Did you ever enjoy a dish so much, that you wish you had taken a picture of it before it was gone? Well, this photo blunder happened when Mary Ann taught me how to make her family’s secret eggplant parmesan recipe. Handed down through the generations of her father’s Italian-American family, the dish was famous throughout Norwalk and Westport, Connecticut, where she grew up. Mary Ann and her English mother made a few adaptions over time so it is a little lighter yet somehow crispier. It is so delicious that my granddaughter requested it for her birthday. This recipe will take a while to prepare, so it’s best for a special Sunday meal. It serves six (or five if everyone pigs out).
3 large, firm, shiny eggplants with no bruises, dents or markings
2 (28 oz.) cans of San Marzano tomatoes, whole peeled or chopped. Don’t skimp on the kind of tomatoes. Because the sauce has just a few ingredients, it is crucial that they are high quality. San Marzano will “put a perk in the Parm.” If you don’t have time to make the sauce, use any of Rao’s jarred tomato sauces, which are very good if a bit pricey.
Canola oil – frying in canola oil versus olive oil will make the fried eggplant lighter.
Red pepper flakes
Salt & pepper
“Splash” (about 1 tablespoon) balsamic vinegar, to taste
3/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup Wondra flour – Wondra creates a light and crisp crust, because it binds the surface liquids really well with an even coating that you can’t achieve by using plain flour.
1/2 - 1 teaspoon sugar, to taste
1 yellow onion, quartered
1/4 lb. butter
1/4 cup fresh basil, torn or julienned
8 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese
8 oz. of your favorite shredded Italian cheeses (asiago, Italian mix, etc.)
4 oz. grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
To make the eggplant, you will need a large frying pan or a paella pan. Also grab a couple of cookie sheets, paper towels, tongs, wooden spoons and a colander. You will also need a big pot for the sauce and a casserole dish or baking dish for assembling.
Directions for the Simple Tomato Sauce (if making from scratch)
We strongly recommend preparing the sauce a day early. There are two reasons: working with the eggplants is time consuming and you’ll be happy you prepped this in advance, plus the sauce will be better if the ingredients have a chance to blend overnight.
Into a large pot, add the canned tomatoes, onion, a “healthy shower” of red pepper flakes, a dash of salt & pepper, the basil and the butter. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, breaking up the tomatoes, if using whole, then reduce to low, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. If the sauce tastes a little acidic, add 1/2 - 1 teaspoons of sugar or a splash of balsamic vinegar (the balsamic will give a bit of depth to the sauce). When done, discard the onion. Note: this is a great sauce to make during the week for a quick dinner.
Directions for the Eggplant
Peel the eggplants and cut into 1/4 inch slices discarding the top and bottoms. Rinse and drain slices in the colander. Some people salt the slices and let them drain for an hour in the
colander to reduce bitterness, but if you buy firm eggplants this should not be a problem. On medium high, heat 1 inch of canola oil until a bit of Wondra flour or a corner of eggplant bubbles in the hot oil. Next, set up a flour station by mixing the all purpose flour and the Wondra together in a shallow dish.
Dredge eggplant slices in mixture and carefully add to hot oil. Do not overcrowd the slices. You want them to dance a bit in the oil, about an inch apart, so they fry and do not steam. We are aiming for a fritti -light and crispy- so cook the eggplant in stages. When the slices begin to brown around the edges, carefully flip them with tongs. Keep oil hot. When they are golden on both sides, lay them on paper towel-lined cookie sheets to drain. Salt and pepper slices while still hot. Try not to eat the fritti - they are delicious!
Putting it all together begins by taking a casserole dish or baking dish, and add 1/4 inch of tomato sauce on the bottom. Lay a few eggplant slices down, slightly overlapping; add a layer of both mozzarella and your favorite Italian cheeses then top with sauce until the pan is full (similar to making lasagna). End with a top layer of eggplant, sauce and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake in oven at 375-400 degrees for 30 minutes or until the Parm bubbles around the edges. If the top is getting too brown, cover with tin foil and tent the dish. The key to determining when it’s ready is watching for bubbling edges. Serve hot with your favorite salad, a great loaf of artisan bread and a glass of your favorite wine. Enjoy!