Eggplant Parmesan, when you read or hear it you may perhaps think of a sandwich or a layered lasagna like casserole.
The truth is that Eggplant Parmesan (Melanzane alla Parmigiana) is a side dish! I was surprised to find this out seeing that my experience in every Italian restaurant I went to, it was presented as a meatless entree accompanied with pasta.
Think of it as a casserole similar to the American vegetable cheese bakes that we find.
The beautiful thing about Eggplant Parmesan is that it may be prepared in many forms; it may be layered and baked like Lasagna or in ramekins as an individual portion. No mater what way you make it, you most likely have your own family favorite way to prepare Eggplant Parmesan.
With that said, I decided to prepare and taste five versions--each different in its own way. I suggest reading them all and then choose one that interests you!
Timbale of Roasted Eggplant Parmesan, with a Fresh Tomato Sauce, Fresh Mozzarella and Grana Padano Parmesan cheese.
Breaded Eggplant Parmesan "Lasagna" Style, with a San Marzano Tomato Sauce, whole milk mozzarella, provolone and Grana Padano Parmesan cheese
Eggplant Parmesan Francese, layered with fresh mozzarella, San Marzano Tomato Marinara sauce and Grana Padano Parmesan cheese
Breaded Eggplant Parmesan, (single layer) topped with San Marzano Marinara Sauce, fresh mozzarella and Grana Padano Parmesan cheese
Roulade of Eggplant Parmesan, filled with Ricotta Cheese and topped with fresh mozzarella and Grana Padano Parmesan cheese
To peel or not to peel
I found that a peeled eggplant did not have as much "eggplant" flavor as one prepared with the skin left on. If you desire to top keep the skin on the eggplant use a smaller size where the skin is not as chewy.
Salting and pressing
Slicing and salting, then pressing your eggplant for a few hours or overnight removes the bitterness as well as excess moisture. This is important because when you bake it you want the minimum amount of moisture or your baked eggplant will be watery even after you fry your eggplant slices
Roasting vs. pan frying
I found this to be a significant difference in taste. The roasted version had a pure, simple flavor of eggplant with a natural caramelized taste which I personally enjoyed.
For the more traditional American version, I breaded one with seasoned bread crumbs. Then, in an attempt to create a lighter less bready version, I prepared one with a Parmesan egg batter. It really comes down to what you like or what you were raised eating.
I feel that most people who read this will say that they have the breaded version in either the "Lasagna" form or as the single large slice topped with sauce, cheese and Parmesan on a sandwich.
Entree or Side Dish
Many will say that Eggplant Parmesan is a entree which should be served with pasta as a side dish, but in Italy it is featured as more of an accompaniment or a side to a meal.
I would say it would be wonderful to have a meal of slow cooked meats, pasta and a side of Eggplant Parmesan. In some restaurants the eggplant is rolled around a ricotta cheese filling and then baked with tomato sauce and cheese. I find this many times on the appetizer menu.
So it is here as well for your review.
Preparing the eggplant
I used a larger size eggplant for all these versions.
For the breaded and battered versions I cut the eggplant 1/4 inch thick and for the roasted version 1/2 inch thick. I cut all of them cross grain in circles so the eggplant would be tender and not stringy. The exception was where I cut the eggplant in slabs for the topped version and the roulade.
For all, after slicing I lightly salted the layers of eggplant, placed them into a colander and placed a weight on them to press out the bitter liquid. I encourage you to do this and if you are not in a hurry do it overnight. An hour was just not enough time for me, so I did it for 2 hours.
After the eggplant is pressed out discard the liquid and pat dry the eggplant slices to ready for breading , roasting or battering.
Roasted Eggplant Parmesan with a Fresh Tomato Marinara Sauce, Fresh Mozzarella and Grana Padano Parmesan Cheese
Dip the slices of eggplant on a plate which has extra virgin olive oil and some fresh ground black pepper. Place the thick sliced skin on eggplant onto an olive oiled sheet pan.
Roast the slices at 400 degrees for 10 minutes or until one side starts to brown, turn over the slices and repeat. It took me 20 minutes of oven time.
After the eggplant is cooked and cooled it is time to prepare the ramekin.
Lightly oil the ramekin with olive oil. Place slices of eggplant, in a circular overlapping fashion, one over another fanning them all around till they meet each other.
Now place a bit of sauce then a 1 oz slice of fresh mozzarella or if you prefer a large spoonfuls of ricotta cheese filling. Top it with a final slice of roasted eggplant and then cover the entire portion with thick marinara sauce. In this instance, I used fresh basil tomato sauce which I reduced very thick. It is important for this version to have your eggplant dryer and your filling and sauce thick or it will not hold.
Top with grated parmesan cheese and place onto a baking sheet. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes till no visible water is in the cup. Remove from the oven and let set on the side for at least 10 minutes so it has a chance to set up.
Using a small paring knife loosen the eggplant around the edges and then place a plate on top. Using a towel so you don’t burn yourself, grab the cup and hold it firmly against the plate and invert it onto the plate. Tap the bottom of the cup and lift. Now simply garnish and place a small bit of your sauce on the side.
Breaded Eggplant Parmesan "Lasagna Style" San Marzano Tomato Sauce with Whole Milk mozzarella, Provolone and Grana Padano Parmesan
For this version I used the same breading procedure which I discussed in Anna Maries Baked Italian Lemon Chicken. Prepare the flour, egg wash and crumbs, then take your slices of eggplant and bread them.
I breaded a few at a time and then placed them into a sauté pan over medium to medium high heat which had a 1/4 inch of olive oil on the bottom. I fried each slice until golden and then turned them. While this was going on, I continued breading the next wave of eggplant for frying. Once the eggplant slices were fried on both sides I placed them on a paper towel to absorb the excess moisture and oil.
Using the same technique as Lasagna, I assembled alternating layers of sauce, eggplant and cheeses. I used 50/50 whole milk mozzarella and provolone. I suggest you go four layers high and overlap the slices.
Once assembled, I topped the entire dish with marinara sauce, more grated mozzarella and provolone cheeses and of course lots of Grana Padano Parmesan cheese. I placed the uncovered casserole dish into a preheated 375 degree oven, and I baked it for 20 minutes.
One way to tell if it's done, is remove it from the oven and press on the sides. There should be little or no water visible and the top should be golden brown in spots.
Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 min before slicing and plating. Serve with an additional amount of sauce.
Eggplant Parmesan Francese, Fresh Mozzarella, San Marzano Marinara, Grana Padano Parmesan
For those who prefer a non breaded version but like the pan fried flavor, this is for you. The egg batter here is the same which has Italian Parsley, black pepper and parmesan cheese. In this instance I took the sliced eggplant, floured, dipped into the egg batter and then fried them in the same way I did the breaded version.
I then placed the battered fried slices of eggplant onto a paper towel as well.
Here, I took the battered fried "Francese" style slices and arranged them in a Pyrex pie pan with alternate slices of fresh mozzarella. It topped the whole dish with marinara sauce, topped it with Parmesan and baked it for 20 minutes.
I felt this version was more suited to be sliced in triangles and served as a side dish.
Lighter in style with the traditional Francese taste.
Breaded Eggplant Parmesan (single layer) topped with San Marzano Marinara, Fresh Mozzarella and Grana Padano Parmesan
Most often found in restaurants that feature a eggplant entree as well as a sandwich, this is an a easy version that is sure to satisfy. Instead of slicing circles I sliced the eggplant in longer slices. I then breaded, fried the slices and placed them on a paper towel.
I liberally oiled a sheet of heavy duty foil then placed the fried eggplant slices onto it. Topped them with sauce, fresh slices of mozzarella and Grana Padano grated Parmesan cheese, a drizzle of unfiltered extra virgin olive oil and in a 400 degrees oven for 15 minutes!
Roulade of Eggplant with Ricotta. Fresh Mozzarella and Grana Padano Parmesan
Finally I took the same long slices and placed a large dollop, about 1 1/2 oz worth in the center. Then rolling it up end to end I placed the eggplant ricotta roulade into a olive oiled individual baking dish, you may also make these in larger batches just like you bake Cannelloni. I topped them with fresh slices of mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.
These took a bit longer to bake, about 25 minutes in a 375 degree oven. I probed the interior of the roulade to assure it was 165 degrees before I removed it from the oven.
After resting on the table, the eggplant not me :) I plated and ate it!