A few years ago, I was standing in line at the post office behind this guy who was checking out the stamps in the display case. When the postal worker asked him what kind of stamps he wanted, without hesitation, he said, “The ones with Dr. Phil.” And just as I’m thinking, Maybe I can get a set with Oprah’s Best Friend Gayle, I see that the guy’s stamps actually bear the likeness of someone who’d been slightly less powerful than Dr. Phil: President Gerald R. Ford.
In the world of Eggplant Parmesan, fried eggplant is the Dr. Phil. A wholesome veg corrupted by heat and grease until it stops offering life strategies and starts interviewing mothers of grotesquely obese toddlers. Baked Eggplant Parmesan has the same flavors and crunch, without the added fat.
The key is vigilance against sogginess.
First, you wait until the salted eggplant slices release two tablespoons of liquid. Then you press the slices with paper towels. And when you’re ready to layer your spicy tomato sauce, eggplant slices and cheese, you dot the eggplant with sauce (instead of evenly spreading it) so the exposed eggplant stays crisp. So, you get the flavor and texture without all of the extra oil and the ridiculous-but-persistent fear that one day you’ll have to be removed from your house with a crane.
I’m sure I saw that on “Dr. Phil.”
Baked Eggplant Parmesan
Adapted from “Cook’s Illustrated”
Serves 6 to 8
- 2 medium eggplant (about 2 pounds) cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 4 cups breadcrumbs
- 1 cup grated Parmesan (about 2 ounces)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 large eggs
- 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 cans (14 1/2 ounces each) diced tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
- Salt and ground pepper
- 8 ounces whole or part-skim mozzarella, shredded (2 cups)
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 ounce)
- 10 fresh basil leaves, for garnish
- For the Eggplant: In a large bowl, toss half of the eggplant slices and 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt; transfer salted eggplant to colander set over bowl. Repeat with remaining eggplant and salt. Let stand until eggplant releases about 2 tablespoons liquid, 30 to 45 minutes. Arrange eggplant slices on a triple layer of paper towels; cover with a triple layer of paper towels. Firmly press each slice to remove as much liquid as possible, then wipe off excess salt.
- While eggplant is draining, adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-thirds of the oven, place rimmed baking sheets on both racks, and heat oven to 425 degrees F.
- In a pie plate or shallow dish, combine breadcrumbs, Parmesan, salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Combine flour and 1 teaspoon pepper in large zipper-lock bag; shake to combine. Beat eggs in second pie plate. Place 8 to 10 eggplant slices in bag with flour, dip in eggs, let excess egg run off, then coat evenly with breadcrumb mixture. Set breaded slices on wire rack set over baking sheet. Repeat with remaining eggplant.
- Remove preheated baking sheets from oven; add 3 tablespoons oil to each sheet, tilting to coat evenly with oil. Place half of breaded eggplant on each sheet in single layer; bake until eggplant is well browned and crisp, about 30 minutes, switching and rotating baking sheets after 10 minutes, and flipping eggplant slices with wide spatula after 20 minutes. Do not turn off oven.
- For the Sauce: While eggplant bakes, process 1 can diced tomatoes in food processor or blender until almost smooth. Heat olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes in large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until garlic is light golden, about 3 minutes; stir in processed and remaining can of tomatoes. Bring sauce to boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until slightly thickened and reduced, about 15 minutes. Stir in basil and season to taste.
- To Assemble: Spread 1 cup tomato sauce in bottom of 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Layer in half of eggplant slices, overlapping slices to fit; distribute 1 cup sauce over eggplant; sprinkle with half of mozzarella. Layer in remaining eggplant and dot with 1 cup sauce, leaving majority of eggplant exposed so it will remain crisp. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup Parmesan and remaining mozzarella. Bake until bubbling and cheese is browned, 13 to 15 minutes. Cool 10 minutes, scatter basil over top, and serve, passing remaining tomato sauce separately.