Let me discuss a few key components to this recipe. One is Panko bread crumbs. I began using these in Japanese cooking, as they are Japanese bread crumbs. In the old days, I had to buy them at Asian specialty stores. Now there are several brands in every market around here. I love the crunchy whole wheat ones but the delicate original style is wonderful too! This recipe relies on the texture of panko baked on the eggplant slices to give it a crispy crunch. If you can get Panko, do so.
Second, while this recipe's main player is eggplant, its secondary focus is the parmesan cheese. So please, if you can, get some real parmgiano-reggiano. I am going to quote my own blog on this one: “Parmigiano-reggiano is the best, official parmesan cheese from Italy. You could substitute other parmesan cheeses in these recipes but if you have the option, get parmigiano-reggiano! It is crazy good cheese in my opinion. Flavorful, complex, nutty, salty and tangy with a wonderful texture. Pick up a little square of it. This is real parmesan cheese as it was created to be, not some waxy, flavorless wanna-be.”
I read about adding ricotta cheese on the Cooking Light web-site. Their recipe was similar to mine. One big difference was they added ricotta. I add about half of what they did but I like the creaminess it adds.
Okay, I know this recipe has been around a while and people may not get too excited about it. But if you are breading your eggplant in plain breadcrumbs and frying it, I think this is a nice update on an old favorite. Plus, everyone should have this one in their repertoire for a great make ahead meal. You can prep this early in the day to bake later and left overs perhaps even better the second day!
Please, let me know what you think! I really do love it when you all comment!
2 small eggplants (or 1 large) - about 1 3/4 lbs.
1 egg, beaten (may need 2)
1/3 cup buttermilk OR 2 TBSP water or milk
3 cups panko bread crumbs, regular or whole wheat
1/3 cup fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tsp. blend of Italian Herbs such as oregano, thyme, marjoram, basil…
1 tsp. garlic powder
½ -1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper
Oil, I use both canola and olive
1/3 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 clove garlic, pressed
8 oz. part skim ricotta cheese, optional
2 TBSP Parmigiano-Reggian0
¼ cup shredded low fat mozzarella
1 egg, beaten, optional
3 ½ -4 cups of your favorite Marinara or other tomato pasta sauce, Store-bought is fine but a home-made roasted tomato sauce brings this to new heights of goodness!
1/2 cup shredded low fat mozzarella
2 TBSP Parmigiano-ReggianoFirst prep eggplant. I like to use two smaller ones for the size of the slices but one big one is fine. You will need enough for two layers of eggplant. Wash, cut off leaves and mostly peel. You could leave peel if you prefer. (BTW I don’t do the salting, pressing thing anymore to the eggplant. They seem less bitter than they used to be. )
With a nice sharp knife, slice eggplant a ¼ inch thick.
Beat 1 egg in a shallow bowl. If you have buttermilk, add a 1/3 cup. If you don’t use a couple TBSP water or milk. You may run low so have an extra egg handy.
In another bowl mix Panko breadcrumbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano and next 4 seasonings. Panko is Japanese bread crumbs and is extra crunchy and light. Don’t substitute regular bread crumbs alone. If you can’t find panko, crush some croutons or use ½ cracker crumbs ½ bread crumbs although neither of these will be as good as panko. Ask your market to carry them if they don’t cause they are that g0od!
The other main ingredient is the Parmigiano-Reggiano. While you can substitute a good quality Parmesan cheese here, it will be inferior in taste and texture. Parmigiano-Reggiano is worth it! You can use less cheese to achieve the same tangy, salty, rich flavor. But it does cost a bit more so remember that you can use other Parmesan.
Heat oil in a large shallow pan. Dip in egg bowl and then place in panko. Pile panko on top and press. Shake off excess and place on a cookie sheet (lined with foil, if desired) that has been sprayed or brushed with olive oil. Place in 400 degree oven for 20 minutes or until browned a bit and crispy.
Whilst these are browning, mix together the ricotta and fresh parsley and basil and 1 beaten egg, garlic, 2 TBSP Parmigiano-Reggian0 ¼ cup shredded low fat mozzarella. While this does add a layer of creamy, tasty goodness, you can skip this entire step if you want, especially if you need to reduce the dairy. I would use the fresh herbs if you have them, though and just sprinkle on top when you pull it out of the oven. However, even these may be omitted.
In a large rectangular baking dish, pour enough tomato sauce to cover bottom of pan. Make a layer of eggplant slices. Dot with ricotta cheese mix. Next comes the sauce, jarred store bought pasta sauce is fine for this, although homemade roasted tomato sauce would be wonderful J Sauce should be on the thin side so if it is thick, add a bit of water. Drizzle a bit of sauce and add another layer of eggplant. Pour the rest of the sauce over it and cover with foil. Bake in 375 oven for 25 minutes until hot. Top with the rest of the mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano and return to oven, uncovered for 5-10 minutes till cheese is melted and beginning to brown. Let it sit about 5 minutes before serving.
I love serving this with a sautéed chard and onions or a green salad and perhaps a bed of pasta with some of the same sauce mixed in.