Corona Cookbook: Eggplant Parm

Chicago Critic Nancy Bishop

By: - May 05, 2020

Whaddya talking about? You don’t like eggplant? Perhaps you’ve only had plain grilled eggplant or maybe you’ve had it undercooked, so it’s sort of tough or even bitter. I’d like to suggest that when you eat it combined with good tomato sauce and cheese, it’s a divine dish. This is eggplant for people who think they don’t like eggplant The traditional Eggplant Parmigiana starts with slices of eggplant, breaded and fried, and layered with the aforementioned tomato sauce and cheese. That is an excellent dish—and in fact, Topo Gigio Ristorante on Wells Street in Old Town has my very favorite version.

This recipe, my simplified version, skips the breading and frying. It’s not that I’m trying to avoid the F word. I discovered a few summers ago that this simplified version is simply delicious too and preparation is much faster.

Quickly browned eggplant slice

Eggplant Almost-Parmigiana

1 eggplant, about 1-1.25 pounds
Olive oil, about 4 tbsp
2 cups fresh tomato sauce or good quality jarred marinara
6-8 oz. provolone or mozzarella cheese slices
1 cup shredded or grated Italian cheese (Asiago, Romano, Parmesan or a blend)
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400° F. Oil a 9×13 baking pan. Spoon about 1/2 cup of tomato sauce in pan and spread it in a thin layer.

Wash eggplant and cut off ends. Slice 3/8 to 1/2 inch thick.

Heat some of the olive oil in a big skillet and sauté eggplant slices quickly; turn and sauté other side. Season with salt and pepper. Place slices in single layer in baking pan. Add more oil and brown the rest of the eggplant slices. Overlap them in a single layer in baking pan. (Eggplant soaks up oil like a sponge, so do this quickly.)

Spoon small amounts of tomato sauce over eggplant slices. (I don’t like things swimming in tomato sauce; add more if you do.) Cover with cheese slices, then spread rest of tomato sauce thoroughly over cheese. Sprinkle shredded or grated cheese over top.

Bake about 20-30 minutes, until eggplant is very tender. Poke it with a fork or even cut off a tiny bite at the corner to be sure. Cheese should be bubbly and brown around edges of pan. Let cool about 10 minutes before cutting.

Serve as a main dish or side dish with grilled meat. I like it as an entrée, with some crisp Italian bread and a green salad, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice.

Eggplant and cheese slices with tomato sauce.

About the tomato sauce

The best sauce is homemade from fresh tomatoes in August or September, when they’re ripe, flavorful and plentiful. See our homage to tomatoes from September 2017, in which I confide my recipe for Roasted Tomato Sauce.

You can make a very good quick tomato sauce with boxed or canned crushed or petite diced tomatoes. Start by sautéing some diced onion and minced garlic in olive oil. Then add the tomatoes, salt and pepper, and some dried basil or basil paste. Stir well and bring to a simmer. Cook over low heat for 15-20 minutes or more, until it thickens to a nice consistency. Stir frequently. Adjust the seasoning.

If you have extra tomato sauce, it will be great for pasta or pizza. Cover and refrigerate; it will keep for a week or more. Or you can make a larger batch and freeze some.

Ready for the oven.