Mario Batali’s recipe for Eggplant Parmesan–which I consider, in my humble opinion, to be the Ultimate Eggplant Parmesan–does something most Eggplant Parmesan recipes don’t: it honors the eggplant.
Instead of coating slices of eggplant in egg and breadcrumbs, frying them in a skillet, and piling them up with tomato sauce and cheese until you have a gloppy mess, here you roast the eggplant slices first–concentrating their natural flavor–and you pile those pieces up in a baking dish with tomato sauce and cheese, but because they’re not pan-fried, you don’t get a greasy, muddy cacophony; you get a harmonious whole topped with a gentle layer of breadcrumbs that crisps up in the oven. Again: The Ultimate Eggplant Parmesan.
It all begins, of course, with homemade tomato sauce. If you’re making an everyday Eggplant Parmesan, fine, use a jar; but for the Ultimate? You want a zesty, flavorful sauce; Mario’s employs the help of grated carrot (for sweetness) and thyme (for a woodsy aroma):
Meanwhile, you slice your eggplant thickly, place it on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper:
Into a 450 degree oven it goes and, 15 minutes later, it comes out, golden brown on the outside and custardy on the inside:
Now, before we get to putting this thing together, you’ll want to toast some breadcrumbs in a skillet with a splash of olive oil and some salt and pepper:
Don’t take them too far; they’ll finish up in the oven. You’re just getting them started.
Now set up your station:
Start with a layer of eggplant slices:
Top with lots of your homemade tomato sauce:
Big slices of fresh mozzarella:
A dusting of Parmesan and then another layer of eggplant:
More sauce, more mozzarella, more Parmesan:
And finally those breadcrumbs:
Pop that into a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes until the topping is golden brown and the cheese is melty:
And there you have it! The Ultimate Eggplant Parmesan.
I served this up to five hungry eaters and everyone liked it so much, they had two pieces. That combination of sweet, roasted eggplant, a vibrant, acidic tomato sauce, creamy cheese and crunchy breadcrumbs is pretty irrefutable—in fact, this was for a vegetarian dinner party (for a vegetarian dinner guest) and not one meat-eater even noticed that they were eating vegetarian.
So give this less decadent (less pan-fried) Eggplant Parm a go; you may agree with me and Mario that it doesn’t get better than this.
Recipe: The Ultimate Eggplant Parmesan
Summary: Based on a recipe by Mario Batali.
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 Spanish onion, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 1/2 medium carrot, finely grated
- 2 (28-ounce) cans peeled, whole tomatoes, crushed by hand, juices reserved
- Salt and pepper
- 3 large eggplant
- 1 bunch fresh basil leaves, sliced (optional; I left it out b/c basil’s not in season)
- 1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced 1/8-inch thick
- 1/2 cup (or more) freshly grated Parmesan (for something like this, I use the store-ground stuff—not the kind from a can, but the kind in the refrigerated section; make sure it’s real Parm and it will save you a step)
- 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs, lightly toasted under a broiler or in a skillet (see above)
- Start by making the tomato sauce. In a large saucepan, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion (and a pinch of salt) and cook for a few minutes until it softens; then add the garlic and wait for both to turn a light golden brown.
- Add the thyme and carrot and cook five minutes more; then add the tomatoes and juice, a pinch of salt, bring to a boil–stirring often–and then lower to a simmer. Cook like this for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce looks thick and tastes terrific (adjust with more salt, as necessary). Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
- Oil a baking sheet with olive oil.
- Slice each eggplant into 6 pieces about 1 to 1/2-inches thick; place as many slices as you can on to the baking sheet (you’ll have to do this in batches), drizzle them with a little more olive oil, salt and pepper. Pop into the hot oven and bake until they’re deep brown on top, about 15 minutes. Remove the eggplant slices to a plate to cool and roast the remaining eggplant.
- Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. In a large baking pan, begin your layering. Start with the largest pieces of eggplant on the bottom, then a layer of tomato sauce, basil (if using), one slice of mozzarella for each eggplant slice, and a sprinkling of Parmesan. Top with a layer of smaller eggplant slices, more sauce, more basil, more mozzarella and more Parmesan. If you have more eggplant and cheese to work with, you can do another layer, but I stopped here. Finish by topping the whole baking pan with the breadcrumbs.
- Place in the oven and bake until the bread crumbs are golden on top and the cheese is melted, about 20 minutes. Serve it up hot!
Preparation time: 45 minute(s)
Cooking time: 20 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 6
17 thoughts on “The Ultimate Eggplant Parmesan”
Made this a few nights ago and it was delicious. We were just in Italy and had an amazing eggplant parm there…and this is pretty similar! Thanks for the reminder of how easy and amazing this dish is. Love the site!
I made this last night. I used a bottle sauce though, but I buy a good quality organic sauce. I’ll make this again for sure. My company also loved it.
I love this recipe and will be cooking it a second time for guests. Wanted to point out that 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs might not be sufficient. You will need more than that to cover the top of the baking dish.
all I can say is ” SUPERB” “SUPERB” the sauce is amazing not over powering the flavor of the eggplant & the home made bread crumbs add the perfect touch
I love that you get to skip the (annoying) step of eggplant-frying and actually gain in taste. I ended up blending my sauce with a hand-blender for a smoother consistency, but either way, this is a fantastic recipe. Thanks for sharing!
New guy. Why did my roasted eggpalnt come out mussy from oven?
That looks like way more than 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs in the photos.
Made this the other day. It is now my go to eggplant parm recipe. So good! Thanks!
OMG!! This was the best recipe! I added some rotel to give it a twist, turned out great!
GLUTEN FREE, You can rock your gluten less friend’s world by substituting the bread crumbs with a 50/50 mix of crushed corn flakes and oatmeal flakes. sweet and savory, andtotally gluten free.
WOW! It works! And SO delicious :) I added a little Sherry to my tomato sauce :)
How is this if made the day before and reheated? Does it get watery (I would wait to do the breadcrumbs the day it is reheated).
This looks so much healthier than other recipes I’ve seen.
Second time making this..really tasty and easy to make
doesn’t just look delicious, it is delicious. It’s quite a step above the recipe I grew up using and well worth the effort. Also faster since you don’t bread and fry the slices.
This was perfect! I made a vegan version with Trader Joe’s Vegan Mozzarella Shreds and Parma (mostly regular flavor, a touch of the Chipotle flavor).