And one more thing: no salting.
Monday’s Cooking newsletter brought to my attention an old Marian Burros recipe for eggplant parmesan adapted from a recipe in Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italy. The recipe omits breading and frying the eggplant, calling for roasting instead.
On Wednesday, using one eggplant from Tuesday’s CSA and one very tired eggplant from several weeks ago, I followed Burros’ recipe, roasting a sheetpan of eggplant slices at high heat for 35 minutes, then layering the slices in a gratin dish with homemade sauce and parmesan cheese, topping it all off with a mix of fresh breadcrumbs, parmesan and olive oil. After 25 minutes in the oven, the gratin emerged bubbling and golden and tasted utterly delicious.
I made two small changes:
1. In place of canned San Marzano tomatoes, I made my favorite red pepper-tomato sauce: simmer diced red peppers and tomatoes in water for 25 minutes, then purée with butter, olive oil and basil. Every time I make this sauce, I am astounded by its simplicity and flavor: sweet, fresh, bright. You can make this sauce start to finish in the time it takes to roast the eggplant. (Marcella’s sauce would be good here, too, but this one is easier and just as flavorful.)
2. Instead of dried breadcrumbs for the topping, I used fresh. I had recently made this super easy summer squash gratin, whose breadcrumb topping I love: 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs, 1/3 cup grated parmesan, 2 tablespoons oil, pinch salt and pepper. It worked beautifully here.
As you know, I love the Cook’s Illustrated eggplant parmesan, which simplifies the process of eggplant parmesan by oven-frying the breaded slices of eggplant on preheated baking sheets. The rounds emerge crisp and golden and are completely irresistible. How does this recipe compare? Well, it’s just different. This is more of a gratin than a casserole. The rounds taste creamy and melt into each other, the only crispness coming from the topping. This one is a little lighter — no mozzarella here — though it won’t feed as many people. The CI version is something, I think, for an occasion, a labor of love; this one’s for right now, something you could throw together quickly as opposed to saving for the weekend. Both are delicious. If you love eggplant, you can’t go wrong.
Have a wonderful weekend, Everyone.
- 2 medium eggplants, about 1½ lbs. (675 g) cut crosswise into ½-inch slices
- Olive oil, about 3 tablespoons or more
- kosher salt
- red pepper tomato sauce (recipe below, or whatever tomato sauce you love)
- freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, as much as needed
for the topping:
- 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
- ⅓ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- pepper to taste
for the red pepper-tomato sauce:
- 2 red bell peppers, stemmed and seeded, diced to yield about 2 cups
- 2 beefsteak tomatoes, diced to yield about 2 cups
- kosher salt and pepper to taste
- ¼ cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment (if you wish) then drizzle some oil over top and spread out with your hand. Lay the eggplant slices in a single layer — use two baking sheets if necessary. Season generously with salt and pepper. Flip the slices, season with salt and pepper. Drizzle more olive oil over top. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove pan from oven, flip slices, bake for 15 more minutes. Set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees.
- Meanwhile, toss breadcrumbs with ⅓ cup grated parmesan cheese, 2 Tbsp. oil, salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Into a circular gratin dish (about 9 inches in diameter) or a 9-by-9-inch or similar baking pan, spoon a small amount of sauce, then add a thin scattering of parmigiano, then a single layer of eggplant. Repeat until all ingredients are used, ending with a little sauce and a sprinkling of parmigiano. Top with breadcrumb mixture.
- Bake until eggplant mixture is bubbly and top is golden, 25 minutes or so depending on size of pan and thickness of layers. Remove from heat and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving. Recipe can also be reheated.
To make the sauce: Place peppers and tomatoes in a medium-sized saucepan or pot. Pour in ½ cup water and turn heat to high. Season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer, then turn heat down to medium high. Set a timer for 25 minutes. After about five minutes, the tomatoes and peppers will begin to release their juices, and the whole mixture should be bubbling. Adjust the heat if necessary so that the mixture stays at a constant bubble — medium to medium-high should do it. Stir every five minutes or so to make sure the tomatoes and peppers are not sticking to the bottom of the pan. If they are, add water by the ¼ cup.
When the peppers and tomatoes are tender and nearly all of the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes and peppers are beginning to stick to pot, add the basil, butter, and oil to the pot, give it a stir, then transfer the contents of the pot to a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth. Taste. Adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper as necessary.