The Perfect Winter Dish: Eggplant Parm

The Perfect Winter Dish: Eggplant Parm
Courtesy of Rao’s Homemade

Here is Sarah Grueneberg's "soul-satisfying" recipe for this classic Italian dish.

It's hard to deal with February: Spring is just around the corner, but winter looms large. What might help? Sarah Grueneberg's Roman-Style Eggplant Parmigiana, which features crispy yet creamy eggplant, robust tomato sauce, and melting cheese in a cozy, comforting dish.

It's one of the chef's favorite eggplant recipes, according to Rich Report's interview with the author of Listen to Your Vegetables.

There are several ways you can prepare aubergines, but the most important thing is to pick out aubergines with a tautness and weight that indicate that they're full of water. You can also grill the eggplant instead of frying it, and you have to salt it before it's done. As an added bonus to the show-stopping, soul-satisfying meal, Grueneberg suggests a side of just a small salad or some bread if you're looking for a side. Let all your hard work shine through.

The first time I visited Italy was in 2009, when I was taught this recipe by Chef Danilo Frisone at Ristorante Grano near the Pantheon. It was he who taught me the best technique for making eggplant parm. Salting the eggplant overnight creates a delicious creamy texture that is reminiscent of the best eggplant parm you will ever taste. Breading the eggplant slices right before you add them to the hot oil prevents them from getting soggy, and it also helps the breading stay intact while the eggplant slices are being fried by dipping them in ice water before adding them to the hot oil. Fry the eggplant slices in ice water until the breading stays ultra light and crispy.

Roman-Style Eggplant Parmigiana

Serves 4 as a main course or 8 as an appetizer

  • 2 large firm eggplants, ends trimmed, sliced crosswise into 1-inch-thick slices
  • 2 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 3 qt. canola oil, for deep-frying
  • 6 c. all-purpose flour
  • 3 c. fine dry breadcrumbs (from Italian-style bread)
  • 6 c. ice water
  • 4 c. your favorite tomato sauce
  • ½ c. freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus some to garnish
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • 1 c. fresh basil leaves, for garnish

In a large bowl, toss the eggplant pieces with salt and set the bowl inside a colander. Put the colander into the bowl and cover with plastic wrap, then refrigerate overnight or for up to two days depending on how long it takes. 

In a large pot or deep-fryer, heat the oil to 350°F until it starts to bubble. While waiting for the oil to get hot, measure out 3 cups of the flour into a medium bowl. In another bowl, mix together the remaining 3 cups of flour with the breadcrumbs. In a third bowl, mix the ice water with the remaining flour.

If the eggplant is too salty or liquidy, shake it up. Dip the eggplant slices into the flour, then in the ice water, then in the flour-bread crumb mixture. Pat and evenly coat each eggplant slice with the mixture. While you bread the others, place the finished breaded eggplant on a rack set on a baking sheet.

Using a large baking sheet lined with paper towels, carefully place eggplant slices one by one in the hot oil in three batches; each batch should have five or six slices. When the eggplant is golden brown, it should be cooked for eight to 10 minutes, flipping halfway through. Once the eggplant is cooked, place it on a baking sheet and let it cool.

To prepare the eggplants, start by placing the three largest eggplant slices along one side of a baking dish that is 8 by 12 inches or 12 by 12 inches. Pour 2 cups of the tomato sauce evenly into a baking dish that is 8 by 12 inches or 12-inch round. Place 1 tablespoon tomato sauce over each slice, sprinkle with parmesa, and then shingle with a slice of mozzarella.

Continue shingling the eggplants, sauce, parmesa, and mozzarella, filling out the rest of the dish with all the eggplant, sauce, parmesa, and mozzarella. The remaining tomato sauce should be spread over the eggplant and topped with more parmesan and sliced mozzarella. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes more, until the eggplant is tender.

Once the cheese has melted and the top has turned golden brown, remove the foil from the dish and continue baking for 30 minutes more. Let it rest for 10 minutes before garnishing with more parmesan and basil leaves.

You can add some seasoning to your flour-breadcrumb mixture if you want, but the salting is a great way to flavor the eggplant, and then the Parmigiano-Reggiano completes the dish with one more layer of flavor.

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