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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Recipe Makeover #2 - Baked Eggplant Parmesan!

Truth be told, I've never liked eggplant. Except once, when my friend Jaclyn made eggplant Parmesan. WOW. In my experience adding eggplant to recipes, it was always spongy and rubbery. But in her eggplant Parmesan, it was fried and crispy, and almost melted in your mouth. YUM.

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!


Jaclyn said...

Thanks for the compliment, Jenny! I learned how to make that dish from my host mom in Italy when I was on student exchange. Nothing like cooking in an Italian's woman's kitchen looking out over the countryside. But I am definitly going to try it your way next time to cut out those extra calories- summer is going to be here soon!

Kerry said...

Okay that really does loook amazing. What a brilliant way to bread and "fry" them. I can't wait to try it.

Jessica said...

I made this and it was really great, I did cheat a little and used some of the french bread rolls I made earlier in the day to make them hamburger-esque and it was amazing. This is a really good left-over recipe, since I am usually just cooking for myself and occasionally my boyfriend.

The Svelte Gourmet said...

I'm so glad you liked it! Making it into some sort of sandwich is a great idea!

Neve said...

I had an eggplant that I had to use up so I made this recipe today and it's delicious! I didn't even get around to topping the eggplant with sauce, I've just been munching them straight down. This is how I'm going to make eggplant parmesan from now on. Thank you!

Unknown said...

I made this recipe just last night and had to control myself so I didn't eat the whole dish! The whole process was super easy and the results were super delicious. It is definitely a recipe I will be keeping in my back pocket forever. I've been looking for a guilt-free Italian food fix and this totally did it for me.

rachel said...

this sounds amazing, looks like i have dinner plans for tomorrow :)

Alisa Link said...

I found this recipe on Tastespotting.com when I was searching "eggplant" recipes. I made it last night, and like Amanda I had to keep myself from eating the entire pan! I have it in the fridge at work waiting for me to come eat it for lunch, but it might turn into a mid morning snack...

The Svelte Gourmet said...

I'm so glad you liked it! Who needs to fry, anyway? =) Thanks for the comment and enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Hey Jenny, thanks a bunch for the recipe, we are digesting it now. I tampered w/ it a little by adding a layer of kale in between the 2 layers of eggplant, sauce and cheese. So delicious!

Anonymous said...

This recipe rocks, thanks so much! I ate the slices before I even added the sauce and made the casserole part. If you eat it this way, I'd recommend 1/4 inch slices if you really like the flavor of eggplant.

Jennifer said...

So good! And to think that I despised eggplant until now. I added capers and Kalamatas. Next time, I'll add kale.

The Svelte Gourmet said...

So glad you liked it! I'll let you know if I find other ways to enjoy eggplant, but right now, this is my default recipe! =)

Anonymous said...

This recipe is amazing. I love it and have been trying to move my husband and me to a more plant based diet...my carnivore of a husband absolutely raves about this dish! Thanks so much!

rabbit said...

I love all kinds of eggplant, but this is now my top fav (at least for this winter season)! I followed every direction carefully, and Voila ... it turned out perfectly, looking just like the pics. The marinara recipe is so simple, yet wonderful, I don't think I'll ever buy marinara sauce again!!

Emily Shields said...

This was incredible! My boyfriend and I are trying to eat less carbs/starches (we both love our pasta) and this was incredible! The only changes I made were with regard to the sauce...we didn't have canned tomatoes so I used a jar of TJ's basil marinara sauce (wince) which I doctored up a bit with sauteed minced garlic and chopped onion and seasoned with red pepper flakes and oregano. Other than that, I followed the recipe to the letter and it.was.delicious. Thank you for sharing this gem!

The Svelte Gourmet said...

I'm so happy you liked it and thanks for the feedback! If you liked the crispy texture of this, try the Un-Fried Green Tomatoes! =) Thanks for reading!

Lisa said...

This is really amazing. My husband and daughter loved it as well. It is a regular meatless meal for us now. Thanks!