process. In some recipes, the eggplant slices are dredged in beaten eggs and breadcrumbs, while in others they are simply fried in olive oil.
- Breadcrumbs: Breading your eggplants can help achieve a crispy-tender texture. Try using panko breadcrumbs for the ultimate crispiness.
- Cheese: Parmesan cheese is the traditional topping for eggplant parmesan, but many recipes include low-moisture or fresh mozzarella cheese.
- Tomato sauce: The fried eggplants are typically layered in marinara sauce, a tomato sauce flavored with fresh basil leaves, oregano, garlic, onion, and sometimes olives, capers, or anchovies.
Classic Italian Eggplant Parmesan Recipe
Prep Time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 55 min
Cook Time55 min
- 4 medium eggplants
- 4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- 5 Roma tomatoes, diced
- 1 cup frying oil, such as peanut oil
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 large eggs, beaten
- 3 cups breadcrumbs
- 1 bunch fresh basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- Salt, to taste
- 1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
- 1 cup parmesan cheese, finely grated
- Slice eggplants crosswise into ½-inch-thick slices. Lay the eggplant slices on paper towels or a clean dishtowel in a single layer and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Let rest to draw out the moisture, about 30 minutes. Pat dry with more paper towels or a clean dishtowel.
- Place diced tomatoes in a colander and let drain over the sink, about 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, set up your eggplant-breading station. Place flour, beaten eggs, and breadcrumbs each in a separate shallow bowl. Dredge eggplant slices in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. Arrange breaded eggplant in a single layer on a baking sheet or plate.
- In a large skillet, heat frying oil until shimmering. Working in batches, fry breaded eggplant slices until golden brown on both sides. Drain fried eggplant on paper towels.
- Make the marinara sauce. Chop half of the fresh basil, leaving the rest of the leaves whole. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat until just shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and simmer until thickened, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in chopped basil. Season with black pepper, garlic powder, and salt to taste. For a smoother sauce, puree in a blender or food processor.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread a thin layer of marinara sauce over the bottom of a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Add a layer of eggplant slices, overlapping slightly. Top with fresh mozzarella, parmesan, and basil leaves. Repeat until all the eggplant is used up, covering the last layer with a sprinkle of parmesan. Bake until bubbling and browned on top, about 20 minutes.
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