The story of Eggplant Pamesan is a summer story. The eggplant grows fat in the summer, my mother tends her garden in the summer, and the story of this recipe takes place in the thick of summer heat, with my great-grandmother sweating over an enamel stove. We are far away from summertime in the Northeast, and we are frankly nearing the end of fall. The fall foliage is at its climax, fall stews are perfuming the house, and this dish is a light memory. I run it in a salutation to summertime, and I make it as a cheers to a fabulous year.
Lizzie Corcoran, my great grandmother, was an avid gardener, cook, and one of the most vivacious women I’ve heard of. She was my mom’s mentor, almost her second mother. Lizzie had an enormous enamel stove that she’d stand by all day in the summer, sweat profusely falling off her face. In nothing but a light house dress (otherwise naked as the day she was born, barefoot and braless), she’d fry up the eggplant as her tomato sauce simmered. It was in that kitchen my mother learned to cook a couple of her signature dishes, and it was in her garden, filled with eggplants, where she began her passionate affair with freshly grown vegetables.
My mom doesn’t like to eat fried food as often as her grandmother, so sometimes she craves a fresher, lighter version of this dish. When she does, she substitutes the fried eggplant for grilled. Mom lightly brushes the eggplant slices with olive oil, seasons them with a little salt, and grills them on medium heat until just soft, about a minute, flipping once. Often she’ll add 2 cups of part-skim ricotta to the Eggplant Parmesan recipe below. Mom mixes the ricotta with two eggs, and layers it in between the tomato sauce and mozzarella.
8 fried eggplant slices (recipe below), separated
1 cup tomato sauce, separated
1 grated mozzarella cheese, separated
Grated parmesan cheese, to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Halve ingredients so that each serving is allotted 4 fried eggplants, 1/2 cup tomato sauce, and 1/2 cup mozzarella.
In an individual casserole dish layer the following: tomato sauce, eggplant, tomato sauce, mozzarella, eggplant, tomato sauce, mozzarella. Repeat, sprinkling grated parmesan over the last layer of mozzarella cheese. Prepare second casserole dish in same.
Bake for 15 minutes, until cheese is brown and bubbly. Remove from oven and let cool for five minutes. Serve.
*If making Eggplant Parmesan for a crowd, use a 9×12 inch ceramic baking dish. You will need about 8 ounces grated mozzarella, 16 ounces of tomato sauce, and 2 pounds of eggplant. Bake at 400 degrees for about 25-30 minutes.
1 large eggplant (about 2 lbs), cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds
1 tablespoon water
2 cups breadcrumbs (if using Progresso Italian Breadcrumbs, do not add Italian seasoning)
1 tablespoon Italian seasonings
Lightly salt eggplant and place between paper towels to drain for a half hour.
Prepare stations. In a medium bowl, beat eggs with water. On a large plate, combine breadcrumbs (and seasoning if required). Dip eggplant in egg mixture until coated with a glossy, wet surface. Then, dip eggplant in breadcrumbs until covered. Repeat until all eggplant slices are prepared.
Heat an eleven inch skillet over medium. Coat skillet with one tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon olive oil. You will know the skillet is ready when it begins to smoke. Cook eggplant until golden brown, about two to three minutes per side, flipping once. You will be able to fit three to four slices in the pan at a time, depending on their size. Remove eggplant from skillet and drain on a paper towel. Wipe skillet of crumbs with a dry paper towel. Repeat, adding fresh butter and oil with each batch.