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