I can’t think of anything quite as satisfying as warm, melty cheese layered with basil, fresh tomato sauce and fried eggplant. I’ve been intimidated to make this classic Italian dish because frankly, it’s a process. But, now that I’ve done it I know it’s easy and so delicious — even better heated up the next day!
It’s important to salt your eggplant and layer it in a colander.
You’ll see water droplets forming atop the eggplant, and make sure you put a plate beneath the colander to catch water that drops below.
Some people flour their eggplant, but it’s a bit lighter — and just as tasty! — if you fry it with salt and pepper in a well-oiled pan.
It’s extremely simple to make homemade tomato sauce. After 20-25 minutes, it’ll thicken up.
Blend it in a food processor or blender until it’s smooth. Salt and pepper after it’s blended, tasting to make sure you don’t over-salt.
Fresh basil should be roughly ripped.
Cheese should be freshly grated.
Get ready to layer!
Tomato sauce, eggplant, basil, mozzarella, parmesan — repeat!
Top it off with breadcrumbs, and bake away:
Recipe, adapted from Food & Wine
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more for frying
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- Chopped Italian tomatoes, 1 box Pomi or 2 28-ounce cans
- Salt and pepper, freshly ground
- 2 large eggplants, sliced into rounds (about 1/2 inch thick)
- Fresh basil, ripped – I used 1/3 cup (plus more for garnish)
- 1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced
- 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 3 tablespoons dry bread crumbs (I used whole wheat)
- Wash and slice eggplant. In a colander, layer sliced eggplant, generously salting each slice with Kosher salt. Be sure to place a plate beneath the colander to catch water.
- While the eggplant is soaking in the salt, prepare the tomato sauce. In a large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil. Add onion and garlic and cook over moderate heat until tender, 5 minutes.
- If your tomatoes are in excess liquid, drain them. Pour crushed tomatoes into skillet. Bring sauce to a simmer and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally. The sauce will be very thick after 20-25 minutes.
- Transfer tomato sauce to food processor (I used my VitaMix blender) and puree until smooth. Then season with S&P. Set aside.
- In a very large skillet, heat olive oil to cover the base of the pan. Remove eggplant from colander, wiping away water and adding a little more salt and some black pepper, to taste.
- Work in several batches, cooking the eggplant over moderately high heat. Depending on thickness and type of pan, each side will cook for 2-4 minutes. You want each side nicely browned.
- Add more oil between batches. Let eggplant rest on paper towels.
- Preheat oven to 400°.
- Get ready to layer! You’ll need a 9 x 13 inch glass or ceramic baking dish
- Add your tomato sauce first, then eggplant, basil, mozzarella slices, parmesan cheese. Repeat. Atop the last layer, add your breadcrumbs.
- Bake in the upper third of the oven for about 45 minutes. I kept foil on top for the first 35 minutes and removed it for the final 10 minutes to let the bread crumbs get some color.
Serve with green salad with mustard vinaigrette, sliced rustic bread (heated up in oven) and red wine (like Chianti).
Note: Assembled, unbaked eggplant will last one day covered in refrigerator. If making the day ahead, cover it and remove 20 minutes before baking to get it back to room temperature.