There are some recipes that one does not need to test against other challengers. Recipes that one might staunchly believe are already the very best versions of themselves, thus requiring no other comparisons to be made. That is what this eggplant parm is to me. And evidently to Bon Appetit as well, as they justly listed this dish as one of their all-time favourites. This is the kind of recipe that makes you want to reinstate Sunday night dinners; the over-abundant, gluttonous kind that have you loosening your belt before the mention of dessert has even taken place. It is truly a magnificent sight/smell/taste/presence to behold.
Please don’t tell me “yeah, but I just don’t really like eggplant”. It’s not an acceptable excuse here because you know what? When something is breaded and fried it doesn’t matter what it is anymore because it’s BREADED AND FRIED. It’s automatically a delicious thing now. Plus eggplant sort of does this whole coy, melty, buttery thing when it’s fried that transforms it from a bitter, soggy sponge (sorry eggplant lovers!) into the vegetable you didn’t realize your life was missing.
An important consideration to take into account would be the sheer amount of cheese in this recipe. It is a crucial component that makes the dish so effing good. Therefore, if you are one who perhaps reacts less-than-optimally to dairy, keep in mind that this dish is a bit of a cheese bomb. But totally worth it, most likely. Unless cheese makes you shit your pants….in which case…actually still probably worth it.
Also, while it is not mandatory that you make your own sauce, it is highly encouraged. Mostly because it’s a really easy sauce and it takes this parm to the next level. You get to use canned tomatoes and everything! A very good friend of mine once said that she would never make a recipe that called for you to blanch and peel tomatoes. She said it was where she drew a line when it came to fussing over food. In agreement with that sentiment, this sauce is actually better with canned tomatoes. You could make it earlier in the day, or a day or two ahead, in which case it will thicken up a good bit and you should reduce the cooking time and leave it a bit soupier.
It should briefly be noted that while this recipe is very much inspired from the Bon Appetite arsenal, I have added specific measurements (which were not provided in the original “recipe”) and tweaked things slightly here and there. The results are outstanding every time, without fail. There is now a version listed in their BA’s Best collection that does in fact give precise quantities, but this is a more recent development.
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Serves 6-8 people
3 tbsp olive oil
1 sweet onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes
1 tsp dried oregano
1 small bunch of basil, leaves plucked, rolled, and cut into thin ribbons
2 medium-sized eggplants
1 ½ cups flour
3 eggs, beaten
2 cups regular breadcrumbs
10 sprigs fresh thyme
Canola oil, for frying
1 ball/small block mozzarella cheese, grated
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
1-2 balls fresh mozzarella in water, thickly sliced or torn
Slice the eggplants into ½-inch thick slices. Sometimes one particularly big eggplant will suffice, but if you like the parm to have more symmetry in appearance, use 2 eggplants so that you get more even diameters. Generously salt each slice with kosher salt (don’t worry about over-salting, you’re going to rinse them later – the salt just draws the water and bitterness out of the eggplants). Place the salted eggplant slices in a colander set in the sink to drain. Allow the slices to sit for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and continue sautéing until the edges begin to brown lightly and the ingredients are fragrant. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over the browning vegetables. Gently crush the tomatoes into the saucepan using your hands and add the remaining liquid from the can. Stir in oregano. Bring the sauce to a simmer and allow the sauce to continue cooking for 15-20 minutes. The sauce should be thick, but still pourable (not watery, but not like stew). Set the sauce aside. This can be made a day or two before, in which case cook it for slightly less time as it will thicken more when chilled.
Rinse the eggplant slices with cold water and let drain or pat dry. Arrange 3 shallow bowls on your workspace. Pour the flour into one, the beaten eggs into another, and the breadcrumbs into the final one. Season the breadcrumbs with salt and pepper. Pluck the thyme leaves from their sprigs and stir into the breadcrumbs. Using a designated “dry hand” and “wet hand”, start breading the eggplant: dip the slices into the flour, then egg, and finally in breadcrumbs. Set the breaded slices on a lined baking sheet. Pour the canola oil into a large pan or skillet, so that the oil reaches at least a ½ inch deep. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until you hear sizzling as soon as you dip the eggplant into the oil (ideally you should be using a candy thermometer and waiting for the oil to hit 350 degrees F – it should take at least 10 minutes for the oil to get hot enough, so that the tip of a wooden spoon immediately begins to sizzle and bubble once submerged). Working in batches, fry the eggplant slices for 1-2 minutes per side (the eggplant should be golden and crispy). Season the slices with a small sprinkle of salt as soon as they come out of the hot oil and place them on a paper towel-lined plate or baking sheet. Continue this way until all of the eggplant has been fried.
Start assembling the layers by spreading a couple spoonfuls of tomato sauce in a 9X13 inch baking/casserole dish. Top the sauce with eggplant slices (I usually do 6 slices per layer, but you could squeeze in more if you like the pieces to overlap slightly or touch). Sprinkle one-third of the block mozzarella cheese over the eggplant, as well as half of the parmesan. Top with sauce (spooning it over sparingly; you’re not drowning it in sauce). Repeat layer of eggplant-mozzarella-parmesan-sauce. Top with the remaining eggplant slices and mozzarella. Using clean hands, gently push the eggplant parm down to compress the layers together and “squoosh” everything together a bit more. Finish by topping with the fresh mozzarella pieces. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 40 minutes, but start checking it after 30 minutes. The top should be golden and bubbly – if not, pop it under the broiler for a few minutes to crisp up.
The eggplant should rest for at least 15 minutes after being pulled from the oven. I think it tastes better when it’s still warm, but not steaming hot. Bon Appetit also condones eating it cold, stuffed inside a crusty bun. What glorious depravity.