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For the most part, I stay away from eggplant. While I love vegetables, there’s something about this one that doesn’t work for me. It may be the way it turns to mush when cooked, a softening so dramatic there’s nothing left to chew. It may be the deep purple of the skin and pale green inside, a color combo I find jarring. It may just be a flavor that isn’t for me. But I’ve always been curious about eggplant parmesan.
As an Italian classic, I knew I had to do it. And this is when the script flipped.
Where once I couldn’t be bothered to eat eggplant, I felt a protectiveness over it when I tried it this way. So many dishes pay homage to their vegetable—carrot cake, chile relleno, pumpkin curry—but I can’t shake the feeling that this is eggplant in exile. The eggplant submits to oil and breadcrumb, sizzling down to a disc of deep fry before smothering in a few coats of mozzarella. Delicious, of course. But why the disguise?
Under all the layers, the poor eggplant could be anything. Its anonymity might even be a plus for picky eaters who could use a nightshade in their diet. It makes for a naughtily decadent dinner (all the good greasiness of weekend food), but suddenly I’m left pining for the eggplant in its natural state, pared down. Who would’ve thought.
As I put away the leftovers, I find I’m no closer to a verdict on eggplant parmesan. It’s a dish I might need to try again to be sure.
The following is the recipe I used, as found here.
2 large eggplants (about 2 1/2 pounds total)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup dry, fine breadcrumbs
1 1/2 cups finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 8 ounces), divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cups tomato sauce, divided
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (about 12 ounces), divided
Slice and salt eggplant: Trim the stems from the eggplants and slice into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. This should yield 16 to 18 slices. Lay the rounds out on a wire rack set over a baking sheet and sprinkle both sides with the salt. Let the rounds sit for 1 hour. Meanwhile, set up the dredging station.
Set up a dredging station: Combine the breadcrumbs and 1 cup of the Parmesan cheese in a small bowl. Place the flour in second small bowl. Whisk the eggs in a third small bowl. Arrange the bowls assembly line style in this order: flour, egg, breadcrumb mixture.
Heat the oven: Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F.
Bread the eggplant: Rinse the salt from the eggplant slices and pat dry with paper towels. Dip each eggplant slice completely in the flour, followed by the egg, and finally the breadcrumb mixture. Place the breaded slices back on the rack.
Fry the eggplant: Heat the oil in a large straight-sided skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Fry the slices 4 at a time (to avoid crowding the pan) until golden-brown, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Place each batch of cooked eggplant back on the rack.
Layer the casserole: Pour 1/2 cup of the sauce into an 8x8-inch baking dish and spread into an even layer. Place 1/3 of the eggplant slices in an even layer on top of the tomato sauce. Sprinkle with 1 cup of the mozzarella. Top with 1 cup of the sauce in an even layer. Repeat these layers two more times with the remaining eggplant, mozzarella, and sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of Parmesan.
Bake: Bake until the eggplant is tender and the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 35 minutes.