This year we decided to plant a garden. We managed to fill the tiny plot with quite a few plants. With a lot of blood, sweat and tears, it has been pretty productive. I didn't realize gardening was such hard work. It requires a lot of attention but I found I really enjoyed taking care of something that didn't talk... or bark... or meow back.
This little globe is actually an eggplant variety called Purple Flame. I haven't really eaten much eggplant, let alone cooked with it but it was pretty and we thought we liked it, so we put in the garden. As it turns out we do enjoy eggplant, and this recipe was a real winner. I especially liked it because there was no actual frying involved. Everything is baked in the oven which means it's healthier and less messy! This is kind of a labor intensive meal for a busy week night (which of course is when I decided to try it out) so I skipped baking it in a casserole and just plated the eggplant then topped it with sauce and cheese. Either way you can't go wrong with this dish.
For the eggplant:
1 lb. globe eggplant, cut crosswise into ¼-inch thick rounds
1½ tsp. kosher salt
6 oz. high-quality white bread, torn into chunks (if you'd rather use 3 cups of bread crumbs that should be fine)
1½ oz. freshly grated Parmesan cheese, about ¾ cup
Pinch of salt
1 tsp. pepper, divided
¾ cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
For the tomato sauce:
1½ (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
Salt and ground black pepper
4 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese (about 1 cup)
½ oz. freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about ¼ cup)
Fresh basil leaves, torn, for garnish
To prepare the eggplant, toss the eggplant slices with the kosher salt in a large bowl until combined. Transfer the salted eggplant to a colander and set the colander over the now empty bowl. Let stand until the eggplant releases at least 1 tablespoon liquid, 30-45 minutes. Spread the eggplant slices on a triple thickness of paper towels; cover with another triple thickness of paper towels. Press firmly on each slice to remove as much liquid as possible. Wipe off any excess salt.
While the eggplant is draining, place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven and preheat to 425˚ F. Pulse the bread in a food processor to fine crumbs (about 15 1-second pulses). You should have about 3 cups. (Skip this step if opting to use bread crumbs.) Transfer the crumbs to a pie plate and mix in the cheese, salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper; set aside. Wipe out the bowl of the food processor.
Combine the flour and ¾ teaspoon pepper in a large zipper lock plastic bag; shake to combine. Beat the eggs in a second pie plate. Place about half of the eggplant slices in the bag with the flour; seal and shake to coat. Remove the slices, shaking off the excess flour. Dip in the eggs, letting the excess run off. Coat evenly with the bread crumb mixture. Set the breaded slices on a wire rack. Repeat with the remaining eggplant until all the slices are breaded.
Remove the preheated baking sheet from the oven. Add the vegetable oil to the sheet and tilt to coat evenly. Place the breaded eggplant slices on the baking sheet in a single layer. Bake until the eggplant is well browned and crisp, 25- 30 minutes, rotating the baking sheet after 10 minutes and flipping the slices after 20 minutes. Do not turn off the oven after the slices are baked.
While the eggplant is baking, prepare the tomato sauce. Process about half of the diced tomatoes in the food processor until almost smooth, about 5 seconds. Heat the olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and the garlic is light golden, about 3 minutes. Stir in the processed tomatoes and the remaining diced tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened at reduced, about 15 minutes. Stir in the basil and season with salt and pepper to taste.
(This is the step I skipped.)
To assemble the dish, spread ½ cup of the sauce in the bottom of a 2-quart casserole dish. Layer in half of the eggplant slices, overlapping the slices to fit. Spread with another ½ cup of the sauce. Sprinkle with half of the mozzarella. Layer in the remaining eggplant and dot with the remaining sauce, leaving the majority of the eggplant exposed so it will remain crisp. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and the remaining mozzarella. Bake until bubbling and the cheese is browned, 13-15 minutes. Cool 10 minutes, scatter the basil over the top, and serve.
Adapted from: The New Best Recipe (one of my favorite cookbooks)