Simplify your eggplant Parmesan

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

I love eggplant Parmesan, but it used to be that I didn’t make it very often. The salting, draining, washing and patting dry of the eggplant slices was a chore in itself. Then came the frying, which seemed to take forever.

The salting part of the operation was supposed to remove the “bitterness” of the eggplant. I later read from many sources that unless your eggplant has been sitting in the vegetable bin of the supermarket for a month, there is no bitterness, so salting is unnecessary. That still left the chore of frying all those eggplant slices.

Enter Aunt Marie.

My husband’s family has a plethora of good cooks, and Aunt Marie was one of the most famous. While dining at her house on a scrumptious (and huge) eggplant Parm, I remarked on how much time she must have spent frying to make it.

Smiling, she confessed that she had long ago stopped frying and instead cooked the breaded eggplant slices in the oven. With this revelation, I couldn’t wait to try it myself.

The result was excellent. The dish was light and succulent, redolent of the eggplant and sauce rather than the heavy taste of olive oil. Though it’s still not a quick dish, I can now prepare eggplant Parmesan in half the time of my previous attempts. It’s worth the effort — because from a 9-by-13-inch pan, I can usually get enough to freeze for two more meals. I have never looked back to the frying pan.

When making eggplant Parmesan, the most important thing is to get fresh eggplants. Right now they are plentiful and inexpensive in the local markets. To check for freshness, give them a squeeze to make sure they are firm. Smaller is better. I usually use my own marinara sauce that I have frozen, but to save time, sauce from a jar is an acceptable substitute.

Eggplant Parmesan

6 tablespoons olive oil

2-3 eggplants (depending on the size)

2 eggs

Salt and pepper

2 cups Italian-flavored breadcrumbs (I make my own by adding dried herbs to plain breadcrumbs)

7 cups marinara sauce

1 pound mozzarella cheese (thinly sliced)

1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Using a pastry brush, coat two baking sheets with 3 tablespoons olive oil each.

Wash the eggplants and cut off the stem end. It’s not necessary to peel them. Cut into 1/2-inch slices.

Beat the eggs, adding a bit of salt and pepper. Dip the eggplant slice in the egg, then coat with breadcrumbs. Place on the oiled baking sheet. Cook the eggplant slices for 25 minutes, then turn and cook for another 25 minutes or until soft and browned on each side.

Coat a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish with a layer of sauce. Add eggplant slices sufficient to coat the bottom. Cover with sauce and sliced mozzarella. Sprinkle with half the Parmesan cheese. Repeat with the next layer of eggplant slices, finishing with the remaining sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan.

Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until bubbly and the top is lightly browned. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 15 minutes before serving.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.