Eggplants are one of my favorite vegetables. Beautiful in color, meaty in texture, the eggplant, if correctly prepared, is satisfyingly buttery and rich in flavor. Its problem is reputation: supposedly it should be salted and left to drain for at least 30 minutes before cooking to diminish a bitter taste. Salting helps reduce the eggplant’s absorbency of oils, which can make it soggy.
But there are ways to get around this time suck, and added salt. You can also eliminate all the fat needed for frying, making the end result healthier and tastier. The trick is panko breadcrumbs, and baking the vegetable prior to assembling with tomato sauce. No frying, no oil splatters, no mess. And you still get a luscious, tomatoey eggplant parmesan on the table for dinner. I promise you’ll be dreaming about the leftovers.
Healthy Baked Eggplant Parmesan Recipe
2 medium eggplants, ends trimmed, peeled in strips, cut crosswise into 1/3 inch rounds
Note: partially peeling the eggplants permits them to bake more quickly. Can you say that tongue-twister three times fast?
4 eggs, beaten lightly
3 cups panko bread crumbs
Note: you can find these with other breadcrumbs in the baking section, alongside the cornmeal.
3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 28 oz can chunky tomato sauce
1 28 oz can tomato sauce
4 large garlic cloves, minced
20 fresh basil leaves, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
1 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp dried hot red pepper flakes
4 fresh bocconcini (Mozzarella cheese balls, about the size of an egg), sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Heat oven to 375°F.
Warm olive oil in medium, heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic and sauté about 30 seconds until fragrant. Do not let brown. Add tomato sauces, basil, and peppers and simmer covered, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 30 minutes. Add salt to taste.
While sauce is simmering, dip eggplant slices into beaten egg, then bread lightly with panko bread crumbs. Spread on two baking sheets in single layers. Bake for 15 minutes, turn gently, and bake for another 10 minutes.
Increase oven temperature to 475°F. In a 9 x 11 baking dish, ladle a layer of tomato sauce, and top with eggplant from one of the baking sheets. Top with half of cheeses. Repeat, finishing with a small amount of tomato sauce. Bake until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling, about 15 minutes.
Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with a green salad, dressed with a simple vinaigrette prepared from 4 T extra virgin olive oil, 2 T red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk vinaigrette in small bowl before applying to salad greens.
Wondering what will make the perfect match for silkily tantalizing eggplant parmesan? Stephanie Davis, wine heroine from Winacea, recently discovered an equally silky, Sardinian red wine made from the Monica grape. Sardinia (or Sardegna), an island in the Mediterranean Sea, and autonomous region of Italy, produces good value wines that are incredibly food friendly. The area’s climate, with Mediterranean breezes softened by warm sun rays on hilly, volcanic-soil countryside, has helped produce good wines for thousands of years. You can’t go wrong with history on your side.
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