I was reminded of this delightful culinary experience when our mutual friend Kerry told me she was making this dish. She asked me if I had any tips or tricks, and I couldn't lie. I'd never made eggplant Parmesan. Why? Because I don't fry. And for this dish to be good, the eggplant slices had to be breaded and fried. Right?
I told Kerry about the recipe makeover challenge, and she suggested I tackle eggplant Parmesan. Urg. Never one to back down from a challenge, I agreed. But I don't like eggplant! And really, "oven fried" only goes so far. I've tried adding eggplant to some of my recipes, and we always end up picking it out and eating around it. So this ought to be fun, right?
OK, I've seen lots and lots of recipes for eggplant Parmesan done without the frying. Most simply bread the eggplant slices and bake them. But I've tried this during my eggplant experimentation, and I never liked it. It doesn't taste good to me -- just something I would try to hide in the food with sauces and spices, not showcase. Boring and bland. So what else can I try?
There's also another big challenge with these traditional dishes based on -- and named after! -- cheese. Cheese is fantastic and probably my most favorite thing (in any variety), but the calories really add up. About 100 per ounce. And this dish, which I'm choosing to do in layers, will have not only Parmesan, but also mozzarella. Hmmm....so how do I get a big cheese flavor without using a lot of cheese?
Encrusting! One of my most popular recipes is the Parmesan Crusted Chicken with Olive Tapenade from the cover of my cookbook. It uses very little cheese, but has such an amazing cheese flavor! So I opted to try this technique with my eggplant slices and see how they turned out.
This time, I skipped the pan browning step and went right for the oven. Each eggplant slice is dipped in beaten egg, then into a mixture of shredded Parmesan, panko bread crumbs, and a bit of seasoning. They're placed in a single layer on a baking sheet, then baked until they turn a nice, crispy golden brown.
Wow. These eggplant slices were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. They had a lovely Parmesan flavor. I finally like eggplant! The kitchen smelled amazing and I had to resist the temptation to eat these as a snack (hmmm...future appetizer recipe? I think so!). They were so good that I didn't want to completely cover them with a heavy sauce, so I kept the flavors in the sauce really fresh and light. The end result was a fantastic, cheesy, crispy, gooey eggplant Parmesan that, I think, rivals even the fried varieties.
So is it light? Is it ever! This recipe serves 6 if you're regular eaters (or have other courses, whole wheat bread, or a salad), or 4 if you have big appetites (like us). The entire recipe only has 1320 calories, so that's 220 each for 6 servings or 330 each for 4 servings. Either way, still REALLY light, easily fitting into a reduced calorie diet. And other bonus? It's also vegetarian!
So here you go, challenge met. Recipe Makeover #2 - Baked Eggplant Parmesan!
Baked Eggplant Parmesan
Serves 4 to 6
For the eggplant:
1 medium eggplant, sliced crosswise into 1/8 inch slices (I used a mandolin slicer)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp dried oregano
olive oil for misting
Line a large colander with the eggplant slices and sprinkle with salt. Let them sit for about an hour. The salt will help to drain excess water from the slices. Pat them dry.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mist 2 baking sheets with olive oil. Mix the Parmesan, panko, garlic powder and oregano in a shallow dish. Dip each slice into the beaten egg, then dip into the cheese mixture, pressing to coat. Place the slices in a single layer on the baking sheets. Mist the tops with olive oil and bake for about 40 minutes or until golden brown. Rotate the sheets halfway through baking if one is browning more quickly than the other.
For the sauce:
1/2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic
1 28-ounce can petite diced tomatoes (undrained)
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp salt
6 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped or torn
In a medium saucepan, heat oil. Reduce heat to medium and saute garlic for two minutes, or until it starts to be fragrant. Add diced tomatoes with juice, oregano, crushed red pepper and salt. Simmer, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Just before assembly, stir in chopped basil leaves.
For the casserole:
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella (part-skim)
Baked eggplant slices
Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Mix the Parmesan with the mozzarella. Add a spoonful of sauce to the bottom of a casserole dish, spreading to coat. Layer with some of the eggplant, followed by a sprinkle of cheese, then more spoonfuls of sauce. Resist the urge to completely cover with sauce, as we want the eggplant to stay crispy. Repeat until the eggplant slices are gone, finishing with sauce and cheese on top. For reference, I got 2 layers of eggplant out of mine in a medium-sized oblong casserole dish. Bake covered for 20 minutes, then remove lid and bake for another 10 minutes or until cheese is bubbly.
I truly hope you enjoy this recipe! Please let me know what you think, what you added, what you took out, etc. Of one thing I'm certain -- you won't miss the grease!
For more svelte recipes, The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html.
Any other recipe challenges for me? I'm on a mission!