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Eggplant Parmesan

Thick slices of eggplant make every bite the best ever!

Eggplant Parmesan

If it’s in the title of the recipe, you want to taste it. There is nothing worse than Eggplant Parmesan that doesn’t taste of the main event. If the finished dish just tastes like breading, sauce, and cheese then it’s a fail. The recipe below offers two variations plated two ways: baked or fried, in a casserole or stacked. Thick eggplant slices are the key regardless of which version you make, which gives the whole dish a substantial feel both on the fork and in the mouth. It's all about technique, not torture!

Equipment: cutting board; chef’s knife; dry and wet measuring cups; measuring spoons; box grater; shallow bowls; fork; cast iron skillet or large sauté pan (with straight sides); rimmed sheet pan; tongs; 9x13 casserole; aluminum foil

Any eggplant will work for this recipe, but Italian, Globe, Rosa Bianca, and Graffiti are ideal because they yield the biggest circles when sliced crosswise.

Ingredients: 2 large eggplants

½ cup all-purpose flour 1 tablespoon kosher salt 2 eggs, lightly beaten 2 cups fresh breadcrumbs or panko vegetable oil for frying or olive oil for baking (see below)

4 cups marinara sauce (fresh or jarred)

1 pound fresh mozzarella, shredded

2 cups fresh ricotta (optional)

1 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

2. Trim the eggplants of their green tips and round bottoms and discard. Slice the eggplants into 1/3-inch thick slices. Place the eggplant slices in a single layer on a rimmed sheet pan and sprinkle generously with salt on both sides. Let the eggplant sit for 30 minutes to "sweat" before patting dry the eggplant slices.

ILOC tip: salting the eggplant slices so they "sweat" not only helps to season and flavor them, it also makes them more tender and less bitter.

3. Place the flour in a wide shallow bowl and set aside. Then beat the eggs with a fork in a wide shallow bowl and set aside. Put the breadcrumbs in a wide shallow bowl and set aside. From left to right, line up the seasoned flour, egg mixture, and breadcrumbs, respectively.

4. IF PAN-FRYING THE EGGPLANT: Dredge one eggplant slice in the flour, being sure to coat with flour everywhere, and shake off the excess. Then dip the coated eggplant into the beaten egg, then directly into the breadcrumbs. With a dry hand, toss well to coat and set aside. Repeat with the remaining eggplant.

Heat ½-inch of vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet or large sauté pan over medium-high heat until the surface begins to shimmer. To test if the oil is hot, carefully lower the tip of one coated eggplant slice into the oil. If the crumb-coating sizzles, the oil is ready. If nothing happens, the oil is not yet hot, so remove the eggplant immediately and wait a little while longer before you try again. Fry the eggplant slices in batches, being careful not to crowd the pan. Fry for 2-3 minutes, or until the bottoms and edges are golden brown, adjusting the heat as necessary. Turn each eggplant slice carefully with tongs in the order in which they entered the pan, and fry for another 2-3 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Set the eggplant slices on a paper towel-lined plate or pan to drain.

IF BAKING THE EGGPLANT: Moisten the fresh breadcrumbs with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Dredge one eggplant slice in the flour, being sure to coat with flour everywhere, and shake off the excess. Then dip the coated eggplant into the beaten egg, then directly into the breadcrumbs. With a dry hand, toss well to coat and set aside. Repeat with the remaining eggplant and place on a lightly oiled rimmed sheet pan. Bake for 12-15 minutes, turning once halfway through the cooking process. Remove from the oven and set aside.

5. IF SERVING IN A CASSEROLE, pour 1 cup of sauce in the bottom of the dish and spread evenly across the surface. Place eggplant slices across the sauce in a single layer, being sure not to leave much space between the slices, cutting some slices in half or in quarters. If using ricotta, spread 1 cup across the layer of eggplant slices (if not, continue with the mozzarella). Sprinkle with a fistful or two of shredded mozzarella, then with ¼-cup Parmesan. Add another cup of tomato sauce across the cheese, then layer with more eggplant slices in the same manner as the first layer. Repeat with the cheeses as noted and then top with another cup of sauce. If there are any remaining eggplant slices, evenly distribute them on top, then pour the remaining cup of sauce. Sprinkle with any remaining mozzarella and the ½-cup remaining Parmesan. Cover loosely with aluminum foil.

ILOC tip: you may prepare the casserole in advance to store in the refrigerator or freezer before baking, in which case you should cover tightly with plastic wrap - not foil - and increase the baking time by 10-15 minutes.

IF SERVING AS INDIVIDUAL STACKS, divide the eggplant slices into groups of three, keeping in mind that the largest ones should be the bottoms of the stacks and the smallest ones should be the tops as you create the groupings. Place the bottom layers on a rimmed sheet pan and spread 2 tablespoons of sauce on each slice. Top each sauced slice, with a dollop of ricotta, if using, then a generous pinch of mozzarella, and finally another pinch of Parmesan. Add another layer in the same manner, and then again with the final layer (the top layer should be completed with a sprinkle of Parmesan).

6. Bake the casserole in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the mozzarella has melted and the sauce is bubbling. If serving stacks, bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes until the cheese has melted.

7. Serve immediately.

Makes 8 servings.

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