I’d have to count this meal as one of my favorites – I loved it when my Mom pulled one out of the freezer as a kid, or made it fresh for our family when I was on school breaks home from college. She still brings me trays of it all the way from Philadelphia to stash in my freezer for easy meals. It’s worth the bit of extra effort to make two trays when you are making it for dinner. Throw one in the freezer for another night and make enough for generous leftovers. It’s a grew packed lunch the next day for your husband, too 😉 This (and ok, my new Chicken Pot Pie recipe) is definitely my go to meal for friends who have a baby or for use in a freezer meal swap. So delicious. I swear once you serve this to family and friends they’ll ask you for the recipe before they’re even done with their first helping. It’s honestly that good.
For the most part, it’s really my Mom’s recipe except for a few tweaks I do when making it myself.
2-4 small eggplants (you may be tempted to buy the larger ones but a tip from my mom: the small ones are more tender and have far fewer seeds in the center!)
4-5 large eggs
1 tsp. each salt, pepper and paprika,
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
2 cups of italian bread crumbs
2 cups panko bread crumbs
1 cup freshly shredded parmesan cheese
First, prepare your eggplant:
In a deep sauté pan, heat an inch of olive oil on medium high heat, until a piece of bread sizzles when you drop it in or a the end tip of a wooden spoon bubbles immediately when placed in the oil.
In a shallow pan or pie plate, whisk 4-5 eggs together. (If you like a little extra seasoning, add a pinch of salt and pepper and a dash of paprika if you like the flavor.)
In another shallow dish or pie plate, combine bread crumbs, panko, garlic powder, salt, pepper and parmesan cheese.
*We eat our eggplant parm with skins ON. They are a little tougher to cut through but we like the flavor just fine and REALLY like the extra nutrients found in the skin. If you DON’T like the skins or aren’t sure, simply peel each eggplant before the next step.
Slice eggplant into 3/4 inch slices being careful to keep your slices even and consistent. This will help you when you are frying because everything will be a uniform thickness and cook at the same speed.
In batches, dip eggplant slices in egg mixture, then bread crumb mixture, then slip into the hot oil and fry until golden brown on each side. I usually flip the slices once and give them 2-3 minutes per side. If the breadcrumbs seem to be browning really quickly, turn down your oil. Or if you are standing there staring at them so long you forget what you are doing, turn your oil UP so they brown a bit quicker.
When slices are done, transfer them to a plate lined with paper towels to drain off excess oil. Sprinkle them immediately with salt.
Next, make the marinara:
adapted (or maybe more appropriately “badly memorized” from Giada De Laurentiis)
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 (32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
2 dried bay leaves
In a large stock pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are tender, translucent, and fragrant- about 10 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, salt and pepper. Saute until veggies are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bay leaves, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens (about an hour or so). Remove and discard the two bay leaves. Season the sauce with more salt and pepper, to taste. (This sauce can even be made days ahead of time- just cover in plastic wrap and store in the fridge until you are ready to use it!)
And finally, assemble the Eggplant Parmesan:
2 lbs. shredded mozzarella cheese
4 cups shredded parmesan cheese
Marinara Sauce (above^)
Fried Eggplant Rounds (farther above^^)
In the bottom of your pan(s), spread a thin layer of marinara sauce. Lay eggplant slices in a single layer as close to each other as possible. Spoon marinara over your eggplant. I am sparing with the sauce as I don’t like my final dinner to be “soupy” but use as much as you like. Sprinkle over mozzarella cheese then sprinkle parmesan over that. Repeat this process in layers until your pan is filled to the top.
If eating immediately, cover with foil and bake at 350F for 30 minutes, then remover foil and broil for 5 minutes to brown cheese on top. Remove from the oven, dish out onto plates, and serve garnished with fresh basil or parsley, a nice caesar salad, and some crescent rolls for a great meal.
If freezing or refrigerating for later use, cover in plastic wrap, then foil. To heat from frozen, remove plastic and replace foil. Bake at 375F for 1 – 1.5 hours or until heated through. Broil for 5 minutes without foil to brown the cheese.
If all of that sounded like a lot of work, I’ll say that it only takes TIME. Fairly minimal effort here beyond the frying of the eggplant which I like to do in the morning, then assemble the trays in the afternoon after the sauce has reduced. This is a fabulous meal to make ahead and serve to company or just keep stocked in your freezer. It’s even better in the summer when the eggplants come right out of the garden!
Hope you love it!