"Try it, it tastes just like pizza!" That's what my mom always used to say when she made eggplant parmesan when I was a kid. I never bought it. Pizza isn't grown from the ground and it doesn't have all those little seeds in it. Plus, I knew it had to have some sort of vegetable tie-in for her to be that insistent on me eating it. She was never that enthused when we ordered a pepperoni pizza from Celebre's!
Today, eggplant parm is one of my favorite dishes. I am also proud to say that it is a dish that my 4-1/2 year old daughter, Julianna, enjoys making with me. To quote my friend Tiffany Longo from her recent article, Family Fun for Less..."When children realize that everyone is participating in an activity for them, it fills them with pride and excitement. Suddenly, they are the chefs; they are proud to be in charge of the kitchen, and whatever we make is their masterpiece." I couldn't agree more with this. Jules is at the age where she enjoys making cookies with my wife, pouring her own cereal, stirring and adding creamer to my coffee or honey to my tea...you name it. To have her show such enthusiasm to help me cook a main dish is simply amazing and makes me extremely proud.
The big benefit from Jules' participation is that, although she will not eat the final product as a whole (too "messy" for her), she is always anxious to eat a bunch of "her" cooked eggplant cutlets. Pretty awesome for someone who rarely strays away from chicken nuggets and pasta. Of course, I could also kill off at least a dozen of the cooked cutlets myself before assembling the parm dish...they are just so good! Also, this is a great dish to enjoy a glass of wine with while both preparing and eating it. Crank up a little Sinatra or Bocelli, and you're all set!
• 1 large eggplant, peeled and sliced thin
• 1 cup flour plus salt and pepper to taste
• 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
• 1 cup breadcrumbs
• olive oil
• 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
• 1 2.25 can sliced black olives
• 1 small onion, finely chopped
• 2 cloves minced garlic
• 1/2 cup Italian parsley
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
• splash of red wine
• 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, minced
• 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Step 1 - the Cutlets
Place flour w/salt & pepper, beaten eggs and breadcrumbs each in a separate bowl. Dip each slice of eggplant first into the flour mix, then into the egg, then into the breadcrumbs. Place breaded slices on an ungreased baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil over all of the pieces liberally (the eggplant will soak up the oil). Bake slices at 350º for about 20 minutes or until golden and slightly crispy.
Step 2 - the Sauce
Drizzle bottom of a large skillet with olive oil, add onion; stir until onion is soft. Add garlic; stir about 1-2 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, olives, Italian parsley, salt and crushed red pepper; stir. Add splash of wine. Reduce heat to medium-low and gently simmer uncovered, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, add basil.
Step 3 - the Assembly
In an 8x8 baking dish, alternate layers of sauce, eggplant and cheese. You should end up three layers deep. Cover with foil and bake at 350º for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake uncovered for another 5-10 minutes.
COOKING TIP #1: Like the meatballs and sausage from my Gravy blog, I also bake my eggplant cutlets in the oven. It's a healthier alternative and it frees up some time. If you prefer frying, have at it. If you do decide to bake the cutlets, be sure to drizzle them with olive oil prior to baking. Otherwise the cutlets will dry up.
COOKING TIP #2: The sliced olives are optional. They don't add much more of a taste, but I like olives and feel that they give a nice and interesting texture to the dish.
Here's another great meal that we make using the breaded and baked eggplant cutlets. I love it so much, I've actually requested this from my wife as my birthday dinner. Slice up one yellow and one green squash into 1/4" chips, place on baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Bake at 375º for 10-15 minutes or until slightly crisp. Serve on a nice, crispy Italian roll with cooked eggplant cutlets, roasted red peppers, sauteed spinach or broccoli rabe and a slice of sharp provolone cheese. Goes great with a nice beer or a glass of wine. Make me a sandwich like this, and I'll be your best friend!