I know you're out there. I see you wincing, shuddering away from the thought of this meal. "Eggplant parmesan?!?" you might say. "That's disgusting."
I know you're out there because I've met you. You've told me your horror stories of a meal that's soggy, tasteless, bland; bitter, pungent, or spongy. Eggplant that isn't cooked and tastes of broken dreams.
Well, I can't promise to fix the broken dreams. But I can tell you, this eggplant parm is none of those things. It's actually one of my favorite meals, one of the most comforting and warming dinners in my repertoire. The key is in seasoning the flour very well (that you dredge the eggplant in) and making sure to salt and drain the eggplant well, to pull out some of the bitter juices before you cook it.
I use whatever sauce I have on hand- it's good with a meat sauce or a marinara. If I don't have any homemade, I'll just use jarred sauce- the eggplant and cheese are so flavorful, you won't even notice the difference. I also use mozzarella ciliegine, which are just little balls of mozzarella that are preformed. You can find them in just about every grocery store, and that way you don't have to shred the mozz, which is nice.
Don't be afraid of the eggplant.
Here's how it's done:
Slice your eggplant thinly and layer the slices in a colander as you go. As you put down each layer, sprinkle well with salt.
Make sure your colander is sitting over the sink, as the eggplant will release lots of bitter brown juice. Let it rest for about 20 minutes.
While the eggplant is resting, set up three plates with your flour mixture, egg wash, and breadcrumb mixture.
Rinse the eggplant well in cold water (be sure to gently turn them with your hands); you want to get rid of all the brown liquid.
Whisk your seasoned flour very well. Going one piece at a time, coat the eggplant in the flour, then the egg wash, then the breadcrumbs. Make sure you get all of the dredge over all of the eggplant- including the sides.
Heat up 3 T olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the coated eggplant for about 3 minutes a side, until both sides are golden brown. If you pierce the eggplant with a fork, there should be no resistance this means it's cooked through and won't be tough).
Make sure you have your casserole dish ready, and line the bottom with a layer of grated parmesan. Have your sauce and mozzarella close by as well, as you'll build the casserole as the eggplant cooks.
Preheat your oven to 350.
As the eggplant cooks, layer the pieces in one layer at a time, then top with mozzarella, sauce, and parmesan.
Keep building the layers and cooking the eggplant.
As you go, the excess crumbs from the breading will start burning in the oil. Between rounds of cooking, I wipe out the skillet with a double-folded paper towel, to pull out the burnt bits and the burnt oil. Tilt the pan away from you and quickly and carefully wipe out the crumbs.
After you've cleaned out the pan, add more oil as needed as you go. Continue cooking the eggplant and layering, until you're out of eggplant.
Top with the remaining cheeses and sauce.
I don't know why I did such a slack photography job on this, but it should be filled to the top :).
Pop the whole kit into the preheated oven on a sheet pan, and cook until well browned and very bubbly- about an hour.
Serve with pasta- preferably linguine- that you've just tossed with butter and parmesan cheese.
Here's the recipe: