I am not fond of eggplants. Never have been. But, post marriage, since V likes them A LOT, I have been forced to change my preferences. (Yes! Marriage is all about the compromise). And now I have finally warmed up to this vegetable. So, the other day when we ordered Eggplant Parmesan at a restaurant, I did not mind trying it out. It was really good and that’s when I made a mental note to myself to try making it at home.
And thus, began the search for a recipe for Eggplant Parmesan. I googled and one of the first search results had Bobby Flay’s version of Eggplant Parmesan. I remember watching the throwdown episode which showcased this recipe. Don’t remember who won, though, but I do remember Bobby Flay’s version was liked by a lot of people.
The sauce for this recipe is amazing. Roasted red peppers give a beautiful flavor to the sauce. It is time consuming to make it though and I would suggest to make the sauce a day or two in advance. And even though the recipe calls for fresh herbs, since I did not have any, I used dried herbs, with pretty good results. But, not having fresh herbs on hand gave me a brilliant idea to start my own herb garden (woohoo!). That’s going on my ‘next project to tackle’ list.
The recipe also calls for different kinds of cheeses and I am aware that such cheeses are difficult to find in India. Actually, even in the US, where I stay, its difficult to find such cheeses. So I used only Parmesan and Mozzarella cheese. It worked out fine.
I served this dish at a get together we had at our place, and the ones who tried this dish, loved it- one called it ‘restaurant style‘ :). But, the fact that it was an eggplant dish did not sit too well with many others and they weren’t too adventurous to try it. (I know the pre-marriage me would have also not tried it.) Next time, I’m going to mask the inclusion of eggplant by calling the dish by its italian name melanzane alla parmigiana. That way, eggplant haters will get fooled into trying the dish and eventually end up liking it! (Gosh! I have such a brilliant mind- slightly evil but brilliant nonetheless :):)!)
The sauce can be made 2 or 3 days in advance. Although the dish is best when freshly made, it can be assembled and refrigerated the day before, and then baked before serving. Alternatively, bake the dish a day in advance, cover and refrigerate; the next day reheat in a preheated 400 degree F oven for about 20 minutes.
Don’t get scared by the long list of ingredients, the result is well worth it! And do make the sauce in advance so that the workload is less on the day you decide to eat it.
Roasted Red Pepper Tomato Sauce:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 roasted red peppers, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 (28-ounce) cans plum tomatoes and their juices, crushed with your hands
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
3 tablespoons freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons freshly chopped basil leaves
1 tablespoon freshly chopped oregano leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Honey, to taste (I didn’t use any)
5 cups fresh dried breadcrumbs (made from dried day-old bread) (I used store bought)
Butter, for greasing the dish
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 large eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons water
2 to 3 medium eggplants (about 2 1/4-pounds), cut into 1/2-inch-thick round slices (need about 18 slices)
All-purpose flour, for dredging
Vegetable oil, for frying
Roasted Red Pepper Tomato Sauce
12 ounces grated mozzarella (not fresh), plus1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
12 ounces grated fontina
3/4 cup grated Pecorina Romano
Fresh basil leaves, torn
For the Roasted Red Pepper Tomato Sauce:
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute. Add the red peppers and cook for 1 minute.Add the tomatoes, bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and process until smooth. Return the mixture back to the pot, add the parsley, basil and oregano and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes longer and season with honey, if needed.
For the Eggplant:
To dry out the bread crumbs:
Preheat the oven to 300 degree F.
Evenly spread the bread crumbs on a large baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake for 5 minutes, turn the oven off and let the bread crumbs sit in the oven for 30 minutes or until just dry.
Raise the temperature of the oven up to 400 degrees F. Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 15 by 10 by 2-inch baking dish and set aside.
Place the bread crumbs into a large shallow bowl. Add the herbs, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. In another medium shallow bowl, whisk the eggs and 2 tablespoons of water together.
Season each eggplant slice on both sides with salt and pepper. Dredge each eggplant slice in the flour, tapping off excess, then dip it in the egg, and finally dredge it in the bread crumb mixture. Shake off any excess breading and transfer the egg plant to a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining eggplant.
Heat 1/2-inch of oil in 2 large straight-sided saute pans over medium heat until the oil reaches a temperature of 385 degrees F. Working in small batches, fry a few of the eggplant slices, turning once, until golden brown, about 3 minutes per batch. Using tongs, transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining eggplant.
Cover the bottom of the prepared baking dish with some of the tomato sauce and arrange 1/2 of the eggplant over the sauce. Cover the eggplant with some of the sauce, grated mozzarella, fontina, Romano cheese and some of the basil. Repeat to make 3 layers ending with the sauce. Top with the fresh mozzarella and remaining Romano and bake until hot and just beginning to brown, about 30 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.