Thursday, September 29, 2011

Easy Healthy Eggplant Parmigiana

Did you know eggplants are technically berries?

I found an adorable little eggplant at the local farm market last week when I was out getting fruits and veggies, and it just cried out, "Turn me into eggplant parmigiana!" in its little purple eggplant voice.

Okay, maybe I was just wiped out from a busy day with 24 second graders....

But I did make this into a small batch of eggplant parmigiana.  Normally this is a recipe I serve up as a side dish, but with some rolls and a side salad, this was a perfect meal for my husband and me.

Now, if you've done any research into the making of eggplant parmigiana, you'll find that the instructions call for breading the eggplant, frying it in hot oil, then baking it.  Well, that's all fine and good and very traditional, but it's also a lot more time consuming than I think is necessary, especially for a weeknight meal. And all that frying can't be good for you.

And honestly, my mother has never fried her eggplant parmigiana.  So I don't either.  My way is a lot easier, a lot quicker, and, I think, a lot healthier overall.

I like to use small eggplants regardless of how much eggplant parmigiana I'm making, simply because they tend to be a little tenderer and have fewer seeds.  You can completely peel the eggplant if you like, or leave the skin on (it won't hurt you and has lots of nutrients).  My mother always taught me to take something of a middle road in terms of the skin - you peel the eggplant in stripes.  You get some skin (and nutrients) without it being too tough to cut and eat, and it kind of looks pretty.

Next I slice the eggplant into half-inch slices.

Many eggplant connoisseurs out there recommend a step here, referred to as sweating the eggplant.  Basically you lay all the slices out in a single layer, preferably in the bottom of a paper-towel lined colander, and sprinkle both sides with salt.  Then you let the slices sit for a half hour or more.  This helps take some of the bitterness out of the eggplant.  I usually skip this step, only because I buy smaller eggplants which tend to be less bitter than large ones.

Anyway, I now assemble the dish.  Arrange slices into your baking dish, sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil.  Sometimes I'll press the slices into a pile of unseasoned breadcrumbs to lightly coat both sides; if I'm in a rush, I'll sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the slices after arranging the first layer in my baking dish.  Then spoon tomato sauce onto the slices and spread it out so it drips between them.  It doesn't have to be perfect, and you can have a light hand on the sauce for your bottom layer.  Sprinkle evenly with shredded Parmesan cheese, or an Italian cheese blend.  I think the blend I used had Parmesan, asiago, provolone, and mozzarella.

Next arrange the remaining slices on top of the first layer, overlapping the spaces.  Salt, pepper, and drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle more breadcrumbs.  Spoon more sauce on top and spread it evenly over the eggplant.  You can be more generous with the sauce in this step.  Then generously cover the top with more shredded cheese.

Cover your baking dish.  I used a casserole, so I put the glass lid on top, but if you're using a square or rectangular baking dish, you'll have to cover with foil. This prevents the cheese from burning in the oven, and it just gets nice and melty instead.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for about an hour, or until the eggplant is very tender.  You may have to bake it longer if you have more than two layers.  If you've covered your baking dish with foil, you'll want to remove the foil about five minutes before serving so the top can get a little browned.

The sauce should be very bubbly too.

Use a big spoon (what Italian cook doesn't have a big spoon in the kitchen?) to serve this up.  You can accompany this with pasta if you like, but it's a hearty meal on its own.


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