Have you ever had a dish that tasted like bliss? If you like Italian food, boy have I got the dish for you! I love Egg Plant Parmesan! It is one of those dishes that can easily be made vegetarian without making Papa Bear feel like he is sacrificing his meat-itarian nature. You can easily make it a meatier variety by adding ground beef to the sauce to “beef” it up a bit. See what I did there?
I remember the first time I had this as a kid. Some friends of our family made one and brought it over and asked my parents to taste it and guess what was in it. Keep in mind that I lived in a very rural community in the South – we didn’t have an Italian restaurant. My concept of Italian was Spaghetti night and the occasional frozen lasagna or lasagna Hamburger Helper – no joke. Still, it was good.
Anyway, we had never heard of Eggplant Parm, much less tasted it. For the longest, my Dad insisted it was meat, but couldn’t figure out what kind. He finally gave up and – spoiler alert – it was fried egg plant. He loved it. We had made and cooked with egg plant, but mainly in vegi dishes and soups. We had never had it as a part of an entrée before. He insisted that my Mother learn how to cook it immediately. She obliged and we occasionally had egg plant. I know, we sound like bumpkins, and maybe we were. But I’ll never forget how good that first taste of a new dish was.
To this day I still love the earthy taste of the egg plant paired with the sweet and savory notes of marinara. Serve with sides of long, thin spaghetti and a huge green salad and you have a feast fit for the most discerning of bumpkins. Hahaha.
So let’s get to it!
1 medium egg plant
1 jar pre made pasta sauce
1 box Italian breadcrumbs
1 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Seasoned ground beef if you elect to use it in the sauce
Oil for frying
We are going to start with a plump, firm, medium egg plant. Find a smooth, darkly pigmented egg plant with a lovely sheen. It should smell clean and earthy, but not like much else. Peel and thinly slice your egg plant and pat slices dry with a cloth. Set these aside while you get two medium bowls. Add bread crumbs to one (about 2 cups) bowl and eggs and milk to the other. Whisk the eggs and milk thoroughly.
Send the egg plant slices through the egg wash then through the breadcrumbs to coat. Here is the part that cook books don’t tell you. Set the slices aside and let them rest for a bit. You want the breadcrumbs to soak up a bit of the moisture and stick to the egg plant. After you have coated each slice once, begin the second coating.
Fill a frying pan with enough oil to coat slices. Let it heat up until the oil is screaming hot hot hot! The really hot oil will allow the egg plant to flash fry, sealing in moisture and making a really crispy crust. I like the crust really crispy so that it will hold up to the sauce when you bake it.
If you are using ground beef, thinly slice ½ sweet yellow onion into a hot pan and begin to sweat. Add beef, salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon garlic. When beef is thoroughly browned, drain and return to pan. Add sauce and set aside.
Using a 9X9 baking dish, layer egg plant in the bottom of the dish, cover with a layer of sauce, and a sprinkle of cheese. Add layers until you run out of egg plant or reach the top of the dish. Cover generously with the remainder of your Parmesan and mozzarella and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes. Everything is already cooked, you are now just heating it through and melting the cheese.
Should you have any left over egg plant slices, my kids like to cut them into strips, melt some cheese on them and dip them in the sauce. They are a lot like fried ravioli that Italian places server as appetizers.
The flavors, crispness of the crust, and cheese make the perfect weekend comfort food! I’ll be honest, I don’t love the way this one gets a little mushy as you let it set in the fridge for leftovers, but I will say that it still tastes amazing. Sometimes the flavors are more intense a day later, but the crust has gotten a little soft.
What is your favorite Italian comfort food?